Saturday, August 25, 2012

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron - Much More than Meets the Eye

Transformers: War for Cybertron from 2010 is probably one of the best experiences I have had with a Transformers game. Naturally, due in part to popularity, High Moon Studios has recently released a sequel to their hit game, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, while also tying into the events of the Transformers: Prime cartoon (again highly recommended). Since I enjoyed the studio's first Transformers story, I was, of course, greatly excited to play this game, especially with the hype surrounding it and word from the development team on what the game would feature. I had good faith in the product since the people working on the game seemed very enthusiastic about the Transformers brand, and one pre-order later, it met all of my expectations, in fact surpassing them greatly.

In space aboard the Ark, the Autobots are approaching a portal that would send them to another destination, due their home planet of Cybertron being in a dying state. Shortly, the Decepticons have caught up to the Ark and are attempting to stop it. When Bumblebee does what he can to try and prevent the Decepticons from doing any more damage, he manages to intercept Megatron before he deals a fatal blow to Optimus Prime. After this happens, the player begins to learn more about the chain of events that led up to this particular point in time.

As with the game taking place before this one, though this entry more obviously takes place within the current continuity, there are still many, many shout-outs to the Generation 1 cartoon, most especially the 1986 animated movie, even recreating whole scenes from it (including dialogue and, at one point, camera angles); among other scenes from said movie, a particularly hilarious one to see reenacted in the game was Starscream's coronation ceremony. Though I did not grow up on the 80's cartoon, it was still fun to see how the development team managed to work in some design aesthetics from it, and some of the messages given during loading screens show how much fun they had with Transformers lore (one message, for instance, makes a callback to the very first episode of the original cartoon, particularly regarding Teletraan 1). However, some things are there to remind you that the game is, indeed, grounded in the new continuity, including such design choices as Cliffjumper's head sculpt, the look of the Decepticon warship Nemesis, and the new design for Megatron's body, among some plot threads that bring more depth to the Prime cartoon. All in all, it's nice to see that the makers of this game enjoyed working with the brand's mythos.

As with High Moon's previous Transformers games, I liked the way they decided to tell the story, and this game manages to take it one step further. In War for Cybertron, the game had a Decepticon campaign taking place before an Autobot campaign, and Dark of the Moon had the story go from Autobot to Decepticon and then end with the Autobots. Fall of Cybertron makes things more interesting by offering a series of intertwining Autobot and Decepticon chapters, all while keeping a seamless continuing story flow to where you don't want to put the controller down (though I suggest you do that every so often or else you might strain your arm); sometimes there are even button prompts wherein you switch from one character to the next. The story itself is also very engaging and oftentimes suspenseful, with some truly epic moments that make sure you don't forget it any time soon.

With every sequel there comes a chance for improvement, and it appears that High Moon Studios has taken full advantage of this opportunity. Cybertron itself looks even more amazing than it did in War for Cybertron, with a much wider variety of colors that really makes everything pop out at you, thanks to the brighter lighting. There is also evidence that the developer tried to make controlling each character feel as unique as possible, and they succeed in every way. Each character is not only given their own special ability (though a few characters share abilities), but also their own unique transformation scheme and sound, making it a true sight to behold. The Autobot Jazz, for instance, break dances as he transforms to a bass-filled remix of the classic transformation noise. A partial exception to this would be the Autobots Bumblebee and Cliffjumper, since they share a body type (like most of their toys), and therefore have similar transformations.

The gameplay for each chapter of the game feels very unique as well, each having loads of variety in addition to their main mechanic. When playing as the Decepticon Vortex for example, while it is primarily a flying stage, it is also possible to get up close and personal with the Autobots he is facing while at the same time taking advantage of his helicopter form for quick maneuverability. There are even some parts of each stage where one is able to take full advantage of their vehicle mode, and during these points you get a true sense of speed when going at the character's maximum velocity. The Autobot Grimlock is also unique to the point where he has own control scheme, though it works in the game's favor to help you feel a real sense of power when controlling him.

This, combined with other things, leads to some of the epic moments that I brought up earlier. Aside from Grimlock, you are also able to control the Decepticon combiner Bruticus, whose size and strength really make you feel like doing some heavy duty damage, especially with his special ability. While you don't get to control him, another notable moment is witnessing the transformation of the Autobot Metroplex (as seen in the trailers), which creates such a moment of awe that is difficult to put into words. Grimlock's transformation scheme is also spectacular whenever it occurs, further creating the feeling of power mentioned earlier. Coupled with the plot twists that happen throughout the story, this game knows how to keep the player invested.

Another notable bit of change is how Energon Shards are implemented into the game. Whereas previously they were used for recharging your special power, which now recharges on its own over time, here it is used as a form of currency for use in the Teletraan 1 store, where you can purchase many useful weapons and upgrades. You can also unlock new items in the store by finding blueprints scattered across each chapter, alongside various audio logs that provide more backstory on the events of the game; the fact that there are numerous blueprints and an even greater amount of audio logs certainly adds a lot of replay value to the game. You can also rate the items found in the store, allowing you to consult the community on the best way to go about customizing your character's weaponry, and Teletraan 1 will say things relating to the Cybertronian using the store, some of which can actually be fairly humorous.

Like War for Cybertron before it, the sound design deserves a lot of credit. The sound effects in the game are really impressive, in that they sound very realistic and varied enough to not sound repetitive. The soundtrack is just as amazing, with music that helps set the game up for how serious the tone is, even on the main menu screen. During one moment where I faced the death screen, the background music for that level continued to play, and until I continued playing I didn't get tired of hearing it.

Not to be left out is the voice acting, which evidently has a lot of effort put into it. Some voice actors like Sam Riegel, Fred Tatasciore, and Peter Cullen reprise their roles from the original game, and their performances are just as good here as they were previously. While there are some returning voice actors, some of them play different characters and do an amazing job with them, along with some actors new to this game. For instance, while Steve Blum may not be Corey Burton, he does a fantastic job as the Decepticon Shockwave; Jim Ward, who some of you may recognize as Captain Qwark, has an interesting interpretation of the Autobot Perceptor; and Troy Baker actually does an amazing Scatman Crothers impression while voicing Jazz. However, one of the most surprising choices has to be Gregg Berger reprising his role of Grimlock from the Generation 1 cartoon, and after more than 20 years he's still got it in him.

During the campaign, I came across the same problem its predecessor had, namely the texture loading. However, this problem seems to have been mostly fixed, as I only saw one or two noticeable instances of the textures lagging behind the game models, and even then it was only about one or two seconds. In any case, though this problem still exists, it wasn't enough to bog down the experience in any way, but it is still something that needs to be worked on.

One last thing I would like to bring up is the package you get for pre-ordering the game from GameStop, the G1 Retro Pack. This pack includes special weapons based on Generation 1 Megatron and Shockwave, which even has all of the original cartoon sound effects, including the original transformation sound unaltered. It also has a G1 skin for Optimus Prime, which even gives him an alternate mode and transformation scheme reminiscent of said series. I had a good time with this pack despite coming late into the Generation 1 mythos, and hopefully this pack becomes available as DLC later so that G1 fans who were left out may enjoy it also.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is not only a great game on its own, it is also an amazing Transformers game, greatly surpassing War for Cybertron. The thrills never stop coming, there is plenty of variety to go around, and the technical work is even more impressive than the last trip to Cybertron. Transformers and shooter fans alike will definitely have a good time with this game, and those following the current Transformers timeline will have something new to add to their collection. In the end, this game not only has the touch, but also the power.

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