On The Level

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron—Metroplex Heeds The Call

A city-sized ally gets a little help from his little friends.

By Drew Toal • August 27, 2013

In Pacific Rim, director Guillermo del Toro’s movie of big robots and extra-dimensional dinosaur clones, human pilots meld brains using something called a “neural handshake” to pilot their gargantuan mechanical “jaegers.” (Humanity rightly came to the conclusion that German words were the most likely to scare the pants off alien invaders. If they had pants.) Apparently it takes more than one human brain to effectively operate these rock-’em sock-’em behemoths, but this mind meld only works if the two drivers are simpatico.

Are two puny human minds really enough, though? Is the human element even really necessary? Science fiction teaches us that computers are smarter, stronger and faster than people. Shouldn’t we just turn the fighting over to them completely? Or is there something significant in humanity’s genetic makeup—an irrational unpredictability—that can’t be replicated by the most sophisticated artificial intelligence?

The 2012 game Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron has its own answers to these questions. The noble Autobots have lost a Cybertronian civil war to the better-armed and more ruthless Decepticons. Optimus Prime and his decimated force have made a last-ditch plan to escape on board a specially outfitted intergalactic spacecraft. The Decepticon leader, Megatron, will accept nothing but unconditional surrender rather than allow his enemies to flee in defeat. He moves to destroy both the ship and his nemesis, Prime, once and for all. Megatron’s megalomania, if you will, would make him a good fit in Hitler’s inner circle. Give him a blonde wig and a terrible mustache, and suddenly it’s all hail the Robo-Fuhrer. He’s the most human of Transformers, and therefore the most feared.

It’s in Prime’s darkest hour, naturally, that he stumbles on an ancient power, one that could turn the tide and allow his people to escape destruction. In a level called “Metroplex Heeds The Call,” Megatron and his ilk are introduced to a towering Autobot golem with an affinity for smashing bad guys.

Metroplex is enormous, even by Transformers standards. In the game, you control Prime as he races along shattered highways in an effort to relieve his beleaguered troops. One of the bridges is out. Metroplex, being a helpful sort, fills the cavernous gap with his hand, an appendage that your 30-foot-tall Autobot fits into with room to spare. In a world of large mechanical beings and gargantuan structures laid waste by eons of robot civil carnage, Metroplex dominates the shattered skyline.

Yet for all his power, Metroplex is no leader. He needs Prime to direct his artillery strikes on enemy strongpoints, and Optimus must “paint” targets for Metroplex to pummel into scrap. Likewise, Metroplex seems to lack a capacity for strategic thought, and is more a force of nature than an independent entity. Point him at something you want to send into oblivion, and he will oblige. As you fight your way across the city, ordering Metroplex to take down huge cannon emplacements that threaten your escape vehicle, friends and foes alike marvel at this monster’s sudden, improbable arrival. He’s like a two-mile-high metal tsunami; immutable, crushing everything in his path.

It would be unfair to characterize Metroplex as an unthinking war machine like Pacific Rim’s jaegers. But just as the Merrimac—the Confederate ironclad gunboat—gave the South a temporary naval advantage in the American Civil War, Metroplex’s arrival is merely a stopgap, delaying the inevitable outcome of a conflict that’s already decided. (In Pacific Rim, the jaegers also enjoy temporary success only to be overwhelmed by a relentless enemy.) Plus, the Decepticons have bullies of their own—like Bruticus, who dusts away tiny bots with his propeller blade and flamethrower arm—and Metroplex is not invincible.

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron

Toward the end of the level, we see why a commander like Prime—a figure, like Megatron, full of human-like intangibles—is worth 10 Metroplexes. As you come upon a group of allies about to be overwhelmed by the enemy horde, Prime—channeling some electronic version of Leonidas or Davy Crockett—rallies his nearly broken troops in a way that only great leaders can. Waves of Decepticons crash against your ragged Autobot line, thrown back time and again by Prime’s indomitable willpower. (And his bullets. His many bullets.)

Meanwhile, Metroplex’s momentum stalls as the Decepticons focus their attack. He falls, no doubt crushing some Transformer orphanages and low-rent housing in the process. It’s up to Prime to finish the task and save his people.

Yet Prime’s luck runs out. He is soon captured by Megatron’s shrill lieutenant, Starscream, and is brought to his knees before the Decepticon leader. Megatron, true to form, spends a valuable few minutes gloating over his prone rival. Fortunately for Prime, no one thought to check Metroplex for a pulse, and what follows is a comeuppance for the ages. Behind Megatron, you see the blurry outline of what could be a building with a face. It turns out to be a certain not-so-dead giant Autobot. Megatron rants, “Always defiant to the end, aren’t you, Prime? At every turn, you have thwarted my efforts to save this planet—to return it to its former glory. No more. This day it all ends, Prime, once and for all.”

How right he is. In a moment as poetic as it is cathartic, a resurgent Metroplex rips the ceiling off the Decepticon headquarters and summarily punches Megatron into the ground. This might not seem like such a devastating development until you consider that Metroplex’s clenched fist is roughly the size of Madison Square Garden. And, in a wonderful design decision, the game finally allows you to briefly take control of Metroplex just long enough to put in a few extra haymakers on an already completely totalled Megatron. This is significant. While Metroplex might have knocked Megatron out on his own, it takes the human element—the outside, unpredictable intelligence—to gratuitously smash him into a crater when he’s already in pieces. It’s a visceral reaction, rather than a coldly mechanical one. The remaining Decepticons, properly chastened by this show of excessive force, slowly back out of the room.

As the largest and strongest Transformer, it should follow that Metroplex would be in position of leadership. He could, as he’s proven, crush Prime with his bare hand. But it’s the humanity (for lack of a better word) in Prime and Megatron—two sides of the same coin—that make them irreplaceable to their respective tribes. It’s that unquantifiable factor that will prove to be our greatest boon when the machines eventually rise up against their human masters. Give mankind the proper tools, and we’ll win out through sheer grit. Unless, of course, Metroplex shows up and turns us into people paste. No amount of grit is stopping that dude.

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  • PaganPoet

    Doesn’t making a bipedal warrior robot seem like a terrible idea to anyone else? I know they’re supposed to look like samurai or whatever, so there’s that, but I can’t think of a more exploitable design flaw for a robot to have. Except for the AT-ATs from Star Wars. The engineers of those things must have been trying to see what they could get away with.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      But Transformers weren’t made! They evolved from naturally occurring gears, levers, and pulleys. It’s true!

      • PaganPoet

        Heh. That’s like the colossi from Shadow of the Colossus being made up of rubble and buildings and rocks, but it’s from the 80s so it’s bad. Unless you’re old enough. Then it’s good. Better.

      • Unexpected Dave

        Pfft. The comic isn’t canon. 

    • NakedSnake

      Of course, you’re 100% right. Which is why DARPA has been spending your tax dollars on developing this metal monstrosity.

      • SamPlays

        This has “Worst Halloween Costume for Two People” written all over it.

      • MintBerry_Crunch

        Holy smokes, this part is really impressive! 

        I always found the “Gekko’s” in Metal Gear Solid IV to be really creepy (bull noises!) and fascinating, what with the organic-looking legs as well.

        The legs on those videos are definitely more unsettling, though.  

      • Fluka

        If I could go back to school, I would study robotics so I could join Boston Dynamics.  They’re like a nightmare dream factory!  Plus I’d have a leg up on knowing when the robotic revolution will happen.

        Wait, no, I’d probably just be first against the wall when the revolution comes.  Hmm.

        *Cheetah Bot runs through her nightmares dreams…*

        • stakkalee

          Ooh, if we’re talking about horrifying robots from Boston Dynamics don’t forget to include Petman! (Seriously, this robot is creepy as shit.  I think I’ve mentioned before, it reminds me of the Ghost People from the Dead Money DLC.)

        • NakedSnake

          The fact that this video is “not available in your country” only makes it more appealing.

        • Fluka

          @stakkalee:disqus Petman!  The man who lives in a little house in the bottom of Uncanny Valley!

          @baneofpigs:disqus Not to ruin the mystique, but does this work?

        • MintBerry_Crunch

          @stakkalee:disqus   

          Folks, you gotta trust me on this one. 

          Click. http://youtubedoubler.com/9RoB 
          It. 

        • stakkalee

          @MintBerry_Crunch:disqus I snorted so hard my boss came in from the next room!

        • NakedSnake

          @Fluka:disqus I love how they’re explicitly pitting it against hussain bolt. Like, they define the projects success as running faster than the fastest human. Between that and the fact that they named their artificial human “Pet man”, I have to assume that Boston Dynamics is actually a bunch of lizard-men who despise humanity. Especially b/c this sand flea reminds me of something out of the movie Screamers.

        • His_Space_Holiness

          @baneofpigs:disqus You got a problem with lizard-men, buddy?

        • boardgameguy

          I no longer want to sleep.

        • Fluka

          @MintBerry_Crunch:disqus Teeheehee!

  • ItsTheShadsy

    The way you describe Metroplex makes that sequence sound amazing. I realize there’ll almost immediately be a good counterpoint to this, but lumbering, massive characters (God of War III, Shadow of the Colossus) never cease to fill me with awe.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Tragically, Metroplex wasn’t even trying to hurt Megatron; he just wanted to hug him and pet him and call him George. Now he and Optimus will never get to own their own Energon farm.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    Wow, Drew. You go away to get married, then come back from your nuptials and write two pieces in a row about terrifying and powerful alien entities attempting to enslave or destroy a weaker hero protagonist.

    But I’m sure your new bride is a super lady.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      But is his new bride a city-sized transforming alien robot? That would be pretty badass.

      A regular-sized transforming alien robot would be cool, too.

    • Effigy_Power

      There, I liked your silly joke, Stew. -shakes head-

  • Sam_Barsanti

    Some cool foreshadowing: in the very beginning of the first level, you can see an un-transformed Metroplex hanging out during the battle. Gives a little tease to how crazy giant he is.

    • SamPlays

      The Metroplex is a horrible place for a food court.

  • Knarf Black

    That doesn’t look half bad. Shame on me for automatically assuming all Transformers games would be complete shite.

    • Sam_Barsanti

      This and its predecessor (War For Cybertron) are actually very competent shooters, and the mechanic of being able to transform into a jet or a car or whatever whenever you want is something you’re not going to see in any other game. Multiplayer was also rad, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that nobody is playing that anymore.

      Full disclosure: I’m a biiiig Transformers nerd, so I don’t know how trustworthy I am.

  • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

    Forget Megatron being the most human Decepticon. Those foot soldier death yelps are terrifying. 

    • MintBerry_Crunch

      Too human, too human!

      “Why? Why was I programmed to feel pain?” 

      *Swings robo-arms wildy.*

      • SamPlays

        I now know why you cry. But it’s something I can never do.

        *lowers into pit of molten steel*
        *thumbs up*

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Relevant. (Starting at around 1:10)

  • SamPlays

    Someone needs to develop a “realistic” version of Transformers. You know, where the only thing they do well is a relatively narrow set of programmed quantitative applications. And transform. Because they’re Transformers.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      No-one on the festival circuit liked my Transformer film. Sure, the art community will accept eight hours of the Empire State Building, but two hours of a power pole and they run you out of town.

      • SamPlays

        The art community is full of shit. If you’re looking for a distributor, I can set up a meeting with Miramax for a pitch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dglassman1 Doug Glassman

    It’s worth mentioning that there’s a Metroplex toy out now. It’s so big that hardly any brick-and-mortar stores can stock it; it has an inch or two on Fortress Maximus, the previous size record holder. Between Metroplex and the various small TFs they’re putting out in the Legends scale, you can reenact some awesome battles which are at least vaguely in scale. (To really have them in scale, you would either need an Optimus the size of your thumbnail or a Metroplex as large as an NBA player.)

    • Unexpected Dave

      And it’s reasonably priced, too! It’s only $110 at BBTS, whereas the Fort Max reissue is $300+.

  • Enkidum

    I’m sure my parents did nice things for me on other occasions, but the one time I specifically remember them getting me exactly what I wanted for Christmas was when my poor mother went all over town to three different toy stores tracking down the Metroplex toy. It was… a really big freaking Transformer, and I was in love. (A pure, non-carnal love, of course, as can only be felt by an 11-year-old with a really sweet toy that his friends don’t have.) (Get your minds out of the gutter, people.)

    I used to play with that thing and my other Transformers for hours, but in my Apsergersy way one of my favourite things was to turn them all into robot form, and arrange them in a straight line from biggest to smallest (biggest being, of course, Metroplex—although I’m sure if I had had all the Dinobots their combined Voltron form would have been way bigger—smallest being I have no fucking idea). And then I would turn them into their, uh… non robot form, and do it again.

    My parents were happy that I was actually enjoying their gift this much. Then shortly before my twelfth birthday, a few months after Christmas, I announced I was too old to play with toys and got rid of all my Transformers (and Star Wars figures, and whatever the hell) over the course of the summer. My mother resents it to this day, and will never again go to three stores looking for the perfect toy for me. 

    The moral of this story is never get anything your kids want because it will all end horribly and eventually we all die alone in the dark. Oh, and santa is your parents.

    • TheKingandIRobot

       Come on man, the Dinobots didn’t have a combined form!  That was the Destructicons (and then a bunch of followups)!

    • Andrew McCormick

      I think we might be the same person, Enkidum.  Except for the getting rid of them part.  But oh, how I lusted after Metroplex that Christmas.  And oh, how they hid that “one last present”…

      Edit: Wait, nevermind. It wasn’t Metroplex. It was the Decepticon city that turned into a Dinosaur/Godzilla thing.

  • EmperorNortonI

    SF authors are by no means agreed on the nature or capabilities of artificial intelligence, and disagree wildly over how important the human element really is.

    You have some, like Vernor Vinge, who have written entire worlds around the idea that it’s simply impossible.  As in, the laws of physics as we know them simply do no allow man-made computers to ever become self-aware or intelligent in any meaningful way.  Since we haven’t actually made one yet, it might be true.  Who knows.  Check out his Zones of Thought books for this idea.

    That’s a pretty extreme position, though.  Another author, Charles Stross, has in various books proposed that an intelligent AI might quickly evolve into a super-being of almost unlimited power, and act in ways that humans could never understand or replicate in millions of years, due to their superior understanding of the nature of physical reality, and the power that understanding gives them.

    Isaac Asimov proposed that artificial intelligences (robots, in his case) would reach their highest level of development when they became most human-like.  The humanoid robots like Daneel Olivaw were markedly superior to their obviously robotic predecessors, in intelligence and personality and all kinds of other things, simply by the fact of having a human-like mind embodied in a truly human form.  Then again, he also proposed that humans were really better off without robots, as they would make us lazy and incompetent.

    Ian Banks’ take on the idea posits Artificial Intelligences as being super-human in their mental and human capabilities, begin able to do everything we can do, but better.  Their benevolent guidance makes the Culture work as a true SF utopia, because they’re just smarter and better than a human could ever hope to be.  But really, managing human society is just a side-show, a part-time job of sorts, that they keep up with because it’s just the right thing to do.  Their real interest is in playing elaborate multi-dimensional math games in a simulated alternate reality of sorts.