Video Game Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Laserbeak, eject. Operation: destruction.
When I was a boy, then-WWF announcer Gorilla Monsoon used to delight in using the phrase, “the irresistible force meeting the immovable object,” when describing two behemoths of the squared circle locking up. Somehow, that saying seemed apropos in regards to Activision’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. On one side we have the “irresistible force” (the long, sad history of movie-based video games), while on the other is the “immovable object” (High Moon Studios, developer of last year’s excellent War for Cybertron). Something had to give…
While in robot mode, Dark of the Moon handles exactly like its predecessor. That means you’ll have a pair of unique abilities that you can activate with your bumpers, you can transform by clicking the left analog stick in and reload your guns with the X button, even though all weapons come packed with unlimited rounds this time.
There is one significant change, and that is the inclusion of “Stealth Force” mode. It serves as an alternate vehicular configuration, allowing for more firepower and maneuverability. Things handle well there, but its inclusion screws up the traditional vehicle form. To drive as a standard car/truck you’ll need to hold down the left trigger, which makes the right trigger the brake. It sounds like a small thing, but since pretty much every driving game you’ve played in living memory had the right trigger be the gas it really feels weird. As a result, I found that I crashed into objects a lot.
There aren’t huge differences in terms of graphical quality between High Moon Studios’ two forays in the Transformers universe. Obviously the Autobots and Decepticons themselves have changed — War for Cybertron featured a more G1-based look, while these are the Michael Bay versions through and through — but the more noticeable issue is that the environments aren’t as interesting. Outside of a couple technical hiccups in the volcano base everything looks fine; it’s just that all the levels feel like they were ripped directly from the Shooter 101 handbook.
As with most movie tie-ins these days, the motion picture’s cast provides the voice work, which of course includes the iconic voice of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime. Everything sounds good, though like the films themselves the dialogue won’t keep you riveted to the edge of your seat. The soundtrack is standard action-game fare, which is to say eminently forgettable.
Set between the second and third Transformers films, Dark of the Moon focuses on Megatron’s plan to free the mighty Shockwave (called a “Decepticon Assassin” in the game) from cryostasis. Having not seen the film, I can’t say how seamlessly the prologue flows into the movie, but the story doesn’t offer much originality or lasting impact on the franchise.
As with its previous title, High Moon Studios splits the game’s single-player campaign between Decepticon and Autobot missions. Unfortunately, one of the features that gave War for Cybertron substantial replay value has been omitted. Gone is the choice to complete missions as one of three Transformers, taking co-op play along with it.
Co-operative campaign play isn’t the only casualty, either. Each Transformer is now limited to its base weaponry with no guns (or ammo, or health packs) to track down. The 10-mission War for Cybertron campaign has been pared down to six full missions and an extended boss fight. Escalation, the game’s online survival mode, has also departed. And Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, is reduced to a voiceover role for nearly the entire game.
While that may seem like a lot of negatives, Dark of the Moon still successfully brings with it many of the core elements that made War for Cybertron the undisputed king of Transformers games. Transforming on the fly isn’t as prevalent here, but it’s still a nice change-up to standard third-person shooters. Also, despite the removal of character selection before levels, each of the game’s seven playable Transformers feels markedly different — Ironhide is a hard-hitting warrior, Mirage is more a sniper/scout, Starscream is an aerial combat specialist and so on.
Lest you think this is entirely a repackaging of last year’s release, High Moon Studios has done some tinkering with the gameplay. The most notable change is that you are now at your most powerful (both offensively and defensively) when in Stealth Force mode. It’s an interesting decision, and it serves to reduce the amount of time you spend as a robot since that form is more susceptible to damage. And on that subject, the difficulty level feels like it has been raised on the Normal and Hard settings.
Even with deadlier foes, however, you should still be able to topple the campaign’s seven linear missions in around four or five hours. Once done, you’re free to replay them from any checkpoint, which is nice for cleaning up any achievements/trophies you might have missed. You’ll also unlock a couple multiplayer skins for your troubles.
Speaking of which, Dark of the Moon does retain its predecessor’s adversarial multiplayer. It boasts the same strategic elements afforded by the unique mechanic of alternating between robots and vehicles, but like other areas it feels slimmed down. As noted, the Escalation co-op mode is gone, leaving just three gameplay types (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Conquest) spread across five maps. The game does offer four different classes to choose from, each with its own set of unlockable abilities and weapons, which must be leveled up individually. It’s not great, but it makes for solid fun.
Judged against other movie tie-in games, Transformers: Dark of the Moon comes out looking pretty good. It’s enjoyable while it lasts and offers a viable multiplayer component. However, when compared to War for Cybertron, it’s found wanting.