Once again a game has fallen under my critical eye to be analyzed for yet another installment of Six Months Later. As some of you may already know, the whole point of the reoccurring Six Months Later feature is to look back on games that either went under the radar or those that perhaps were looked upon with rose tinted glasses - perhaps so much so that some glaring flaws were left unnoticed.
This time out I won’t be looking at an instant critical darling as I’m instead delving into the constant war between the Autobots and Decepticons as told in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Released last August, Fall of Cybertron had Transformers fans excited due to the surprisingly good game that was Transformers: War For Cybertron. Developed once again by High Moon Studios, Fall of Cybertron may have had all the fanboys happy, but it didn’t exactly rake in a massive audience as evident by some rather underwhelming sales figures.
So is Transformers: Fall of Cybertron the Vanquish equivalent for the licensed games sub-genre or was it a moderately lackluster sequel that failed to deliver anything more than a mediocre action experience that was nonetheless eaten up by fan boys due to the many callbacks it included?
Transform and Roll Out…Or Maybe Not
As gamers we all know that making a sequel to a popular game isn’t exactly an easy thing to do, no matter if the original development studio is once again handling things. While some technical groundwork may be in place to help alleviate a small amount of stress on the team, having to come up with more inventive ways to keep gamers engaged or top things that had people buzzing for months if not years isn’t exactly a complete cakewalk. But with that said, it seemed like the true gameplay that High Moon developed for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron almost took a back seat to the actual fan service the game delivered, which in the end resulted in a rather mediocre if not entirely disappointing action game.
Right now there may already be half a dozen Transformers fans out there already typing up angry emails or trashing me in a thread on a fan site upon reading my initial thoughts on the game. The thing is, when you look at Fall of Cybertron and compare it to something that makes sense, such as War For Cybertron, the game is kind of disappointing.
It may be cool to see things like a Dinobot and once again be able to explore a version of Cybertron that isn’t some weird massive honeycomb design planetoid (as it was in the vile Transformers: Dark of the Moon), but the game didn’t have a lot going for it other than those fan moments. Having a few callback moments is nice, but the ones which were included in Fall of Cybertron honestly would’ve been better suited for another experience such as a cartoon/movie as opposed to a game.
Having reviewed War For Cybertron my thoughts on that game are already public knowledge, but let me sum things up again: I thought the game was awesome. Things weren’t perfect, but as an action game I had a blast and I was impressed with how the game looked and how it embraced the rather large Transformers lore while feeling like it was its own thing, without of course upsetting the fandom so much that they gathered their pitchforks like they did with Michael Bay.
So I was rather surprised when I played Fall of Cybertron for the first time last August, went on a marathon gameplay session in which I finished it in two days, and ultimately felt hollow upon seeing the credits roll once again with a Stan Bush song - complete with robots boogying down. Things in Fall of Cybertron felt bigger in every imaginable way, but the game almost felt like it was merely trying to string together certain characters and key moments without having the actual scenarios be immediately fun to play or even cohesive on the narrative side of things.
A montage of the action and drama offered in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Even with a more direct campaign in place that saw the game split into two chunk featuring the Autobots and Decepticons instead of the back and forth level action featured in War For Cybertron, things were rather unfocused in Fall of Cybertron. Each level within the game may have been dedicated to a sole Transformer and their particular play style, such as stealth or taking to the skies, but things were rather lackluster to a degree as each battle ended up playing the same; either due to the predictable enemy A.I. or the rather focused if not entirely linear, and overwhelmingly scripted, scenarios that would play out from time to time.
Certain action genre design tropes are to be expected in any game, even the ones that can be put in the great/excellent category, yet in Fall of Cybertron such decisions made for a game that could be perceived as totally boring for someone who doesn’t know what the Matrix of Leadership or Allspark is. No matter how good the characters may have been conveyed in the game, both in respect to their personalities and how they were adapted in a game context, Fall of Cybertron played out like a rather bland 3rd person shooter that at times wasn’t even that much fun to play, no matter how many Decepticons were stomped when playing as Grimlock.
All together the action in the game really didn’t pick up properly until the very last level, which for all intents and purposes played out like a beautiful medley of action and fan service that was combined in perfect harmony. Whereas the main structure of the single-player campaign may have allowed a nice sense of “varied” action to be done, the swapping between characters in the last stage worked beautifully and gave gamers a nice taste of gameplay variety without it being done to death. I mean c’mon, how fun was it to actually play as Jazz and use that grapple hook tool for an entire level as opposed to utilizing it for five minutes before moving on to something cooler?
At Least It’s Better Than What Michael Bay Gave Us…
As a fan of the series I’ll admit to liking the general feeling Fall of Cybertron had in respect to being a Transformers experience sans jive talking robots or weird looking Aussie chicks being thrown into the mix. But even then my soul was literally hurting as I went from once generic battle to the next, more so since Cybertron itself lacked a true spark.
Compared to the first game, Fall of Cybertron was a marked improvement in what High Moon Studios attempted to do, but more isn’t necessarily better all the time. The design of Cybertron may have stayed closer to the source material laid out in the cartoon and comics, but it seemed as if the literal spark of the world was taken out as each stage merely came across as a mass melding of grey and metallic surfaces with no real shine or personality to them. Gone were cool things such as seeing a whole building transform in the distance and in place were dark levels and mishandled things such as Insecticons.
Even then, Fall of Cybertron’s overall tone was good enough to make it a passable, and slightly enjoyable experience when it came to the characters and what sort of story the game attempted to tell. While the plot may have felt jumbled, perhaps in part because it was a quasi retcon of what occurred in War For Cybertron, the game still had some great character moments which was enhanced by the brilliant voice acting from folks such as Sam Riegel (Starscream) and of course the legendary Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime).
Up Next: Beast Wars or Generic Annoying People Time
The events featured within Fall of Cybertron may have been expected more or less, barring of course a few true surprise moments such as giving Megatron an epic smackdown, but one thing was sure to happen: Cybertron would be lost and both our heroes and villains would find themselves in an unexpected galaxy. While the game may not have directly given us a hint as to what would be next, the ending did fall in line with the longstanding Transformers lore that the Autobots and Decepticons would unknowingly travel in a portal and be transported to another galaxy, presumably that of the Milky Way based on past iterations of the series.
The fate of the Transformers video game franchise may be in question since I’m sure Activision is waiting to see how good the Deadpool game does before putting High Moon onto their next project. With that said, if we are going to be lucky to receive a new Transformers game from High Moon, one which could possibly arrive on the next-gen consoles, what sort of tone and direction would it have? Would we be saddled with the longtime Transformers crutch of having human characters join the fray, on both sides of the battle, or would High Moon continue to be somewhat ballsy, perhaps giving us their interpretation of the cherished Beast Wars series.
The trailer for Beast Wars
In hibernation since the franchise was somewhat mishandled with the arrival of Beast Machines, which underperformed so much that a 3rd season was nixed, a faction of Transformers fans have patiently been waiting to see Beast Wars surface again in some capacity. With a bit of tinkering to make things more modern, I think a Beast Wars game could change things up enough to make for an appealing video game while still keeping the longtime formula of the series: no humans in the narrative = good times.
Rebooting the series under the Beast Wars moniker could be a logical business decision to do in order to launch the series on a new wave of consoles since the audience is no doubt bound to be different. So why not make Optimus a badass looking gorilla, ditch the dumb concept of Bumblebee being a mute, and make Megatron into a dangerous looking T-Rex or dragon?
It may seem radical to more of the old-school Transformers fans, but going the Beast Wars direction would provide some much needed variety within the series and it would mean that the games won’t be saddled with an annoying supporting cast of human characters, some of whom may shout Bumblebee fifty odd times during the main experience.
High Moon Studios' second foray into the Transformers world wasn't a mess, yet what they delivered was ultimately too one note to be considered entertaining and truly engaging beyond the franchise callbacks that were made. Given how Activision may be re-evaluating their stance on licensed games based on dropping the 007 game rights and only having a small amount of the Marvel universe to tinker with, I just hope that the Transformers games don’t die since the series still holds a tremendous amount of potential in the world of gaming.