It's hard to come up with a more appropriate license for an action game than that undying 1980s toyline, Transformers. They're robots, they have guns, they punch each other, they change into cars and planes and outdated audio equipment at will. Sadly, the recent trilogy of live-action movies were noisy nonsense where it wasn't even possible to tell the robots apart half the time. Pity the people who had to make games based on them.
Fall of Cybertron, sequel to 2010's War On Cybertron, avoids those cinematic missteps entirely and rewinds back to the 1980s, back when the robots were blocky and colourful rather than spiky and indistinct. In fact, it goes back further, documenting the climatic war between the Autobots and the Decepticons as their home planet of Cybertron falls to pieces under their big, stompy feet.
It's unashamedly steeped in love for the Transformers and cartoons of yesterdays, with references and quotes hitting thick and fast, and the cast of 'bots massively increased upon War For Cybertron's slim roster. There's no doubting that the developers know and adore their stuff when it comes to Transformers, as a series of beloved characters - Optimus Prime, Soundwave, Megatron, Jazz, Starscream, Bruticus, Grimlock and more - are given their own levels to use their own skills in, and more 'bots still make welcome cameos.
There's just one thing the game overlooks. Clue: it's in the name. These Transformers don't do much transforming. As a singleplayer game, it's a fast-paced shooter with an entirely optional gimmick, save for a few moments where you're all but forced to change into one of the curiously uninspiring random shapes that's supposed to pass for a Cybertronian car or plane. Take away the name and the character skins and there's a reasonable chance it wouldn't be recognised as being Transformers. Outside of two levels which are focused on jetting around the skies in airplane mode, transforming serves no useful purpose, as is evident from the fact that your legion of enemies rarely bother to change form either.
Oh well, at least it's an entertaining shooter, stuffed with gimmicks such as invisibility and grappling hooks as well as selection of OTT weapons, and set in outdoor environments that look grand and sweeping even if you are restricted to a small part of them.
It's a huge improvement on the small, cramped and formulaic War For Cybertron, and anyone with a lingering affection for Transformers will find plenty to tickle their nostalgia glands. The game does have an occasional tendency to be so melodramatic it's hard not to giggle at it, but most of the time its characters seem to be having fun - making quips to each other and enjoying the carnage and spectacle of the constant destruction. In a couple of setpiece levels you get to control real behemoths, the angry robo-dino Grimlock and the giant Bruticus, and the game switches cheerfully to all-out power fantasy rather than any pretence of challenge. That's the point: it wants to help you realise those childhood dreams, not have grind you grind for Achievements.
Matters are more serious in multiplayer, which is also where to go if you want to see transforming used as a tactical element in battle rather than an unnecessary gimmick. The levels and range of weapons are underwhelming, but two teams of 'bots going up against each other necessitates far more careful combat, and the canny employment of the manoeuvrability the vehicle modes offer. You get to choose between the strong-but-slow titans, which turn into tanks, the fast, frail and exhilaratingly airborne scientists, and a couple more classes in between. You also, in theory, get to design your own robots for it, though even after the addition of more parts from an expensive DLC pack the game's rather uniform character design means you'll be very lucky if you feel you've made something unique. Who knows what the networking restrictions are, but it does feel like FOC hasn't gone anywhere near far enough in terms of character customisation.
Still, the now-traditional pursuit of new weapons, powers and robot parts adds welcome longevity to what's a fairly short singleplayer campaign, and rounds out a good-natured, dependably entertaining package. As such, Fall of Cybertron is likely to be stuck in an eternal wrestling match with Transformers Armada on PlayStation 2 for the title of 'best Transformers game ever'.