I usually take notes when I’m reviewing a game. I like to make sure I don’t forget to hit any of the major points that shape an experience or neglect any of the minor details that give a title its unique character. From the moment I started playing High Moon Studios’ Transformers: Fall of Cybertron until the final moments, I did not once pause to pick up a pen. I didn’t need to.
High Moon has made no secret of their passion for the Autobots and Decepticons. The final days of the Transformers’ dying home is a rich landscape of untold tales of heroism and brutality (and sometimes both at once). I’ve made no secret of my own love for this staple of my childhood, and I’m comfortable telling you that the knowledge and enjoyment I brought with me to this game are what made it a worthwhile experience. Without that understanding, the impact would have been significantly diminished.
One of the things that I’ll get out of the way early is an issue I had with how Bumblebee was handled. As many fans know, Michael Bay’s influence has left the smallest Autobot without a voice. High Moon dug in and let the character speak in War for Cybertron. Inexplicably, that has changed. He has no voice, and worse, there is no explanation to be found for the change. It isn’t handled in the exposition or in gameplay. Whether Hasbro imposed this decision is unknown, but regardless, High Moon dropped the ball on the narrative.
There are some other, more understandable changes. Two of the Insecticon leaders sport new names due to trademark issues. One of the Dinobots has also seen a change in appellation. Apparently, “Slag,” despite its history of use in the series, is an offensive term in the United Kingdom, so the Triceratops’ name is now “Slug.”
For those that consider themselves fans of the franchise, there is a lot to love in this second outing. If you haven’t picked it up already, it’s absolutely worth putting at the top of your wish list. If you are coming to the table looking for a strong third-person shooter without a particular penchant for the source material, you’ll find it here, but you should be aware that there is a barrier to entry with regard to the story.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron goes a step too far past fan service. It makes an unfortunate assumption that everyone who picks up a controller to play the game comes in prepared. There are little nods through brief easter eggs and dialog that are an added bonus for educated audiences; those are a delight. But there are gameplay mechanics that won’t make any sense if you don’t know the characters. I was thrilled to encounter them, but I also recognize that they weren’t well documented for those that simply want to enjoy the game for its mechanics. Nowhere are there answers to questions like, “Why can X character do Y thing.” (I’m trying very hard to avoid spoilers, which prevents me from offering specifics.)
This is something that could have been mitigated with unlockable character bios. These would have made for interesting reading for fans and a more accessible experience for those newer to the universe. A short recap of the events of War for Cybertron would have also been welcome, especially since there are moments in this game that are direct callbacks to the events of High Moon’s first endeavor.
If story isn’t important to you, or you already know the difference between a Seeker and an Aerialbot, you’ll be happy to know that the gameplay is fantastic. As someone who played (and loved) the co-op experience offered in the last game, I was at first dismayed by the absence of that feature. The choice was made to support the narrative of the game, and for me, it worked out just fine. However, if you don’t really care if the blue-eyed robots beat the red-eyed ones, then the absence of being able to play through the campaign with friends might not be redeemed by a better story.
The 13 chapters put you in the shoes of specific Autobots and Decepticons. You won’t be able to choose, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be alone the entire time either. At multiple points throughout the game, you’ll be treated to great dialog. This is never truer than in the section featuring Cliffjumper and Jazz voiced by RipTen favorite Nolan North and Troy Baker respectively. Baker provides a performance that would have made the late Scatman Crothers (the original voice of the smooth-talking sports car) extremely proud.
The combat feels more fluid than the first game. One major improvement is that ammunition is far more plentiful this time around. I rarely ran out. Purchasing character and weapon upgrades from Teletraan1 stations are persistent across the entire experience and also allow you to shape the title to your play style. While it looks like Cliffjumper and Bumblebee shouldn’t be able to wield the Riot Cannon that looks at home on Megatron’s arm, they seem to manage just fine. Thankfully, special abilities (like cloaking and grappling hooks), size, speed and strength also factor into how each Transformer controls, so using your favorite weapon for different ‘Bots and ‘Cons won’t make them feel identical.
Speaking of favorites, there is a community feature that allows players to rate their favorite primary and secondary weapons as well as offensive and defensive consumable gear. The equipment includes protective measures. like shields and instant energon recharges, along with an assortment of attack drones and explosives. On the hardest difficulty, these can be a life saver.
You’ll be able to find blueprints to unlock new items for purchase in the shop. The weapons can be upgraded to allow more ammo in the clip, faster firing rate and more. Each blaster, pistol and cannon has one enhancement that can only be purchased once you’ve invested in the rest. These add interesting wrinkles like making the final shell in a gun explode with 500% damage. I found that investing in your one or two favorites is better than spreading around the shards, a currency earned from smashing and killing things. And now I think I understand how the Cybertronian Civil War started…