Being the huge Transformers fan that I am Im eagerly anticipating the third movie to come out very shortly. With a huge new summer movie there of course needs to be a corresponding video game to go with it. Previously, the Transformers movie tie-in games werent terrible, but they were also very forgettable (not including War of Cybertron). Almost exactly one year ago High Moon Studios pulled off a miracle; they made a Transformers game that was absolutely fantastic and one of my favorite releases of the year. This was because they got to do their own story and seemingly have more freedom (and time) that a movie based game would allow. High Moon is once again heading this Transformers game but unfortunately its clearly had time restraints working against them as the magic created with War of Cybertron sadly does not return this time around.
The problem with movie games is that they have a strict deadline and much too short a development cycle to really flesh out a well written and paced game. With Dark of the Moon its clear that the studio was confined to the movie events and having everything happen on Earth for it to tie in with the upcoming movie. Its clear that they wanted to break the stigma of movie based games but sadly it doesnt even come close to how good War for Cybertron was a short year ago.
While the game shares its name with the upcoming movie, its not a retelling of the movies events, thus no spoilers for those like me waiting for it to release. The game is actually a prologue to the movie that ends just as the movie is about to begin, giving some back story to events we wont see in the film. The Autobots uncover the Decepticons plan to repair Megatron to his former glory and also release a dangerous foe to fight against Optimus and his Autobots.
You will start the game off as Bumblebee racing to upload a virus into the Decepticons network system to spy on their plans and locate any remaining foes on Earth. Youll then play as Ironhide trying to defend Detroit against the Decepticons oncoming attacks while Ratchet helps the humans escape from the city. Mixmaster captures Ratchet and you must eventually defeat him to save Ratchet and get your weapon upgrades. I wont go into much detail of the later levels, but as you may pick up already is that everything youre doing almost feels like its always leading up to a big event but never happens. Sure there are some boss battles (like Mixmaster) but none were very challenging (except the final sequence) or all that rewarding to push forward the plot.
Unlike how War of Cybertron divided up the plot into two halves (Autobot and Decepticon) the campaign in Dark of the Moon is one story where youll start off the first half playing the Autobot side and then later the Decepticons. I thought this would make the story flow but it actually felt more disjointed than War of Cyberton because one minute youre saving the world trying not to allow collateral damage and the next you want to blow up everything you see. I guess it could be worse, it could have been the same levels played from both perspectives, so luckily level design didnt deteriorate into that.
For me the saving grace of the story is that it will give you some details that apparently arent given in the upcoming film such as how Megatron got his new vehicle form (which honestly was a letdown and could have been a big event in the lore), why Ironhide has different weapons than before (which I mentioned about needing the upgrade to defeat Mixmaster) and more. Obvoiusly Ive seen the movie yet but if a few things like this arent explained in the film Im wondering how they will make sense for people that dont complete the game over the course of its seven (and extremely short) chapters.
One of the biggest game mechanic changes is the new Stealth Force mode; a hybrid vehicle mode that also bears their weapons to defend themselves at the same time. While in Stealth Force mode you can maneuver almost like a hovercraft with full steering control in any direction all while having access to your arsenal (though different weapons than your main robot form weaponry). Holding down the Left Trigger will make you sheath your weapons to gain more speed (boost is available as well) when you need to make a far jump off a ramp or get away quickly. While in robot form you need to reload your main weapons quite often but while in the hybrid mode your weapons have endless ammunition. Because of this, theres very little reason to traverse in robot mode unless needed for specific reasons. I honestly think I played through the game mostly in Stealth Force mode than in robot form which felt off.
The weapon system you got used to in War for Cybertron has been completely scrapped and now youre stuck with the guns that are set for each different Transformer youll play (two in vehicle mode and two for robot form). Your special abilities have a set cool down period and while powerful you really wont be using them much since youll almost always be in vehicle form. For some reason though the lock-on while in robot form is Left Trigger and while a vehicle its Left Bumper which is really confusing when trying to learn the game and you cant figure out what your shots arent locking on.
Each Transformer you play feel essentially feel the same but some of them do stand out uniquely from the others. Mirage for example has a cloaking ability and massive blades on his arms that allow for devastating melee hits. Megatrons cannon sounds and feels powerful and he can even siphon life away from nearby enemies which surely makes you feel evil like Megatron should. The Soundwave level was easily my favorite though (other than him being my favorite Transformer of all time) as he is extremely powerful as he should be and you also get to control Lazerbeak for a portion of the stage.
When you complete the very short campaign and hunt for the lingering achievements youll at least have multiplayer to keep the disc in your system for a while, but Im not sure for how long. The multiplayer from War of Cybertron returns for the most part but with this games mechanics in place obviously. Essentially its the same multiplayer from before with up to 10 players in a match in three different modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Conquest.
Just like the previous game, you are able to customize your Transformer for each of the 4 separate classes (Scout, Commander, Hunter and Warrior). Just like before as well, each class has their own vehicle modes, strengths and weaknesses. As you level up you can pick what weapons, abilities and perks you want to compliment your play style. If you have some friends and actually use some strategy in creating your classes to play off one another it can be a deep multiplayer experience but with only 3 modes and 5 maps I feel its going to get old quickly if there is no new DLC for it soon. Completing campaign will unlock some more bots for you to use and while there are kill streak rewards, these cant be changed and its the same for everyone regardless of what class you play.
The biggest issue I had with Dark of the Moon was the length of the campaign. I sat down with it after my breakfast at 10:30am and by the time the credits rolled it was just a little after 1pm. Yea thats right, I did it in one sitting in under 4 hours. Yes it has a multiplayer mode to keep you going but for a full priced game that wont last an afternoon, this has rental written all over it. The bigger issue is that nothing really feels resolved in any way. Yea you fight a final boss and obviously they are saving all the main action for the movie, but for it being so short and no real conclusion its terribly disappointing.
Some other issues I had were the mandatory driving sections that dont give you a clear direction where to go and the stealth sections with Mirage. It feels so out of place and its not all that easy to know what to do and where to go. Youll eventually figure it out but when you play a few levels and blowing everything up then all of a sudden have to sneak around with a short timed stealth, it becomes frustrating being spotted for the tenth time.
Nothing in the game was really all the memorable other than the final confrontation (which was a fun boss fight) and the standoff between the leaders. With very little to do in single player other than hunt for hidden Autobot and Decepticon symbols and the odd objective for specific achievements, its hard to justify and full priced purchase right away, even if youre a Transformers nut like myself.
Honestly, I dont blame High Moon as I know what they are capable of given the time and freedom. While Dark of the Moon may not be as terrible as most movie games out there that weve come to loathe, its not that great either and youll be done with it in a short amount of time. Sadly I have to dock some score for the length of single player and the non-conclusion regardless of my fanboyism and bias love towards the Transformers universe.
With the voice actors doing their job perfectly and hearing Peter Cullens voice once again (who will also be THE Optimus), the sound design is decent but Im really just using the game as some backstory for the movie coming out and to tide me over until they are going to release War for Cybertron 2 to get my Transformers fix.