As a huge Transformers fan for many years, 2010's War for Cybertron is among my favorite games of this console generation. A solid three-player co-op campaign would have been good on its own, but throw in a robust set of multiplayer options, including Escalation mode, a survival mode for up to four, and you had something truly special. Thus, my expectations were high for the sequel, Fall of Cybertron. And while Fall is a good game, the wholesale removal of multiplayer options in the campaign causes it to fall short (if you'll pardon the pun) of its predecessor from a co-op perspective.
It's truly a shame that you won't be able to share the campaign with a friend, because it is quite simply excellent. As the story begins, the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, are on their heels, struggling to survive. Their goal is to load aboard the Ark, a battered cargo ship, abandoning the devastated Cybertron in order to find a better life elsewhere. Megatron and the Decepticons, naturally, are bent on stopping them, and destroying them once and for all. The overall tone of the campaign is bleak and gritty, quite a bit darker than War for Cybertron. Transformers die, whether via heroic sacrifice or senseless futility. At times, it's hard to believe that you are playing a game based on children's toys.
Instead of two loosely-connected campaigns, one for each faction, Fall of Cybertron weaves the narrative back and forth between Autobot and Decepticon points of view. There is no longer choice of which robot to control for each level, but this is somewhat made up for by the increased differentiation of the playable characters. Optimus Prime is powerful, wading into the thick of battle. Cliffjumper uses stealth to slay his enemies from behind. Starscream, when not flying around at breakneck speed, fights dirty. Best of all is Grimlock, who is strong enough in robot mode, but becomes an engine of destruction when his rage meter transforms him into a cybernetic space Tyrannosaurus. It's even more fun than it sounds!
As you travel through the thirteen chapters in campaign mode, there are plenty of moments that are best described as cinematic. Transformers as tall as skyscrapers appear, dispatching dozens of enemies at a time. Without getting into spoiler territory, suffice it so say that your jaw will drop from time to time as the sheer spectacle on display here. It's clear the developers are fans of the source material, and all sorts of nods to the classic show pop up periodically. The ending, especially, will be meaningful for long-time fans. Playing through the campaign will likely take between 7 and 9 hours.
The "official reason" for the removal of co-op from the campaign is to allow each Transformer to really shine during its featured levels. While I can understand the importance of keeping each Transformer unique in feel, that's just not enough to cut the co-op for. In most levels, there are other robots with you anyway, so why not just let there be a second player? It's a game about sentient transforming robots that change into trucks, spaceships, and dinosaurs, after all. It's not like seeing two Optimus Primes running around would break the suspension of disbelief. Removing co-op from the campaign is a puzzling decision, and the game suffers significantly for it, especially when compared to War for Cybertron.
Thankfully, Escalation mode does return, and for the most part, it is better than ever. Escalation is the Transformers-themed take on a Survival mode, similar to the Gears of War series' Horde mode. Four players can team up online to survive as long as possible through fifteen increasingly difficult waves of enemies. As in War for Cybertron, there are two Escalation mode maps for each faction, which is not nearly enough to have a good variety from game to game. I'm sure we can expect additional maps in upcoming DLC packs, but still, out of the box, there are only four total, which is too few.
As players kill the opposing robots in each wave, they earn credits which can be spent to buy more ammo, health, better weapons, and more. A particularly co-op friendly addition is the ability to spend credits collectively to unlock team weapon upgrades. These upgrades might cut reload times, or give bonuses to damage. You can also unlock new areas of the map to increase your mobility. Players can revive fallen teammates in the middle of battle, but even if you don't make it, you'll respawn at the next wave.
A particularly intriguing addition are the traps and special abilities that appear during Escalation mode. You might be granted the ability to place a wall of fire, for example, which obviously is of great benefit when a big group of bad guys are headed your way. You can also call in a gunship, if you can afford it, and this pretty much allows you to cruise through a level on auto-pilot. You'll need all these different traps and upgrades to survive, since Escalation mode is quite challenging, even on Easy difficulty.
The competitive options for multiplayer are pretty much what you'd expect. This is where you can create your own Transformer, customizing it as you see fit. Four different classes can be chosen from, ranging from the sneaky Infiltrator to the brutal Titan. By playing in matches, you can earn experience which unlocks different features and perks. Sadly, you cannot use your multiplayer character in Escalation mode, instead being limited to the same four Autobots or Decepticons tied to that mode. Allowing multiplayer characters in Escalation would have added greatly to the long-term enjoyment of the game.
Coming from a purely co-op perspective, Fall of Cybertron is a disappointment. Taking out the much-celebrated campaign co-op was a mind-boggling decision. The remaining bone for co-op lovers to chew on is Escalation mode, and though it has some obvious upgrades from the original, it clearly doesn't pack the punch of Campaign mode, nor the longevity of earning experience with a Multiplayer character. Overall, Fall of Cyberton is a solid title, but it falls far short of providing a great time for co-op fans.
The Co-Optimus review of Transformers Fall of Cybertron is based on the 360 version of the game which was provided by the publisher.