In the next major Transformers video game, you will be able to issue orders to a massive, rampaging Metroplex.
You will be about to control Bruticus.
You will be able to transform, as Grimlock, from robot to Tyrannosaurus Rex. You'll breathe flames from your jaws.
You will be able to fulfill the fantasies not of a 21st-century Transformers fan but of a kid who grew up in the 80's and marveled that there was such a thing as a foot-tall plastic robot who could transform into a city. The fantasies of a kid whose toy space shuttle, helicopter, tank, truck and jeep could transform into robots or merge into one massive, if a bit lanky, one.
Yes, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron appears to be the Transformers game made for me, or more specifically for my brother.
Our mother spoiled us with Transformers when we were kids. For a few years, we got them all. Every Autobot. Every Decepticon. Somehow we divided them up without rancor. I got Omega Supreme, Soundwave and Megatron. He got Trypticon, Blaster and Optimus Prime.
I got the Aerialbots. He got the Stunticons. And so on.
My brother doesn't make video games. He definitely doesn't work at High Moon Studios, which is putting out its third Transformers game in three years with Fall of Cyberton. But, what do you know? The first time I see this new game, it's pretty much all his Transformers. Metroplex was his. The Combaticons, who formed Bruticus, were mostly his. Grimlock was his Dinobot. I had other Dinobots.
This game takes me back to my childhood, when who "owned" which Dinobot mattered and when the Transformers were the coolest things in my life.
I can't see this new game without looking at it through the eyes of my youth. I think that's the point. People like me are a target audience for High Moon's even-year Transformers games, which are the ones not tied to the Michael Bay movies. These games, starting with 2010's War for Cybertron are throwbacks to the beloved 80's Transformers, the originals who started in weekday-afternoon cartoons that usually involved Megatron scheming to make more energon cubes and Starscream screwing things up.
The Cybertron games take those original Transformers and put them in a new fiction set on the robots' home planet. To 21st-century fans they may simply be interesting robot-centric shooters with a transformation gimmick. For me, they're an ark of nostalgia.
The first one, War for Cyberton was a surprisingly good robot-icized Gears of War. It was made with the Unreal Engine—Gears' tech-and brought players through a pair of campaigns, one as various Autobots, one as Decepticons, leading to climaxes against the massive Trypticon and Omega Supreme, respectively.
I enjoyed that first game, and I could tell you what I wanted from a sequel from a gamer's perspective. I could also tell you what I wanted from the perspective of a boy who loved owning the Protectobots.
But this is the game designer's perspective: Matt Tieger, the game's creative director, told me this new game needed to look better than the first one. That first one looked too same-y. It neeed more gameplay variety and better artificial intelligence.
Yeah, sure, Matt Tieger. It needed a combiner. It needed five robots merging into one.
Good thing Fall of Cybertron appears to incorporate both his needs and mine.
Tieger showed me the new game in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. He showed me the better and more varied graphics, as one of his High Moon people first played through a level made for the Combaticon Vortex. This level was bright and open, more of a combat arena than a combat hallway. (Watch the video up top for a look at this and other levels from the game.) Vortex blitzed through a range of shootable Autobots as a helicopter, jet and robot. He could transform at any time. His level had a lot of tan and open space. A Jazz level—hey! Jazz was mine!—was more blue and gray and designed for Jazz's specialties in sniping and use of a grappling hook. When Jazz transforms from robot to Cybertronian-not-officially-a-Porsche-space-car, he does a little breakdance, by the way.
The Man Who Saved The Dinobots – Transformers gurus at Hasbro have been trying to streamline their various toy, game and movie continuities. That effort was going to snip the Dinobots from Transformers lore—they just didn't mesh with the new history—until Fall of Cybertron's creative lead, Matt Tieger, heard about it and figured out how to weave them into his video games' part of the timeline.
The solution? It turns out these Cybteron games take place about 70 million years ago. When Decepticon Shockwave goes looking for some new transformation forms for a bunch of kickass robots, he happened to get a glimpse of prehistoric earth and the beasts that roamed the planet then. Tieger cautions us not to get too technical about which dinos were on the Earth then; just go with it. It gets us Grimlock in this game, a double-height robot who only can do melee attacks but turns into a marauding mechanical T-Rex (he looks very fun to play as). It also gets us other Dinobots, such as Snarl, Swoop and Sludge, all of whom I caught glimpses of in a level that started players as Starscream and transitioned into a very cool Grimlock rampage.
After you've played some Combaticon missions, the game combines the five Decepticons into Bruticus and you control the 80-foot monster. You tower over the Autobots, who you blast with laser beams or just smash to bits.
In an Optimus Prime level you run around as the ultimate goody-two-shoes Autobot leader. You can summon Metroplex to transform and take out targets. It's a shame that publisher Activision hasn't released images of this, because, you really should see the sight of a robot that was transformed from being a city, now stomping around in the distance, responding to your cues. It's vey impressive (that might be my 10-year-old self talking. Can't help it.)
Tieger says he thinks of the Cybertron games as navigation-based shooters, not cover-based shooters, as you'd classify Gears. He wants the game's levels to feel open and to empower his players to use constant robot-to-vehicle transformation to dart around a battlefield, fighting in both forms, making the action play out in response to their play style.
This new game has no connection to last year's not very good High Moon Transformers game, which tied into the 2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon movie. Tieger told me that High Moon split into two teams after War For Cyberton, one to do the movie in one year, one to make this game in two. He didn't have to tell me which game High Moon is more proud of.
This Cybertron game has some other changes from the first. Now we're getting just one campaign that transitions players back and forth from being Autobot to Decepticon. They're doing more with upgradeable weapons, and they've moved the camera in tighter, cropping the Transformers legs from view to give, in my eyes, the game a look that's closer to being a shooter than an action game. They're also working in more quiet story-building moments into the game to interrupt the shooting and not cram all the narrative into dialogue shouted at you during battle.
They're bringing back multiplayer, which Tieger admits was a hard sell last year. But they think they've got something distinct with transformation-enabled multiplayer, plus I'm sure it's seen as a viable strategy for selling downloadable content post-release. They're not showing much of it yet, save for an elaborate Transformer character-creator, which lets players build their own robot from many component parts and then transform that bot into one of several pre-baked vehicle forms (the thing they're proud of here is how, no matter what kind of robot you build, the transformation to vehicle animates smoothly and convincingly).
I'm an easy audience if you're showing me a video game that lets me play with the toys I loved as a kid. War for Cybertron did get redundant, but it also had Omega Supreme, for goodness' sake, so of course I played through it. It played fine, without any all-time –great encounters or memorable levels, but I was content with it. Fall of Cybertron has even more fan service for me, and it looks like it'll player better. Of course, I'm on board.
I just hope they add more Transformers that were mine and not my brother's. Where's Ultra Magnus at? Bring on the Technobots, if you can. Devastator? I'd approve. At least they're promising the Insecticons and… Cliffjumper? Come on, High Moon, he was my brother's! Would you consider adding Sky Lynx?
Ok, ok. That's a terrible idea. I know.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron will be out for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this fall.