Recently I had the pleasure of attending a special preview event hosted by Activision for Transformers Fall of Cybertron. What I got to see in this preview event was the game being played live for us, while Matt Tieger took us through some of the features and levels of the game. Please bear in mind what I saw was an early version of the game, so some features are still being tweaked and fully revised. Let me preface this write-up by saying I’m not a huge action gamer. I’ve never played anything like Gears of War, Halo or Half Life, so I cannot comment on how this compares to other action games in the genre. I can offer you my own impressions on what I saw, and of course I can give you the opinion of a Transformers fan on this extremely promising new game. I’ll make no secret of it - War for Cybertron I felt was an excellent game, but Fall of Cybertron goes for being bigger and better, with lots more emphasis on a varied and unique experience with each character. What we are looking at here is shaping up to quite possibly be the best Transformers video game ever made. Developing the concept Before starting the presentation, Matt Tieger gave us a bit of background on Fall of Cybertron, and how High Moon Studios have been paying attention to the comments and criticisms arising from the original game. High Moon Studios divided into two teams after War for Cybertron - a smaller team handled the Dark of the Moon game, while the main team started to work on Fall of Cybertron. Matt and the team are approaching the creation of Fall of Cybertron as something like an art form, looking at how they can create something that can beat the impressive benchmark set by War for Cybertron. In particular they are keen to introduce a cool and unique story, to make more of Cybertron and the world with varied and cool environments, and to really focus on giving the single player campaign a good variety of experiences. This is not without some sacrifice - levels are now tailored around particular characters in order to make full use of their unique abilities, as opposed to offering a choice of playable characters for each stage last time out. Let’s briefly talk about the levels. In War for Cybertron, the environments were very nicely crafted, but tended to lend themselves toward that “corridor shooter” feeling. Fall of Cybertron by contrast is going for a more open and multi-layered feel - Jazz’s stage, for example, in the sequence I saw was a series of catwalks and platforms at different heights which you could grapple to with his grappling hook. Vortex’s stage similarly took place on at least three or four different plains, making full use of the fact the character could fly - but the choice is up to you, because there is also a floor level if you prefer to tackle the stage on foot, and that is what Matt Tieger wanted to stress about the levels - the emphasis is all on choice. You can tackle the stage in robot mode or vehicle mode, choosing whatever approach you feel comfortable with. This is Cybertron’s Story In War for Cybertron, the story was divided into an Autobot campaign, and a Decepticon campaign. As a part of revisiting what they felt worked and what they felt could have been done differently in War for Cybertron, High Moon Studios felt that the faction split was perhaps not the best approach for the kind of story they wanted to tell, so this time around, there is one campaign, structured roughly in three acts, with the first act being mostly where you play as the Autobots, the second act being mostly the Decepticons, and the final act back with the Autobots again. As Matt Tieger put it, this time out, it is the story of Cybertron, the last days of their world. But there are also some strong character elements running through the story and one of the key story elements involves the motivations of the three figureheads, Megatron, Optimus Prime and Grimlock. Megatron and the Decepticons believe in peace through tyranny, for them it is not enough to let those who do not share his views simply leave, they feel they must be completely exterminated. Optimus Prime is of the view that the Transformers must survive, even if they must leave Cybertron in order to accomplish this; that they can come back and rebuild. Grimlock views Optimus’ stance as the ultimate act of cowardice and feels they should remain to the bitter end and keep fighting. He feels that the Autobots should be willing to die for what they believe in, not run away. The conflict between these ideals drives the story, and a lot of the character interaction between Optimus Prime and Grimlock is driven by their conflicting ideologies. The way this story is delivered is through sequences in the game where you are not fighting as much as dialogue and cutscenes. We were shown a story sequence where Cliffjumper uncovered an ancient Cybertronian observatory, the room coming to life around him as he uncovered clues that the ancient Transformers had journeyed the universe - very much in keeping with the plot threads in the Exodus novels. And yes, the observatory did show our solar system. Matt Tieger said he hopes players can be as engrossed in the story areas as they are with the sequences where you have your fingers on the trigger to blast some bad guys. Tight Controls, Changing Strategies, Transforming Enemies For Fall of Cybertron, High Moon Studios have taken the tight control scheme of War for Cybertron and improved on it. Where War for Cybertron excelled was in how the controls were quite intuitive and switching between modes did not mean you needed to remember two different control schemes, and this is something that Matt Tieger wanted to make sure continued with Fall of Cybertron. “I find nothing breaks the flow of a game more than hopping in a tank or a helicopter and then having to stop and think ‘oh, what’s the controls for the tank again?’” he explained. The controls - with a couple of exceptions - are universal across all the characters and alternate modes, so everything is as intuitive as possible. The exception is the right bumper. The right bumper is your special attack - it does something a bit different for each character. For Vortex, it unleashes a shockwave that scatters enemies, great for crowd control. For Jazz, it fires his grappling hook and for Cliffjumper it activates his stealth mode. Optimus Prime gets to issue commands to Metroplex, which is extremely satisfying to watch unfold. Flying characters also get the option to ascend or descend. As implied by the changing special powers, and the tailored levels, the game challenging players in different ways with every new level. Cliffjumper, for example, is lightly armed but equipped with the ability to cloak and execute stealth kills. Jazz has his grappling hook and a sniper rifle, fighting against enemy snipers who can transform and fly to new locations, so you are challenged to keep up in what Matt Tieger calls High Moon Studios take on a “sniper vs sniper” duel. And it looks awesome! As mentioned above, one of the things that the newly rewritten enemy AI now does is allow the enemies to transform too, in order to demonstrate state changes in the AI. The snipers in Jazz’s section of the presentation were spider-like creatures who could attach to walls or even the undersides of walkways; in this position they would be searching for Jazz to snipe at him. If they were in a bad position to do this, they would move to a new location, by transforming into a flight mode and flying around the arena. In Cliffjumper’s segment we were treated to a different example - a lanky non-combat form of a Decepticon scanned for Cliffjumper. Cliffjumper’s detection was indicated by the Decepticon transforming into a very powerful looking combat mode - the change in the enemy state from “searching for you” to “found you and attacking” was indicated by the transformation (on an aside, the enemy declared “Prepare for extermination!” when it spotted Cliffjumper, a great little throwback to the 1986 Animated movie) Transforming your arsenal Fall of Cybertron is taking a new approach to weapons and firepower compared to War for Cybertron. War for Cybertron, as you might remember, had the various guns around the levels to be picked up and used. In Fall of Cybertron, you acquire the guns as you play, but new depth has been added to them. They can now be upgraded by spending Energon on them. The way this works is you uncover blueprints as you play, these blueprints can then be developed as upgrades at the Teletran kiosks located in the levels. These are not small time “2 extra bullets in the clip” upgrades either, Matt Tieger assured us, but meaningful upgrades. Matt Tieger’s favourite of the new weapons was the Lightning Gun, a weapon which sends out an arching bolt of energy into the target, and from them arcs into other nearby targets and, when upgraded, enemy rockets too. The X18 Scrapmaker is also making a return appearance for when you need the firepower to handle a single enemy. The promise is for more guns, and a decent variety within them. Of the selection we saw, I think the lightning gun is the coolest - blasting a whole crowd at once looks like so much fun, with all the energy arching around. A note at this point about ammunition. While not directly addressed, at no point in the demonstration did character ammo ever run out - even for Cliffjumper during a prolonged firefight with a Decepticon heavy unit. Build your dream Transformer While it was too early to showcase the multiplayer itself, the character creation was shown. Still in the early stages, the character creation is massively expanded over War for Cybertron. The four classes from the original are returning - now renamed as Infiltrator (formerly Scout), Destroyer (formerly Leader), Titan (formerly warrior) and Scientist. This time out though you can mix and match parts to create your ideal Transformer. High Moon Studios is giving you the choice of the different heads, chests, upper and lower arms, legs, and even tank barrels. The scope is so much wider than ever before. We were shown a demonstration of this system, using Wheeljack’s basic form as a starting point - yes, it looks like you can play as Wheeljack in multiplayer folks! - and as we watched, the head, arms and legs were swapped to create a new design, which transformed into a different looking vehicle mode based on the different parts used. You can create a truly unique character to play as, or recreate your favourite character. As previously revealed, there is a slider in this character creation system which lets you influence how metallic you want your character to be - everything from a matte finish right the way up to something that looks fully chromed, and all stops in between. The effect is extremely impressive, and Matt Tieger mentioned how this was a feature that High Moon Studios was looking at feeding back into the single player campaign too. All in all, with the expanded character creation, it looks as though Fall of Cybertron is giving players much more scope to create and become their dream Transformer. More parts for the character customisation will be unlocked as you play through the main game. The character creation is very well expanded and looks like a very fun part of the game to play around with. The Warriors of Cybertron The gameplay presentation I saw was made up of eight segments, showcasing six characters and the multiplayer character creation I talked about above. The first segments focused on Vortex and the Combaticons, before moving on to the Autobots Cliffjumper, Jazz, Optimus Prime and Grimlock. Vortex What we were treated to for Vortex was the segment you may have already seen on some of the gameplay videos released, although seeing it being played live was a very nice experience. We kicked off by seeing the start of the level - the Combaticons under the orders of Starscream were tasked with taking out a bridge, to allow the Decepticon forces to advance and take over an Autobot transport ship. Brawl rolls in initially to handle the job, transforming into an artillery cannon mode. When his artillery strike fails, it is down to Vortex to locate and destroy the Autobot shield generators protecting the bridge. Vortex’s level is very open and set across multiple levels, inviting players to make full use of Vortex’s flight. But the choice is always there to take a different approach if you so choose. Vortex has an excellent shockwave ability to force enemies away from him to give him some breathing space in addition to his flight. When he boosts, he transforms into a jet mode. The possibilities for taking out an enemy range from getting in close in robot mode and using shockwaves to disable them, strafing them while boosting as a jet, or hovering at a distance hitting them with missiles as a helicopter. Bruticus The second segment showed the character I am most excited to play as - Bruticus. Bruticus has a very different feel to Vortex, who was all about being able to fly - Bruticus is slower, but just watching him move you can feel how powerful he is. The most awesome part was hearing the enemy characters - ones Vortex was fighting; now looking truly tiny compared to your character - shouting and screaming in terror at Bruticus. First impressions from watching this played are that High Moon Studios have really nailed the feeling of controlling such a huge character. Bruticus’ right bumper ability is an energy wave that travels along the ground, destroying anything in its path. He can also use Vortex’s blades as a shield, and he has a large amount of HP - in excess of 900 HP plus shields, so he can really take a bit of punishment. As befits a gigantic engine of destruction. I personally can’t wait to play as him myself! Cliffjumper Moving along to the Autobots, the third segment of the presentation was Cliffjumper. Cliffjumper was shown in actual gameplay here for the first time, and he plays as a nimble character that is a bit less resistant to damage, unlike Vortex or Bruticus. Cliffjumper instead has a stealth mode, so he can go invisible and execute stealth kills on enemies. That seems to be the driving idea behind Cliffjumper’s stage - taking out opponents by stealth and cunning rather than in out-and-out firefights, though that is of course also available if that is more your style. Stealth kills look fun, and involve things like Cliffjumper leaping on an opponent’s shoulders before taking off their heads with his blade. The segment we were shown was Cliffjumper’s first battle with a new type of enemy, who is able to detect and jam Cliffjumper’s stealth mode. You have the option of dodging the enemy’s scans and taking it out stealthily, or if you are feeling brave you can take the thing on in a firefight - the balance of the fight meant that while it is a challenge to fight one-on-one, Cliffjumper is agile enough to evade his slower opponent and get a few hits in while it locks on and charges up its guns. The other segment shown with Cliffjumper was the previously mentioned observatory sequence. Cliffjumper’s voice in this sequence seemed younger than Generation 1 or Prime Cliffjumper - I’d describe it as a mixture of Generation 1 Cliffjumper with a bit of Generation 1 Bumblebee’s voice. The voice fits the personality of the character and his playstyle, and it is not unreasonable to think that this character could mature into Generation 1 or Prime Cliffjumper over a few million years. Jazz Jazz’s segment was a demonstration of the grappling and sniper combat, and my main impression watching this part of the presentation was how crazily fun all of this looked. Grappling from place to place looks awesome, but what we were shown was even more impressive still - imagine if you will, transforming into vehicle mode, accelerating off of the edge of a platform and boosting for more speed before transforming in midair and then grappling to a distant platform. That is what you can do on Jazz’s stage. To add to the fun, you are also given a sniper rifle to pick off Decepticons. My feeling after watching that part of the presentation is that Jazz’s level is going to go down as being one of the most fun levels in a Transformers game ever. Optimus Prime Next up was the big guy himself, Optimus Prime. Optimus’ section takes place in an area which reminded me of a Greco-Roman city, with big open fora and buildings fronted with columns and statues. In the demonstration, the Autobots were fighting their way through a Decepticon force on the ground, while in the background, Metroplex fights his own battle and comes to the aid of Optimus Prime when Optimus marks a target with the right bumper. I also saw Warpath running alongside Optimus Prime as a computer controlled ally in this sequence - something that I personally welcome as I enjoyed Warpath’s inclusion in War for Cybertron. During this sequence, the Autobot advance was being hindered by a massive Decepticon gun emplacement as well as Decepticon ground forces stubbornly dug in among the buildings. Unfortunately, they did not count on Metroplex. With a click of the right bumper, a group of Decepticons were flagged as a target for Metroplex, and a moment later were obliterated in a missile strike. As Optimus Prime proceeded, a Decepticon carrier came in for air support and to drop more troops. Again, Optimus was able to mark this as a target for Metroplex, who blew the carrier out of the sky. All the while, more Decepticons on the ground were dispatched by Optimus Prime using his conventional guns. The segment ended with the destruction of the gun emplacement - after Optimus Prime got in range to flag it as a target for Metroplex, Metroplex moved into combat and tore the thing apart with a couple of powerful punches. Matt Tieger explained with a smile that this was the great thing with Metroplex - you never know what you will get, other than it is guaranteed to be awesome. Metroplex is a great looking character, with a real feeling of scale and power. He closely resembles the original toy, reimagined in the War for Cybertron / Fall of Cybertron style. He looks incredible, and it is truly awesome to see him punch out a cannon the size of a building. High Moon Studios have outdone themselves by bettering the gigantic Omega Supreme and Trypticon from War for Cybertron. Grimlock Last but by no means least; it’s my favourite character Grimlock. Grimlock comes into the story at a point where you might be getting comfortable with the way the game plays and shakes things up a little, getting you to rethink your strategy. He’s a melee character only, other than throwing enemies for long range attacks. It is pretty awesome to watch - Grimlock is slower and more purposeful in his movement than other characters, but there is definite power there. His attacks are strong, and brutal. One attack with his sword saw him impaling an Insecticon drone on his sword, before tearing it off and smashing it into the ground. The presentation I saw of Grimlock saw him in an arena, fighting an army of Insecticon drones unleashed by Sharpshot (aka Shrapnel) to rescue Snarl. Grimlock was often outnumbered, but able to make short work of the bugs with just a couple of swipes of his sword, and compared to the Dark Energon spiders in War for Cybertron, these Insecticons seemed easier to hit, their main strength being their numbers. A well-touted point of playing as Grimlock is his inability to transform on his own accord, instead transforming once he acquires enough rage. I got to witness the transformation, and it is a real game-changer - from fighting hand to hand, I got to see Grimlock stomping on Insecticons and breathing fire on them, utterly destroying them. By way of Grimlock’s voice, he sounds like a combination of Gregg Berger’s Generation 1 Grimlock and The Hulk. It’s a different take on Grimlock, though still distinctively Grimlock - dare I say he sounded less like cartoon Grimlock, and more like Marvel Comics Grimlock? Hearing Gregg’s voice was a real treat, and drove home that yes, nearly 30 years later we will finally be able to play as Grimlock in a video game. Sharpshot was taunting Grimlock throughout the fight, and I briefly caught what sounded like a reference to his old speech impediment where he’d repeat his last syllables. Final Thoughts I walked out of the presentation with a huge smile on my face. There is little doubt in my mind that this is going to blow a lot of people away - fans and non-fans alike. This is the Transformers game we have been waiting for - everything about what I have seen demonstrates the care and attention given by Matt Tieger and High Moon Studios in creating the ultimate Transformers video game experience. There is plenty of good stuff for fans in there, but lots of good gameplay and great fun for everyone. Transformers Fall of Cybertron is set for a release in Fall 2012 - I’ll be there to get my copy on launch day, and I hope to see you all there too!