" When the world knows you're building on the shoulders of giants it's always disappointing when you end up going lower, not higher. "
Title: Transformers: Dark of the Moon by Activision
Format: Xbox 3rd Person Shooter
Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters
It's summer, which means another round of movie
tie-in games. And since Michael Bay is--for better or worse--still alive, that
also means another Transformers.
Technically a prequel, developer High Moon Studios opted to do something a little less obnoxious than the usual "kinda, sorta follow the movie's outline" with Dark of the Moon. Instead it loosely tells the story of the events leading up to the new movie. It's a nice touch that I hope more of these tie-ins do in the future.
That said, the execution is far less ambitious than the concept. Essentially a re-skin of last year's War for Cybertron, Dark is decent for a tie-in but somewhat disappointing overall.
Back is the combination Gears of War-style 3rd person action and at-will transforming into vehicles that made War for Cybertron so popular, but now the dynamic has been turned on its head. Before you traded the protection of robot mode for the mobility of vehicle mode, but now the hover-car-esque Stealth Force mode is the end all--featuring the most firepower, the best maneuverability, and the strongest armor. It's an odd choice that removes all of the tangible reward from stomping around the battlefield.
Which means you will spend almost all of your time in Stealth Force during the short and lifeless campaign. Essentially little more than a meat...er, metal...grinder, each level of single player is just one long hallway that is packed full of mindless, personalityless, generic opponents. Opponents that ambush you, opponents that stream after you, or opponents that stand confused as you snipe them from a distance.
Really, the only thing that distinguishes one level from any other is which Autobot or Decepticon you get to play--which, I grant you, is a nice touch. Half the time you will be the good guys, trying to discover the Decepticon plot, and half the time you're a bad guy, looking for excuses to execute all of the nameless Autobots you can find. That said, all of the characters do essentially play the same, with the only real difference being which weapons you get to use (each comes with three different attacks, and two of them are typically unique to each character).
Once the short campaign is done you can roll into a War for Cybertron-esque multiplayer game, but that, too, is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, the adversarial play is fairly solid and well balanced. The classes have somewhat distinct feels to them and the customization available as you level-up can be a lot of fun. The unique ability to transform can also add a subtle level of strategy, especially in larger games.
But it's in multiplayer that we really find how Dark's backbone--it's draw from the highly successful War for Cybertron--is also it's undoing. The issue, really, is that Dark of the Moon is clearly a sequel, gameplay wise, to War for Cybertron--yet, inexpeciably, this new offering actually removes features and game types that the previous game included. Gone are co-op and survival. Also gone are support classes and some of the more subtle options from the last game. Presumably the cuts were due to deadlines for development, but when the world knows you're building on the shoulders of giants it's always disappointing when you end up going lower, not higher.
Still, all things considered, Dark of the Moon isn't a bad game...it's just not a good one. It'll be fun for those Transformer fanatics looking to expand their movie experience, but does nothing to lure players away from its far-superior predecessor.