Review: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (Sony PlayStation 3)

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Publisher: Activision
Developer: High Moon Studios
Genre: Action
Release Date: 08/21/2012

I’d actually been eye-balling this for my PC ever since I heard they went with Steamworks for multiplayer, because let’s face it, while Transformers: War For Cybertron had a great story, and the multiplayer mechanics were fun, the server side of things keeping people in game was terrible. Not to mention the loading delays for textures that come along with a certain game engine on the console that are nicely minimized on my gaming laptop. But when your wife goes out and picks it up for you on the PS3, you jump up and down like a rabid fan boy and beg to use the big screen TV to play this instead of watch Netflix when you get home, and get to slagging Decepticons and slaughtering Autobots. As a sequel to what I considered to be the best Transformers game of all time, how does Fall of Cybertron measure up?

As a sequel, this loosely ties into the last game and the events there, and by loosely, I mean it’s set on Cybertron after that game, and barely makes a few references to what happened, which means you really don’t have to have played War For Cybertron to play this one. Things on Cybertron have gotten worse for both sides. The planet itself is shutting down and both sides are scrambling for Energon, the life blood of the Transformers themselves. The Autobots want it to continue their evacuation, the Decepticons to retain control of their dying world. The game’s divided up into chapters, with the plot running for a few stages with one faction spread across several characters, then flipping factions and doing the same there. This is a big change from the last game, where the first half was all Decepticon and the last half all Autobot. It feels like a more cohesive story, and I think taking out the co-op options was a good move, as they’ve been able to do much more with the campaign mode than they could with co-op in there.

This does lend for much stronger storytelling, and it does get utilized quite a bit. The chatter back and forth between characters is in character and really well done. This also lets some of the characters have introspective moments alone where they can think about what’s going on. Optimus Prime musing on his race’s past and future while running through some back corridors to try and get some Decepticon cannons offline comes to mind. The banter between Cliffjumper and Jazz is another. My only complaint is there are some story beats we’ve been dealt before, especially between Megatron and Starscream. It’s handled a little differently, but not differently enough that it doesn’t feel lifted almost entirely from the original material; in Megs and Screamers case, the 1986 Transformers animated film is a prime example. There are some changes, but the rehashed lines through the movies, comics, games and so on is getting old. Nostalgia factor was high in the first game, but it’s time to do something new dialogue wise. I appreciate the nods in the trophies and the achievements, but would like to hear them saying something new after twenty six years. I won’t spoil the ending, but the game is ripe for a sequel.

Visually the game is stunning, which is not surprising given how good the first game and Dark of the Moon looked. What they’ve done to give each area a different look and feel is excellent, and each area has some kind of topography and geography so it doesn’t feel like the same area over and over again, which I didn’t really have a problem with, but others did. Each area looks, plays and feels different, like you’re in different areas of a big metal planet, which is what this is. The animations and effects look great, and the slight redesign on some of the characters is ok, but I think I preferred Optimus in Fall of Cybertron as opposed to this version. One thing I think they’ve done really well, but still could have expanded on, is the customization in multiplayer. Being able to change out parts and see those reflected in the alt mode, for the most part, is pretty amazing. The color palette from War For Cybertron has been increased, but it still feels limited, mainly by faction. I did like that if you pick a chassis for a character you simply pick a set of Autobot colors and a set of Decepticon colors to use in matches instead of having it throw two chassis at you for one character. Characters do sometimes change allegiance in the different continuities, and it’s usually just an insignia change and away they go, so this allowed for some neat roleplaying in my head as I play through matches and continually get saddled as a Decepticon. One thing that hasn’t changed is that two to three seconds of visual loading when you first load into a match or a map in single or multiplayer, and that I attribute more to the Unreal engine than anything else, but it’s still hard to believe there’s no fix for this as far into the product’s life cycle as we are.

Anyone who’s familiar with the original cartoon, the recent films, the new Transformers Prime show, or War For Cybertron is going to instantly recognize Optimus in this game. Peter Cullen delivers Prime as he always does, with a certain tone that speaks volumes about the character. Still disappointed that Frank Welker isn’t Megatron in this, given his fresh take on the character in Prime, but the rest of the cast, including Fred Tatasciore pulling triple duty as Megatron, Ratchet and Metroplex, do a fantastic job bringing these robots to life in the game. Greg Berger is back as Grimlock, Sam Riegel reprises his work as Starscream, Keith Szarabajka returns as Ironhide, Nolan North, Steve Blum, the list goes on. It’s a great cast. Sound effects are pretty decent and they’ve mixed up the classic Transformers sound with a few from the films as well, which gives the game its own unique feel. The music is epic and sweeping, and the choice of Puscifer’s “The Humbling River” for the splash/intro video in the game fits so well with the tone of the game. Stan Bush’s “The Touch” also makes an appearance in two different forms during the end credits.

The controls are set up almost like your basic third person shooter on the PS3. The left analog stick controls movement, the right the way you look around, and L3 transforms into vehicle mode by default. Shoulder buttons control weapon zoom and firing. Circle swaps your left and right hand for your weapon, Square interacts with most everything in the game world. There are a few different layout options, but I found the default seemed to work the best, and I wasn’t accidentally transforming when I didn’t need to. Vehicle controls are pretty decent, but you may have issues with control at higher speeds. I didn’t really notice any lag or any control issues on that end of things, and I like that it’s a bit easier to learn as you go and you can change it up if you’re finding it harder to play with the defaults. Aiming and movement were all set just about right for this, and I’ve yet to tweak it, as I’m still mostly okay with the layout.

The gameplay has been fine tuned a bit from War For Cybertron, specifically by gutting the Co-Op campaign mode from the first game, which I am absolutely okay with. It’s been a sore spot for some, but they designed the story mode to really drive more story home, and that’s easier to do by focusing on one character at a time and designing levels around that character’s abilities. Considering I only ever fired up Co-op for the campaign in the first game once, and never again after that because of the random people I got paired up with, I’m very much okay with making the single player portion of the game single player. For the most part, the game functions as a third-person shooter and action title, asking the player to occasionally solve fairly simple puzzles to get around areas, all while blasting enemies and moving on as needed. As I mentioned, each area is designed with a character in mind and plays completely different from the one before. This is actually the campaign mode’s biggest strength, as it greatly varies up the way you play each area and provides a sense of variety to everything, along with allowing you to play as some iconic characters some of us haven’t gotten anywhere near since the 80’s.

I have two minor beefs with this portion of the game. Transforming doesn’t seem as integral to the game as it could have been. This is not something easily quantifiable, and is more my personal take on it. My other beef is that cover and its use is almost a joke after playing a game with a real cover system. Basically, for cover, you run behind something to avoid getting shot. Then when you want to shoot again, you run out and shoot and run back. While I appreciate the basic appeal, this is not cover. This is like the base version of shooters that we’ve seen since Doom and Duke Nukem back in the 90’s. It’s nothing new, but I’ve seen Transformers actually, you know, take cover. After playing Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, both action RPGs, something this basic in a third-person shooter is a bit of a letdown. Granted, you can also transform and use the lower profile vehicle form to lay waste to your enemies, but even then it’s back and forth. It amazed me how Megatron and Optimus really needed to use cover so much to get through their levels. At times they felt like they were made of tissue paper instead of sterner stuff. Hey, if they can use lines from the 1986 film, so can I. It makes the game more intense to be sure, and makes you keep moving in and out of cover, but the mechanic itself feels out-dated, like you’re spending a good chunk of big battles cowering in a corner waiting for your shields to recharge. When you’re able to get the big guns out, though, and just unload, or power drive through a mob, or rampage as a big dinosaur or combiner, that’s when it’s a lot of fun.

Multiplayer has several options available for you. First up is Escalation, which is co-op and lets you play as a few different mainline characters as a team fighting against an ever-growing number of enemies swarming you in waves. Aside from Escalation, there are four other modes that are far less restricted, that take place over ten different maps. Team Deathmatch is pretty much typical for any kind of multiplayer, with forty kills on either side winning a match. Conquest is actually my favorite of the four modes, sending your teams out to try and control three different nodes on the map to gain power over time and win the match. Capture the Flag is pretty much standard for that mode as well. Head Hunter is interesting, as you collect sparks of your fallen victims, and accumulating thirty of them wins your team the match.

Where this multiplayer really shines right now is in the customization. You have four classes to choose from, with each class having various abilities to set them apart from each other and provide a unique mix in matches. Within each class you’re given lots of different options for tricking your character’s look out, which is a huge improvement over the first game. You pick one chassis for both Autobot and Decepticon this time, with a totally different paint job for each, since you can’t choose which side you pop in on. My only complaint here is the color choices. There are a ton of them, but each side has a certain palette to it, which is okay, and I know the obvious question is, “If they had the same colors how could you tell who’s side they’re on?” Well, in game, you don’t see names over non-teammates until you’re aiming at them, and Autobots glow red all over the place while Decepticons glow purple. The glow gives it away before you even get close enough to appreciate the paint job, so why not just make all the colors available to both?

What I love, though, is that you can really mix and match all kinds of body parts on your Multiplayer characters to give them a really unique look. The torso decides what mode you’ll have for a vehicle, but if you change out wheels and a few other small things, these changes show up in vehicle form, which is pretty cool. You’re given a pretty decent amount of bodies and parts to choose from, and there are fifteen more available through DLC spread across all four classes. Matchmaking gives you a Regional or Worldwide option. It still follows that one person is hosting a match, which is annoying when they have a crappy connection or quit and you’re dropped. The game does a much better job of salvaging the match though, so you’ll get dumped in with roughly the same stats as you had before it dropped everyone, with someone else as lead connection. Obviously, however, when playing on teams, you’re going to end up short a person or three, which usually ends up meaning you’re going to get slaughtered if you were down in points at all, but at least you keep your experience and earned cash. Yes, multiplayer uses a level based system for each of the four classes, with your levels unlocking up to two extra chassis that you can load up with different weapons and bonuses, or just use for variety. Customizing is unlocked by spending cash you’ve earned in matches, which is the method I prefer to grinding away on random chance.

As far as replayability goes, you have a huge selection of Trophies to earn, both in multiplayer and in single player. No, just running through the game will not net you all the single player trophies. You’ve got three difficulty modes, although playing through on the hardest one gives you the trophy for all three. There’s the different multiplayer options, of course, which can be a lot of fun and are easy to get into, and the developers have made it very easy to go back in and replay a level so you don’t have to grind through the whole campaign again just to play your favorite section over.

To balance things out you have the differing difficulty levels, and the matchmaking does try to balance out the teams, so there’s a good variety of skill levels on both teams. The campaign is about ten hours long, depending on your skill level with third person shooters, but the multiplayer will probably keep you coming back long after that. The connectivity issues and much better transfer over if you lose connection help this mode out in a huge way. As far as originality goes, it’s a different interpretation of a story we’ve gotten a number of times before, with a few neat twists on the origins of the Dinobots and Insecticons, as well as how the Autobots and Decepticons finally leave Cybertron, but long time fans have been down this road a bit before. The biggest thing they’ve done is add in the customization for multiplayer characters by giving us a much bigger variety there.

I found playing this game to be even more addictive than War For Cybertron, so I expect to get even more mileage out of this one. The biggest turn-off I have is the almost immediate dumping of DLC character chassis unlocks for multiplayer into the PSN store. The last game had a few DLC packs with chassis unlocks, but we got a few maps with them to soften the blow. These are strictly characters, and ones that people of course will want, like the Dinobots, Inseceticons, and a few others. You do get a number of major character chassis already, but the price tag on these bugs the crap out of me for something that, for the most part, was already included in the game as far as mesh, animations and original texturing goes.

The game has gotten a big push, and I would have to agree that this is probably the best Transformer game we’ve gotten to date. This one surpasses War for Cybertron and my original favorite based on Armada on the PS2. There’s a lot fans will like, and there’s some nice cross over from a bunch of the different storylines from over the years, but so far, while hailing more from Generation One thematically, it still fits in better with Transformers Prime as far as continuity goes.

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Good
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Overall, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a much better offering than Transformers: War For Cybertron was, and that was a fantastic game. The story is tighter even with the cliffhanger ending, the controls feel a bit better, there’s more variety in the gameplay, and the multiplayer has a much better feel to it. There are still texture loading issues centering around the game engine more than anything else, but I felt much more involved and engrossed in this game than I did its predecessor. The seeming cash grab for chassis unlocks via DLC leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, considering the much healthier DLC in the previous title, but if you’re looking for a solid experience out of the box with the ability to create a decent set of customized multiplayer characters without DLC, you are in luck. Any Transformers fan will love this game. It’s an easy recommendation.

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