Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, on the surface, seems like a return to High Moon's true love: telling its own stories about giant, talking transforming robots. Separating itself from the films, Fall of Cybertron leaves High Moon free to geek out about Autobot and Decepticon history, wrapping it all up in Gears of War-style third-person shooter gameplay. And as High Moon said about the first game way back when, the emphasis here is supposed to be on freedom, and the unique ability to play as a robot or vehicle, switching whenever you want.
But for all of High Moon's enthusiasm about transforming, the demo on display at E3 was less-than-flattering to the series and its promise of complete freedom.
The good news is that the mechanics of a solid shooter were all on display at E3. Combat is well-done, just like the first title in the series. Transforming is slick when it happens, but don't expect to see a VW Bug or a Mack Truck on Cybertron. High Moon stands by the premise that these robots haven't seen those cars yet, so Optimus Prime transforms into something more akin to a weird hoverbarge with a missile launcher on top. Yes, he's a vehicle, and yes, High Moon's premise that he hasn't been to Earth and thus hasn't yet seen an actual truck yet holds up. But it feels like less of an authentic experience.
And despite High Moon's promise that the game will let you transform at any time, the two levels playable at E3 showed otherwise. One was a tutorial level where you played as Bumblebee trying to save one of the Autobot's big ships, and for learning reasons, there were quite a few rooms in the ship where actually transforming was disabled: Hitting the button just got you a stern alert on the screen telling you to stay in one form.
Later in the game, High Moon allows you to play as Grimlock, the fan favorite Dinobot, and the company has really tried to make him stand out in terms of gameplay: He's melee only, and has a rage meter that allows him to transform only when it's filled up. But that mechanic doesn't feel like a reward so much as yet another restriction, a timed roadblock that you have to wait through until you reach the fun. And even when Grimlock transforms following a cool animated sequence, his attacks, including a tail swipe and fire breath, aren't visceral enough to make filling that meter worthwhile. Grimlock's limitation is tied to the story, but it all feels slightly more like a chore than a bonus.
There are other misses on High Moon's promise as well. The early reveals on Fall of Cybertron told us about a city-sized Autobot called Metroplex, and we saw him during the demo -- but only as a summonable attack by Optimus Prime. If you had hopes of actually transforming Metroplex yourself, keep holding that breath for now, it seems.
Obviously we saw only a small portion of Fall of Cybertron's content, and the two levels that were playable were both introductions to the characters played, so there's still room for Fall of Cybertron to really open up and go Transformer crazy like High Moon's first attempt. But the worry is there that High Moon's promises about freely fighting in the world of Cybertron will be bounded by the restrictions of its own structure.