One of the absolute cornerstones of my youth was the Transformers. I watched the show every morning, got a new figure every birthday, and the movie (the proper 1986 one) is still proudly in my collection. The series has had its ups and downs over the years and I’ve never felt as connected to it as I did when I was five and still watching it on Saturday morning in my Autobots underoos; even the fairly well received prequel to this game, Transformers: War for Cybertron, didn’t quite grab me. Amazingly though this latest game in the series, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, may have finally gotten me back on board or at least sparked my nostalgia in a way every other piece of recent Transformer related media failed.
See that’s the thing here, this game not only understands that almost its entire worth is derived from nostalgia but also seems to enjoy that nostalgia as much as its intended audience. While there are slight attempts made to modernize some of the designs, a lot of the characters do a great job of evoking the look of their cartoon counterparts and care was to taken to make them sound and act appropriately. Lots of obscure references are made and characters I’d long forgotten show up to bring me right back to sitting in front of a big ass CRT TV eating Fruit Roll Ups. There are some quibbles I have with some decisions made here, like keeping Bumblebee voiceless to appease fans of the recent Bay movies or giving Swoop a weird Brooklyn accent but it generally gives long time fans exactly the Transformers experience they’ve been wanting.
In terms of gameplay it’s a third person shooter with – for a nice change of pace – no cover mechanic. While every section does feature some different mechanics, for the most part this game is just moving to avoid fire and placing the best shots you can in a style not dissimilar to a less melee focused version of Space Marine. On the one hand you end up with a fun and fairly fast paced game with an interesting array of really cool weapons but on the other hand you never really feel like the bad ass invincible robot warrior that you should. You see the Transformers are really weak in their robot forms, taking only a few hits before death and as this game does not have recharging health (which I frankly applaud) you’ll find yourself dying a fair amount. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this it just doesn’t seem to fit the characters; the mighty hand of steel should not be crippled by a couple shotgunners running up and getting two lucky hits in. On the bright side though the other mechanics the game will introduce on a character to character basis all work quite well. I was surprised to find out that this game about giant robots featured stealth sections and I was even more surprised to find out they were fun. Stuff like flight, grapple mechanics, airstrike targeting, and good old turret sequences all make an appearance and do their jobs to keep the gameplay nice and varied.
There’s also multiplayer of course because this is a shooter in the year 2012 and for what it’s worth it’s pretty damn fun. The multiplayer was one of the more lauded facets of the first game and they’ve expanded on it on pretty well here. You get four classes to fool around with – Scientist, Titan, Infiltrator, and Soldier if I’m not mistaken – and all they complement each other well throughout the game’s four competitive multiplayer modes. The modes aren’t really anything special; you’ve got CTF, Point Capture, TDM, and something called Headhunter in which you collect life sparks from your kills and drop them off in a certain spot while trying not to get smoked yourself. A real perk for the multiplayer is the large amount of character customization as they allow you to build your own Transformer. Each class has a set amount of parts to choose from (all culled from series favorite characters) and you can mix and match to your heart’s content. There is also a horde mode called Escalation which is fine but again nothing revolutionary, they do allow you to play as actual named characters from the show though, so that’s cool.
Moving onto the presentation things are, as I said earlier, newly designed yet evocative of what we once knew. The game still takes place on Cybertron so all the characters continue to have a more futuristic and rounded look compared to the show but it still feels closer to those original awesome Gen 1 designs than the last game did. They’ve also done a better job of varying up the environments this time around. While I did not finish WFC, from what I played of it everything seemed very dull and dark whereas FOC has a lot more going on than just space stations and dull metallic cities. Locations such as the Sea of Rust, an old Cybertronian tomb, and the Ark are all on display along with a variety of other cool and memorable landmarks. The biggest problem with the visuals is just some hiccups with the Unreal Engine; you’ll hit the occasional weird framerate drop and the audio desyncs from the cut scenes a little more than I would like but these are thankfully fairly few and far between. It’s also worth noting this was the PS3 version so it’s entirely possible that these problems are non-existent on the other platforms, I’ve heard the PC version in particular runs quite well. In terms of sound design everything is there but maybe not exactly in the ways I would like. The classic transforming noise does pop off whenever you change forms but it’s a little too quiet in the mix and gets drowned out by the weapons fire. The voice acting is generally pretty solid though the direction is maybe off, despite Peter Cullen returning as Optimus he sounded a little hokier than he should have and the Dinobots overall just do not sound right. Lastly the music, while also being a little too low in the mix, tends to have a good remix of 80’s style rock vibe that fits the series perfectly. I am a little sad they didn’t include the show’s theme song but they do have “The Touch” during the credits, at first it’s a shitty remix version of it but if you wait for a minute then they play the awesome classic version.
The story is where we’ll finish off here and it’s an interesting mix of original concepts, retelling of the canon fiction, and homages to the show and movie. The basic premise is that the core of Cybertron is dying and now the Autobots are trying leave via the Ark (basically the events that lead up to the cartoon) however the Decepticons are also trying to leave, both so they can kill the Autobots and so they can steal Energon from other worlds. The game has you switching from bot to bot each level as well as from team to team rather than having two separate campaigns which leads to a much more cohesive story overall. Throughout the game you’ll see stuff like the creation of the Decepticon’s Nemesis ship and the Space Bridge, the appearance of Metroplex who is the Transformer who is normally an entire city, and a well explained though severely non canon shoehorned in use of the Dinobots and Insecticons. The way they explain those two groups, who were in the show found on earth (hence the forms based on earth creatures), being on Cybertron is that with the planet dying a subterranean race of Transformers have been surfacing (the Insecticons) and the Decepticons have taken control of them. In this process they found fossils or remains of dinosaur-like creatures and Shockwave, who essentially plays an evil Nazi scientist here, remakes some captured Autobots (Grimlock and his unit) into the Dinobots based on these fossils through terrible painful surgery so they can be used as war machines. In fact the reason Grimlock speaks like an idiot is because almost his entire brain has been rerouted to combat efficiency. While this odd explanation works surprisingly well it does add what feels like an unneeded and somewhat antithetical layer of pathos to what were ostensibly comic relief characters. It’s no longer “Me Grimlock no bozo, me king” but now “Me Grimlock no bozo, me victim of horrendous war crimes that have left me a broken husk of an individual”.
The technical aspect of this game is of a workmanship like quality, the gameplay does nothing special but has its moments, what makes it stand out is its fantastic devotion to its fan service. While you will get a little bored with the base mechanics the greater moments of this game like commanding Metroplex, controlling Bruticus and Grimlock, or the stunningly awesome last level that has you switching constantly between different robots on different sides all make the game worth while. If you’re a Transformers fan you will find enough to like here to easily justify the $60 price tag in spite of the game’s fairly short length (the campaign only lasts about 5-6 hours). That said if you were more of a Gobots guy or something then you probably won’t get as much out of it, this is a game built with the singular purpose of evking nostalgia in mind and if this series is not one you have those feeling for then I recommend staying away. But for all those who did grow up with the strains of Stan Bush’s “Dare” echoing in the background then this is totally worth your time even if it’s just for memory’s sake. With that in mind I happily give Transformers: Fall of Cybertron a 4 out of 5 stars.