Director Michael Bay deserves some credit for the first film in his Transformers trilogy, but it's still hard to ascertain what he was thinking in the two follow-ups, and it has been harder to forgive the Hollywood machine for the damage done to High Moon Studios' reputation.
Like other Transformers stories, this one is better without Bay. High Moon proved they knew what they were doing when they delivered War for Cybertron in 2010, and suffered a staggering blow when the turgid tie-in to the third film, Dark of the Moon, followed last year.
The best Cybertronian storytelling has been found in the IDW comic books, and the horrors of war found there have bled into the narrative spun by High Moon for Fall of Cybertron. This is a shock and awe campaign, delivered with little mercy, and if you understand the conflict between Autobot leader Optimus Prime and his rogue soldier, Grimlock, all the better.
The action leaves War for Cybertron for dead. Close-range and long-range combat scenarios are generally satisfying, with some minor exceptions, and those artillery strikes? Catastrophic. The set pieces and single-button slow-mo situations are overall sensible, well-plotted, and frequent enough to ram home the (imagined) realities of a full-scale, robotic war in which survival is not guaranteed.
Sometimes the strands of hope your robots cling to are a little too fragile. In the 1986 animated film, an evil Decepticon complained that the heroic Autobots died too easily, and that's a defect which has carried through to 2012, meaning your Transformers have to rely on cover-based shooting more often than robot badasses should have to. It's a good way to familiarise yourself with the variety of weapons on offer, but it robs you somewhat of the grill-cracking action that Transformers should be capable of.
The rotating cast of characters, each with unique strengths and weaknesses, turn the fairly brief campaign missions into positives rather than negatives.
Optimus, if he were to turn up downtown in all his metallic glory, would tower above spectators from a height of almost 10 metres. However, it is only now that players are granted the sensations that being in control of a gigantic robot engaged in a war with other gigantic robots should deliver. The visuals and sheer sense of scale should threaten to overwhelm we puny humans, and now they do. Finally the thunder has struck.
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC