What's the most power combiner team in the Transformers universe? The fierce and relentless Predaking? The cool and calculating Computron? The eagle-elephant-lion Magnaboss? As far as Fall of Cybertron is concerned, it's Reviewertron, guardian of Metacritic.
Like any combiner team, this one is made up of several wildly disparate elements united under a common cause, in this case delivering critical opinion on the second game in High Moon Studios exploration of ancient Cybertronian history. After a fine but flawed first outing, this team was brought to life using the Key to Vector Sigma to ensure that these legends were told with a proper mix of excitement, reverence, and personality.
After lengthy arguments over who got to be the torso (I wanted to be the right leg, for reason I'll not go into), this mighty team of video game critics embarked on their first mission.
Did they succeed, or is this just bad comedy?
You'd think that Transformers would be one of those home run/slam dunk sort of properties that would be able to turn out fantastic video games. But a brief visit to a list of every Transformers game results in a whole lot of sadness. The reasons why are perhaps a bit outside the scope of this review, but it sets the stage for what's to follow. We're dealing with a pretty low bar here. 2010's War for Cybertron, thus, quickly became one of the best Transformers games ever made, despite having a load of issues. Now, Activision and High Moon have created a follow-up with Fall of Cybertron, a game that improves upon the developer's past work. But it's still a pretty lackluster shooter that doesn't perk up until the end, and it's only truly suited for people who are fiending for a Transformers game.
Each level type is fun in its own right. The shooting sections are solid, stealth missions go without a hitch, and aerial assaults are a blast. However, the melee-focused Dinobot section of the campaign is far from enjoyable. Rather than running into battle guns blazing, firing off missile launchers, and transforming at a moment's notice to rain-down a bombardment of explosives on enemy lines, you're forced to continuously mash the melee button and watch the same combo animation over and over, as you wail on Insecticons. The entire section was completely out of place and drags on for far too long. Even the instant ability to transform is taken away in exchange for a rage meter that (once filled) allows you to activate your T-Rex form.
Overall, the gameplay feels tighter and more focused. However, the inability to play as or interact with a larger roster of characters is disappointing. You'll see plenty of familiar characters, like Ironside and Shockwave, but you won't be able to interact with most of them in more than a short dialogue exchange. It is also a missed opportunity that the more prominent characters don't play boss roles to fill the overall lack of boss battles. Instead, you're stuck fighting generic, larger-than-usual transformers as they show up as "sort-of" mini-bosses to replace the massive boss encounters of the first game.
When you combine the reworking of Fall of Cybertron's style of storytelling with chapters more tailor-made for the specific abilities of the Transformers they focus on, you get a campaign mode that feels bigger, badder, and better than before. There are, however, some catches. Moving from separate stories focused on the Autobots and Decepticons to a larger, combined Campaign means your allegiance will be switching back and forth. In one chapter, there I am, fighting to protect the Arc and its goal; the next, I'm purposely trying to sabotage the Arc's launch. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a huge deal-but it is, at times, hard to come to terms with knowing that you're constantly working against your own efforts.
The switch also has an obvious impact on gameplay. For those who enjoyed the three-character team aspect of War for Cybertron and its selectable main characters, Fall of Cybertron's shift to a solo-character narrative might not be a welcome change. That change also means that the original game's three-player campaign co-op is gone-with absolutely nothing to replace it. It makes sense why that mode didn't survive under this new direction, but it feels a little weird to have what was a decently major feature of the previous game totally absent from its follow-up. However, that feeling of missing features crops up even more in Fall of Cybertron's multiplayer modes.
Campaign co-op may be on the cutting room floor, but Fall does bring back the series' excellent Escalation mode. This Horde-like challenge tasks up to four players with fending off 15 swarms of increasingly pissed-off bots. More than just an opportunity to mindlessly unload on metallic menaces, Escalation injects plenty of team-based strategy by requiring players to pool resources to unlock arsenals and upgrade weapons. Couple this cerebral layer with thoughtfully designed maps, a quartet of character classes, and the constant challenge of striking the right strategic balance between vehicle and robot forms, and Escalation delivers the most rewarding live-as-long-as-you-can mode I've played in recent memory.
The basic conceit (of multiplayer) is the same - there are four classes available, each with their own niche to fill, whether the hit-and-run role of the scout or the medic-oriented duties of the scientist, and each class has its own vehicular category. The aerial Transformers' ability to remain indefinitely aloft defines the battlefield on the x and y axes in a way that not many shooters pull off. The mobility factor makes for rapidly shifting momentum, and more importantly, there's always something to do, and the period between spawning and mixing it up is brief.
Returning War for Cybertron players and hardcore Transformers nerds will enjoy the revamped character creation, which allows for mixing and matching a toy store's worth of parts while customizing your loadouts.
"Fall of Cybertron" is a great kickoff to the fall season. Whether you're a Transformers fan or not, the game is a lot of fun. It truly ramps up the action to epic levels, then somehow keeps topping itself with dazzling new sequences. The levels are varied and well designed, the objectives are straightforward, you don't have to manage your stats for the sake of boss monsters, and the multiplayer modes are genuinely fun and easily accessible. It also ends well while at the same time teasing the third game as possibly being set on Earth. It'd be great if the next Transformers game offered the open world nature of "Sleeping Dogs" while retaining the combat, characters, and stories. That's just a suggestion on my part, High Moon, nothing more. You did a great job with this title and for that you are to be commended.
The pieces of plastic that filled my toy box as a child were more than just toys. Each colorful figure liberated from that battered wooden prison had a story to tell. I gave them dreams. I gave them voices. Though Hasbro laid the groundwork, I gave them personalities as diverse as their functions. There was a war going on, sure, but I was more concerned with the characters than any overarching purpose, even one as grand as survival of the species.