Reviewed: June 15, 2011
Released: June 14, 2011
With another Transformers movie just weeks away itís no surprise that a videogame spinoff has arrived to commemorate the occasion. In the past, the Transformers ďmovie gamesĒ have managed to capture the essence of the films and bring a bit of that robotic magic to your favorite game system, but it was only last year, when High Moon Studios released a non-movie game, that the franchise transformed into something deserving of our Editorís Choice award. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the studio is once again reigned in with the confines of a movie script and earthly locations.|
Dark of the Moon features a fairly substantial story-driven campaign set in a time prior to the events of the feature film. In a unique design move, the story will alternate between Autobots and Decepticons rather than having two separate and selectable campaigns as in previous games. I still have mixed feeling about this. While I enjoyed the linear storytelling, it was a bit odd alternating between good and evil, but in the end, itís all just good old robot-on-robot violence, and it's probably beter not having to play the same levels over again, even from a different viewpoint.
The game kicks off with a fantastic opening cutscene that ends with Bumblebee on a mission to race to a secret Decepticon transmission station to plant a virus that will allow the Autobots to monitor Decepticon activity. Much of this mission includes the primary tutorial that will teach you the basic button commands and introduce you to the new Stealth Force mode, a new hybrid mode that combines the enhanced movement of your vehicle mode with all the armament of your robot form. You can still shift into total vehicle mode for those moments where you need to achieve top speed.
My one and only major complaint with Dark of the Moon is the pure vehicle mode and the driving sections. The Unreal Engine has never been suitable for racing games and the cars handle like crap with laggy steering and the e-brake power slide move is virtually impossible to pull off with any regularity, so you end up bouncing off walls and objects, or in the case of the first level, the walls of a very twisty and narrow canyon. Aside from segments that are on a strict timer I usually just avoided the vehicle mode and used Stealth Force. The four-way steering makes your vehicle as maneuverable as a hovercraft.
The story mode is surprisingly long and takes us from the jungles of Central America to the gritty urban areas of Detroit and beyond. Once Bumblebee hacks the listening station Optimus learns of Megatronís diabolical plan to conquer Earth and must dispatch his team to various locations around the world to stop him. Youíll get to play as all your favorite Autobots and Decepticons in a variety of unique locales with various types of gameplay such as a stealth level where you play as Mirage, armed only with a cloaking device and a melee takedown attack, or a Starscream air combat level that plays out much like a mission in Ace Combat.
I was impressed with just how varied the gameplay actually was thanks in part to the new Stealth Force mode which mixes up the weapons and the unique special abilities of each Transformer based on your current form. Special abilities have a cool-down period so they canít be abused while conventional weapons like machines guns and pulse cannons return to their infinite-ammo roots. No more ammo pick-ups. The game is heavy on combat and light on exploration, although there are several of those hidden Autobot/Decepticon symbols hidden around the game.
To complement the engaging story mode is a challenging multiplayer experience that allows for Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Conquest using player-created customized versions of your favorite Transformers in class-based gameplay. Choose from Scout, Hunter, Commander, and Warrior. Your choice dictates which Transformer you will play based on your faction. Each comes with a Primary weapon and ability, a Secondary weapon and ability, and two upgrade slots with unlocks at levels 5 and 10. There are also in-game power-ups like Double Damage, and one to accelerate the cool-down timer on your abilities.
I was impressed with how balanced the gameplay was despite the variety of Transformers and their abilities. Hunters can transform into planes and their fast movement makes them invaluable for Conquest games as they can bounce between control points and offer aerial support. Other characters can drain enemies of their Energon or heal their teammates. The multiplayer can get surprisingly deep and tactical if you play the game serious and as a unified team performing the role of your chosen class.
Matchmaking is effortless with options for Region or Worldwide games as well as auto-balancing players to form even teams. My only concern at this time is that there are only 5 maps and three game modes. I really miss my Escalation mode from War for Cybertron. Perhaps this mode and more maps will be forthcoming in future DLC. What we do have is some of the most exciting old-school multiplayer since the original Unreal Tournament game, only with giant robots. They even managed to work in a cool perk and reward system just like Modern Warfare 2, so skillful gameplay such as kill streaks earn you tactical benefits.
While not nearly as imaginative as War for Cybertron, Dark of the Moon does the best it can while keeping within its earthly locales. Some of the levels are just stunning. There is one jungle level early in the game where I came up on this cliff overlooking the ocean and I thought I was playing Uncharted. And when that same level suddenly, yet seamlessly morphed into a volcano level with bubbling lava field; I was in awe. The Detroit level was another favorite as was the cold storage level where you play as Megatron trying to free one of your comrades from a Russian deep freeze facility. Both indoor and outdoor levels were nicely detailed and I loved the attention to scale that really made me feel like I was playing a giant robot.
Dark of the Moon delivers an exceptional sound package with a fantastic Dolby Digital mix that surrounds you with battle effects. My only concern was a lack of LFE in some parts as well as footsteps that crunched like humans on gravel rather than giant robots on concrete. I think the Foley guy doesnít realize how heavy these guys are. The music was incredible and fit the action of the gameplay and emotion of the cutscenes and the voice work was fantastic. Peter Cullen was flawless as were the rest of the cast.
While Transformers: Dark of the Moon is certainly the best of the movie-inspired Transformer games it still falls short of last yearís amazing War for Cybertron. There was just something so imaginative and inspired about taking the franchise to the Transformers' home world. Dark of the Moon still offers a great deal of varied and challenging gameplay in both solo and online modes. I loved the new Stealth Force combat mode almost as much as I hated the conventional driving sections of the game. Fortunately, those moments are few and far between.
The bottom line is that any action gamer looking for awesome multiplayer combat with classes, skills, and upgrades, or any Transformer fan looking for a cool prequel story to the upcoming movie will love Dark of the Moon. I know I did.