Last year’s War for Cybertron is considered by many as the greatest Transformers game ever created. With that said, it was nearly impossible for High Moon Studios to one-up themselves with the inevitable sequel. Dark of the Moon takes a lot of the concepts from the first game and brings your favorite Transformers to Earth for a quintessential movie tie-in game. The problems arise when you realize what has been changed and removed since the last game. What we end up with is a mere shadow of what High Moon delivered with the War for Cybertron, and that is truly a shame.
Being a tie-in this time around, High Moon has basically crafted a prologue to the upcoming feature film. It involves the Autobots trying to thwart the Decepticons efforts to obtain a particular object. If that sounds vague, it is because the game never does a good job of relaying exactly why I should care. You spend three chapters as the good guys and three as the bad, with a combined chapter at the end. Nolan North makes a visual appearance and Peter Cullen voices Optimus Prime. All the pieces are here, but they feel so convoluted it is hard to make heads or tails of it. It is also worth noting that the campaign is criminally short and, at times, is artificially extended with segments of enemy waves coming at you within locked rooms.
Much like its predecessor, Dark of the Moon is a third-person shooter that just so happens to allow you to transform into a vehicle at will. What has changed from the past game is that when you change into vehicle form now, you are so much more powerful that robot form feels like a waste. Weapons also don’t need reloading and feel much more powerful. Robot form also received some changes. You no longer have the ability to pick up other weapons and running out of ammo never becomes an issue. You also have two abilities for each character. The controls are still tight and feel great outside of driving mode. When in car form, you can hold down the left trigger to move faster, but I usually ended up on the sides of the road thanks to the loose controls.
I actually enjoyed every level and Transformer you play as, but even as short as the game is, the levels just felt unnecessarily long. The enemy waves mentality just did not work, and the boss fights were mediocre at best. There are a few segments that stand out, such as Mirage’s stealth mission and playing as Lazerbeak, but for the most part the game just fails to excite the Transformer fan inside of me.
Probably the biggest disappointment, though, is the removal of the cooperative modes found in War for Cybertron. First up is Escalation, the Horde-type mode from the first game. This has been removed completely. Also missing, is the co-op campaign. The last game allowed you to team up with two friends for a three-player experience. Dark of the Moon removes any co-op game types leaving you with a short, unsatisfying single player campaign.
Thankfully, the online competitive mode is still present and just as much fun as it was in the original game. Online, you can choose between four classes broken up based on abilities. You have fronts (soldiers), scouts, commanders and hunters (airborne). All of the customary modes are here, including Conquest (control nodes) and both forms of Deathmatch. You also earn experience, unlock new abilities and all of your standard multi-player functionality. High Moon’s Transformers games are one of the few online experiences that seem to actually set themselves apart. Whether it’s the fact that you can switch forms for a new dynamic, or the nostalgia we all get playing as our favorite robots in disguise online; the game does have some legs in this department.
Visually, the game is competent if not a bit bland. The environments, such as the war-torn city and the flying level stand out, but there were too many bland forest locations and indoor corridors that felt like repeated areas. The animation of transforming is still superb and the game rarely misses a beat in the frame rate department. Sound is good, with Mr. Cullen returning to voice Optimus. The rest of the cast does a nice job, but again Megatron without Welker just feels wrong. The music is passable and the effects feel like stock, but they get the job done.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of those games that you want to love. There is nothing that is really broken, but when you are the follow-up to the best Transformers game ever made, things tend to stand out. With the removal of two of the most prominent features from the original game and a dramatically shorter campaign, you can’t help but feel like the game was rushed to make the movie deadline. It is disappointing to say the least, especially coming from such a huge fan of Hasbro’s infamous robots in disguise.
Review copy provided by publisher.