Ben Kendrick of Game Rant reviews Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Nearly one year ago, High Moon Studios debuted one of the most enjoyable Transformers games in the history of the franchise (read our review). It was a competent third person shooter with epic boss battles – and the ability to transform on the fly between vehicle and giant robot. There were plenty of stand-out gameplay elements – and everything came together to create an exciting, and most importantly fun, action title. High Moon seemed to succeed because they threw-out a lot of the failed franchise tropes – and developed a Transformers game with fans in mind.
As a result, it was surprising to hear that High Moon’s follow-up to War for Cybertron would be a movie-tie in title for the upcoming Transformers: Dark of the Moon film. The initial Dark of the Moon game trailers lacked the same punch as the War for Cybertron teasers but, given the success of the prior title, there was definitely room for optimism that High Moon would be able to take their winning Transformers formula and achieve success – even with a movie tie-in.
Unfortunately, despite carrying-over War for Cybertron elements, Transformers: Dark of the Moon shows that the winning formula has been watered-down in every single way. Boss battles are mostly straightforward and tedious, gunplay mechanics have been simplified, and the amount of levels, as well as playable characters, was cut from ten to six (and a half). The reasons for the changes aren’t clear at this point – whether due to a short production schedule or pressure from Activision to create a more casual-friendly title (since it’s a movie tie-in).
That said, Dark of the Moon is superior to most movie tie-in games and it’s easy to see that High Moon was in a tough spot. After the success of War for Cybertron, Activision wouldn’t have just run-off to another developer – especially since a lot of the core design-work was already complete and would just need to be reskinned so it’s unclear how much choice the studio even had in the decision. However, just because the title isn’t a total failure, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a major disappointment – and might cause some gamers to think twice before pre-ordering the inevitable War for Cybertron 2.
There are a number of mediocre design choices in Dark of the Moon but most obvious is the appearance of the game. The transformations still “look” cool but the actual on-screen fidelity is sub-par and the environments are bland and uninspired. War for Cyberton was criticized for looking too similar, level after level, but it made sense in the context of the game world. In Dark of the Moon, High Moon throws everything from Mayan ruins, underground Sector 7 facilities, and downtown Detroit into the mix – and, in general, each level looks just like every other movie tie-in title’s jungle, bunker, and city level, respectively.
The developers try a similar tactic with the gameplay as well – instead of creating epic set-pieces that encourage players to switch between robot and vehicle modes, Dark of the Moon offers-up a variety of bizarre and half-baked change-ups from traditional third-person shooter action. One sequence forces the player to wander around as Mirage, without the ability to transform, sneaking past guards (utilizing a cloaking ability) – and killing enemies with a silent melee move. Another sequence swaps control from Soundwave to Laserbeak, who flies around scanning intel – as well as hiding in flashing boxes when close to Autobot patrols. The sequences will certainly be a nice change of pace for casual players but each section lingers-on for entirely too long to be enjoyable – and are further crippled by unpolished flight and stealth mechanics.
The new hybrid vehicle/heavy weapon “Stealth Force Mode” is equally problematic – and is primarily included in Dark of the Moon to get around the reason why the War for Cyberton “hover car” mechanics are present in Earth-born vehicles. That said, unlike the side-quest sequences, Stealth Force Mode is fun and useful – but too useful – and totally negates any reason to change into a normal vehicle. There are a few sequences, when playing as Starscream and the two autobot racecars, where vehicle form is needed – to get to an objective in a certain amount of time. However, in four out of the other six and a half levels, vehicle mode is entirely unnecessary, and has no benefit whatsoever – when compared to the easily maneuverable, and high-powered, Stealth Force form.
Customization also takes a hit. In War for Cyberton, players could choose from various grenade and weaponry options – with actual ammunition. In Dark of the Moon, characters have two weapon modes in both robot and Stealth Force mode, along with unlimited ammunition – and cannot swap-out weapons at all. Each Transformer has their own special abilities – one that recharges over time and another that builds-up after a certain amount of enemies are killed. The special abilities are fun but, given the brief campaign length (about 4-5 hours), seem like an afterthought.
A number of the abilities return in multiplayer, giving players a chance to actually make-use of them – unfortunately, the online component lacks the polish of the War for Cyberton experience. Online multiplayer was surprisingly good in the prior game – and allowed gamers to combine the various special abilities, classes, and modes (vehicle/robot) for a unique and personalized approach to the battlefield. With less fan-favorite bots in the actual campaign, character customization is even more limited this time around – and the special abilities are much more straightforward with less opportunity to actually form a personal approach. There’s no co-operative mode, one of the more enjoyable elements of the previous title – meaning that, despite the fact the game is appealing to casual players, there’s no local multiplayer option either. Lastly, not only are the multiplayer maps bland (and retreads of stand-by deathmatch level designs) – the actual game itself looks worse online.
In general, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a disappointing follow-up release from High Moon Studios. While the developers attempted to take their winning formula and make it appealing to casual gamers, they only succeeded in watering the entire experience down – and potentially casting doubt on what players might see in a possible War for Cyberton sequel. Without a doubt, Dark of the Moon is good, for a movie tie-in game, but only a fraction of the gaming population will probably find this title worth the cost of admission – i.e. the fraction of Transformer die-hards that like the Michael Bay-designed bots better than the Cybertronian versions. Otherwise, expect this game to be killer in 2012 bargain bins.
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Transformers: Dark of the Moon is out now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (with Wii, 3DS, and NDS versions available as well).