Activision and developer High Moon Studios took advantage of their time with the gaming press at last week’s D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas to show off “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron,” the sequel to 2010’s “War for Cybertron.” Like its predecessor, “Fall” takes place in the tense time immediately before the Autobots make their way to Earth in the wake of the destruction of their home planet. Of course, the Autobots’ planned exodus faces fierce opposition by the Decepticons.
Unlike “War for Cybertron,” the upcoming sequel features a single long-form campaign with the player switching sides as the story progresses in lieu of the original’s “pick a side” structure. Game director Matt Tieger explained the change. “We listened to [online] forums and the critical reception in the press,” he said, noting that one of the recurring issues with “War” was repetitive game play. “You had two tutorial levels, two first levels, two second levels. When you played fifty percent of ‘War for Cybertron,’ you’d actually played a hundred percent of it.” By going with a single campaign for the sequel, the developers feel they have achieved a better balance of characters, story, and play situations.
In one of the levels presented to the assembled gaming press, the player takes control of Vortex, a member of the Combaticon team. Built based partially on fan feedback for “War,” the Vortex level highlights a large and varied terrain, design choice stemming from a feeling that some of the level design in “War” became “repetitive.” The end result is a dramatic landscape that pushes the limits of the Unreal Engine, quietly loading more detail as players advance through the terrain. Tieger described the level as a “giant jungle gym that you can fly around in and interact with in interesting and cool ways.” The camera positions itself closer to the playing character than the previous game, which Tieger considers a more personal perspective. He also pointed out that the level exemplified the aspect of choice in transforming, saying, “If you want to play the entire level in vehicle mode, go right ahead.”
A few minutes later, Tieger demonstrated Vortex and his fellow Combaticons combining to become the colossal Bruticus. The resulting rampage across the canyons of Cybertron will make any Transformers fan smile with delight. “We deliver enormous environments and enormous characters,” Tieger pointed out.
From there, the demonstration moved on to another level where the player takes command of Jazz and his unique ability. “The right bumper is probably the most important control in the game” Tieger explained. “[It] is the special ability that’s unique to who you’re playing as.” In the level, Jazz, armed with a sniper rifle, is confronted by enemy machines also using sniper weapons. Utilizing the Autobot’s unique action — a grappling hook — the player can play a more tactical game, combining the hook with weapons and transformations. The end result is something the director referred to as “a far cry from the ‘look at all the windows and look for the glint’ experience” that is typical of most sniper-levels.
Optimus Prime’s special move, the ability to call down the awesome firepower of Metroplex, the transforming Autobot City, was also shown to the press. “[Metroplex is] going to stomp around on the battlefield, and you, as Optimus Prime, can control him,” said Tieger of the massive character. In this particular situation, the gargantuan robot strode over the heads of both Autobots and Decepticons before crushing an enemy super-weapon. It’s an epic moment that realizes the sort of action rarely seen in connection with the character. In short: he kicks Decepticon ass.
While it is still being tweaked and worked on, Tieger took some time to demonstrate the advancements to the multiplayer aspect of the game, highlighting the character creation system. “Everyone was gravitating toward a look that provided the most combat advantage,” he said of an earlier version of the system. “It was pulling the teeth out of this cool system we created.” When the final version is released, he hopes separating combat skills from character design will encourage players to make the coolest looking robots they can rather than simply attempting to load up on as much firepower as possible. To this end, the color palette features a metallic texture slider that dramatically alters the look and feel of the robot’s paint job. “[It’s] really a color-palette multiplier,” Tieger explained. “When you look at these colors, they take on such a different dimension based on how metallic you make them.”
Overall, even in its unfinished form, “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” is a beautiful looking game. Despite showcasing metallic characters in a metallic landscape, the environments shown contained plenty of variation in shapes, colors and design. From deep canyon-like vistas to crumbling cityscapes, Cybertron is a compelling place to do battle. The characters themselves have heft and weight while presenting an appealing design aesthetic that crosses the original cartoon models with the modern look of the recent films and animated series.
In a move sure to please a rather vocal contingency of Transformers fans, “Fall of Cybertron” shows love for Grimlock. “[He’s] the perfect character. He’s one of the most beloved Transformers,” Tieger noted, demonstrating what to expect when taking control of the Dinobot leader. The player starts out as Starscream, who makes the mistake of unleashing the beloved Dinobot. When the player takes command of Grimlock, he must save his fellow Dinobots — Swoop, Slag, Sludge and Snarl — from a nefarious Insecticon plan. In a twist on the established gameplay mechanics , Grimlock’s special ability is his transformation into a fire-breathing Tyrannosaur. “He’s a giant brawler,” Tieger explained. “You have to think differently about how you’re playing. We even change your thinking on transformation.”
While the game will not be out until late 2012, the early preview is more than promising. If the final product meets the level of expectation generated by this demonstration, Transformers fans will plenty to cheer about.
“Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” is scheduled for a Fall 2012 release on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 systems.