Any fun-loving game that goes out of its way to explain the grim origin of a Tyrannosaurus robot – which I'd consider a kind of self-evident narrative atom – deserves a hug. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, you are adorable.

That adjective should slide right off the metallic war machines that inhabit and eventually disintegrate their home planet of Cybertron, but it sticks somehow. Developer High Moon Studios exhibits earnestness in its depiction of a civilization-turning-scrapheap, alongside a mastery of what Unreal Engine 3 is best at: huge, vivid, shiny, exploding stuff. You could probably nitpick the adherence to Transformers canon if it weren't for the distracting fact that most of the characters, err, transform into cannons. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is essentially liberated by its license, populating its playable roster with ideal video game vehicles that become even more mobile at a moment's notice. This is no different from High Moon's 2010 effort, War for Cybertron, but that was a more rigid, more traditional third-person shooter. Fall of Cybertron seems the same in its first half, which feels shallow and eye-rollingly reverent to shallow spectacle, but that changes once the single-player campaign switches to the Decepticons.

It's right around the midway point that the level design opens up and offers advantageous avenues for your vehicle form. Sure, the guns all pack a satisfying wallop, but they're less prominent than the transformative special abilities, which represent a who's who of fun video game mechanisms. Jazz becomes the snazzy Cybertron equivalent of a race car, and comes equipped with a far-reaching grappling hook – ideal for rapidly shifting between advantageous sniping spots. If you were playing as a human, you'd be climbing up and down ladders all day long.

Another great mission exudes a whiff of Desert Strike as you exterminate ground troops with Vortex, a rather mean-spirited helicopter. And should his objective call for him to be on the other side of the map, you have the ability to change your chopper into a jet, an immediate augmentation that's just about as pleasing as it sounds. (For those fans doing a control-F for key Transformers terms: Yes, Vortex and the other Combaticons do combine to form big-ass 'bot Bruticus.)

Fall of Cybertron's multiplayer component also benefits from High Moon's sincere approach to the source material, always enabling those giddy moments in which you and your teammates leap into the air, transform and blast off to the next objective. The game types are as serviceable as the maps, however, and structured around the usual class-based system of experience, unlockables and augmentations. It's certainly fun and elaborate enough, and paired with an obligatory survival mode, but I suspect it gets a little more traction than deserved because of all the tanks, imposing architecture and the cool, otherworldly sound design.

The entirety of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is given a boost in that way, though it's hardly a crime when it results in such an energetic licensed game. There's a significant chunk of ho-hum in here (oh, look, it's the hulking enemy with a weakpoint on its back!), but there's also a sense of honesty once you clear the game's faux-flash first half, and that translates to fun if you approach it with a matching mindset. The cybernetic T-rex isn't pretending to be anything but a roaring power fantasy with twiddly arms.


This review is based on a final version of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, provided by Activision.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.