Video Games: Fall of Cybertron Campaign Mode Reviewed
Fall of Cybertron was released on August 21, 2012 to much excitement amongst fans of the franchise. Several web sites have given the game positive reviews including IGN (8.5 out of 10), Eurogamer (8 out of 10), G4TV (4.5 out of 5) and Gamespot (7 out of 10). Most of these reviews are rather general however (as video game reviews tend to be) but I thought I'd go through the game a bit differently first talking about the game in general, then in the coming days I'll put up more thoughts on the individual chapters themselves.
On another note, for those of you who are treasure hunters in games, check out this walkthrough of all the known Audio Log and Blueprint locations in the game discovered thus far at The HD Room.
I'll confess that I played through "War for Cybertron" a couple years back and at the end felt very underwhelmed. Difficult game play, some odd controls and lack of ammo really bugged the bejeezus out of me. I also felt the game was way too short. The scope didn't quite feel large enough to encompass what was supposed to be the epic history of the Transformers. Its heart was in the right place, and many things were done right, but many things were also frustrating. I often felt I would have preferred to see the tale of "War for Cybertron" as a CGI direct to DVD movie or something.
Fast forward to now and "Fall of Cybertron" has addressed many of the issues I had with "War for Cybertron". The game play feels a lot smoother. Cybertron is brighter and I'm not constantly sailing off the edges of cliffs that were hard to see ahead of me. Even better? There's ammo aplenty in the game (this was bad enough in the first game that someone asked about it at Botcon that year). The diversity of weaponry and "special attacks" is much more fun this time around and the scope of the game feels absolutely epic. You are tossed right into some of the most historical events of the game including defending the Ark from a Decepticon assault, seeing the creation of the Nemesis and seeing the current origins of the Dinobots (they've had a few).
Not only is the story more epic, but so is the scale of the conflict. The landscapes are amazing, cinema quality settings that make you (a giant robot) feel small in comparison. Whether it's the gigantic gun batteries on an Autobot transport or flying through ancient Autobot city ruins, the sheer scale of Cybertron is immense. Each board has its own personality from the complex yet familiar golden hallways of the Ark to the dark, creepy Insecticon lair that was once Shockwave's lab. The game is dripping with atmosphere and enthusiasm and it all shows on screen. Even my girlfriend, who's neither into Transformers or video games found the visuals amazing.
For the most part, your game play centers around a goals such as reaching a place, destroying something or in less common areas, getting out of an area before something bad happens. All this happens while destroying tons of generic troopers. These range from standard soldiers, "Titans" (gigantic warriors in big, bulky armor) to "Shotgun" troops (bulkier, more dangerous guys) and less common aerial snipers and Insecticons. This could easily get boring but you are given the opportunity to play as different characters as the game progresses, allowing you to experience different styles of play. Optimus Prime and Megatron are bruisers, and you can wade into battle pretty confidently with them. Cliffjumper is more of a stealth player, with a cloaking shield (and less armor) necessitating a more sneaky approach to taking out baddies. Jazz has an awesome grappling hook that lets you get to places others cannot while Bruticus is all raw power.
The controls for the game aren't exactly intuitive, but the first board "Exodus" gives you some basic practice with the controls using Bumblebee. It's a good trainer level and I recommend practicing here and there, especially dodging while up in the air. It's a really useful move! Also practice transforming into vehicle mode and using your weapons there in concert with your robot mode weapons. First, the vehicle mode is often faster and more mobile and second you balance out the usage of ammo between the two forms. Fortunately, plenty of ammo abounds and even on later levels when you get low, you hit a replenishment point towards the end of each goal. Kudos also to High Moon for providing lots of on screen prompts, even later in the game. It doesn't assume you know everything by chapter five, instead, on screen prompts tell you what buttons to press for specific actions as you go along.
The story of "Fall of Cybertron" is one of my favorite and yet more frustrating aspects of the game. The story starts out with a bang. You're Bumblebee on the Ark and the Nemesis engages and you're caught in a historical and epic battle (see my previous look at this board here). Then we're tossed into "flashback" mode to live the events leading up to the Ark's launch. For several boards there is a huge sense of urgency as you have to first defend the Autobot ship, then find more fuel for it when its defense winds up draining the ship of too much power. This is compelling, you know the stakes and the writing, visuals and music drive you forward at a frenetic pace.
Then...it all comes to a screeching halt when the game shifts gears and you wind up playing as the Decepticons. At first the stories are very tightly tied together, but then the tale meanders a bit for a few chapters as you play a couple boards that could have been its own mini-game, namely Megatron retaking leadership of the Decepticons. Now don't get me wrong, it's super fun to play as various Decepticons and the Vortex board is an absolute blast. Getting to play as Megatron is fun and seeing a classic scene from 1986's "Transformers: The Movie" played out in a different timeline is fascinating.
However, even as I played through these Decepticon boards, my main drive was not to see the story move forward, but because I wanted to get back to the Autobot story already. I'm only on Chapter 11 as I write this, so I'm close to getting back to the Autobot side of the conflict, but it felt very odd to "drop off" the thread of one story that was built up so well. To be fair, it would have cost a lot in time and resources to do two completely separate games that intertwined storywise (the game would probably need at least 1/3 more boards) but I think perhaps a better way to integrate Autobot/Decepticon play would have been to alternate between the two story threads instead of investing a lot of time in one, then getting thrust into the other.
"Fall of Cybertron" is a fun game by any measure. Controlling big robots that beat (and shoot) the tar out of each other is hardly new to gaming, but it's rarely been done on this level with this much love. Fans of "Transformers" in general will appreciate all the in jokes and quotes displayed on screen from previous generations of Transformers fiction. The visuals are impressive and the game play is vastly improved from its predecessors. Boards are challenging, fun but not uber frustrating and the campaign is good training for later going into the "Escalation" and "Multiplayer" modes. Definitely worth picking up. Hardcore fans will want it now at the $60 price point, more casual players may want to wait until the price drops a bit. Recommended!