Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron


Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron spends too little time changing things into other things.

By Anthony John Agnello • September 6, 2012

Never doubt the seductive power of alchemy. Changing one thing into something else is intoxicating, whether it’s a base metal into gold or a big red truck into a man. That’s why we’re still playing with Transformers 30 years after Hasbro built a ramshackle cartoon around repurposed Japanese toys. High Moon Studios’ Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron understands this truth better than its 2010 predecessor, War For Cybertron. Watching a mechanical planet grind its last gear as it runs out of power is engrossing, as is making the world’s last citizens duke it out. But even if it is entertaining, Fall Of Cybertron’s emphasis on shooting things comes at the expense of alchemy.

Last time on Transformers: The Autobots and Decepticons are factions of mechanical people ensconced in a centuries-long civil war over natural resources. In War, the evil Decepticons beefed it big time in their quest for dictatorial control, poisoning what little fuel remains. The freedom-fighter Autobots, having decided to just get the hell out of dodge, start constructing a spaceship to escape to a new planet (preferably one with a decent highway system). Fall follows the Autobots as they try to find enough juice to power their ship and the Decepticons try to control or kill them for good.

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron

The game’s 13 chapters play out like serial episodes of the cartoon. Rather than picking your favorite bot, you’re placed behind the wheel of predetermined characters in each stage, each one with a distinctive vehicle form and ability. At first, you roll as Optimus Prime, the big red truck whose leadership skills let him direct a city-sized soldier around a battlefield. It’s a lot different than when you control Vortex, an evil helicopter bombarding a bridge half the game later. Controlling the action from every perspective makes for an entertaining yarn. It does, however, cause a disconnect; I want the good guys to win, but now I’m shooting the good guys? Now I’m the good guys again? Screw it, let’s just explode everything.

There’s plenty of exploding to do. Fall Of Cybertron, does its best to mix things up. One moment you’re invisible, sneaking through ancient ruins, the next you’re grapple-hooking around a decayed toxic-waste facility. Ultimately, though, 99 percent of your time is spent pointing a gun at a robot and pulling the trigger. Fall doesn’t use its best tools. Despite the supposed variety of perspectives, everybody blows stuff up pretty much the same way; there’s little specialization. It doesn’t make sense that the Decepticon leader Megatron, who can turn into a freaking tank, uses the same hand cannon that puny reconnaissance expert Cliffjumper does.

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron

Like in War For Cybertron, the shooting is best when you knock the difficulty down. On the normal setting, Fall needs you to cower in cover, waiting to pick off enemies. As far as I’m concerned, that defeats the entire purpose of being a robot that’s also a plane. On easy, the fights become speedy melees. Drive headlong into a pile of aggressive automatons, transform, pop off shotgun blasts, and speed away. If you don’t play this way, transforming is relegated to a handful of brief (albeit thrilling) chases and roadway skirmishes. These are the game’s best sequences, highlighting the Transformers’ enduring appeal.

The planet Cybertron was a liability in the last game. Its gleaming, monochrome surface was barely differentiated from the gleaming, monochrome robots in your control. In Fall, Cybertron becomes an altogether different sort of spectacle, a colorful ecosystem that’s crumbling around you. Lost observatories disintegrate into rust; a sleeping city awakens and follows you into war. It’s a beguiling, alien place. Cybertron’s constant shifting elevates it above the typical wasteland. Death is, after all, a type of alchemy, and Fall makes death transformative rather than a goal or fail state. Fall Of Cybertron is a step forward from War, but this series’ fixation on destruction is still holding it back. When High Moon plays with transformation more than guns, it will create gold.

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron
Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: T

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52 Responses to “Alchemical”

  1. Brainstrain says:

    I read the subtitle several times, and I would have sworn it said “too much time [transforming]”. And I proceeded to read the article, and I was confused. But no more! A very nice review.

  2. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Thanks, that was a very satisfying review.   As much as it will always be an objective truth that gigantic battling robots is awesome, Transformers is a franchise that carries no emotional connection into adulthood.  There’s just not a lot to hold onto beyond the id-driven satisfaction of a truck-man with a gigantic energy sword.  Which in itself is great, but any attempts to build around that tend to dilute that simple awesomeness.
       That said, Transformers: The Movie introduced as many strange and surreal elements as one could possibly hope from a marketing-mandated tie-in.
       Having just read the Toys in the Attic review on AV Club, I’m now convinced a Jan Svankmajer-esque stop motion film about the Quintessons and Junkions would be just the best.

    • Girard says:

       I have a hard time sympathizing when people complain about stuff like the Bay Transformers movies ‘raping’ their childhoods or whatever, as if some sacrosanct heartfelt bit of children’s entertainment has been violated and transformed into something crass and commercial. The original cartoons were 30-minute toy commercials for kids, and the movies, as aesthetically abhorrent as they may be, are still well in that tradition.

      I think this kind of relates to our discussion yesterday about children’s properties that retain genuine wonder. The ‘wonder’ of the Transformers premise wears thin pretty quick if you’re not a boy with an age in the single digits. But for kids (especially probably boys), there seems to be something entrancing there.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

           Truly.  There are few rhetorical devices I loathe more than the “raping my childhood” line.
           If the defining characteristic of your childhood was such a mercenary endeavor, It’s nothing that can be violated.
           And I was nuts for Transformers as a kid.  Toys ‘R Us was my shrine and Transformers were my relics.  I’d stand piously in front of them as silent and supplicant as any Catholic grandmother.
           So yeah, maybe my issue with ‘wonder’ is one of semantics, because total idolization of 14 oz. of plastic is not worthy of the word.

        • Girard says:

          Yeah. Transformers, Ninja Turtles…it’s not really any skin off of my nose what happens to them.

          If Michael Bay develops a re-imagining of Mr. Rogers as some womanizing muscle man defending his ‘hood from the king of the land of make believe, however, I think he and will have to have words.


        • HobbesMkii says:

          Transformers played second fiddle to LEGOs during my childhood, but they did play a mean fiddle.

        • stakkalee says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Careful, you never know who might be reading.  You don’t want to be the one to give Mr. Bay any ideas.

          I can understand the horror at having your treasured childhood memories violated, even if those treasured memories revolve around a crappy plastic toy (I was a G.I. Joe man myself.)  It’s the sense of having something you “own” be taken away from you, broken to pieces, and then reassembled in an unfamiliar form while you’re told “Why don’t you love this just as much?”  The Bayformer movies took a property premised on an awesome big-rig fighting a guy who can turn into a giant pistol and somehow made it even goofier without imbuing it with any of the sense of childhood wonder you (the generic you) felt when discovering it for the first time.

          Imagine how you’d feel if Super Mario 2 (or whatever it is that’s coming out soon) were built around the premise that Luigi has been working for Bowser this whole time?  What if M. Bison were revealed to be Ken and Ryu’s father?  It changes the characters, it changes their motivations.  It turns it into something unrecognizable.  Of course, I wouldn’t use the ‘rape’ metaphor because that’s just minimizing that particular evil, but there’s still a similar sense of violation.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus    Well, LEGO is just the best.  They stand alone.  Or stacked one on top of another.

      • Nothing rapes a person’s childhood like re-watching old cartoons as adults.

        Episodes of the original Transformers fall into three general categories:

        1) Surprisingly smart if you can get past the cheap animation and gratuitous padding (e.g. Secret of Omega Supreme)

        2) Enjoyable on a camp level (e.g. Sea Change)

        3) Unbearable on any level, sincere or ironic (e.g. Roll for It)

    • Cliffy73 says:

      I can’t agree that Transformers carries no emotional connection into adulthood.  I love my Transformers to bits (literally in some cases, sad to say), and have watched every episode of the cartoon in my 30’s.  This makes me a pathetic specimen, sure.  But there’s a place in my brain where they will always live, even if watching the show or manipulating the toys today I can see the reality behind it.  (Both of which I did this weekend, actually, introducing the franchise to my daughter, who thinks they’re the bees’ knees.  The cartoon was too scary for here, though.)

  3. Effigy_Power says:

    In all this… the question that really bugs me…
    If this is before the Transmorphicons come to earth… how does Optimus Prime look like a red truck? How would he have seen one?
    Isn’t that a bit like Arthur fighting with Excalibur in chapter one… just much much much less important?

  4. HilariousNPC says:

    I just beat this game, and I’m lumping this one into the “pretty awful” category. The levels all reek of “padding”, where you fight a bunch of little bots, then you reach a mid-boss bot, and then you have to fight 2 mid-boss bots.

    Or, you beat a wave of guys, then you beat another wave of mid-tier guys, and then you fight a third wave, and then the door unlocks.

    I also have major problems with the plot, first and foremost that it’s done in a crappy “flashback” setup where you play a mission as Bumblee to start the game, and then the next 11 chapters are flashbacks to the the Bumblebee chapter, and then you finish off the Bumblebee chapter. You see the plot literally go nowhere.

    The point that Anthony mentions, about being forced to play the Decepticons also mirrors my own opinions. I didn’t give a crap about playing as Megatron or Soundwave or Bruticus. I can’t play as Warpath or Ironside or Ratchet in the main campaign (I don’t play third person shooters multiplayer. I generally can’t aim fast enough to be useful.) but I get 5 or 6 chapters where I’m just not enjoying what’s going on. Swell job there, High Moon.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Finally we can answer the question if Bumblebee always looked like that puke-ugly muscle-car remake or if he had hyperbilirubinemia as a robot baby.
      (Take that, word-fairy!)

  5. The_Misanthrope says:

    Isn’t this always the case with the current state of AAA gaming?  There’s the possibility for really exciting or innovative gameplay and opt instead for a bland rehash of the currently-popular genre tropes.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I always say, why should the gaming industry follow drastically different ideas than the movie industry when it comes to phoning it in for the money?