Last week I told you all about Transformers: Fall of Cybertron's barrage of fanservice that is its singleplayer mode, and now here are some thoughts on its team-based multiplayer.
No posturing Megatron-Optimus stand-offs or piloting of walking cities here: multiplayer is a completely different game, as is so often the case for shooters. While the campaign involves running and blasting easily-dispatched drones as an improbably self-regarding soundtrack booms and familiar faces jabber gags and exposition, FoC's multiplayer is actually about transforming.
While I Tapped F To Transform probably only a couple of dozen times throughout the entire singleplayer, here I've been spending the majority of my time in vehicle mode. The game does its best to frustrate this with boundary-filled maps, especially evident if you favour the jet-based Scientist class, which entails at least as much bouncing off an invisible ceiling and trying to squeeze your wings through small holes as it does soaring through the open grey skies. Nevertheless, the ability to instantly change form to either reach or evade trouble certainly gets its moment in the sun.
The main use of being a vehicle, perhaps inevitably, is speeding towards the heart of the action upon (re)spawning. It's also a means of ensuring snipers don't dominate the playing field. Camping spots aren't much use when an opponent can simply turn into a plane and fly straight to your high-up hiding spot. Same goes for anyone whose strategy involves running away - you can tail them all too easily. Unless you're playing as a Titan, the hulking tank class, which is a high damage/low speed trundler. It's a team game in all its modes, so Titans will rely on the fast Scientists (planes/healing) and Infiltrators (cars /invisibility) to trail fleeing foes. Destroyers, the standard assault class, tend to be playing more familiar deathmatch. Unfortunately, this being a port rather than a true PC version, so there's no team chat whatsoever, so good luck with communication if you play public matches.
As a result, the public game is largely about massed, fairly close-up scraps rather than the hide and seek and headshotting which characterises so many other multiplayer shooters. It's a good way to feel involved, even if a preponderance of one-shot-kill heavy weapons means there's still a good chance the less experienced will feel a bit persecuted. Vehicle weapons are by and large a bit weaker than bot-mode weapons, so tend to be more about harassment than the pursuit of victory - and again, that ensures transformation is regular and vital, rather than an incidental gimmick.
The maps are a bland let-down, however. While some have fairly dramatic ruined-planet backdrops, by and large they're simply dully metallic, obstacle-filled arenas that could be from any sci-fi shooter. As I mentioned, they've been artificially restricted to prevent aircraft from having the time of their lives. There's one, featuring segments of demolished roads on high platforms accessed by jump-pads, which has a hint of ambition to it, but nothing that's at all playful with the concept or fiction of Transformers.
That stuff's held in the create-a-character mode, which builds upon the very simplistic (pretty much recolouring only) version from War For Cybertron. This time around, you get to construct bots from an assortment of parts belonging to characters from the singleplayer game, with a few new ones thrown in as over-priced DLC. While there's enough to satisfy you through a couple of construction sessions, FoC's oddly homogenous character art style - those washed-out colours, those instantly forgettable, randomly-shaped vehicle modes, those oversized limbs - makes it near impossible to create a character that will feel truly your own. As soon as you stick a Shockwave head or an Optimus head on there, it's just Shockwave or Optimus with slightly different shoulders or legs.
Vehicle mode, meanwhile is unaffected by your parts choices other than chest, so each of the four classes has only a few variations in that regard. Then there are the colours, which are cruelly bifurcated into what the game decides are Autobot and Decepticon hues. Entire, major colours are denied to what's deemed the wrong faction for them, even to the point that Autobot city commander Ultra Magnus - a character model available only in a $10 DLC pack, and files for which are apparently already in the base game - can only be recreated in his official colours if you make him a Decepticon. There's just not enough flexibility, and with the majority of new part unlocks saved for DLC (such as the upcoming Dinobot pack, character models for which are again already in the base game) rather than via levelling up, it's tricky to see the long-term appeal.
Server stuff is straight out of the console model, so it's auto-matchmaking and all the problems that entails. Makes it quick enough to get in if enough people are online, but don't hope you can fine-tune exactly what sort of session you want.
I've given FoC's more time than it perhaps deserves, purely because transformation being part of the combat strategy was enormously welcome after the short thrift it was given in singleplayer. It feels cruelly curtailed and perfunctory though - it absolutely understands what an always-accessible vehicle mode can mean for multiplayer, but it hasn't put that into a particularly compelling context. That I can't ever find a game in any mode except straight-up team deathmatch perhaps speaks to this - people are there to blast and to grind levels rather than explore what's possible.