The epic civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons continues in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (Activision and High Moon Studios, rated T for teen, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99). A successor to the hit 2010 title War for Cybertron, the third-person action game offers an adventure starring members of Hasbro's legendary robotic toy line in both a solo campaign and multiplayer modes.
Story: From the game manual: The home planet of the Transformers, Cybertron, is dying. Battles rage between the Autobots and the Decepticons as the planet is rocked by quakes and electrical storms. Energon, the lifeblood of the Transformers, is in scare supply, sparking violent conflicts over precious wells. Optimus Prime leads the Autobots in an attempt to man the last transport off his dying home, a ship known as the Ark. Meanwhile, Megatron and his Decepticons push the tide of war into the Autobots' home city to crush them once and for all.
Play the role: The 13-chapter solo campaign allows a player to take control of key members of the warring factions (six chapters for Autobots, six for Decepticons and one rousing finale) as they attempt to slaughter one another in a linear adventure spanning about 14 hours.
Our mechanical brethren run, shoot, drive, fly, punch, jump and even take a stealthy route on missions while they visit locales including an ancient tomb within the Sea of Rust, the massive Ark spaceship, the industrial city of Kaon and the besieged spaceport in Iacon city (home of the Autobots).
Each chapter gives the player a chance to control a specific Transformer. For Autobot fans, that means using Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz and Cliffjumper while Decepitcon devotees control Megatron, Vortex, Bruticus and Starscream.
Remember, each character also transforms into vehicles, so gear up for Starscream's jet maneuvers, Vortex as a helicopter or Swindle's ATV sporting a machine-gun turret.
High Moon Studios also tosses in some pleasant transformation surprises.
I'll point to the mighty Grimlock, kind of the Incredible Hulk of the Transformers. This fellow storms around with shield and sword and accumulates rage until he can turn into a slick mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex with the power to stomp and breathe fire at his foes. I wish I could have played the entire game with this Dinobot legend.
Get to the action: These robotic superstars pack a powerful punch using a combination of primary and heavy weapons along with special abilities.
My favorite weapons include the sniper-loving Neutron charge rifle or a Gatling-style gun, the X-18 Scrapmaker (that cuts through enemies like butta).
Abilities such as Cliffjumper's cloaking, a powerful grappling hook for Jazz, Megatron's hovering and a shockwave attack from Vortex help in missions, but for sheer might, I appreciated Optimus Prime calling in air strikes (with the force of a limited nuke) to tear through Decepticon ranks and machinery.
One missing element that killed me (often) was the lack of cover mechanics. Yes, I could run and gun until my character's legs started leaking oil, but it sure would have helped if I could have hidden behind a concrete barrier for a bit while I thought out some strategy.
Additionally, scattered around dead enemies and stuffed in cases are Energon shards. The shards are the Transformers' currency and a player directs his robot to Telestraan 1 computer kiosks positioned throughout locations to buy weapons, tech items, munitions and upgrades, including the daunting Dimensional Decimator (for 1,600 shards, it temporarily tears a hole in the fabric of space to stun bigger targets).
Memorable moments (in no particular order): Using the massive hand of the multistory tall Metroplex to crush a famous Decepticon; viewing a map room to the universe; pulling a lever and watching it turn into a cute, dancing Transformer; escaping from swarms of Insecticons; fighting Decepticon Guardians and Leapers; unleashing Bruticus' Sonic Pain Wave; and attacking a base in the massive Hydrax Canyons.
Violent encounters: Despite the fact the player is just controlling the destruction of bipedal, animated robots, the game still is incredibly violent. During many battles, Transformers scream out in pain and anguish as both sides relish decapitating, impaling, vivisecting and blowing each other into scrap metal. The dead crumple to the ground or explode into a translucent blue collection of static. And yes, plenty of motor oil is spilled, especially during some brutal, close-quarters melee combat when weapons are empty.
Read all about it: IDW Publishing offers a prequel to the game's story in the smartly named six-issue digital comic book series Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (99 cents each). Fans armed with nearly any mobile device can learn how the Dinobots uncovered a secret Decepticon plot as they ogle Dheeraj Verma's artwork.
Pixel popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. Fans will shed a tear as they appreciate panoramic views of a dying Cybertron and some dynamite digitally animated representations of their heroes and villains. The designs are taken from classic Hasbro and 1980s Transformers cartoon mythology, rather than the more recent overblown Michael Bay movies. If I could package this beautiful baby into a weekly cartoon series, I'd be a rich man.
Multiplayer: Unfortunately, there's no cooperative campaign play here, folks, but players still have a couple of options to extend the virtual Transformers action.
First, Escalation takes its cue from Gears of War's Horde mode and finds up to four online players fending off 15 waves of ever-more-dangerous enemies. Play as Autobots or Decepticons and almost every weapon, munitions and tech item requires spending Energon shards.
Next, four modes of online competitive matches (from standard death matches to capture the flag) won't be remembered for innovation, but for a player's ability to build his own Transformer with details down to tweaking the voice, chest piece and weapons loadouts.
Star power: The voice of Optimus Prime for the past two decades, Peter Cullen, returns to lend credibility to the venerable Transformer. Unfortunately, missing from the cast is Frank Welker as the mighty Megatron. Fred Tatasciore, veteran of the Transformers gaming franchise, replaces him admirably.
Other voices returning from the War for Cybertron game include Keith Szarabajka as Ironhide, Travis Willingham as Sideswipe and Sam Riegel as the conniving Starscream.
Final thoughts: High Moon Studios brilliantly brings to gamers some pivotal history in the Transformers mythology. Fall of Cybertron should thrill diehards both for nostalgic appeal as well as its intense story. Even the average gamer won't mind experiencing a dose of this pop-culture sci-fi powerhouse.
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