We previewed the upcoming return of the robots in disguise.

Though Transformers: War for Cybertron released during the height of recent Transformers popularity thanks to Michael Bay’s behemoth film versions, the game had nothing to do with the critically derided franchise.  It bucked the trend of licensed titles, not releasing to time perfectly with one of the film’s releases or adhering to its story, but telling its own version of a classic Transformers tale in fan service to longtime fans.  Players and critics received War for Cybertron with high praise, and for those clamoring for a worthy sequel, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is shaping up to be as impressive as the first.

Activision’s demo previewed a number of the playable Autobots, Decepticons, and one Dinobot fans will be particularly happy to see.  While High Moon Studios did not disclose a final number of playable characters, the demo featured levels including Starscream, Grimlock, Jazz and Optimus Prime.  Starscream’s level served simply as a reminder of the franchise’s solid shooting and transforming-at-will mechanics, and these gameplay options are as entertaining as ever.

But Grimlock provided easily the most unique portion of the demo, as he is the only character in this third-person shooter who has no gun and cannot transform at any moment.  Grimlock’s story will be one focused on his origins, detailing why he is, as a representative from High Moon so succinctly put it, a robot dinosaur from space, an undeniably tantalizing description.  Grimlock is armed with a sword when in his robot form, and only by hacking up enemies and amassing rage can he shift into his animal form. As a t-rex, Grimlock can attack enemies with his tail, chomp them to bits with his teeth or spew fire and burn enemies to a crisp.  Though unlike any of the other playable transformers, Grimlock is a welcome inclusion to the franchise in an attempt to keep things fresh.

Jazz’s level showcased how characters will react with each other, as he is paired with Cliffjumper as they hunt for what is possibly the last reservoir of Energon as the planet falls to the Decepticons.  The two have a buddy cop repartee, trading barbs at one another while also helping to progress the story forward.  The level also demonstrated how each character will have an exclusive ability that will help them adapt to the tasks at hand, Jazz’s being a grapple to traverse the vertical landscape.  Starscream, as showcased in his level, can plant detonators on enemies to make for more explosive deaths.

Optimus Prime’s level featured how the famed Autobot will have his own set of powers and firearms.  Optimus can control the gargantuan Metroplex, who impressed with his ability to level a massive building in seconds.  The fearless leader can also call in artillery strikes, and, with the voice of Peter Cullen, Prime proved his worth as one of the most popular Transformers around.

More importantly, though, all four characters looked like a blast to play.  The unique abilities and the snippets of story were engrossing enough for diehard fans and those who have only a cursory knowledge of the property.  The game looks absolutely gorgeous too, making the destruction all the more palpable as Cybertron crumbles around our favorite robots in disguise.  While only mere fragments of what looks to be an expansive offering, each level delivered enough thrills to bump the game up a few spots on my most anticipated list.

Look forward to seeing just how the tail end of the Autobot-Decepticon war (at least the part before they land on Earth) plays out when Transformers: Fall of Cybertron releases for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on August 28.