Freaky space maps? Check.

A couple of years ago, I was walking through a decidedly dodgy part of town, and I saw these two guys walking toward each other across the street. Both were wearing black t-shirts, and on one was a big Decepticon logo while on the other was the Autobots sign.

Uh-oh, I thought. It’s going to go off right about now…

Of course, it didn’t. Because they were students, and the only faction either was really interested in was the Ironicons. Yes, kids’ TV has had a long and winding path. Back in the eighties, the Transformers were the toy of the moment that kids went mental for, and adults found bemusing and strange. Nowadays, of course, it’s the adults who remember the Transformers and the kids who find them strange, forcing marketing departments to jump through strange hoops to make the franchise accessible to everyone all at once.

Nowhere would you expect the Transformers to find as natural a home as the wide world of videogames. But it’s not really worked out that way. A bunch of duffs over the years were almost forgotten with the relative success of War for Cybertron, it would seem that High Moon Studios had finally hit on a concept that worked: a third-person shooter with plenty of action and explosions.

And so it is with Fall of Cybertron, the next instalment of the Transformers series, and I’ll bet not the last. The home planet of the Transformers, Cybertron, is in a bit of a pickle due to all the fighting and explosions and stuff, and so the Autobots, in their wisdom, decide enough is enough. They’ve built a massive space ark thing, which they’re all planning on using to fly through a space portal to escape their dying world. Fall of Cybertron chronicles the final hours before the ark leaves Cybertron. Unsurprisingly, the Decepticons take this opportunity to attack, and once again the planet is engulfed in robot-on-robot violence.

The game? Plays like Space Marine. There. That’s pretty much the main thing to know. If you enjoyed Space Marine, with its heavy-hitting protagonist, full spectrum of weapons ranging from melee up to artillery, and relentless explosions, shooting and action, you’ll get a lot more of the same sort of thing here. Despite War for Cybertron being criticised for its lack of variety between characters, sadly the same feels true here. Throughout the single player campaign you’ll assume the role of a variety of Transformers on both sides of the conflict, but aside from the odd special ability, they play very similarly for the most part. Sure, there is the occasional flying bit and a couple of other level-specific set-pieces to break up the flow, but only what you’d expect to keep any action game feeling fresh. Even then, these aren’t things you’ve never done in games before: Optimus Prime calls in artillery strikes, a couple of characters have stealth modes, and so on.

Two good things here: The action is busy, over-the-top and dramatic. EVERYTHING blows up. Aircraft zoom across the sky, dropships disgorge hordes of Decepticons onto the battlefield and titanic giganto-bots pound everything around them into electronic paste. Also, the attention to Transformers lore will no doubt appeal to hardened fans.

Truth be told, though, it’s the lack of any real originality that brings Fall of Cybertron down. Weapons are your usual rocket launcher, long-range rifle, sci-fi shotgun, assault rifle and so on. They can be upgraded in the most simplistic way possible – increased ammo capacity, or reload time, whatever. Nothing that really affects how you play the game. Just general ‘numbers going up’ stuff.

Considering the planet is just one huge robotic… thing, there’s still a fair amount of variety in locations and pacing. As I mentioned, there’s an occasional stealth mechanic, but it never really works very well. Still, the option to just ignore it and shoot everyone is usually there. Transforming into your other form – something you’d expect to be pretty central to Transformers – is underplayed on most levels, and it’s possible to sometimes even forget you have the option until the really obvious ‘change into a truck’ bits come along.

Toward the end, the energetic pace of the game ups once again, and the game’s crescendo is admittedly pretty awesome. Like a good movie, it’s easy to get swept along with the tense action even though you know that the good guys are going to get away at the end.

War for Cyberton’s co-op mode has been dropped this time around, but it’s more than made up for by the character creator in multiplayer. Create your own Transformer! That’s pretty exciting for Transformers truefans, and even a pretty good giggle for everyone else. Now all they have to do is figure out a way to sell toys of these creations to players.

As it is, the game is fine. Not unbalanced or painful to play, just not special in any way worthy of mention. The story and action bob along nicely and a couple of the voice actors are immediately recognisable – Optimus Prime in particular.

Maybe I’ve played too many shooters. Maybe I’ve been spoiled. But I really felt that there could have been more here. New ideas. Something fresh.

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