Fall of Fall of Cybertron

Oh High Moon Studios. Why do you have to go and make things so complicated? I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else gets me frustrated.

I’m talking about the new Transformers game, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. And of course I’m over-reacting. The game is almost identical to the previous installment Transformers: War for Cybertron. But while I really enjoyed “War” as a nostalgic guilty pleasure, I can’t quite do the same with “Fall”.

Weirdly enough, on the surface the new game is an improvement. Each mission is tied to a specific, distinct character now. Each character has a completely unique set of skills. So essentially each level is a completely different game. Optimus airstrikes himself through a CoD-esque battlefield while Cliffjumper turns himself invisible to sneak past guards in an ancient ruin. Jazz swings from ledge to ledge with his grappling hook like Batman from Arkham Asylum while Grimlock smashes hordes of enemies like Kratos from God of War. A huge selection of diverse and creative weaponry carries a hint of Borderlands. Fall of Cybertron is a well-executed pastiche of modern action game references.

But Fall of Cybertron assimilated something else along with the references. It gained a sense of self-importance. The Trailer last year telegraphed that perfectly. I was hoping it would remain a marketing ploy. But sadly, the self-importance infected the game itself.

You see, Transformers works for me if it is kept light and carefree. Cheesy one-liners with cartoony voices, lots of shooting, lots of explosions, robots, cars, spaceships. A perfect Saturday morning cartoon. That house of cards immediately falls apart as soon the story tries to go deeper. Transformers aren’t made for deep. The deep shreds them to pieces.

The worst are the Optimus Prime parts. They try to evoke a sense of sacrifice and the loss of a civilization. But it’s the loss of an absurd civilization of colorful transforming robots! By taking itself so seriously, it causes players to ask questions they should probably never ask. Questions like: Who built the buildings and bridges on Cybertron? Are they natural structures or are they built by the Transformers? If they are artificial, what is “natural” on a planet that is essentially a huge machine? Why does Megatron want to prevent Autobots from leaving? Wasn’t this what he was trying to do all along? Why do the Transformers feel pain? Can’t they re-wire themselves? Is death for the Transformers even permanent? Why do the Transformers transform anyway? Where do they get their spare-parts from? Why do they travel in pressurized spaceships even though they do not breathe?

At least some sequences work. Cliffjumper and Jazz have some memorable old-school banter on the two missions they have together. But even in those moments when the game hits it’s stride, little mechanical nitpicks add additional unnecessary friction: the lack of grenades, the needlessly complicated powerup system.

It’s not a complete failure. On paper, it’s a competent game. But for me personally, the delicate balance that made it possible for me to wholeheartedly enjoy the previous game has been disturbed. The spark is gone.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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