Of course, the spark for Transformers Week here was the release of the much-anticipated video game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Like I said earlier, if the trailers for this game were any indication, FoC was going to be epic. The game does not reach quite those heights, but it comes close.
Taking place just after the events of War for Cybertron (also developed by High Moon Studios and published by Activision), Optimus Prime and his Autobots are desperately trying to get the Ark loaded and fueled before the Decepticons close in and Cybertron goes all to hell. After a brief flash-forward, you take control of Optimus and send him careening towards destiny all while plowing down wave after wave of nameless Decepticon soldiers. Eventually, you trade off characters for Cliffjumper, then Jazz, and on through some Decepticons and back again. Each bot has a special ability that his level makes great use of, so you’re forced to learn a new way of moving or fighting in pretty much every chapter.
Gameplay itself is no breath of fresh air. It’s a shooter, plain and simple. You pick up bigger weapons and upgrade them, and it becomes easier to mow through your current set of enemies. Occasionally you throw a switch or toss a barrel, but mostly you’re just scrappin’ the opposition. The downside is that your bot is practically made of glass. The “shield” lasts to deflect just a couple of shots, and then if you don’t run for cover, the other guys’ll have you turning up cyber-daisies in a matter of moments. Finding energon cubes and ammo to replenish your stores is usually pretty easy, but it still seems like these guys should be able to hang in a firefight longer than they do. Especially considering there is no actual “cover system” like in some other shooters. Your enemies can use cover, but you can’t. Unfair!
Things seem to get easier, however, as you enter the Decepticon levels. I don’t know whether that was just part of the learning curve, or I had upgraded the right weapons, or there is a genuine level imbalance or what. But where I was having some significant dying problems in the Autobot levels, I was tearing through the Decepticon ones. Hint: The Riot Cannon kicks ass.
Occasionally, you get a break to listen to some dialogue, watch some stuff happen, and be immersed in the most G1-style storytelling since G1 itself. Supposedly in the new “Aligned” continuity that includes the two games and the Transformers: Prime television show, there are a multitude of things that lead not to Prime, but to G1, storywise. Most of the characters look and act more like their G1 counterparts, and there are little references and foreshadowings that definitely lead more to the original show than anything else. There are also a few things that don’t make sense for any continuity, which kinda makes me wish they’d just say it was its own thing.
Dialogue is actually kinda great. Jazz and Cliffjumper carp at one another with unforced humor and warmth. The Decepticons naturally bitch about Starscream and gripe about just about everything. Even the computer system that sells you upgrades gets into the act, telling one of the Combaticons that his chances of survival were very low. Optimus and Megatron trade the usual overly-grand barbs about freedom and tyranny. The story itself is simple, but effective enough that the characters can carry it without too much trouble. And there are some great, satisfying moments for Transformers fans. Metroplex figures prominently in one.
The game is visually stunning. It brings Cybertron to life even as it dies, lending a great deal of that “epic” scale that it’s so hard to recreate in video games. Running along and seeing the city-sized Metroplex waltzing along, batting things out of the sky in the distance is amazing. Winging through Cybertron’s spires as the cities are destroyed, narrowly escaping an exploding space bridge, and being in the thick of the fighting as the Nemesis tries to board the Ark is pretty cool too.
I can’t personally speak to the game’s multiplayer modes. I tinkered with the character creator a little, but have yet to enter a match. The creation engine isn’t exactly robust in the way of City of Heroes or some other games, as it mainly uses parts from existing robots that you swap out and re-color to make a more “unique” bot. They also released Day One downloadable content that included character packs to make replicas of Wheeljack and Ultra Magnus among others, but at $10, it’s pretty pricey. More packs are due to be released in the coming months which will have the Dinobots and G1 versions of Prime and other characters.
I bought the game, and while I don’t regret it, per se, I can’t recommend doing so to anyone else. Unless you’re a big multiplayer shooter type…and I’m not…the campaign is simply not long enough to justify more than a rental. High Moon Studios did put a lot of love into the game, so it IS definitely worth the rental, and perhaps the inevitable “Greatest Hits” $20 release, especially if you are Transformers fanatic and want to see your old favorites act like their old selves again.