High Moon Studios wowed Transformers fans with its previous game, War for Cybertron. The third-person shooter transports players to the robots’ mysterious home world of Cybertron, establishing a look and feel that’s separate from any existing Transformers movie or cartoon series. On top of creating the best Transformers game ever, High Moon also managed to make an entertaining shooter at its core. The studio is responding to complaints of gameplay and environment repetition with the sequel, Fall of Cybertron, but they’re not just making to changes to appease hardcore fans of the morphing machines. High Moon is proud of its new game, and is convinced that non-fans will love the spectacle, grandiose scale, action, and varied transformation-based gameplay. I am one such non-fan. I have no particular love for the Transformers license, but I walked away from my hands-on time with the game eager to play more.

I enjoyed Transformers toys as a child, but as I grew older I started to think that the idea of robots from outer space that turn into Earth vehicles was pretty dumb. That opinion doesn’t hold up well when you’re given the power to turn into a fire-breathing, mechanized T-Rex. Characters like Grimlock give everyone a reason to play. He’s a huge, sword-wielding Dinobot that can transform into a gigantic dinosaur. Players must hew through enough fodder enemies to build their rage meter, which when full unlocks Grimlock’s transformation. The demo I saw showed Grimlock swiping swaths of foes with his tail, chomping them to bits with his metal teeth, and showering Decepticons with a torrent of flames. Grimlock’s sheer brutality and cool-factor have me excited to wipe out bunches of robots as the beast.

I spent my hands-on time as a bad guy, Vortex. This Decepticon is triple-changer, which means he can transform from his usual robot form into a helicopter and jet. Vortex’s sequence begins on walkways below a huge bridge, surrounding by plenty of open air. I loved sprinting towards a ledge, leaping off, and instantly morphing into a helicopter with a click of the left analog stick. Vortex can hover above groups of Autobots and rain down machine gun fire or devastating missile barrages. These rockets explode in a bright burst of purple and dark smoke as metal scrap is littered around the environment. Particle effects like this along with blue electricity arcing between combusting robots makes this game a visual treat. If an AA gunner gets a bead on Vortex, pressing the left trigger shifts the helicopter into a jet and boosts you across the map in no time. Running out of missile ammo doesn’t render Vortex’s chopper form obsolete - I got a kick out of flying far above groups of enemies, switching to his regular form, then plummeting towards the group to deliver a crowd-clearing shockwave blast.

As Vortex I clear out the Autobots protecting the bridge controls, which I’m fighting to access. After the last good guy lay in a pile of rubbish, I approach the junction box and pull a level. The camera pans up to show protective armor plating sliding down, exposing the huge bridge supports. Suddenly, artillery blasts into view from the distance, colliding with the supports and demolishing the bridge in the process. The area underneath the gigantic Autobot-guarded bridge was massive, and gave me a good feeling for just how big Cybertron is.

After the supports are destroyed, Vortex drops into a hatch. The close-quarters underground facility makes flying tough, so I get acquainted with Fall of Cybertron’s  third-person gunplay. Rolling and dashing around the environment is as easy as tapping a shoulder button. Each enemy is a threat. Sloppy aiming or lazy dodging got me killed in more than a few situations. Thankfully my huge shotgun-like gun makes short work of Autobots at close range, so I opt to dash up to enemies before firing. Most encounters deplete my regenerating shield chipped away at the health beneath, but Energon cubes scattered around the environment make life easier. The constant moving and shooting, along with the occasional chopper missile barrage make this primarily on-foot sequence a blast. It concludes with a mini-boss fight against an Autobot four times the size of Vortex. I swap out my shotgun for a type of energy rocket launcher and blast each payload into my enemy. After the gun runs dry I resort to hasty helicopter rockets. The chopper’s lateral boost helps me dodge the big enemy’s powerful projectiles as I  pound it with missiles. Eventually the Goliath falls and I’m free to plant a bomb on a control panel, which appears to cause massive damage to the Autobot construct.

A hatch opens, revealing a long circular corridor leading out of the crumbling facility. I leap into the air, transform into a jet, and soar through the exploding passage. I love seamlessly transitioning from an on-foot boss fight to an intense, fiery aerial escape. Releasing the trigger changes the Vortex from a plane back into a chopper, which makes evading deadly flames or steam plumes easier. Eventually I complete my harrowing escape and my hands-on time ends.

In under a half-hour with Fall of Cybertron I laid down airstrikes on Autobot troops as a helicopter, called in artillery to destroy a huge bridge, infiltrated an enemy base guns-a-blazing, and escape as a speeding jet. This all occurred with the same character with limited loading times. To say that Fall of Cybertron offers gameplay variety is an understatement. Variety is built into the core design of Transformers, and this game represents that perfectly. I had a blast with Fall of Cybertron and didn’t even play around with the game’s upgrade system, multiplayer, or the other robust characters. I have no idea what was happening in the story or what each Transformer’s individual motivation is, but I know a fun game when I play it. Fall of Cybertron hits 360, PS3, and PC August 28.