There’s more than meets the eye in the world of Transformers. The Hasbro creation has become a reason to print money, spawning action figures, television shows, movies and video games, among other things. It’s one of the most popular licenses at this current moment in time, and probably will continue to be up there for a while to come now that Michael Bay’s third motion picture adaptation is arriving in theatres just in time for the patriotic long weekend.
As can be expected, a video game tie-in has been released to complement the film. Titled, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (just like the movie), it allows gamers to partake in explosive combat throughout our beautiful planet, digitally realized with high definition visuals. A world where giant robots with the ability to morph, are taking their fight to the streets of our cities. Humanity is in danger, so let’s hope the good guys win. Autobots; roll out!
Last year, developer High Moon Studios released Transformers: War For Cybertron – a polished, pretty and impressive romp in the world of transforming robots. Instead of taking place on earth like the last couple of games (both based on the film series) did, it took us to the bots’ home planet. A mechanical world known as Cybertron, where we took part in a battle for control. The game released to quite a bit of fanfare and was touted as being the best interactive experience based on the series, which really isn’t saying a lot considering its competition at the time. Though it must be said that it really was a good game.
Fast forward a year and High Moon Studios are taking us back to the world of talking robots with this film companion game, which aspires to be better than the ones that came before it. With the movie taking place on earth, the game followed suit. Telling a prequel story to the third movie’s lore, it bridges the story between the second and third films – only focusing on the actions of the robots, however. This time around, the project was spearheaded by a different development team at the studio, who used the same game engine but made some noticeable changes – some for better, but some for worse as well.
The noticeable trend amongst recent Transformers video games has been the inclusion of two separate campaigns, one for each of the two factions (the saintly Autobots and the dastardly devils known as the Decepticons). War For Cybertron did this well, including a story told from two sides, with a lengthy campaign for each. However, that isn’t the case here. Instead, we’re given one very brief campaign that encompasses both camps. Six levels and a final boss fight make up its entirety, with three stages set aside for each faction. A campaign that could be completed in one sitting if one felt entitled to sit for several hours at once, as it’s on the lower range of several hours long.
With the melding of two different storylines into one campaign, things get a bit confusing, with a storyline that isn’t as well fleshed out as it could have been. Major story elements are told through the use of pretty nice looking cutscenes, as well as dialogue sequences displayed as a chat screen between allies. In addition, there is also full voice over work during each mission, delivering some dialogue that pushes the story forward, though a lot of it ends up being only chatter and/or new objectives. The most important thing to know is that the Decepticons are up to no good, trying to raise a relic from the earth, which will help them destroy the world. Their goal? To take over earth and rebuild their home planet here, using their beliefs and lack of morals for guidance and building blocks.
Like those before it, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a third-person shooter/action game hybrid. There’s a ton of shooting, lots of explosions and even some melee combat. Not to mention some action sequences which include driving or flying in vehicle form. New to this iteration is a strangely named form known as stealth force. In-between your full vehicle transformation and being a walking robot, it sits. This mode alters things quite a bit by allowing you to strafe slowly and shoot rockets/other weapons in vehicle form, with a smaller profile and extra armor for defense. Each form has its benefits, two different weapons and two different abilities (for example, a dash, homing grenades, cloaking or a brief chance to use a missile launcher). Stealth force mode comes in very handy, but it’s one of the most action capable transformations available, which makes the name quite confusing.
Each mission gives fans the chance to play as one of the iconic robots, including four Autobots and three Decepticons. The different Transformers’ abilities change things up a bit, as their weight and abilities factor in, as well as their transformation capabilities. A few missions are designed with those in mind, but most are quite generic sections where you must get from point A to point B to complete an objective, taking out everything that stands in your way. Unfortunately, though the mechanics are somewhat interesting and unique, the game can become boring as you complete similar tasks over and over again throughout these levels. One standout is a flight level where you take to the skies and fight jets and a giant airplane boss, which helps alleviate the repetition a bit. It’s just that times like this are rare.
Dark of the Moon controls pretty well, though there is the odd time where it’ll be unresponsive when a button press becomes an input. Though those moments are few and far between. Generally speaking, it’s a fun game that feels like a more streamlined version of War For Cyberton. The main problem with it is that the developers seemed to try to do too much.
With the game taking place on Earth, they decided to create some lengthy driving sequences involving full vehicle form and turbo boosts, which sounds decent in principle. However, the driving mechanics are floaty and quite poor, giving the control of turning the vehicle to the right joystick for some strange reason. It’s tough to drive in a straight line, let alone complete a perfect drift around a corner. Luckily, this isn’t a huge part of the game because it doesn’t impress much when used.
Though Transformers fans will enjoy this new adventure in one of their favourite universes, Dark of the Moon doesn’t meet the standards set by its predecessor. The aforementioned floaty driving mechanics mix with the odd bug and framerate issue to mar the experience a bit. Though it is nice that the developers chose to do something a bit more creative this time around, by taking things outdoors where there’s more room for expression. War For Cybertron was a good game, but it became quite dull battling through the same dark corridors over and over again.
By taking things outside, its successor introduces some interesting new areas to explore, where you’re not confined. Unfortunately, those parts make a good impression at the beginning but peter off after the mid-way point, as corridors and underground bunkers come back. That’s where more of the repetition sets in. Though, considering that it’s a movie game, these things are sort of expected. It’s certainly better than most of its licensed competition.
Competitive multiplayer returns in the form of three relatively basic modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch and conquest. It’s relatively fun and maintains most of the same structure/design elements as its predecessor, including the ability to create and customize your own Autobot or Decepticon (with several different classes to choose from such as the scout or tank). Instead of allowing gamers to level up their profile with an overall leveling system, the game takes cues from its predecessor in allowing for each individual class to be leveled. Unlocks and abilities come with levels, but don’t worry as it doesn’t take long to level up.
In this case, the multiplayer just doesn’t have as much heart or intrigue, as more of a basic mode that will keep people coming back for a bit, but not for years. With conquest mode, they try to change things up a bit, by introducing a node point control objective to the mix. Though it’s fun, there’s nothing revolutionary about its design that sets itself apart from any other game with capture point objectives in multiplayer. If there was some more thought put into making this mode feel more interesting, engaging and individual, it’d fair much better. It’s decent, but kind of bland and old hat.
Using a version of the same engine as its predecessor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon emulates its dark and detailed visual style quite well. It looks really good at times, though admittedly a bit dark at sections. The character models look quite nice, with some nice colour, details and effects, though those details can get a bit lost when the camera gets really close. Some textures also underwhelm up close, though they look good from far away. Not all by any means – just the odd one, like those inside of a pipe. As mentioned previously though, there are some framerate issues that pop up. Most of them seem to be related to the game’s constant mid-combat loading (which thankfully doesn’t take you too far out of the experience by going to loading screens; loading during gameplay instead). Slowdown occurs the most later on in the game.
The full CG cutscenes do an alright job of telling the game’s storyline and generally look good. A lot of the visual components tend to come from things found within the movie, which makes sense, even though this is a prequel product. On the lower end of that are the chat screen sections, where a leader like Optimus will speak to one of his team members. Those moments only show the bots’ animated heads on-screen amongst foreign writing, and there really isn’t a lot of animation within. It’s too bad they didn’t think of a better idea to share these moments with, considering it looks a bit shoddy, the opposite of the rest of the game.
Some of the film’s voice cast thankfully return to voice their on-screen counterparts, and sound quite good. There’s the odd performance that could have been cast a bit better (such as the human commander that the bots deal with). However, there isn’t a lot to complain about in regards to this aspect of the game. Its cast is solid and the overall sound design is pretty good too. The game’s score, sound effects and explosions (yeah, they need to be separate when you’re talking about Transformers, especially when Michael Bay is still in the picture) are also decent. The only two minor issues are that it’s sometimes hard to hear the Decepticons’ robotic chatter, and that there’s an obvious missing sound effect to signal when the bots transform from one type to another.
Summing things up, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a decent experience that doesn’t achieve the same impressive effect that its predecessor managed to. Where it succeeds is in providing fans with tons of pretty good steel on steel warfare, with tons of weaponry and even the odd melee attack. Though it falters due to a lack of inspiration that leads to repetition, as well as the odd hiccup here and there.
When one takes the fact that it’s a movie tie-in into account, the game becomes a bit more impressive because of how it sets itself apart from most of the licensed pack, simply by being relatively well-designed and better overall. With that being said, it’s also hard not to compare it to the studios’ previous effort, which is quite a bit better than this. Overall, it’s a decent and above-average game that provides five to ten hours of fun, which is a bit hard to recommend at full price. Not because it’s a terrible game but because of its brevity and lack of new, exciting content.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon has a lot to like. We get detailed/nice-looking visuals, varied environments early on in the game, solid voice acting, enjoyable combat, tons of different abilities/weapons, decent multiplayer and several playable characters. For a licensed title, it's not terrible. Far from it.