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Video Game Review: ‘Transformers: Fall of Cybertron’ is More Than Meets the Eye

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CHICAGO – Considering its iconic nature, it’s funny that “The Transformers” franchise has never been about its story. Outside of Optimus Prime dying, or that time Ultra Magnus fought the junk-bots to a Weird Al song, casual fans would be hard pressed to remember a specific episode or occurrence in the series that really stuck with them. Let’s face it, the series was there to sell us toys so we could make up our own stories, smashing together these little plastic and diecast metal toys as our imaginations made up adventures as we went along.

HollywoodChicago.com Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0

Activision’s “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” is the second game in High Noon Studio’s reimagining of the mythos. The first game, “Transformers: War For Cybertron” was a mostly-fun shoot-em-up featuring your favorite robots in disguise, but its real highlight was the story. It gave us the origin of Megatron and Optimus Prime, explained how and why Cybertron would eventually become a technological wasteland, and was careful to dole out just enough fan service to keep fans geeking out the entire way through.

Madden NFL 13
Madden NFL 13
Photo credit: EA Sports

The story is even better this time around, with a variety of interactive cutscenes that immerse you in the story, and provide a variety of “wow” moments. “Fall of Cybertron” opens with the Autobots onboard The Ark that famously transported them to Earth. After being sieged by the Decepticons and getting a tease of a 1-on-1 Optimus/Megatron brawl, it flashes back to a few days earlier, and the game begins proper. This time you’re tasked with finding enough energon to power the Ark and get the Autobots off their dying home world. From controlling the giant moving fortress Metroplex, to stumbling across a futuristic planetarium that points the Autobots to this little blue planet of ours, “Fall Of Cybertron”’s story entertains.

Madden NFL 13
Madden NFL 13
Photo credit: EA Sports

Equally as entertaining is the gameplay. The fast-paced shooting mechanics give the proceedings a frantic pace, and your weapons provide serious kick. You’re given a standard weapon and a heavy weapon. The standard weapon typically has more ammo and shoots faster, and the stronger weapon is typically some sort of powerful machine gun, or rocket launcher. You can also switch your weapon hand with a press of a button, allowing you to shoot around corners or have a better field of vision. Each robot you control also has a special ability, such as a cloak, grappling hook, or the ability to hover.

The only thing lacking in the gameplay department is exciting driving mechanics. Sure, you can transform and drive around, but there’s rarely anything exciting to do once you’re in vehicle form outside of a couple of anti-climatic escapes from exploding buildings. It’s not really that big of a deal, but it’s sort of a shame that the whole “Transforming” part of “Transformers” is so underwhelming. While it’s also somewhat disappointing that the co-op from the last game has been removed, the game feels tighter for it, better allowing the game to construct its narrative with interactive cut-scenes and various on-rails portions of the game that would be difficult to implement if there was a second player along for the ride. There’s something deeply satisfying about mortaring three Decepticons with a giant turret and watching them explode five different ways in a cloud of smoke, sparks, and body parts.

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Madden NFL 13
Photo credit: EA Sports

There’s also the ability to buy mines, shields, and health boosts at upgrade stations littered throughout the campaign. It’s here you can truly find your niche. There are a bunch of different weapons to try out: Sniper rifles, shotguns, corrosive gel, and machine guns are available and have their own pros and cons. All of them can be upgraded with Energon shards acquired throughout the campaign.

This isn’t all (incredibly exciting) mindless shooting, however. Certain enemies can only be harmed by shooting them in the back, and others toss sticky grenades that can only be avoided if you transform at the right time. As you make your way through the campaign you’ll come across a few different gameplay styles, too. Taking command of StarScream and zooming around the sky uninhibited is a delight, and there’s a carnal joy in taking the reigns of Grimlock and stomping, stabbing, and generally terrorizing your way through a Decepticon base. “Fall Of Cybertron” generates the best kind of video game chaos.

The game succeeds quite well graphically. There are a few texture rendering issues toward the end of the main campaign when robots and buildings are exploding at a breakneck pace, and when you transform into vehicle form sometimes it takes a second for the texture to pop in properly, but otherwise “Fall of Cybertron” is masterful in its depiction of an alien world and the robots destroying it. You spend a great deal of time exploring all facets of Cybertron, on the surface, below it, and in the air. These locations are distinct and colorful, and in perhaps the game’s greatest triumph, it’s easy to see the enemies. As modern games lean more toward the browns and grays of war-zone reality, it’s become increasingly difficult to see who is shooting you - and from where. “Fall Of Cybertron” uses color scheme, colors, and lighting to make sure you always know where to go, and who to shoot at. It’s these graphical choices that make the gameplay better - and more exciting.

Madden NFL 13
Madden NFL 13
Photo credit: EA Sports

“Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” is a great second chapter in this franchise. It’s relatively short, and the amount of time spent controlling your favorite Autobots and Decepticons is limited. But, wisely, High Noon Studios appears to be keeping a few bullets in the chamber for the threequel. The gameplay is varied and exciting. The plot is far more interesting than anything involving robots based on toys has any right being. Then, when you toss in the excellent voice acting, and the online multiplayer mode that lets you create and level up your *own* Transformer, I’m going to face the cliche in the face and say that “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” is more than meets the eye. It’s the sort of game that makes me wish I was 13 years old again so I could invite my friends over to play it after school as we lie about having finished our homework. It’s the sort of game that as a child I wished and hoped for, but never got. It’s the sort of game that improves upon its predecessor in every way, and still manages to leave some gas in the tank for the next one. Thus, while the actual fall of Cybertron is probably something of a bummer for Optimus, Bumblebee, and company, it’s anything but for us.

“Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” was developed by High Moon Studios and release by Activision on August 21, 2012. It was reviewed for the Xbox 360 but it was also released for the PS3.

By Paul Meekin
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com

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