Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review (Multi-Platform)
Many guys in their late twenties or early thirties remember where they were when they learned Optimus Prime was dead. His light was extinguished in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. Megatron and the Decepticons had the Autobots on the ropes. Things looked bleak. Then, when all hope had faded, came the clarion call of Stan Bush: “You got the touch! You got the poooowwwwwweer. Yeah!” Prime and the Dinobots arrive in the nick of time, cutting a swath of destruction through the Decepticon horde. Prime fought Megatron in a titanic rumble in the metal jungle, uttering the immortal words, “One shall stand. One shall fall.” Guess who was doing what.
Alas, it was a pyrrhic victory. The Decepticons were routed, but Prime’s wound proved fatal. Most kids watching the movie probably had only the vaguest conception of death, but when Optimus turned gray and ashy on Perceptor’s battle surgeon’s operating table, a whole generation suddenly got an abrupt lesson in mortality. If this enormous cartoon robot that somehow transformed into an 18-wheeler could die, what chance did we have?
That was when Transformers got serious, the moment when it became something more than an extended commercial selling metal and plastic dolls to little boys (the movie also introduced Arcee, to my knowledge the first and only female Autobot). It was one of Orson Welles’s last roles, for Pete’s sake. The franchise’s journey since then has been spotty, but that beautiful piece of 1980s filmmaking finally has a worthy successor in Fall of Cybertron, the second scene in Activision’s retelling of the cosmically biblical Autobot exodus.
The game starts at its end, with the Autobots attempting to escape Cybertron through a wormhole. They’re all packed into the Ark, a ship designed to take them far away from the war-scarred surface of Cybertron. Megatron isn’t so easily placated, and moves to blast them out of the sky before they can escape. There is already more dramatic tension in the first five minutes of this game than anything Michael Bay conjured in three bombastic films.
Fall of Cybertron‘s predecessor, 2010’s War for Cybertron, was a flawed but intriguing experiment. There were a few “Holy shit!” moments—the mighty Omega Supreme was revelatory—but it was plagued by a bunch of minor issues. For instance, what good is being a Transformer if I’m constantly running out of ammo? That doesn’t even make sense. For all of its problems, though, you could tell that they were close to a breakthrough, standing on the cusp of a childhood fantasy fulfilled.
If Fall of Cybertron isn’t the complete realization of that childhood fantasy, it’s pretty damn close. The campaign mode integrates both Autobot and Decepticon missions as Prime and Co. try wresting Megatron’s robot jackboot off their neck long enough to escape. The basic setup—a pretty standard point A to point B shooter—is similar to the first game, but now you can upgrade weapons at Teletrann 1 outlets along each level, and the playable characters—Prime, Jazz, Cliffjumper and the helicopter Combaticon, for instance—have a more distinct set of skills and weapons.
Multiplayer isn’t a huge upgrade, but it’s still nice that we’ve finally arrived at the evolutionary point where you can design and play your own Transformer. The more experience you gain here, the more weapons and modifications you can trick out your Transformer with. I still don’t see any options for turning into a harmless looking boombox or a goofy space dragon, but most other options are available. Generally speaking, you still can’t take cover in firefights, but I guess that comes with being a 30 foot tall chromed-out robot super soldier.
30 feet barely registers in this game, though, and in this case bigger is always better. Some legitimate giants make their long-awaited appearance in this one. The smallest of these, Grimlock, is the eloquent leader of the Dinobots. Grimlock gets angry at the Insecticon swarm, and you wouldn’t like Grimlock when he’s angry, because he turns into a huge, fire-breathing T-Rex that excels in the realm of violent dismemberment. On the Decepticon side, the Combaticons merge to form Bruticus, the Voltronian colleague of Devestator, who swats away Autobots like like so many gnats. Biggest of all is Metroplex, the city-sized Autobot. He’s not directly playable, but dominates the Cybertronian skyline and can be used by Prime as a sort of gargantuan field artillery piece.
The elephant in the room has always been the relative uselessness of Autobot transformations. So Jazz can turn into an old Porsche. A lot of good that will do him when Starscream is strafing him into Swiss cheese. Still, much of the fun of being a Transformer is the transforming, and it’s unfortunate you don’t have to do a ton of it in Fall of Cybertron. It helps when you’re running over Insecticons (or, in Grimlock’s case, smashing and melting them), but mostly you’re ambulatory, running around shooting wildly at anything that moves. And, in that way, the game is fairly pedestrian. It tells you where to go, what to do and who to blast, but when you see Metroplex’s head looming over the war-torn city, I promise your sublimated 8-year-old self will crap his pants in unabashed excitement.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was developed by Half Moon Studios and published by Activision. Our review is based on the Xbox 360 version. It is also available for the PlayStation 3 and PC.
Drew Toal is a semi-retired photo booth operator living in Brooklyn. In his spare time, he writes for the The Daily Show, The Gameological Society, Time Out New York, NPR, Mental_floss, The Daily Beast and other outlets. He can be found on Twitter @lordandrewtoal.