Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Aug 21, 2012

The neverending war between the heroic Autobots and ruthless Decepticons has devastated Cybertron. With their native planet in ruins, Optimus Prime attempts to lead the last group of Autobots offworld in search of a new place to call home.

The Pros
  • Exceptional campaign with great variety and setpiece moments
  • Top notch voice cast and character-driven writing
  • Great multiplayer with expanded character creation
  • Escalation is still one of the best Horde Mode variations in the medium
The Cons
  • Campaign co-op is MIA
  • Limited to map-specific characters in Escalation

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review:

For many years, Transformers fans assumed that nobody would ever make a great Transformers videogame. Publishers seemed to have little interest in even making an attempt, for one thing, and the few games that trickled out were forgettable at best, with the exception of a sleeper hit 2004 PS2 game by the late, lamented Melbourne House. The old Famicom chestnut Mystery of Convoy routinely pops up on “Worst 8-Bit Games Ever” lists and the dismal Beast Wars games weren’t much better.

The dark times seem to be over for TransFan gamers, however, thanks to High Moon Studios’ excellent Cybertron series. Transformers: War for Cybertron was a decent if repetitive shooter married to unique multiplayer that took advantage of the fact that its combatants were able to fly, drive and fight in numerous configurations. The sequel now upon us, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron ups the stakes considerably, aiming to be far more than just a routine followup.



One shall stand, one shall fall…again

Fall of Cybertron picks up almost immediately after the end of the previous game. The Transformers’ native planet of Cybertron is shutting down after millennia of endless war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Most Cybertronians have fled the planet already, and Optimus Prime is leading the last of the Autobots offworld by way of the Ark, a starship designed to ferry his weary army to a new home somewhere in space. Prime’s archrival Megatron and his Decepticons are having none of it, of course, and the campaign tells the story of the struggle between the two factions in the days leading up to the launch of the Ark.

War for Cybertron’s campaign was certainly worth playing, but it suffered from characters that played identically to one another and an oppressive sense of repetition. Fall of Cybertron seems to have taken that criticism to heart, and by contrast is full of vibrant and varied environments and characters with distinctive gameplay elements.

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Function: Jack of All Trades

A few levels are straight up shooting galleries, but the majority feature unique twists thanks to the characters’ special abilities. Jazz and Swindle traverse otherwise impassable terrain with grappling hooks, which is actually a reference to one of Jazz’s key abilities in the very first episodes of the ‘80s cartoon. Cliffjumper and Starscream have invisibility cloaks, and their levels reflect this gameplay wrinkle. There are stages that let you just cut loose with powerful characters like the super robot Bruticus and fan favorite Grimlock in all his T-Rexy glory.

Grimlock provides the biggest changeup in gameplay, being the most melee focused of all the playable characters. His dinosaur mode is also used as a special treat for the player - it can only be accessed after building up a Rage meter, but for the time it lasts you’re essentially invincible. Even when two characters share abilities, the level is intentionally designed to provide a different experience. Jazz navigates an underground deathtrap with his grapple, while Swindle chases a giant vehicle the size of a city block. Starscream’s ability to fly makes his stealth sections very different from Cliffjumper’s.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

The presentation is top notch, with excellent sound design and a suitably epic music score. Peter Cullen once again reprises the role of Optimus Prime, adding a sense of authenticity that ties it all back to the original ‘80s show. Also of note is Troy Baker as Jazz, doing an exceptional impression of the late Scatman Crothers, the original voice of the character.

Tying it all together are impressive setpiece moments that made for one of the best cinematic shooter experiences I’ve had this gen. Swarms of Insecticons flood the screen, the gigantic Metroplex smashes equally gigantic towers into dust, Bruticus decimates dozens of Autobots with one swipe, and the detail-packed environments are prone to exploding and/or collapsing at any time. The thirteen level campaign feels like it’s building to a massive confrontation the whole time, and that’s exactly what happens in the stunning final level. The only real shortcoming is the removal of Campaign Co-op. It’s a minor disappointment, but a tangible one.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Their War, Our Internet Connections

The solid competitive multiplayer of the first has returned, with a few tweaks that improve things all around. Character customization has been drastically expanded, with a “mix-and-match” system that allows you to build just about any robot you can think of out of the parts available. Interchangeable weapon upgrades and special abilities further add to the ability to streamline your class builds to your liking. You can even stick robo-dinosaur heads on your characters if you level up enough.

Team Deathmatch, Conquest and Capture the Flag make return appearances, along with a new mode called Head Hunter. In this gametype, defeated enemies drop their “sparks,” the Transformer equivalent of a soul, which you can then gather up and return to constantly shifting drop points to score. It’s unlikely to top TDM or Conquest as a most-played mode, but it changes things up enough to be a worthy inclusion.

The map design overall is a general improvement, and each feels far more distinctive than the first game’s. A couple of the new maps are specifically designed to give aerial characters a place to stretch their wings, which is a welcome addition.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Wreck and Rule

Escalation returns as well, and remains one of the best Horde Mode permutations in any shooter aside from Gears of War 3 itself. Defeating enemies gains you currency you can use to buy new weapons and gadgets for yourself, or you can pool money with teammates and open new areas of the level or upgrade everyone’s weapons. Oddly, it has been scaled back to some degree in the sense that there are only 15 waves of enemies per game now, as opposed to the unlimited number in War for Cybertron. While infinite waves were kind of ridiculous, 15 feels a bit short.

Also questionable is the decision to limit character choices to four specific characters per map. This was obviously done for balancing reasons, because High Moon wanted to make sure each team has a healer, an ammo provider, etc., but why not allow players to choose one of the four classes and then pick from characters in those classes? As it stands, it’s not a game breaker, but fans may be disappointed that they can only use their favorite character on one out of four Escalation maps.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

The real strength of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is how expertly High Moon leverages the characters and mythology to create a cinematic shooter that stands on the strength of its design and gameplay, rather than leaning on its license as a crutch. Transformers fans will be in heaven, but even if you’re just a fan of blowing stuff up real good, Fall of Cybertron is a ride well worth taking. Here’s hoping for many more entries in the series.

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Editor's Note: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, we also played the PS3 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.