Transformers: Dark of the Moon has been timed to release in parallel with the upcoming movie of the same name, though instead of letting players re-experience the film’s storyline, the game details the battles and events leading up to the movie. As a result, there’s not a lot of established storyline to work with, which means the single player campaign never really feels as if it gets off the ground.
That said, also like the movie, Dark of the Moon is a good looking game, with loads of action, interesting weapons and tons of enemies to blow up. Like its predecessor, War For Cybertron, Transformers: Dark of the Moon makes good on combining the elements of vehicle racing and combat with those of a third-person shooter, and those who have yet to venture into a Transformers game will undoubtedly find this combo an intriguing one.
The single player campaign lets you play as a different Transformer in each chapter, where you can make use of that character’s unique weapons and abilities - like Ironhide’s big guns, Mirage’s stealth and Starscream and Laserbeak’s aerial fighting. While the strategy for each character is undoubtedly different, much of the game’s level design feels quite samey - especially for land-bound characters. Movement is completely directed, with single paths available to travel along (often with high cliffs on each side, to reinforce the fact that you only have one option), and to add insult to injury waypoints are still used, meaning that even as you are channelled along your path, you still have to watch the waypoint distance meter tick down as you near your target. As a result, the ultimate effect of traveling from (directed) waypoint to waypoint is that there’s no real sense of surprise or discovery as you move from place to place.
In terms of movement itself, changes to the resiliency of vehicles from the previous game (they’ve really have been toughened up), mean that most of the time you’ll find yourself playing as a vehicle instead of robot form. The vehicles are faster, with unlimited ammo, and targeting abilities that the robots themselves just don’t have. So as you play you’ll find yourself switching to robot mode only if you need to interact with a specific object, or make use of that character’s specific ability. For a title that’s always tried to emphasise, at least a little, the characters over the cars, it feels pretty weird.
As for the packaging, the shiny, shiny transformers do look great, with excellent voice acting that unfortunately isn’t given a lot of particularly good dialogue. The soundtrack is sufficiently good to add to the mood of the game, yet remains nicely unobtrusive. Nothing’s terrible, yet nothing really stands out however as being particularly note-worthy - a comment I’m tempted to apply to the entire game.
While (in my opinion) the single player game is pretty weak, with its short running time, linear gameplay and predictable structure (fight off wave after wave of enemy, until you reach the end of the level and fight the boss), DotM’s competitive multiplayer may prove to be its saving grace. Between two and ten players can duke it out in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Conquest scenarios, then use the XP to upgrade and customise their Transformers with new weapons and abilities.
In a nutshell, if you love the films, then you’ll likely enjoy the game. Hate the film? Then this one’s not for you. Personally, I’m of the opinion that films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon aren’t so bad as long as you know what you’re going to be up for in the first place. Unfortunately it’s about the best spin I can put on the game as well.