Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review
Developer: High Moon Studios / Publisher: Activision / ESRB: Teen [Violence] / Played on: PS3 / Price: $59.99
I’d usually fire up a movie tie-in game with my hands already primed for a hearty facepalm. It’s no secret they usually suck. But with the brilliant Transformers: War For Cybertron on developer High Moon Studios’ resume, I was actually rather optimistic.
Could High Moon’s latest performance overcome the usual shorter-than-ideal development timeframes that plague most movie tie-ins, or would it fall at the same hurdles and pale in comparison to last year’s effort? The answer is somewhere in the middle.
So the Autobots kicked the metal asses of the Decepticons’ all over the shop in Transformers 2, but they’re unsurprisingly back for another beat down because Transformers 3 is in cinemas now. This game bridges the gap between those movies, giving you a little extra story behind the Decepticons’ return and offering a perfect excuse to let you mash up some machines.
Missions throughout the game give you control of different Autobots, each with their own transformations and weapons. Offering some decent mission variety, the brute-force approach and giant guns of Ironhide contrast with the stealthy cloaking ability and sniper weapons of Mirage. Ironhide blasts through the concrete buildings of an urban city while Mirage races up a mountain path before sneaking through a jungle full of ancient tombs.
If you played War for Cybertron you’ll know what to expect from this game’s action; you switch between robot and car forms as you blast your way through waves of Decepticons in various waypoint-directed missions.
Unlike War for Cybertron though, you’ll actually spend most of your time in vehicle forms, of which there are two. The Driving mode puts all weapons away for brief sprints in vehicle form. The other car form is more combat-based. The game calls it ‘Stealth Force’ mode, but that must be a developer in-joke because it actually encourages you to be quite the opposite. In Stealth mode your shell is considerably more resilient to enemy attacks than your comparatively feeble robot form and you pack increased firepower too, with the cars looking like they were stolen from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal garage.
It should be called ‘Rambo’ mode. You’re not hindered by the restrictive movement of a real car because in Stealth mode all four wheels can rotate in any direction allowing you to strafe effectively, and you can even jump. So with stronger weapons without the need to reload, a full range of faster movement and little need to hide, you can stomp through most enemy encounters.
This might sound like fun and for the most part it is, but it’s also rather a shame. Transformers are cool because they transform – and that’s something you’ll be doing very little of because of the clear advantages offered in Stealth mode. I ended up missing the robot form so much that I was willing to handicap myself occasionally just to use it.
It’s even more a shame considering the robot form feels cool, with the feeling of weight and brute force you’d expect from a 20-foot robot, while the car and driving physics are shoddy and floaty, like you’re driving a tin can around a plastic environment.
Special weapons and powers specific to each bot, such as the cloaking device we mentioned earlier or powered-up cannons and grenades, offer a slight tactical element due to the fact you can only use them temporarily when they’re fully charged. Using these powers during more chaotic battles is both fun and, occasionally, essential.
But Dark of the Moon is no Gears of War beater. There’s no cover system of any kind and lackluster level design leaves missions eventually feeling repetitive and uninspired. The environments, while packing decent visual detail, are cramped, leaving no room for real epic battles.
It offers a decent challenge but not always for the right reasons. ‘Normal’ mode will swat you down with relative ease if you’re not careful, although you’ll often find yourself kicked to the Game Over screen because you were unwittingly standing right next to an enemy spawn point (like a door that bursts open without warning). These ambushes happen way too often, making survival more a case of trial and error than real skill.
Other excursions such as the odd flying mission or scenarios that have you stuck in a particular form (Mirage’s on-foot-only stealth mission for example) attempt to break up the action, but missions too often resort to the tired scenario of trapping you in a room or small area until you’ve defeated a set number of enemy waves. This stinks of a game rushed to retail with lacking content forcefully lengthened by these repetitive arena-based shootouts. And you’ll still reach the end credits in a prompt six-or-so hours.
Disappointingly, Dark of the Moon lacks the campaign co-op options that were so enjoyable in War For Cybertron, which is great shame considering the strategic possibilities of two differently equipped robots fighting in tandem.
The competitive multiplayer option offers ten-player skirmishes with a disappointingly minimal selection of modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch and a multi-point-capture mode called ‘Conquest’). The carnage that ensues can be amusing for a few mindless moments, but it clearly lacks the strategy and sheer level of deep design that goes into the bigger online shooters like Gears of War, Halo and Call of Duty. Again, it’s evidently rushed.
Dark of the Moon shows promise in places. High Moon Studios’ capabilities as a developer are proven and it’s clear that, given the time and freedom necessary this is a team that can pump out a stunning action game. But those are two things it clearly didn’t have with Dark of the Moon.
That said, it’s not a terrible effort. Hitting the transform button to morph into a fighter jet and boosting away above the clouds, or launching a killer rocket into the face of a big boss will be adequately satisfying to your average-Joe.
But if you have more refined tastes, you will see through Dark of the Moon’s rushed, clichéd flair and find yourself put off by repetitive, uninspired gameplay, cramped level design, and patchy physics. It’s worth a purchase if you can find it at a good price and you’re an obsessive Transformers fan desperate for an extra fix of robo-combat. Everyone else should just make do with the movie.