Sunday, September 02, 2012

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (A Review)

I've had a love/hate relationship with the Transformers franchise throughout my life. I loved the cartoon as a kid (I even watched Beast Wars in my 20s, when it was on in the early hours of the morning when I was getting ready for work), and even read the comics. I loved the toys, though for a while I was confused as to when some of my older transforming vehicles got drafted into the ranks of the Transformers. However, when it came to video games and movies, things fell apart for me. The games sucked, and the movies amounted to nothing more than money wasted and time off my lifespan that I could never reclaim.

Dead in the first minute. Not because the player sucks, but because the game wasn't meant for humans.

This past Friday, by sheer luck, I won a copy of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron from (and if you've never hear of them, head on over to their YouTube Channel for short, informative, and funny reviews of the latest games on Steam). The game actually looked interesting. Let me clarify - the game had less explosions than a Michael Bay movie, the trailer offered no superfluous "comedy" like the movies, and the visuals looked closest to what 9 year old me imagined the Transformers Universe was like.

I can only hope Skids & Mudflap are offered as DLC.

On Friday night, I settled into my chair and took Transformers: Fall of Cybertron for a spin, and didn't stop until sunrise on Saturday morning. 

Configuring The Settings

When I loaded up the game, I immediately went into the settings menu, to see what I could adjust (because most new games seem to think they know what's best for me, and that usually means skimping on graphics, or some weird gameplay setup that just feels unnatural). The first thing I noticed was the VSync was turned off, which is something I usually have to do with every game I've installed for the past year. The second thing I noticed was that there really wasn't much tweaking that could be done with the graphics. The choices were "Super Awesome" and "Sort Of Awesome" (just lacking enough to make you go out and buy a new video card). Luckily, my computer can handle the former setting, so without much else left to configure (it does support both keyboard & mouse, as well as XBox 360-esque controllers), I started up the game.

The Campaign

The whole concept behind Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is that Optimus Prime and his Autobots are fleeing their homeworld rather than stay on a war-ravaged planet that's running out of energy resources. Megatron and his Decepticons don't want that to let that happen, and thus you have the reason this game exists. 

No video tricks here. What you see is exactly what the game is like.

Throughout the campaign mode, you will play various Autobots, as well as Decepticons, in order to accomplish certain missions to either help your cause or to thwart your foes (depending on which side you are playing at the time). While it's kind of weird to play as one side and then get orders to undo the progress you've made by playing the other, it is still very fun if you just accept it as a convention of the game. 

This Is Not GTA With Robots

When I told my friends that I was downloading the game, one of them asked if it was like GTA, only with robots. To be honest, I was only mildly apprehensive about this possibility. Faced with an open world and picking up missions and discovering secrets doesn't sound like a bad premise for a Transformers game. However, Saints Row: The Third and Just Cause 2 spoiled me on sandbox games where one causes mayhem and destruction, purely to indulge the adolescent joy of setting our toys on fire. 

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is not like that. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of destruction to be had, and for the most part the environment can be affected by your weapons or crashing into things, but not to the point of making a level unplayable, such as "goal point X done got blowed up while you were swatting flies with tactical nuclear weapons.

I was trying to think of games this is similar to, but I was only coming up with the early Battlefield 1943 games, and maybe Star Wars: Jedi Outcast. Each stage is pretty much a third-person tactical shooter with enough places to explore things to find, and alternate routes to your goals, that you don't mind that - at it's core - you're running down a corridor. Slap on the veneer of Cybertron and make everything about giant robots, and you lose yourself in the game and forget about the technical aspect of the level design. It's about having fun!
Metroplex and blazing crotch are here to help!
What I Liked About The Game

I went into Transformers: Fall of Cybertron with very few expectations. The fact that I played the game for about five hours without realizing how much time had passed is a testament in itself to how much fun I was having. But without just saying "is a really cool game!" over and over again, I've decided to stick with the rambling format of these reviews and give you a short list of specific things I'm enjoying (and a few of the things I just didn't care for):
  • Weapons everywhere! - On each stage, there are weapons that can be picked up, swapped out, and upgraded. The ammunition is limited, so you either have to be quick during battle, very precise, or learn to use your fists when your guns are empty.
  • You can transform - No kidding? Yes, by virtue of the Transformers name, you can change into a form other than a robot, but in this game it's not just an aesthetic. Your alternate forms have unique abilities and can do things your bipedal form cannot.
  • Variety of characters - I'v only played as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime so far, but players will also find themselves taking control of Shockwave, Grimlock, and other favorites.
  • It's better than any Transformers movie that didn't have "Dare To Be Stupid" on the soundtrack - No gratuitous explosions. No bad acting from live action people. This is basically the cartoon series you've known and loved brought to an interactive level. Also, Starscream retreats less.
  • Teletran 1 Network - These kiosks allow you to upgrade your characters and weapons. While some aspects can be very intricate (which specific part of the your weapon you upgrade), and every once in a while it nudges you toward buying extra content, I like this method of increasing abilities for the game, because something like experience points just wouldn't fit into this universe.
Why are you reading this and not playing the game?

What I Didn't Like

  • Occasionally Clunky Interface - While most opportunities to converse with other robots or utilize equipment in this game are literally the touch of a button, the response time between pressing that button and the character response feels delayed, or you have to try it multiple times in order for something to happen. I don't mind this so much when talking to other on-screen characters, but when swapping out weapons during combat, it can be a little frustrating.
  • Boss/Mini-boss Fights - I'm not against the concept of such things, it's just that with a character line as extensive as the the one in Transformers, I would like to see characters that actually have names, like Ravage or Wheeljack. I'm not even asking for major characters here, just something other than a generic robot in a boss fight that becomes a regular enemy on every stage once you make it past that level. (Note: I'm only a few stages into this game, but this seems like the pattern. I'll revise this if I experience something to the contrary, later on in the game.)
  • Claustrophobic Levels - Some levels actually do seem rather limited. I understand that Cybertron is a world of machinery where the new stuff was built on top of the old for centuries, but on a few missions there really isn't much more than meets the eye (I'm so damn clever).
Should You Own This Game?

Absolutely. I pick which big releases I pay for very carefully, and the $60 USD price point is still high for me, but maybe not for console gamers or Transformer fanatics. As a PC gamer (primarily), I would hold off for a few months until the price drops, or it goes on sale through Steam. However, if (read: when) you take the plunge, you will not be disappointed. From the stunning visuals, the smooth gameplay, and the multiplayer option which is full of customization and unlockables, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron definitely gets my vote - not just for allowing me to relive my childhood, but also for being a really solid game.

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