Just when you thought the Transformers of Michael Bay's movie universe had retreated into an Energon-induced coma, they're back for another round of Autobot vs. Decepticon gaming action. The "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" tie-in game is tasked with bridging the gap between the last film, "Revenge of the Fallen," and the upcoming third film, while also drawing upon the success of the critically praised "Transformers: War For Cybertron," which unfolded outside of the movie continuity.
Given all of the praise heaped upon "Transformers: War For Cybertron" (and deservedly so), the bar was set high for "Dark of the Moon" despite the notorious difficulties in creating a movie tie-in game. Fans of the last Transformers game will likely see a lot of similarities between "Dark of the Moon" and "War for Cybertron," with both games offering ample amounts of third-person shooter action, an interesting narrative, and the ability to change back and forth at will between the Transformers' various forms.
Along with the necessary single-player campaign, which has you playing both Autobot and Decepticon as the story unfolds, there's also the opportunity for multiplayer combat that lets you pit your own customized robot against online opponents.
Borrow Early And Often
The "Dark of the Moon" team clearly borrowed some of the best elements of "War for Cybertron" when it came time to put this game together — most noticeably the ability to use whichever robot form you feel like using at almost any given point. The game can take on the best parts of a vehicle shooter or a third-person battlefield combat experience, depending on which form you choose.
Robots No Longer In Disguise
While Michael Bay's designs for the movie-universe Transformers have their share of critics, there's no denying that "Dark of the Moon" is the best they've looked in a game so far. Major improvements in lighting and general detail on the robots themselves are evident from the first playable moments in the game, and the overall product suffers from very few of the visual issues that plagued Transformers movie tie-ins.
For The Fans
If they can get past the Bay-former redesigns, fans will likely get a kick out of some of the Transformers that make cameos in the game. Among some of the notables are Mixmaster (a giant cement-mixer truck) and the cyclopean assassin Shockwave, who plays a big role in the narrative.
I See Your Car And Raise A Robot
One thing that immediately sticks out about the multiplayer gaming in "Dark of the Moon" is the ability to do battle in any one of the three distinct robot forms. Being able to stalk enemies while hovering in mid-air, then dropping down in robot form for the kill is just one of the unique abilities that makes the "Dark of the Moon" multiplayer experience unique.
I finished the single-player campaign mode on its normal setting in just under 6 hours, which would be a disappointingly short amount of time if such problems weren't the norm for movie tie-in games. For all of the fun you're able to have as each Transformer, you only have a short time to play around with each of the characters' forms before their chapters come to an end.
Repetition Doesn't Make The Heart Grow Fonder
By the time you're in control of the third or fourth character in the game, you'll already have a good grasp on the formula each chapter follows. "Dark of the Moon" is basically a series of short narratives in which you travel through a detailed but limited landscape fighting random robots, get locked into a room and fight off several waves of enemies, travel a little more, and then eventually battle an oversized boss character. There's a cut scene, and then you find yourself in control of a different character, repeating the formula (with a few minor exceptions) for each of seven robots.
I Didn't Mean to Do That
While most of the controls are fairly intuitive, I did have one small - but annoying - complaint. On console versions of the game, depressing the left analog stick is used to transform between vehicle and robot modes. The same stick is also used to move your character around — which can frequently cause some unintended transformations. This is especially annoying when you're trying to avoid enemy fire.
While the ability to transforms adds a unique twist to the multiplayer modes, everything else about the online modes is a no-frills scenario. You can unlock some optional abilities as you level up your multiplayer characters, but the customization options are fairly limited beyond your choice of character type and special ability.
For a movie tie-in game, "Transformers; Dark Of The Moon" isn't all bad — but the game pales in comparison to non-movie games, and its flaws are only emphasized by the success of "War For Cybertron." In the end, "Dark of the Moon" suffers from the same issues that plague most movie tie-in games: a rushed development cycle, limited options, and a general sense that timing of release was more important than the overall product.
Don't get me wrong - there are some very fun, very cool aspects of "Dark of the Moon" that make it more enjoyable than the vast majority of movie tie-in games. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them, and when you do find them, they're over with all too quickly.