I had the good fortune to play one version of the Transformers DS game that launched alongside the first of Michael Bay’s movies. Both the ambition and the depth of that title blew me away given the DS’s limited power. In that game, and the Revenge of the Fallen tie-ins, you play as a protoform (young Transformer without an alternate form), scanning vehicles in the environment and changing alt-mode at will. In many ways, those DS games received a treatment of the Transformers license for which many of us have been clamoring.
For some reason, Activision chose to move the development of the Autobot and Decepticon versions of Transformers: Dark of the Moon from Vicarious Visions to Behaviour Interactive. The quality certainly hasn’t improved. Rather, this latest tie-in has lost the spark of what made the last two games special.
The Autobot version of the game features a series of 12 levels that put you in control of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide and Mirage. There is very little difference among them. Each has a standard machine gun, a secondary missile launcher, and a melee attack. Throughout the levels, you’ll find hidden upgrade points that unlock increased energon (health), shields, weapon damage, etc. Even after unlocking these abilities, you’ll need to spend experience to activate the upgrade. The system is convoluted and cumbersome.
The controls are fairly simple with the Y button and X button for projectile weapons in robot mode, the A button for melee, the B button for jumping, and the shoulder buttons for strafing. There are two touch-screen buttons that I found to be unresponsive at times. These control transformation into vehicle mode and scan mode. Scanning ties into some mission objectives but, more importantly, allows you to take control of turrets littered throughout the levels.
The game also allows you to pick up objects, such as pedestrian vehicles, but since this tactic doesn’t seem to work in combat, it is completely useless.
In vehicle mode, the D-pad controls steering, acceleration and braking. Pressing the X button reveals hidden weapons, called Stealth form, which can be fired with the Y button. I found that using vehicle mode, ensuring that I was hovering over the touch screen to change back to robot mode, caused me to grip the DS in an extremely uncomfortable manner. Thankfully, even the sections that imply you should chase a Decepticon in vehicle mode do not require it. Unlike chase segments in most videogames, you cannot fail by letting your quarry gain too much ground.
There are some truly odd design choices in this game. For example, each Autobot can take advantage of specific architectural features to access hidden areas. Bumblebee, for instance, can swing on horizontal flagpoles. I discovered, by accident, that Mirage can use ramps to wall run. I wouldn’t have figured this out if I hadn’t seen one- on top of a building. The game introduces the concept with Bumblebee, but never calls out the special features for the other Autobots. Additionally, the game allows you to jump on top of some buildings. It’s never clear which ones you can’t summit until you try, even if your character clearly has enough vertical to make the leap.
The game also features a series of multiplayer modes including strictly competitive 1-on-1, Free-for-All and Team Deathmatch and the cooperative Master of Cybertron and Marathon modes. The cooperative modes take a page from the Horde mode book, but add a competitive aspect with Master of Cybertron mode crowning a winner based on score and Marathon mode naming the last man standing the victor. With the exception of Free-for-All and Team Deathmatch, which support 4 players, the other modes support two at a time. Local multiplayer is the only offering, but as long as your friends have either the Autobot or Decepticon versions, you’re all set. You aren’t limited to selecting the Autobots, with Decepticons Megatron, Lockdown, Crowbar and Soundwave at your disposal.
Visually, the game falls flat. The original DS Transformers movie title wasn’t pretty, but at least it had the gameplay to compensate. The game has a PS1 polygonal aesthetic and it just doesn’t hold up. The animations are jerky and it would have been preferable for Behaviour Interactive to choose a sprite-based or 2D approach.
Aurally, the music is forgettable and the sound effects are thin. The voicing is the only thing that was memorable about that aspect of the design. The transformation sounds are all but absent.
As a fan of the Transformers since the very first episode in 1984, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment when playing Dark of the Moon – Autobots. The license deserves so much more.
Review copy provided by publisher.