Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a rough planning sketch of a good video game.
It's like this. A movie takes—or so it has always seemed to me—one to two years to make. A good game seems to take two to three. But movie games start production after significant work on their movie has begun, so they get maybe a year and a half, and they can't be delayed if things go wrong because they have to hit the street near the movie's debut, and they're never well-financed because they're part of the disposable media blitz surrounding the movie launch—about as important as movie-branded Slurpee cups. A few rare exceptions aside, movie games do not get enough time, nor enough money, to be good. So DotM isn't.
But DotM is by High Moon Studios, the same company that did Transformers: War for Cybertron. WfC was great, and plays a lot like DotM. DotM is basically what happens when you take a bunch of people who are capable of making good games, and then don't give them enough time or money do that.
But enough. Here's the game on its own terms:
DotM is a third person shooter with driving elements set across "seven" levels, which is to say six levels and a short final boss, in which you play as a different Transformer for each—three Autobots, then three Decepticons, then an Autobot again. Guess who the last Autobot is! It plays like WfC, except slower and less responsive—over-the-shoulder shooter, L-trigger brings up ironsights and R-trigger fires gun, left-click analogue stick transforms to vehicle mode. The much-hyped "Stealth Force" gimmick, where you transform into a vehicle with guns sticking out of it, is just the normal vehicle forms from WfC reskinned—to get an Earth vehicle form, just hit the boost button in Stealth Force form to retract your guns and go fast. Because everything is slower, my favorite thing to do from WfC is gone—it's no longer feasible to drive up to somebody's face and then transform and melee them. Enemies just back up a bit while I'm transforming and then I miss with my sword or hammer or whatever. Boo!
Story-wise it's a prequel to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the movie, set in the time between it and Revenge of the Fallen. Megatron has fled and is recuperating and rebuilding his forces, while the Autobots are working with human NEST forces to… you know what? It's great that this game has a story that fits into the movie canon instead of just poorly retelling the events of the movie itself, but the plot is unremarkable—the protagonists can't do anything notable because it's all setup for the events of another piece of media entirely. Only the second (Ironhide) and fifth (Starscream) levels have entertaining dialogue. I'd argue the Starscream level is genuinely fun, but I've always had an unreasonable love for the Starscream Comedy Hour. I'm glad it's there, and it provided brief respite from the tedium of the rest of the game, but it's not worth ploughing through levels one through four to reach.
Multiplayer is class, level, and character-based, with warriors who turn into tanks and shoot everything; scouts who turn into cars and go fast; commanders who turn into trucks and buff allies; and hunters who turn into planes and debuff enemies. You level up to gain new abilities, and each class has a number of models to choose from (admittedly for the hunter, this number is "1"). Unfortunately character model has a primary ability locked to it—I hate this, for the simple reason that I prefer the Bumblebee Scout model to the Mirage Scout model, but Mirage gets cloaking, which I love, while Bumblebee gets melee spin, which I can't stand. Aside from choosing your class you can choose your look, although the selection is really narrow and one of the unlockable warrior bodies, Shockwave, can't even transform out of robot mode. Like in single-player, everything is slower and clumsier than I'd like. Other than that, multiplayer is fun, just because it's built on the solid foundation of WfC multiplayer.
All that said! As much as DotM is not good, it is promising, because High Moon Studios is currently working on a sequel to WfC. DotM has a few nice gameplay upgrades from the way WfC worked—guns have unlimited ammo but not unlimited clip size, so after firing a given number of shots you have to go through a reload animation; and health regenerates over time instead of with medkits. If these changes incorporated into a War for Cybertron 2 that shows the same level of enthusiasm and polish as WfC did, the end result'll be something I'll enjoy immensely. Just as long as they keep multiplayer model choice entirely cosmetic, anyway.
So the point of this review is that Dark of the Moon is bad and you should go back and play War for Cybertron again.
STEPHEN LEA SHEPPARD
This review is based on a retail copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon provided by Activision.