By Leo Stevenson
It’s been two years since we last set foot on Cybertron, smack-bang in the middle of the civil war between the Decepticons and the Autobots. Now, with the release of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (FoC), we’re thrust back into the heart of battle. Things are bleaker than ever for the courageous Autobots with a list ditch effort to flee Cybertron in the “Ark,” the only way to save them from the Decepticons' onslaught. Energon reserves are low, alliances are forged and broken and fierce battles rage all over the planet... and High Moon Studios places the player right at the very centre of this conflict.
Being the sequel to inarguably the best Transformers game adaptation ever, Transformers: FoC had some exceedingly large expectations to fill. While generally a fun and exciting game, it never manages to reach the lofty heights of its predecessor. Whether this is due to the minor changes made for this entry in the series or the lack of that sense of wonder felt when playing the original it’s difficult to say. However, Transformers: FoC is an excellent entrant in the action/shooter genre even if it can feel a little repetitive at times.
The two years since Transformers: War for Cybertron (WfC) certainly has allowed the team at High Moon Studios to make a prettier, more vibrant and more alive (is that the right word for machinery?) Cybertron. When compared to WfC’s rusted, sparking landscapes, FoC’s levels fare much better. Granted, the levels are largely created from sparking, rusted metals, but moreover, the art design is grander and the scale is larger. Sweeping vistas, oceans, ancient architecture and destroyed and crumbling cities are the settings for the newest chapter in the destruction of the Transformers' home planet, and they certainly add a sense of grandeur and gravitas to the proceedings. I found myself saddened by the loss of the once beautiful Cybertron as I battled through wave after wave of Decepticons hell-bent on my destruction.
Conversely, while playing as the Decepticons, the level design was far more devastating. It was difficult to find the beauty in the crumbling, broken and rusted surroundings that play host to the Decepticon levels. This excels in setting the tone for the campaign. While controlling an Autobot, the levels engender a sense hope for a restored and peaceful Cybertron. While controlling a Decepticon, destruction seems inevitable and even preferable to the imposing and ruined surrounds.
If you played WfC, you know the gist of this series of Transformers games. Controlled from a third person perspective, you run and gun through a series of levels containing dozens of enemies and several set piece fire fights. Being a Transformer, you are of course able to “transform” at any time, with the push of a button, into your vehicular form. At the beginnng of a WfC level, you were able to select a Transformer of your choosing, but in FoC that isn't the case; each chapter revolves around a specific Decepticon or Autobot. While initially this may sound limiting, it actually frees up the developer to tailor each level to specific abilities of the current character. Be it directing Metroplex’s air strike via Optimus Prime, using Cliffjumper’s cloak to stealth through a level or Jazz’s grapple to bounce around like a mechanical gymnast, the tailoring of the chapters to these abilities gives each level a distinctive flavour and helps break up the almost endless flow of enemies gunning for you. This tailoring of the level design has however necessitated the incredibly popular co-op mode from WfC, and while it’s a shame it has been removed there are a wealth of other multiplayer options available to you.
Whenever I came to a section where I knew a massive firefight was about to break out, I was initially excited. As the game wore on, I found myself looking less and less forward to these battles; once or twice, I actually groaned out loud when I knew what was about to happen. The shooting in the game is definitely fun and solid and there is a certain thrill in blowing up Transformers, but it’s not long until it becomes very samey. Great mechanics like the ability to switch your gun arm are let down by the lack of a real cover mechanic. Maybe I have been spoilt by the likes of Gears of War and Uncharted, but now, a third person shooter without the ability to take cover just feels wrong.
I had the exact same feeling when I played 40K: Space Marine. Without being able to take cover I felt over exposed, too vulnerable and just a little bit stupid. Sure, not every game needs each room to be littered with chest high walls to make fire fights exciting, but FoC actively encourages you to take cover, but only in the form of standing behind something and hoping you've got your angles covered. There is no actual cover mechanic to speak of. I also understand the idea that not being able to take cover forces you to run and gun, think on the fly and fight for your life, thus increasing the excitement and create some truly adrenaline pumping moments, but this is more often than not the case in FoC. Many of the areas you fight in are small rooms with corridors and some form of box/crate/debris scattered throughout to hide behind.
The levels lend themselves more to the stop and pop style of play than the run and gun that FoC offers and it tends to create frustration and seemingly unfair deaths rather than a white knuckled thrill ride, especially when the game starts throwing dozens of large shotgun wielding Decepticons at you, who refuse to go down without at least 10,000 bullets lodged firmly in their heads. 10,000 may be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point. That being said, the large open area set pieces fare much better and are genuinely lots of fun. One such fight against a swarm of Insecticons had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath and once I was victorious, the wave of euphoria I felt was truly intense. Moments like these are scattered through the campaign and make completing the game truly worthwhile. Look out for the time you get to spend as Grimlock for some of the best action in the game.
For those players lusting after some robot on robot multiplayer destruction, look no further than FoC's excellent multiplayer modes. In general, I could hardly be considered a fan of competitive multiplayer modes but, in FoC the very first thing I did was jump into a team deathmatch. Just one game, I thought... and 4 hours later, I was a monster on the battlefield, tearing through opponent after opponent and loving every minute of it. Alongside team deathmatch are fairly standard objective based modes, however the power to transform at any moment coupled with the unlockable and upgradeable abilities creates some truly heart pounding and intense action. Dedicated fans will also appreciate the character creation tool which allows you to customize all four classes of Transformer from appearance all the way through to perks and abilities. If you are desperately craving some co-op action, Escalation mode makes a welcome return from WfC. Essentially a “horde” mode, Escalation challenges you to survive 15 waves of ever increasingly tough enemies. It’s fun on your own and even better with friends.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is by no means a perfect game, but it is a lot of fun and another worthy addition to the ever growing Transformers stable. While we all might groan at the thought of another Michael Bay helmed movie and wish for the days when the cartoon series rocked our collective worlds every afternoon after school, we can at least take solace in the fact that the world and the lore of the Transformers is alive and well in video game form. Here’s hoping FoC is enough of a commercial success to justify a third game as I for one welcome any opportunity to spend more time with Optimus and co.