Michael Bay may think he’s got a stranglehold on huge-scale Transformers action, but High Moon Studios certainly has the right to lay claim to that title based on their work on Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. What Hollywood has presented during the past few years has massive explosions and “robots in disguise” that are grandiose due simply to their relative scale to humans. What High Moon’s latest game presents is an order of magnitude larger, making even the beloved Optimus Prime seem puny when compared to the massive constructs on the Cybertron world. The result is a grave picture of the Autobots’ plight, a level of vulnerability that could never have been communicated in a location where a larger-than-life stature makes Autobots seem all powerful. Yet much like the Michael Bay movies, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron at times focuses more on its grandness than on its storytelling (or in this case, gameplay), leaving the finished product ironically underwhelming.
I know I’m going against the grain by saying that, but game reviews are subjective, and that’s honestly how I feel. I’m not going to go so far as to say including Grimlock and his T-Rex form, or including the Combaticons and their Voltron-like Bruticus form, is jumping the shark. But, with all the grandiose environmental explosions and transformations, with all the form-changing possibilities, and with these fan-favorite Transformers now in the mix, it feels like High Moon Studios has reached its peak and is stretching too far to keep people engaged.
I also won’t go so far as to say I got bored with Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how often I felt like I’d played the game before, just with a different skin. During the first few chapters alone (the game has 13 total), several moments reminded me immediately of Halo, Gears of War and even Mass Effect 3, not to mention the previous Transformers games. Those are great franchises to name drop, of course, but the experiences are multiple years old. I’m also always looking to play something fresh and new, especially as the inevitable troupe of Q3 and Q4 titles hits store shelves, and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron doesn’t feel like either one.
To be fair, this isn’t to say the game doesn’t have its strong points or hasn’t improved from earlier Transformers titles. For instance, High Moon has certainly fixed an issue that plagued earlier games by no longer letting you wreak havoc without consequence by cruising around in vehicle form blasting aimlessly. Nor can you run in guns blazing anymore; it’s imperative to notice which enemy type you’re fighting and adjust your attack strategy accordingly. You can also now create your own custom Transformer to take into head-to-head matches.
What I’m saying is, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a good game, probably the best Transformers title yet released, but nothing about it feels original or fresh — other than the grandiose explosions, massive animating skylines, and every other inconsequential-but-look-at-me multimedia element that would make Michael Bay blush. When it comes to audio and video, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron rocks. Everything else, I just can’t get over the “been there, done that” vibe.
At various points in the game you get to play as a different Transformer, even switching between Autobot and Decepticon allegiances. Theoretically this is done to keep things fresh, with levels that supposedly play to each character’s strengths. Unfortunately, it all just feels like the same basic third-person shooter over and over again, just with a different robot dishing out the pain, different environments to blast and platform through, and different NPCs calling out for help.
Taken online, the game still has a lot of that “been there” feeling, although at least you’re playing with unpredictable humans. For instance, in the Escalation mode — basically like Horde mode — you use the points accumulated for killing enemies to purchase extra ammo, extra health, weapons upgrades, new weapons and even defensive sentries. The only thing that keeps me from asking rhetorically whether you’ve played Counter-Strike is the fact that all of these purchases take place mid-mission rather than between them. But, fresh or not, what’s done here is done well, so kudos to High Moon for that.
Still, Hollywood likes things that go boom and look good doing so, much like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. The game industry operates much the same way, but the best games within it also introduce a fresh experience, something Transformers: Fall of Cybertron fails to do. Yes, Grimlock and the Combaticons are new, but for all practical purposes they’re just multimedia window dressing on an otherwise evolutionary, not revolutionary, title.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
– Jonas Allen