Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review
High Moon Studios has really stepped up to the plate this generation, delivering quality titles based on movie franchises. It’s so rare to see something decent from that realm, but you can typically count on these developers to produce something mostly solid and entertaining. And while their latest title, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, is yet another game that’s big on flash and fun factor, it’s a little unfortunate that the PS3 version suffers a bit more than its 360 counterpart and furthermore, the entire production feels a tad unbalanced.
Which isn’t to say the game isn’t worth playing. In fact, one of the biggest reasons to check out Fall of Cybertron is the design, which really is pretty special throughout. The special effects explode off the screen, the animations are slick, and the entire futuristic setting is very immersive due to added emphasis on design and detail. The only problem for PS3 owners is that the frame rate seems to chug more often than it does in the 360 version, and some of those fancy, crowd-pleasing effects turn into glaring and embarrassing visual flaws. It’s a little surprising; High Moon has done well with Sony’s platform in the past.
I should elaborate by saying that such flaws are minimal and rare but when they do show up, it’s obvious. As for the audio, you’ve got some decent voice acting for the Autobots and Decepticons and the music is always on point. Like the graphical effects, the sound effects will not be denied; your attention will remain riveted on the screen thanks in part to some great sound. It continually reminds you that you are indeed in control of an extremely capable fighting machine, and your mighty efforts are always rewarded with blasts from your speakers. This category didn’t seem to be any different between the PS3 and 360 versions so at least in this respect, PS3 owners don’t really have to worry.
You will control both Autobots and Decepticons during this chaotic war. It’s a total nonstop overload of the senses and a colossal clash of gargantuan sci-fi beasts, exactly the sort of style and atmosphere that fans should appreciate. You’ll start by becoming the leader of the Autobots, the esteemed Optimus Prime, who is exactly the way you remember him: Dignified, calm, just, and oh so very powerful. He’s surprisingly maneuverable for his size, too, as Prime can morph easily between robot and vehicle form and perform all sorts of necessary skills, such as ordering air strikes and chucking heavy obstacles out of his path.
I’ve loved Prime since I was a kid (I think all kids from the 80s did), so it was great to start with the bestest Transformer of all. And it was really cool to control some of the other great characters that we well remember; plus, the developers let us tackle all sorts of different objectives with each Transformer. The control is solid across the board, which is pretty impressive, considering the number of gameplay mechanics involved. Driving, flying, and the standard third-person shooter elements all work just fine, and you never feel shortchanged or cheated by some wonky control scheme. The camera isn’t perfect but it usually keeps up.
However, as I said in the intro, the game seems to be a little unbalanced or rather, unfocused. As much as I’m a fan of High Moon’s stuff, and as much as I’ll always have a soft spot for the bad-ass Transformers, this game only reminded me of the current (and seemingly ceaseless) trend of products either designed for those with attention deficit disorders, or designed to create more attention problems. We just never stick with one thing long enough to really appreciate that Transformer or that particular situation. It’s well put together and relatively well paced, but I found the constant switching back and forth…jarring.
Still, I could just chalk that up to “geezer syndrome” on my part and assume that nobody under the age of 25 will have a problem with the haphazard, rapid-fire way in which Fall of Cybertron plays out. I accept that I’m getting older and that I don’t have the same viewpoints as others when it comes to various entertainment products. That being said, I don’t think it has anything to do with age to complain about the relative ease of this adventure, and the fact that the passive, non-interactive elements almost overshadow the gameplay. In other words, it’s so cinematic that it feels more like a summer blockbuster action flick than anything else.
But hey, that may have been the goal. If so, they succeeded. Yeah, you often only use one button to take down the biggest damn foes you’ve ever seen, but the corresponding cinematography is excellent and quite fulfilling. I shouldn’t even bitch and whine too much, because in the past, I’ve called out developers for not letting the player feel powerful enough. Well, you don’t have to worry about that, here. No, you are one super powerful goliath, regardless of which Transformer you’ve got under your thumb; you’re always grinning ‘cuz you have such awesome power at your command. That never gets boring.
The atmosphere is damn good, too, as everything is either crumbling or about to crumble, as the war truly shows the fall of the great futuristic city, as the title implies. Flying around is oodles of fun; it actually reminded me a little of Warhawk for some reason, possibly due to its accessibility. The larger levels are certainly more entertaining overall as the smaller and more cramped areas can bring out some of the game’s technical miscues. Speaking of which, I do have to say that if you’re a huge fan and you’ve got the means, you might want to opt for the 360 version.
I had the PS3 version, of course, but a friend of mine was nice enough to get the 360 version so I could do a little compare-and-contrast. I did that because I was hearing whispers about how the PS3 version was inferior to the 360 iteration, which annoyed me because the vast, vast majority of multiplatform releases these days are basically the same. For the most part, we’ve left the world of lesser PS3 versions back in 2007. But for some reason, it does seem like the 360 version runs better overall; it doesn’t stutter quite as much and there are fewer graphical mistakes.
Just don’t mistake this analysis as meaning that you shouldn’t play this game on the PS3. That’s not true at all; the differences between the two versions are clear, but I’m not sure they qualify as “significant;” certainly not to the level of difference between Bayonetta on the PS3 and 360. The issues in Transformers are usually technical and don’t affect the gameplay, and they look pretty similar. So don’t go running around misquoting me, saying that I said the PS3 version “sucks” or some such nonsense. I usually don’t even bother with these comparisons because they’ve been largely unnecessary over the past few years.
Anyway, let’s talk about the multiplayer. Unfortunately, the campaign is single-player-only, as they’ve mysteriously ditched the co-op that was available in War for Cybertron. But the other co-op mode, Escalation, is back, and that offers plenty of fun for a few friends; it’s all about fending off wave upon wave of increasingly harder foes. The competitive multiplayer is pretty straightforward; as you’ve got Team Deatmatch, Capture the Flag, and Conquest, which don’t need much explanation. You can just jump right into the action and start blowing sh** up, and it’s nice to have some depth via four available classes.
The campaign is a decent length and provides no small amount of slam-bang action, which is exactly what the Transformers crave (oh, just face up to facts, Optimus; you’re no pacifist). Sampling different robots, going through various scenarios in an engaging war-torn environment, enjoying several well-implemented control mechanics; there really is a lot to like. The story isn’t anything special but I didn’t expect it to be, although I do wish that High Moon had put a bit more focus on challenge. Too often, they sacrifice any real challenge for flashy cut-scenes and one-button destruction, and while that’s great to some extent, it still feels too stripped-down and doesn't really push the player.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is indeed a blockbuster movie in the form of a video game. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. The control won’t let you down, all your favorite characters are here, there’s enough variety and diversity in terms of missions and gameplay elements, and you always feel super powerful. Gotta love that. But the story is on the weak side, too much of the last installment’s challenge has been erased in favor of “faster and simpler,” and we never really get a handle on any one Transformer or scenario. Oh, and the PS3 version isn’t quite as good as the 360 version, unfortunately.
The Good: A ton of great design. Satisfying, heavy-hitting sound effects. Solid control for all gameplay mechanics. Pacing is just about right. Accessible and flashy for mainstream appeal. Good variety throughout.
The Bad: Visual flaws and minor frame rate issues in the PS3 version. Jumps around too often. Camera isn’t perfect. Extra flash substituted for a stiffer challenge.
The Ugly: “You know, I can stick with a character or mission for longer than forty-three seconds.”
8/27/2012 Ben Dutka