June 30, 2011

Review – Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers Dark of the Moon
After last year’s solid War for Cybertron (my review for which you can read here), I dared to hope that High Moon Studios might once again bring their talent to bear with Dark of the Moon, and perhaps defy the movie tie-in curse.

Of course, it was almost inevitable that the shorter development cycle would hurt the product, and so it has. In many ways, Dark of the Moon is the same game that War for Cybertron was; all the same core pieces are there, but unfortunately the execution is not to that game’s standard, and a handful of missing or altered features make Dark of the Moon a wholly diminished product.

Dark of the Moon serves as a prequel to Michael Bay’s film of the same name (though a largely unnecessary one); throughout the campaign the player will take on the roles of seven distinct transformers, Autobot and Decepticon alike, across seven missions in a roughly five hour campaign.

Transformers Dark of the Moon
The feature most significant by its absence is co-operative play; WFC always offered a three-bot squad for potential human control. By contrast, Dark of the Moon is an entirely solo affair, with even computer controlled allies being a rarity.

Additionally, where WFC allowed the player to choose between a selection of characters for each mission, DOTM saddles the player in the role of one specific transformer per mission. This goes hand in hand with a significantly shorter campaign; a mere seven missions, with the final mission simply being a boss battle.

Indeed; after working through six other robots to finally play as Optimus Prime, I was disappointed to find the mission was merely an extended battle against a poorly designed final boss. The encounter is a mess, offering challenge only through cheapery (prepare yourself for knockdown loops) and failing to offer much excitement or even a sense of relevance.

The rest of the campaign fares better, feeding off the inherently fast paced and exciting combat mechanic that made War for Cybertron a success. As with that game, the transformers feature three modes (or perhaps two and a half); the obvious robot mode, the free-moving and armed combat vehicle form, and the faster (though weaponless and featuring more limited movement) traditional vehicle form. The control scheme is intuitive, and employing a mix of tactics in each robot’s various forms remains satisfying.

The transformers also feature grenades, melee attacks, and unique “Resource Abilities”; for example, Ironhide can deploy a heavy duty mini-gun, while Soundwave can stun enemies, freezing them in their tracks. However, the bots now have pre-determined weapons that cannot be swapped, and the catalog of weaponry is significantly smaller, to boot.

Transformers Dark of the Moon
Additionally, some notable balance issues have been introduced. The combat vehicle form (inexplicably called “Stealth Force,” no doubt to line up with Hasbro’s toy line) features powerful weapons that never need to be reloaded and a defense buff that makes the form significantly more durable than the unusually weak (and slow) robot form. The result is that combat leans uncomfortably towards the vehicle mode, losing the careful balance that War for Cybertron achieved.

Matters are further complicated by some outstandingly mediocre level and mission design. Environments simply aren’t built to be satisfyingly navigated by transforming robot war-machines, with cramped, cluttered areas slowing down combat and miring it with clumsiness.

Worse still, the game occasionally forces the player to work through lengthy sections of gameplay stuck in robot mode, sometimes even lacking core abilities. These areas simply serve to strip the product of its identity and appeal, offering nothing to enhance gameplay; they feel like an easy way to extend campaign length by funneling the player through a series of unimaginative firefights.

Even the sole flying mission, in sharp contrast to War for Cybertron, is bland an uninteresting, consisting mostly of a boring dogfight above the clouds, with nothing to look at and no actual map to navigate.

Production values are similarly uninspired, with the thin story one would expect from a movie tie-in, as well as drab music and downright bad visuals. While the transformers themselves are adequate (or as adequate as they can be while using the junkpile movie designs), there’s not a single environment in the game that looks good. Levels are a mess of lame art design and bad textures, with city streets feeling like cramped tunnels with buildings painted on the walls. Even the cars lining the streets serve to ruin any sense of immersion, as they are significantly smaller than the cars the robots transform into.

Transformers Dark of the Moon
In the plus column, multiplayer returns largely unmolested by the shorter development cycle. With the exception of a few class adjustments and some remixed abilities and perks, this is fundamentally the same multiplayer product as seen in War for Cybertron, featuring four classes with distinct alt-modes, each with unlockable customizable perks, weapons, and abilities.

There’s a lot of fun interplay between trucks, tanks, jets, and sports cars on the battlefield, alongside the various abilities these classes employ—however, the uninspired level design can be felt here, too, as the multiplayer maps just aren’t ideal for the fast paced combat taking place within them.

Equally unfortunate is that the mode has seen absolutely no expansion; indeed, the multiplayer component actually features fewer game types than the previous entry.

Largely thanks to the existing gameplay framework created for War for Cybertron, Dark of the Moon isn’t a disaster—there is, in fact, fun to be had. However, it is a pale shadow of its predecessor, diminished in almost every way and failing to expand on the existing gameplay. Players looking for a solid Transformers experience would be better served to hunt down War for Cybertron instead, though you could do worse than Dark of the Moon for a rental.

High Moon Studios


PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Xbox 360 Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Online Multiplayer

Release Date
June 14, 2011

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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