This year we see the release of the last movie in the Transformers trilogy, Dark of the Moon. While the first Transformers movie was a guilty pleasure for a lot of people, the second one was considered a huge disappointment because of the lackluster story. Michael Bay has said he has learned from his mistakes, but Transformers fans are cautiously optimistic about the new film.
Peter Cullen returns as the voice of Optimus Prime, and several of the other voice actors in the movie return for the game. Frank Welker, the voice of Soundwave in the movie and game, also gets to reprise his role of Megatron in the game, whom he voiced in the Revenge of the Fallen video game and the original Transformers cartoon. All of the voice acting accurately portrays the emotion of the moment without sounding over the top for the action. The voices do get a little repetitive in the multiplayer though. I know that they are supposed to be helping you to know what the current situation is, but it gets to a point where it is overdone.
While the first two games of the trilogy didn’t do the movies any favors, there was hope that the Dark of the Moon tie-in could do the series justice. That hope came from the most recent Transformers game War for Cybertron. While the game focused on many of the Transformers in their pre-Earth incarnations, the storyline was engaging, the multiplayer was fun, and it was the closest thing to the Generation 1 Transformers that we’ll probably ever see. High Moon Studios, the developer for War for Cybertron, was called on to develop Dark of the Moon.
Dark of the Moon uses the same Transformers models as the movie. As you play through the campaign, you will play as Autobot and Decepticon, familiar faces and newcomers to the series. It contains a single campaign that chooses which character you play as. You’ll initially play as Bumblee and Ironhide, but then play as Mirage (who reminds me of G1 Sideswipe). After that it’s time to switch sides as you play Soundwave, with a little help from Laserbeak. You never know who you are going to be playing as, and the different abilities of the characters help switch up the gameplay a little bit. The length of the campaign runs about the standard time of most shooters these days, but the campaign throws in enough twists that you might think you are finished with a level and you’ll need to keep on going.
The most interesting innovation of Dark of the Moon is the new Stealth Force mode. This is a vehicle mode, but all of your weapons are showing on screen instead of hidden like in true vehicle mode. This mode allows you to take a lot of damage, lock onto your enemies, and strafe around as you drive. Stealth Force mode is slower than pure vehicle mode, but it allows you to take more damage than while in robot mode. The weapons don’t feel that powerful, but you can lock onto your targets without reloading while absorbing damage. If you are taking damage too much damage though, you might want to think about changing to robot mode to dispatch enemies more quickly since the lock-on isn’t as accurate as lining up the shots yourself. The vehicle mode doesn’t have much use in the game, except to get to your objective faster.
Speaking of weapons, you have two weapons that can be switched out on the fly. Eventually new weapons are available that are more powerful than the standard weapons. Some of these require Energon Shards from destroyed enemies to charge up, while others are recharged with time. You want to use them at opportune times, because they can clear out an area quickly in the right situation. For instance Ironhide gets an updated chain gun that can clear out an entire area very quickly.
Controlling your character is similar to other third-person shooters. With the ability to transform, it changes the gameplay a bit. Do you use the Stealth Force to lock onto an enemy and gives you more mobilitiy, or do you use your robot mode but can’t move around as quickly. Switching between robot mode and Stealth Force mode requires clicking on the left stick. This works well most of the time, but it can be annoying when it happens to you in the middle of battle when you are trying to stay in Stealth Force mode to stay locked onto enemies.
The levels in Dark of the Moon are largely linear. Hidden Autobot and Decepticon symbols are scattered throughout the levels that give you unlockable content. There isn’t much reason to go off the beaten path though. Sometimes the objective beacon disappears, but most of the time where you have to go is pretty obvious. The locations you fight in are varied. You might be traversing the jungles of Central America in one mission, and fighting your way through the destroyed cityscape of Detroit the next. Open areas make heavy use of the vehicles modes, while tight quarters are handled better for robot mode. Each of the different areas has their own feel, giving a nice change of pace from level to level. For instance, the city’s destroyed roads are much different from the dirt paths in the forest.
The biggest problem with the campaign is how everything starts to feel the same. Go to a checkpoint, fight enemies. Go to the next checkpoint, kill more enemies. Hide behind cover to recharge your health during a fire fight. Go up against a boss towards the end of the level. Most of the enemies you fight up against are clones without personality. This is true whether you are fighting as an Autobot or Decepticon. While I realize that every enemy can’t be different, a little more variety is warranted. Only the bosses and the allies you are working with in a level have any kind of name and personality.
The multiplayer in Dark of the Moon feels downsized from War for Cybertron. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Conquest are available in the multiplayer arena. Conquest has three different Energon nodes on the map that need to be captured. Once captured they give the controlling team points, and the team that reaches the scoring target first wins. Four classes are available in multiplayer. The Scout is fast but has lighter armor. They are the only class that has a sniper rifle. Hunters are the only air-enabled class, allowing them to cover great distances. Commanders are the most well-rounded class with heavier armor and weapons, but they move a bit slower. Warriors are the tank class, literally. They have the heaviest armor and weapons, but they are incredibly slow. These truly feel like walking around as a giant robot. The biggest difference between classes is the kind of abilities that are available to them. One has the ability to run a sensor that lets you see all of the enemy robots, while another can heal your teammates that have taken a beating.
The multiplayer really lacks variety. While the five maps included are great, it would be better with more maps. You can customize your class a bit, but it will take a little while to get the better abilities at the higher levels. Since you level up each class separately, four classes might be enough for all but the most hardcore players. Each class levels up separately, so you will need to play as each class to advance and get better weapons. It can be difficult to get kills when you are playing as a lower level against a higher level, but the game does try to give you points to advance. Even getting killed first in a match gives you points. I wouldn’t recommend going this route to gain your experience though. While the leveling up made me want to play more, the maps and types really made me wish there was more to the multiplayer.
While I know that this is a movie tie-in, I had high hopes for Dark of the Moon because of War for Cybertron. At the end of the day, Dark of the Moon feels unpolished with room to grow. They obviously had to make the deadline for the movie, but I feel like more could have been done to make the singleplayer more interesting and the muliplayer more varied. While the Stealth Force is a great addition to Dark of the Moon, old design flaws keep it from becoming a great game.