Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review
High Moon Studios delivered a surprise with last year's Transformers: War for Cybertron, a third-person action game with a decidedly unique look and feel, the most fun Transformer action in years, and plenty of features for playing together. With the third film - Transformers: Dark of the Moon - on the way, Activision saw fit to have High Moon put together a game for launch just in time for the Hollywood release. Unfortunately, the year that the team was given to make this game probably wasn't enough; what we got isn't bad, but it's missing some of the better features of WfC and the single player campaign winds up both short and repetitive.
Your efforts in Dark of the Moon play out as a prequel to the movie. Megatron and the rest of the Decepticons are in hiding, somewhere in, on, or around Earth, and the Autobots have been trying to find them and finish them off or at least drive them away. When Optimus Prime leads a team to install a virus into the Decepticons' network, they find out that Megatron has been very busy, setting up hidden bases all around the planet. You'll play as both the Autobots and the Decepticons, battling each other for three chapters each - plus a seventh that brings it all together.
Sounds fine, right? Well, I blasted through the Autobot portion of the game, nearly half of it, in only a little over an hour - and the rest was completed almost as quickly. Despite that, the game actually felt like it was dragging on due to the many waves of similar enemies that keep getting thrown around while you're trapped in a small arena, just trying to fight them off. Swapping between your robot and vehicle modes adds a bit of variety, and the default vehicle mode is called Stealth Force where you have the ability to hover in any direction so you can more freely than if you were on wheels, and you've got all kinds of cool weapons protruding from your vehicle. Then, if you hold the left trigger, you pop into full vehicle mode, without weapons, on four wheels for maximum speed and where you have to start steering again - and the driving sequences that require you to use this mode were actually pretty fun.
There are a few fresh changes of pace thrown in to some of the chapters, like Mirage's midnight ride and eventual stealth mission after a catastrophic encounter with Starscream, but even that mission eventually devolves into the standard third-person shooting you see through most of the game. With most of its levels and firefights, Dark of the Moon consistently overstays its welcome, even if it's just by a little bit each time, by having you do one particular thing for just a few minutes too long. And if that action was stellar, it'd be forgivable, but this is a slightly more polished version of what you'd think a stereotypical movie-licensed game is. The big-name transformers themselves look better than ever and the special effects are great, even if the Earth-based setting can't hold a candle to High Moon's intriguing depiction of Cybertron in the previous game.
The campaign will last you a rather short evening if you don't have the difficulty cranked up too high, and unfortunately, that's about it. The competitive multiplayer mode High Moon threw in feels like an afterthought, as it only has five maps, one additional variant beyond the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, and the whole design of these modes feels kind of claustrophobic and limiting considering you're trying to pilot a giant death-dealing robot. And for all this, Activision is still asking full price for what is about half the game that War for Cybertron was. This might have done better at a budget price, even with the higher production values than you usually get from budget games.
One thing that the developers got right, no doubt, is the sound. The crispness of weapons fire and explosions will exceed your expectations, and the use of a solid voice cast make things generally work, even when the gameplay sometimes falls a bit flat. Peter Cullen reprises his decades-old role as Optimus Prime, Nolan North gets his voice and face into the game as a human commander helping the Autobots with information, and, OK - Peter Welker for some reason couldn't make it into the studio for this one, but apparently he's slated to voice Megatron in War for Cybertron 2, which will likely be released in 2012.
If you want to play a Transformers game with your friends, then you need to play War for Cybertron instead. But if you're excited for the upcoming movie and want to get a head start on hyping yourself up, well, maybe you want to rent Dark of the Moon, since it's going to feel like a pretty empty purchase after you've finished it in a single sitting. What's there is usually solid but sometimes repetitive, and despite this game's numerous faults, the feeling of taking control of the Transformers themselves is always important in these games, and High Moon definitely got that bit right.