Saturday, August 25, 2012
Xbox 360 review: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
A few years ago, Transformers: War for Cybertron proved itself a force to be reckoned with as one of those rare games based of a television series that actually proved to be good. Though it was a Transformers story, it was not directly tied to the Michael Bay films, comic books, or any of the number of animated series. It was a new take on the early days of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, and explained both how Megatron rose to lead a full-scale rebellion and how Optimus became the last Prime. War for Cybertron ended with plenty of story yet to be told, and so Fall of Cybertron picks up almost immediately thereafter. With the Autobots losing the war for their home planet and Energon resources nearly depleted, Optimus has commissioned the construction of the Ark - a vessel that will take them to a new home among the stars. But Megatron intends to destroy all of the remaining Autobots, and so the final days of the war prove a desperate struggle between the two factions.
Whereas War for Cybertron allowed players to choose from one of three characters in each level, Fall of Cybertron pre-designates them. There is only one playable character available at a time, due to their specific abilities and how they will be used in each level, and because of this cooperative multiplayer has been removed from the campaign. The first game played like a third-person shooter nearly the entire way through, but Fall of Cybertron adds in some new ways to traverse environments. As Cliffjumper, a cloaking ability allows you to sneak past enemies entirely. As Jazz, you can use a grappling hook to climb to higher areas and gain a tactical advantage. Meanwhile, Grimlock and Bruticus take part in missions that are focused entirely on destroying every bot and building in their way. Grimlock has a rage meter that builds up as he kills Insecticons, and when it fills he can transform into his signature Dinobot mode. Bruticus' missions, on the other hand, are shorter and more straightforward, with objectives being to destroy a few key structures before his health is depleted.
The developers seem to have taken a few notes from Michael Bay when designing the first few campaign missions, as you encounter increasingly larger things to blow up in spectacular fashion. Of perhaps the most noteworthy mention with regards to this is Metroplex, a gargantuan ancient Transformer who awakens to aid Optimus and the other Autobots at a crucial point in defending the Ark against waves of Decepticons. Because he is left with few options to ensure the safety of his fellow Autobots, Optimus' desperation brings out side of his character that is less often seen. In fact, the development of most of the cast of Fall of Cybertron is handled wonderfully. Though the campaign only lasts around ten hours, you get to see the strategic team-based approach that the Combaticons put forth, the struggle within Grimlock to find out what has happened to him in a new and unfamiliar body, and the flashy looks and careful approach Jazz takes to battle.
One aspect that made War for Cybertron feel like such a breath of fresh air to the franchise was that it drew inspiration from nearly every other Transformers work before it, but still managed to find originality in its telling of the origin story. With Fall of Cybertron, the inspirations for characters vary quite nicely - Cliffjumper looks the part of his Prime counterpart, Bruticus' design is heavily influence by his Generation 2 appearance, and Grimlock's robot mode is a cross between his Animated and Classic designs. However, the story directly borrows plot points from the original 1984 series, going so far as to include lines of cheesy dialogue. The second half of the campaign does more to evoke nostalgic memories than it does to create a stronger story.
Dialogue aside, the voice acting is quite good across the board. Each actor manages to capture the essence of they are playing in a way that makes them universally recognizable. It would have been nice, however to hear some more spoken lines from the Decepticon camp. The Combaticons earn a fair amount of time in the spotlight, but veterans Soundwave and Starscream get pushed to the backburners so that the story can focus more on the Optimus vs. Megatron struggle. Soundwave's static voice and Starscream's bragging are easier on the ears than Megatron's constant yelling.
The Unreal Engine is certainly showing its age, as textures often take a moment to fully load in. The metallic look meant to cover the exterior armor of each Transformer ironically looks like plastic on screen. On the other hand, the environments are not only larger, but also much more brightly colored and heavily detailed than in the previous game, and weather elements add a bit more realism to the planet of Cybertron.
As with the first game, Fall of Cybertron allows players to carry only two weapons at a time, color-coding them as light weapons and heavy weapons. More weapons - as well as permanent character upgrades - can be purchased for campaign use from the Teletran 1 store in any given mission. Grenades have been removed entirely, though heat-seeking mines remain as an equipment item alongside a health regenerator, speed boost, and damage upgrade. These equipment items are few and far between in the campaign, but can prove quite useful in turning the tide of a multiplayer match and are downright invaluable in Escalation mode.
The number of weapons at your disposal is roughly the same as in War for Cybertron, though they are more widely varied this time around. Some, like the Gear Shredder, are a bit unorthodox but a lot of fun to use and a welcome aid against the smarter enemy AI. A few of the returning abilities are put to better use, such as Hover, which now allows you to follow up with a powerful slam into the ground, knocking enemies flat on their backs for a moment or two. As a whole, Fall of Cybertron is a more challenging game than its predecessor, but is also host to a better scaling of difficulty. There are only a few boss fights throughout the campaign, and while none prove as memorable as War for Cybertron's fight against Trypticon, they are nowhere near as ridiculously challenging.
The mulitplayer side of things remains largely unchanged, which is just as well, considering how great a job High Moon did with it in the first place. Leveling up progresses at a fast rate, since experience points can be earned from non-combat actions as well, like healing allies and travelling long distances in vehicle mode. Bonuses like multi-kills and killing a set number of enemies without using any sort of zoom can also rack up your score more quickly. Abilities can be used while you are still on the move, so running and cloaking as the Infiltrator is no problem. Gone is the repair beam, as the Scientist class doubles as a medic with their default ability allowing them to heal teammates. The degree of customization has also been improved, as you can select from a myriad of heads, vehicle forms, arms, shoulders, legs, and color schemes. You are able to unlock these at your leisure, so long as you have earned enough points in multiplayer to afford them.
Escalation mode has seen a few tweaks. There are only four characters to choose from at the outset, so if you don't get the ability you wanted with one character, you're out of luck. However, the greater range of weapons in each stage sort of balances this drawback. Enemy waves progress at a logical rate, and each stage is set up with a central room with others branching off from it, instead of stacking upwards like some of the War for Cybertron maps did. Upgrade stations will only grant you your desired weapons, ammo, or health if you have the correct amount on the spot, which prevents teammates from stealing the rewards of your hard-earned kills.
Fall of Cybertron is a worthy follow-up to what is easily one of the most interesting Transformers stories to date. There are some significant changes to the way this sequel handles, but nearly all of them are for the better. The story is a bit rough around the edges, but still decent as a whole. It's great to see the new characters get their time in the spotlight, but at the end of the day there's no better matchup than that of Optimus and Megatron.
My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)