The Transformers may be more than meets the eye, but Transformers: Fall of Cybertron has an obvious goal: to let you control numerous Autobots and Decepticons while filling the screen with as much fire and brimstone as possible. Developer High Moon strives for metal-on-metal sensory assault, which is both a strength and a weakness. When the game thinks big, your eyes and ears are treated to larger-than-life spectacles; gargantuan robots sprawl across your view, and you annihilate mechanical monstrosities with the touch of a button. But Fall of Cybertron's most exciting moments are those you watch, not those you play. It can be a lot of fun, but the visual thrills don't consistently translate into stimulating gameplay.
There is excitement to unearth, however--it just takes a while for it to come into focus. The first half of the single-player campaign never finds a groove. You spend several levels in control of the kingly Optimus Prime, who sounds more than ever like an elder statesman, morally incorruptible and in complete control of his emotions. As in Transformers: War for Cybertron, you can morph from robot form to vehicular form and back again, though shooting, driving, and shooting-while-driving aren't Prime's only skills. He also fires artillery, ducks under beams, orders air strikes, lifts heavy objects, comforts his subordinates, and pulls levers.
That's normal shooter stuff, of course, but Fall of Cybertron's first half has you spending so much time watching explosions, performing single-button tasks, and occasionally hitting a button to make things die, that the full-fledged action seems like an afterthought. There aren't many extensive shooting sequences here. Instead, you get tossed from one task to the next without any kind of rhythm developing. Battles heat up just in time for you to find another door to open or another scripted event to witness. Aspects of the flat early hours carry over to later hours as well. Every major showdown between main players is interesting to watch but boring to play. That includes the game's final encounter, which you conquer not by overcoming a challenging enemy, but by responding to button prompts. Prompts that involve only one button.
Yet even before you leave Optimus Prime behind for other Transformers, there are momentary pleasures that keep you invested. Some of these moments are power trips: you speed across a bridge, mowing down the nameless bots that dare cross your path. Others build atmosphere: a facility morphs around you as you walk through it, making you wonder what might be causing such an anomaly. All the while, you get a real sense that the planet of Cybertron has reached its expiration date. Environments are in various stages of collapse, and the skies burn with sparking metal and the blistering exhaust of Decepticon dropships.
This level is really fun, but really short.
From here, Fall of Cybertron cycles you through various Transformers, changing up the gameplay--and then changing it up again just when you get the hang of things. One mission encourages stealthiness, having you go invisible and sneak behind sentries for a one-button execution. As Jazz, you play as a sort of bionic commando, grappling from platform to platform, using your mobility to stay out of the sights of the foes that continually hound you. Aside from the levels in which you soar through the skies in vehicular form, careening about as Jazz is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Fall of Cybertron, in part because you must stay light on your feet if you want to stay alive. The controls are smooth and the animations are fluid, so zipping from spot to spot is never a struggle, just a joy.
Land battle sequences play out as a standard third-person shooter and are generally solid, though there is an odd disconnect between the mechanics and the level design. Most Transformers are glass cannons--that is, you might do a lot of damage, but you're also surprisingly vulnerable, considering you're a huge hunk of metal. The game even encourages you to use cover, and indeed, several areas seem ripped right out of a cover shooter. Friends and enemies regularly use cover, but you yourself cannot; you can't even duck. Wading directly into the fray is sure death, and more time than you'd want is spent trying to find a safe spot for your shields to replenish, rather than standing strong.
Larger levels fare better, encouraging you to morph back and forth from bot to vehicle. The best of these have you zipping through the air and dropping death on your foes in aerial form, and then landing on platforms and finishing off the survivors. Sadly, there are only a few such levels; others are more interested in sending you on a power trip than in making you earn your triumphs. In several instances, such as when you stomp about as Grimlock, you lose ranged weapons in favor of melee attacks, wreaking havoc on waves of foes by slashing, swiping, and breathing fire. There's little strategy involved--you just press buttons and view the dramatic display of death that ensues. It's exciting to watch, but you're not working very hard for the victory.
Lay down the law with the big guns.
This constant flipping from one type of gameplay to another is a departure from the monotony that crept into War for Cybertron. At times, the game focuses so much on mixing things up that it loses focus: developer High Moon never deepens or strengthens any single mechanic before it moves to the next. But in the final levels, something miraculous happens: Fall of Cybertron weaves these disparate threads together into an exciting sequence that puts you in control of one bot after another so quickly that all you can do is ride this overcharged roller coaster and relish in its hyperactivity and visual excess. A boss fight featuring the agile Jazz might again be the highlight here, as it is one of the few times in which Fall of Cybertron puts a clever spin on mechanics it previously explored.