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Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Preview: Revenge of the Fallen

With Michael Bay out of the way, High Moon is hoping for a return to past glories

When it comes to continuities, Transformers is almost as complex as Star Wars. All you have to know about High Moon Studios' recent run at the video games, though, is that War for Cybertron was great and Transformers: Dark of the Moon was a bit of a mess. It felt stripped back and rough around the edges. It felt like a side project that was rushed out of the door to meet a movie street date - and that's apparently exactly what it was.

For Fall of Cybertron, the first true Cybertron sequel, the team is trying to make up for that disappointment. It's taking the core of the franchise - the control layout, the multiple playable characters, and the freedom to transform whenever you want - and it's building on top of it in some interesting ways.

It's the incremental improvements approach to sequelising, then, but it's taking place on a number of fronts. What ties the various tweaks together is that the changes have all been inspired by listening to feedback: feedback from the audience, and from the development team itself.

"I listen to the forums, which is both a good and a bad thing", laughs Matt Tieger, the director of both War for Cybertron and the new sequel. "But I also talk with the team, and go back over both of our previous Transformers games with them. That helps us to solidify the things we did right: the feel of the game, the weapon systems. When it comes to the things people didn't like - the repetition in gameplay, the fact that the world and level design could be better - that was also the feedback we had internally. We weren't shocked by that at all, and we really knew how to make improvements."

Weapons can be swapped out and improved at regular upgrade stations.

Fall of Cybertron's most obvious changes lie with the environments. They're a lot more colourful on this outing, and they're often much larger, too. The game - as the name suggests - covers the last days of the Transformers' mechanised home world, and a sequence showcasing Optimus Prime, stoically blowing things to pieces, delivers action on a suitably vast scale.

Prime himself is picking off robots as he moves through tumble-down plazas and huge ruined temples, while his special power - each playable character has one - comes in the form of Metroplex, a robot that is, you know, the size of a city.

Mechanically, Metroplex works a little like the Hammer of Dawn from Gears - target an area and then he attacks, maybe sending in rockets, and maybe shoulder-charging - and when he's not blowing things up, he's knocking around in the background like one of the God of War characters after an amusing trip to the welding shop.

Metroplex isn't the only big robot this time, although, granted, they don't come much larger. High Moon's trying to offer more variety in terms of playable characters, so at the top end, you've got Bruticus, who is actually five separate Transformers after they've come together as one giant battlebot - presumably to save on rent and laundry bills. Bruticus provides a lovely sense of scale, and it's fascinating to move around the world as Vortex - who makes up one of his limbs, I think - and then switch to the cobbled-together form and blast tiny Autobots with a massive flamethrower.

Jazz comes equipped with a zippy little grappling hook. I want one.

That said, character differentiation isn't just limited to size. Cliffjumper, for example, is quite a small robot, but he's lithe and rather fast, and his special power is the ability to turn invisible. Uh oh: is there a stealth sequence on the way? Thankfully, that doesn't appear to be the case. Cliffjumper's vanishing act is all about powering yet another of Fall of Cybertron's big ideas: variation in the AI.

According to Tieger, the AI has been completely rewritten for the new game, and it's now based around a simple premise: if you can tell what an enemy is trying to do, you can then screw with it, since screwing with it is often more fun than just shooting it dead. So when Cliffjumper's invisible, he'll often find himself up against hunter robots, and they have two clearly readable states: a scanning state, in which they're firing a little laser beam around to search for cloaked foes, and then a battle state, after they've found cloaked foes, in which they're basically a walking cannon.

The idea is that you can trick them. You can pop up in a corner, and then dash around behind them to give them a big roboty shoeing from an unexpected angle. This, alongside bespoke sniping sections and even a few relatively peaceful narrative-led moments in which you're just walking around soaking up backstory, should provide a more interesting pace for a series that can often revert to a grind.

How far is the team willing to go in terms of palette-cleaning moments? The answer to that is: as far as Grimlock - and he's a robot who can into a T-Rex. Grimlock's special enough already - I mentioned he can turn into a T-Rex, right? - but he's also a bit different from the rest of the crew because he hasn't got any guns on him. He's a sword and shield sort of guy, which means that he really changes the way that you approach his encounters.

You'll be playing as both Autobots and Decepticons again, by the looks of things.

Not only that, but he's the only character that breaks a critical High Moon rule: he can't transform at will. Instead, you have to earn the right to turn him into a T-Rex by smacking enemies about and building up your rage meter. Stompy Dino Fun (SDF) is your eventual reward. It looks amazingly entertaining, and it's also not actually known as Stompy Dino Fun. Probably for the best, eh?

That's the campaign, then, but what about the multiplayer? High Moon's pretty tight-lipped about this at the moment, but Tieger is at least showing off the customisation angle, and he seems a bit like a proud father when he talks about it - albeit a proud father whose wife has given birth to a selection of angular metallic death machines. Hopefully by C-section.

The classes of the original Cybertron multiplayer remain, but this time you can get up close and mess with the character models, switching in and out all sorts of body parts ranging from heads, legs and torsos, as well as changing voice tracks, altering paint jobs and abilities, and even controlling just how shiny your robot is. The system seems pretty powerful from the quick glimpse I get: you can build a character from an insane, wrong-headed collection of pieces and it will still transform smoothly into a jet or a car or a truck, and it will generally look pretty cool while it does that.

Fall of Cybertron should be a return to form, then, hopefully: a game about big, angry robots made by a team that genuinely seems to love big, angry robots. If you can't bring yourself to forgive Michael Bay for Transformers 3 - or Transformers 2, actually - at least High Moon deserves its shot at redemption. And it looks like the studio's making the most of it.