You can always tell the difference between proficiency and passion. As a fan, the feeling is almost overwhelming when media projects are handled by people who have that keen combination of understanding the content they’re presenting, as well as the sentiment of said content. Transformers may have started as a way for Hasbro to sell toys, but there is a generation’s worth of material that inspires emotions in its fan base that edge on visceral.
After an unfortunate romp with the Dark of the Moon movie tie-in, High Moon Studios is back with the direct follow-up to War for Cybertron with Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Offering up a geekgasm of narrative content and solid gameplay, Fall is the follow-up correspondence to War for Cybertron’s initial love letter to fans. Not merely retreading War’s familiar ground, the game adds a lot of aspects that improve on the franchise’s theatrical value.
I was a bit late to appreciating games for their narrative strength. Growing up, I was steadfast in the belief that very few games could provide a compelling story while still engaging me with gameplay. This was exacerbated by the fact that when I stated as much, the response I invariably got was something in the JRPG genre, which I have never been a particular fan of picking up and playing (no fault to be had here, they’re just not really my thing).
Part of my inexperience with viewing video games as a gripping storytelling avenue was likely circumstance. A combination of stubbornness and not really having the budget as a child to pick up enough games and expand my horizons led to me always siding with strong gameplay in this imaginary divide. So now when a game shows up to my door and it’s my responsibility to sit back and truly enjoy the whole experience, I find myself absolutely blown away by aspects of gaming that have likely been there for decades, doing their best to get me to notice. Fall of Cybertron felt like a She’s All That moment; shaking what I thought I knew about it just long enough to reveal just how beautiful it can really be, making me realize that I’m an idiot for not noticing it was like that the whole time.
Providing a story that felt like a full season of Transformers all on its own, Fall of Cybertron makes Metroplex-sized strides in terms of presentation, narrative, and aesthetic value. The game starts off in medias res, showing the Ark spaceship as it carries the Autobots away from their home world of Cybertron, a planet shattered by the war against the Decepticons, left barren of the Energon life-blood the robotic cast needs to merely exist and operate.
Unfortunately for Optimus and the gang, Megatron is not one to let a grudge die, not even in the face of worldwide annihilation. As the Ark heads toward a portal to a potential new home world (you get one guess), a Decepticon warship follows and begins an assault on the Autobot cargo hauler. Megatron is not about to let the Autobots share another world with his (mostly) loyal soldiers, and he is intent on picking the Ark apart piece-by-piece to spell out the demise of his enemies.
The campaign’s thirteen missions will allow the player to control a dozen pre-determined Autobots and Decepticons as Cybertron inches toward its last megacycles. Presenting far more visual diversity than its predecessor, the campaign will take players through war-torn battlefields, subterranean science labs amidst a sea of Energon, ancient ruins caked in rust, Decepticon bases that rest high above the ground, and the gladiatorial pit that gave birth to the war-mongering Megatron.
Through the game’s story (and fifty-one optionally obtained audio logs), players will be treated to more than just a mere story about robots in disguise. Fall of Cybertron introduces a veritable lore to its series, granting players the ability to delve into the events that preceded the series. The campaign’s pre-determined roster gives High Moon the chance to craft the game’s missions to feel much more individualized. Rather than your playable character being an interchangeable skin to accomplish a universal goal, each mission gives the player a chance to fully explore what sets each Autobot and Decepticon apart from each other.
The narrative and the gameplay weave together well this way, you get to see why Optimus or Megatron would set out on a mission by their selves or just what Cliffjumper and Jazz provide as a tandem to make their strengths specifically suited for recon missions. Sometimes wanton destruction is the name of the game, and the game provides by giving you a chance to control the fully-formed Combaticon Bruticus, as well as Grimlock, leader of the Dinobots.
Speaking of the Dinobots, it will take fans all of their self-control to not completely geek out at the opportunity to play as Grimlock for over an hour. High Moon’s take on the origin of the Dinobots and how it plays into the science of their world is probably the most magnificent single part of the game’s storyline. The studio was intent on reintroducing the Dinobots and they pull it off in spectacular fashion.
The character-driven narrative does lend much to the series, but the exchange for a stronger single-player experience is that the game loses co-op campaign. The game does have co-op in the form of the returning survival-based Escalation mode. The mode does the series justice as a well-crafted, tactical experience that rewards players for being aware of their teammates as well as the waves of enemies. By pooling funds and moving together as a team, players will be able to unlock new sections of the battlefield as well as upgrade their armaments.
Those looking for competitive multiplayer will be glad to know that as much care was taken with the player-vs-player aspect of the game as everything else. While the Death Match, Conquest, and CTF modes don’t provide a new spin on the objective-based shooter gameplay, there’s an aspect that Transformers is uniquely capable of providing as both a shooter and a combat driving game.
Combined with the ability to create and customize your own Transformer, the gameplay diversity is in whom you choose to play as and what upgrades and abilities you provide to your own character. Adding that new Autobots, Decepticons, and Dinobots will be joining the fray with DLC, you’ll rarely be presented with the same combat situation twice.
High Moon’s got the touch, Fall of Cybertron stands easily as one of the best games of 2012. Reviewing games has made me much more aware of storyline while still wanting a strong gameplay experience, and I am glad that my evolving tastes were rewarded by playing this game. If you haven’t yet bought Fall of Cybertron, you should heed the call and pick it up.