High Moon Studios proved themselves to nearly every Transformers fan with their masterful work on War for Cybertron. That title was rooted in enough of what longtime franchise faithful love about Generation 1 (the original 80s cartoon) to fulfill our dreams of taking control of giant morphing vehicles. It also brought enough contemporary sensibilities  to the table, while still respecting the source material, to make the game enjoyable for even those that don’t know the difference between a Seeker and an Aerialbot. When Fall of Cybertron was announced there was no trepidation, only excitement. We got our hands on the demo early and have the nuts and bolts of it broken down for you. Be warned, spoilers abound.

The demo include three different parts, part of an Autobot campaign mission, a section of a Decepticon story level and two multiplayer modes. The heroic piece of this small taste puts you in control of Bumblebee. The story opens up on the Ark, the ship used by the Autobots to flee Cybertron, and the same vessel that would serve as the interior of their mountain base in the original cartoon. If you know the story, the proceedings will come as no surprise. However, the Decepticon ship that attacks looks less like the G1 Nemesis and more like the Beast Wars era Dark Side. It’s an interesting nod to another in-continuity Transformers series, especially since the Dark Side is far more menacing.

Unfortunately, despite the mounds of fan service, early on we’re clued into something a little bit odd. Bumblebee has been injured and has no voice. This addition to the character was introduced by Michael Bay’s films and carried over to the currently-running Transformers: Prime animated series. The cartoon handles it far better than Bay’s movies, but it still separates the little yellow ‘Bot from his roots. At least the Dinobots had been previously retconned (retroactive continuity), and High Moon had to be clever to incorporate their dinosaur forms. I’ll reserve judgement until the final game is out and hope that High Moon remembers just how good of a medic Teletraan-1 (the Ark’s computer) is.

The mission takes you through the halls of the ship to repair the defenses and ward off the Decepticon invasion. I suspect that the Autobot campaign will precede the Decepticon missions this time out (a switch from last time), with this prologue serving as a flashback. Given that this is short adventure is clearly designed for Bumblebee, there is no pre-mission option to choose from three different characters. The same is true of second piece of the short demo (the first bit of Chapter 6 of the game).

Vortex, one of the two flying Combaticons (the five evil Transformers that form the giant Bruticus) headlines, taking to the air with Blastoff and fighting through waves of Autobots on the ground. In his level, we’re introduced to Teletraan-1 stores, where players can upgrade weapons, purchase single use consumables like shields and speed boosts (a new inclusion) and other character enhancements. The shards collected from felled enemies serve as currency at these terminals and unlockable (random) weapon caches. Users can also check in with Teletraan-1 to rate weapons, creating an interesting vehicle for community input.

Guns are still fueled by expendable ammunition, but it seems to be more plentiful than in War for Cybertron. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a Halo 1 style shield and health meter. Given how challenging some sections of the first game were, I’m glad for the shift. That’s not to say that you won’t get torn to shreds if you aren’t careful, but it might prevent some of the more unreasonable deaths.

Recharging character abilities make a return. Bumblebee can dash in vehicle mode, on foot and in the air. Vortex has a shockwave effect that pushes enemies back, dealing considerable damage. The offensive ability was far more useful than Bumblebee’s movement-based skill, but the assignment of these active perks does fit the characters. There are blueprints and audio logs to discover (rather than the shields to destroy from WfC), giving some additional flavor to the collectibles. Movement, transformation, combat and the new single-use items (like Halo 3′s equipment) all felt great, making me even more excited (if that were possible) for the game’s August 21 release.

When you are ready to take things online, you can customize each of the four classes (Infiltrator, Destroyer, Titan and Scientist). Building your ‘Bot or ‘Con is largely similar to the process in the last game, but with more options. You’ll start off with picking a chassis/alt form, but from there you can tweak colors, change armor, swap heads (even a T-rex noggin) and customize your loadout (active power, primary and secondary weapons). The demo offers standard Deathmatch and a control point type.

Not a whole lot has changed in terms of the gameplay, but some of the skills like the Infiltrator’s ability to turn invisible, are a lot of fun and help enhance the strategic nature of the game. Even though the modes are fairly routine, getting to experience them with customizable Transformers is still a draw for fans like me. If anything, the demo for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron  has done its job masterfully. My anticipation for the game (and eagerness to see what other fan service High Moon Studios has poured into it) is extremely high. Visuals and the music (oh, the music!) are both improved, creating a compelling atmosphere that amps up the tension between the two sides. August 21 can’t get here soon enough.