Transformers: War for Cybertron proved something: a good Transformers game can be made. It’s no longer a myth or a fantasy—a game that Transformers fans can be proud of exists. So what does Transformers: Fall of Cybertron have to prove? Frankly, that it can be done again. Fans surely had high hopes that High Moon Studios could strike gold yet again, and Fall of Cybertron proves that it’s sometimes good to have high hopes. The sequel to the best Transformers game ever is an even better Transformers game, one that is easy to love whether you have a long history with the property or have no idea what an Optimus Prime is.
Fall of Cybertron picks up where War of Cybertron left off. The Autobots are preparing to evacuate their wrecked home planet via The Ark, a massive vessel meant to sustain our heroes. Megatron and the Decepticons, resolute in their quest to destroy the Autobots (and harvest plenty of the life-giving Energon in the process), launch an attack on the Ark, hoping to prevent its launch. If this sounds like the setup to a Saturday morning cartoon, well, that’s because it is. But for all its goofy gusto, Fall of Cybertron’s story manages to squeeze in some real gravitas and emotional heft by keeping the focus squarely on individual characters.
If War for Cybertron’s biggest surprise was its care and respect for the Transformers license, its second biggest surprise was that it was a very good shooter. Fall of Cybertron continues that trend, inheriting its predecessor’s tight controls and unique feel. Fall of Cybertron is primarily a third-person shooter, yet it eschews any sort of cover mechanic to create faster and more aggressive firefights. There’s no comfort to be found behind chest high walls here; you’ll need to keep moving, use your secondary abilities and items, and morph to vehicle form frequently to survive Fall of Cybertron’s frenetic battles. Your enemies are fierce and aggressive, and their different variations force you to exhaust your entire bag of tricks to win. The pace can be daunting at times, but I loved the game’s threatening battlefield rhythm.
While Fall of Cybertron’s hectic shootouts are engrossing, the campaign succeeds because it constantly introduces new elements and mechanics. Ditching the separate campaigns found in War for Cybertron, Fall of Cybertron presents a leaner, more concise mode that puts one Transformer at center stage every level. High Moon went to great lengths to make each chapter feel unique, and the campaign shines for it. One level may contain fairly typical shooter stuff as you charge through Cybertron as Optimus Prime, while a few levels later you’ll be performing stealth executions as Cliffjumper. Soon after, you’ll grapple across ledges and snipe as Jazz, followed by a power-trip as the hulking Decepticon, Bruticus. Through the use of smartly scripted set piece moments and tons of variety, the campaign stays compelling right up to its thrilling finale, which sees you rapidly switching between Autobots and Decepticons as they battle in an all-out war.
I admired and appreciated High Moon’s dedication to variety, except when it hurt the experience. A level late in the campaign casts you as the mighty Dinobot, Grimlock. By continuing the trend of mixing it up, you’re stripped of all guns, left with only a sword to defend yourself. At first, it’s an awesome, empowering experience ripping enemies apart in robot and Dino form. But the level soon overstays its welcome as more armed baddies are introduced and you begin to realize how slow and imprecise the melee combat can be. The mission quickly goes from a gleeful power-trip to an overly long struggle against advantaged enemies.
Beyond the frustrating Grimlock level, a few minor technical flaws seek to mar the experience. The frame rate would occasionally chug when action was at its most intense, while one bug that prevented button prompts to display properly late in the game forced me to reload a checkpoint. These issues are mostly negligible, but they do warrant a mention.
Accompanying the strong campaign is a fun selection of multiplayer offerings. Fall of Cybertron hits all the expected notes by offering a horde-style cooperative mode and the standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag games, all of which make for engaging class-based shootouts, even if they don’t necessarily do anything new. The real hook of multiplayer is the ability to create your own set of Transformers. There are hundreds of individual pieces to choose from, and you can customize everything from your bots’ weapons and armor to their color palette and voice for each faction (Autobot and Decepticon). Each class allows for three loadouts, which you can outfit with weapons and various upgrades that unlock as you level up in battle. I easily spent five minutes after every match tooling around with my Transformers like they were physical action figures.
In fact, that’s a lot of what Fall of Cybertron feels like, the childlike joy of playing with your favorite action figures. High Moon Studios managed to take that joy and plug it into a game that takes the Transformers universe seriously while preserving the insane, empowering feeling of morphing from a gun-toting robot to a supersonic jet and roaring into the air. After two cracks at the license, High Moon has done for Transformers videogames what Rocksteady did for Batman videogames. The Transformers license is now responsible for one of the year’s greatest games. Perhaps more telling, though, is that it converted me, someone who has very little history with Transformers outside of the horrible Michael Bay films, into a full-fledged fan of the robots in disguise.