Thursday, April 3, 2014

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Developed by High Moon Studios
Published by Activision
Played on Xbox 360

            Some people have an incredible nostalgia for Transformers.  They grew up on the 80s cartoon, they had the toys, they probably read the comics.  I didn’t.  I watched Beast Wars a bit as a kid, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about it now.  I had a Transformer toy.  I’ve seen the live-action movies, which doesn’t count for much.  But the video games I can get behind instantly.  War for Cybertron was a fun, if unremarkable, third-person shooter, and I was interested in Fall of Cybertron.  I hoped it would be good, but from early on, this exceeded expectations.
            Cybertron is almost out of Energon, the life-giving resource for the Autobots and Decepticons.  Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is preparing to leave the planet with the few resources they have left, while Megatron (Fred Tatasciore) is willing to let the planet die with everybody left on it.  And as always, the two sides are going to war if either of them are going to win.  Storywise, this game isn’t going to win any awards, and it knows it.  You can even see the (sometimes spoilery) level names before you even start the game, and if you’re even vaguely familiar with Transformers, you’ll be able to figure out where the twists lead.  It’s a nice reason to play, and hardcore fans may get more out of it, but I found it mainly just there.
            But it excels in gameplay.  WFC used a co-op friendly system where you were able to choose between three different Transformers in each level…which meant the levels tended to be more standard, run-and-gun affairs.  FOC instead locks you into one character in each level, and this is where it instantly improves on everything.  While any Transformer can use any weapon, their special abilities start to change everything.  Playing as Jazz or Swindle gives you a grapple beam, making the levels more dynamic as you grapple around.  Megatron can hover above the battlefield and rain down destruction.  Cliffjumper can cloak himself, leading to one of the best-done stealth levels in a non-stealth game.  And this is before you get to the giant Transformers that tower over the normal ones.  Each bot’s abilities change the game in their own ways, making the levels constantly feel unique.
            And the level design turns up the wow factor.  All I remember of WFC is constant, endless corridors.  That’s not the case here.  There’s cities, there’s warships, there’s an underground cavern that ups the creepy factor until you suddenly have to outrun flooding acid.  They’re beautifully rendered, with some of the prettiest graphics on the 360 that doesn’t rely on the “real is brown and gritty” philosophy.  They feel big, and when they add in setpieces, they just get bigger and better.  Nothing compares to shooting Decepticons as a skyscraped-sized Autobot (appropriately named Metroplex) stomps through the landscape.  And even small details just make the experience more exciting.  Playing as Megatron and having Autobots freak out at your mere presence is immensely satisfying.  There’s quick-time style events that are integrated without punishment, leading to moments where you struggle while in chains or deliver huge blows.  Fall of Cybertron is like experiencing a big action movie, and it does it well.

            Whether you’re a hardcore Transformers fan, or you can’t tell the difference between Bumblebee and Starscream, Fall of Cybertron is going to satisfy.  It’s exciting, a blast to play, and has plenty of variety to keep you interested.

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