Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Developer: High Moon Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Price: $49.99 (Available HERE)
As we all know all too well, video games based on mainstream cinema quite often turn out to be sub-par quick cash-in attempts perpetuated by the relative popularity of the film as opposed to gameplay. Approaching such titles feels like a taboo for many hardcore gamers. In a market that often demands quality of the products we as gamers may sometimes be too quick to judge the game by its cover. Let’s not forget that there have often been movie based games in the past that have been able to break this mould. (Spiderman 2 anyone?) Perhaps the same can be said for an already long-running series that has multitudes of games, TV series and movies behind it. If a movie based title is going to deviate from the existing stigma, then one would think Transformers would be a pretty good contender.
With the release of the latest instalment of the Transformers movie franchise (often referred to by fans as Bay-formers), a new game of the same title has cropped up to coincide with the movie release. “So what?” you might think. After all, the last two Transformers movie games were released, and they were pretty mediocre. Well, what if we told you that High Moon Studios was signed on to create the Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 port of the game? High Moon Studios was highly praised for their release of the hugely successful Transformers: War for Cybertron (WFC) in 2010. With that in mind, could it be possible that they pull off another success story? Will the core gameplay differ greatly from Transformers: WFC? Or will the fact that the game is still, to the core, movie based bring the whole thing down?
The story of Dark of the Moon is divided into two distinct sections, divided into the campaigns of the two warring factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons. The story follows a rather linear path. Unlike War for Cybertron, the game does not provide the player with a choice in which campaign to start off playing. Bear in mind however that WFC did recommend a linear play through as well.
Immediately, it should be noted that the events of the game are completely distinct from the film. Rather than follow the plot during the movie events, the game essentially tells a prologue story leading up to the opening of the film. Three years have passed since the Decepticons last scheme to turn the Earth into Energon failed and The Fallen was defeated. The Autobots and their human allies have, for the first time, gained the upper hand on their foes. The Decepticons have been forced into hiding on Earth while they wait for Megatron’s next play. In that time, the Autobots have bolstered their numbers with several new allies. At the same time, Megatron has been consolidating his forces, and favouring a new, more tactile approach to the war. The events of the game ultimately erupt after Bumblebee manages to upload a virus to Soundwave’s satellite, giving the Autobots the locations of all the Decepticons around the globe. This forces Megatron’s next hand: to awaken a dormant Decepticon Assassin. The 2nd in command of the Decepticons and the juggernaut foe of the movie: Shockwave.
The decision to make the game act as a prologue to the movie was a very ingenious move by the developers. By doing so the game was made free of many of the shackling elements of the movie’s plot progression. This allowed the developers are larger degree of creative flexibility when it came to designing the storyline missions and core gameplay elements. In addition, doing so presents what is essentially an “untold” addition to the overall plot of the Bay-formers universe. To any hardcore fan of the movies or Transformers in general, seeing this extra story unfold is likely to attract quite a few players. The unfortunate drawback is the short length of the campaign. Adding another 2-4 missions and characters in which to play through them with would have made the game about the same length as WFC.
For what it had to work with, I will admit that the story of the game was clearly well thought out and effectively executed. There were a few minor issues regarding pacing of the story being inconsistent from mission to mission, but overall, the campaign felt pretty solid. Nowhere near as unique as WFC, but considering that the game is taking place within the confines of a movie-based storyline, what has been presented is a strong, albeit short campaign experience.
If you enjoyed the gameplay of WFC, then chances are you’ll enjoy this. In playing through DotM, it was very hard for me, as a gamer and Transformers fan to not draw the huge similarities that existed between the two games. This is understandable considering the controls of WFC were pretty fluid, and the gameplay mechanics well adjusted to the third-person-shooter genre. Why fix what ain’t broke after all? The gameplay of DotM has essentially taken the gameplay build of WFC and superimposed it over the visual style of the Bay-formers universe. The controls are near identical, with only a few minor alterations for the movie adaptation.
As a whole the gameplay flows quite decently, although the controls in robot mode feel a little bit clunky. (Well, we are controlling giant robots after all…) Players fight from a third person perspective, often having to use cover when damaged. The game lacks a “Gears of War” wall-stick mechanic, but I do feel the addition of such would create a control issue given the said clunkiness of the movement controls. Instead of using cover to avoid damage, players are able at any time
to shift Transform from robot to vehicle mode in a second, by way of the clicking the left control stick. Doing so provides the player with a HUGE mobility boost, and allows them to side-step and sweep past many attacks which would otherwise do some serious damage. Additionally, the vehicle mode provides additional armour in which to soak up damage if necessary. The trade-off to vehicle mode is lower accuracy, and the inability to perform certain robot mode attack functions, like the melee spin and grenade deployment. The vehicle “Stealth Force” mode also provides the player with a few weapon choices to kick some metallic ass.
The most significant aspects where I feel the movie game has faltered from WFC is in two areas: Character selection and Weapon selection. Unlike WFC, which featured a choice of 3 playable transformers in every mission, and supported online co-op, DotM is a strictly single player affair, and does not provide the player with any real choice regarding which transformer to play as. The omission of the co-op functionality is understandable, considering the rather short campaign mode, and the prediction of the game being less popular that WFC, but I, as a Transformers fan would have liked to have seen some resemblance of a character selection mechanic. The other critical area in gameplay is the lack of weapon selection ability. In Transformers WFC, players were able to change their weapons if they found a more preferable one lying around, or in a weapon crate. Within this game, not only are you stuck as playing a single character for a mission, you’re stuck with their weapons as well.
If you think about it, this mechanic sort of makes sense. How likely is it that the Transformers are going to just stumble across Cybertronian weapons and ammo on planet Earth? Didn’t think so. However, the lack of alternate weapon functions may be a disadvantage to players who favour a particular style of gameplay, like using a shotgun for up-close-and-personal, or the sniper rifle for the long-range kills. I feel this limitation could be supplemented by adding weapon drops to defeated enemies. Players will often find that many of the enemy Decepticons and Autobots will equip a variety of weapons in gameplay that the player themselves may prefer to use. However, since this is not the case, the shooting mechanics in gameplay don’t just feel limited, they start to feel repetitive. Case in point, when playing through the second story mission as Ironhide, players will often come across many situations where they will need to attack foes from a great distance to avoid taking too much damage. Unfortunately however, Ironhide lacks long range weaponry. His shotgun, sub-machine gun and Gatling gun are all appropriated for close to medium range combat, and are horrendously inaccurate at a long range. Players will find themselves making a LOT of “hail-Mary” shots hoping that a wayward bullet will pierce the skulls of the long range Decepticon troops. Ironhide’s only long range capable weapon is his pistol-like hand-cannon, which unfortunately lacks ammo, power and firing rate. A little more consideration into facets such as this would have made the game a stronger contender in the gaming market.
VISUAL / AUDIO
If there’s one thing that can be said for the Bay-formers movie series, it’s that the visual designs of many of the Transformers kicks ass. Visually, the Autobots and Decepticons have a much more realistic and darker feel to them than is shown in the cartoon series and comics. The visual style is also very distinct from that utilised in WFC. In fact, this may be one of the few areas where DotM supersedes WFC. One of the major criticisms of WFC was the background environments, while well designed and creative, had a dark metallic flair about it that made it often difficult to distinguish features, objectives and even terrain. DotM however has taken this on board, and now the visual style, while sacrificing some background detail, has been distinguished the environments so they don’t all appear as the massive metallic miasma. The drawback however is the level design itself. While coloured very appropriately for the variety of levels provided, the level design feels repetitive and just a little TOO linear. For giant robots, players can definitely feel the confines of the universe. If the developers had more time with it, they may have been able to come up with a few more creative ideas for level design that would make them seem less repetitive and less similar.
In terms of cut scenes, the art and audio styling are nothing spectacular. They are pretty typical of a standard visual experience on Xbox360 and PS3. However, player might like to note the inclusion of real-life footage and actors for several of the cut-scenes, similar in nature to that of ‘Red-Alert’ and ‘Command and Conquer’. To this end, it should also be noted that the voice acting is actually pretty strong. The developers were able to bring in many of the VA’s from the shows and movies, including Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime himself, as well as Fred Tatasciore to play Megatron. The addition of the epic Transformers movie soundtrack was well executed, maintaining the distinctive feel and atmosphere of the Bay-formers universe. The triumphant and evil themes utilised for the Autobots and Decepticons respectively are actually pretty cool to listen to, and provide a feeling of epic heroic and villainous scale.
As for sound effects, players of WFC will be pleased to learn that the unique transformers sound effects shown in that game have been completely ported across to DotM. This I feel has had an effective impact on capturing the styling and feel of playing a true Transformers game. After all, I still love that classic transformation sound effect from the cartoons.
When I stated that the campaign and gameplay was similar to that of the WFC build, then the multiplayer facet is pretty much a carbon copy. Players connect to online arenas in which they can battle with their own customised Autobots and Decepticons against other players. The game types are exactly the same as those featured in WFC, and the core gameplay mechanics feel no different from the campaign. And, just as with WFC, players are able to customise their transformers (though still named after their character models) by levelling up in skill after playing through successive games. Doing so allows players access to a greater arsenal of selectable weapons and abilities, which the players can equip before a battle.
During the battle itself, players are able to switch between characters and character classes depending on what sort of situation calls for a switch, or if the player just favours the visual design of certain characters. (For instance, swapping the more light-weighted Mirage out for the heavy Warpath if you need an armour boost).
It must be said that the multiplayer mode to the game feels like an unnecessary addition. It’s good that it is available, but considering that the gameplay has hardly changed from WFC, many players won’t believe that multiplayer game types are warranted. Especially because of the omission of co-op playability. The game is already able to stand up to a capable degree on single player alone.
I will say this right now: I certainly feel that Transformers – Dark of the Moon is definitely the best movie-based Transformers game out of the 3. Brining in High Moon Studios was definitely a good idea to apply the War for Cybertron game build. As it stand, DotM is actually very good. FOR A MOVIE GAME. On a scale of games as a whole it does not stand out as much as War for Cybertron did, as much as I had hoped it would. The limitation factors in gameplay coupled with the already existing stigma that players tend to have on movie based games will most likely mean that many hardcore gamers are not likely to pick this one up. In some ways, I don’t feel that’s warranted, and in other ways I do. Ultimately it could have been much better if it were longer and if it provided more in-game choices regarding core gameplay elements. But even so, the game has definitely made itself standout, and it has certainly challenged the movie based assumption of video games. Transformers – Dark of the Moon is a perfect example of showing why all movie based games are not always bad.