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Video Game Review: Transformers – Dark of the Moon


Video Game Review: Transformers – Dark of the Moon

So High Moon, obviously full of people that care, did the best they could with what they had. They re-used as much of their previous work as possible to produce a polished bit of fluff as quickly as they could have. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking and it’s not quite up to their standards, but it is fundamentally fun. So if you you can turn your brain off for a while, or if you know what the word “Unicron” means, you’re probably going to enjoy Transformers: Dark of the Moon, or at least the video game version.

Transformers Dark of the Moon box art
Transformers – Dark of the Moon

Release Date: June 14th, 2011
Platform: Xbox 360 (Version reviewed), Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, 3DS, DS
Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision
Genre: 3rd Person Robo-Shooter
ESRB: T for Teen

CLR [rating:2.5]

Not Quite in Its Prime

Generally speaking, movie tie-in games don’t have a very good reputation. In fact, as a rule we try not to review them here at CLR because rarely is the traditional curse of the licensed game averted. However, as Batman: Arkham Asylum proved in 2009, you can’t discount all of them, and occasionally we do get a licensed game that is well worth your time and money (Toy Story 3, The Chronicles of Riddick, or The Witcher). Unfortunately for Transformers: Dark of the Moon (The Movie: The Game) it is no exception to any rule.

Heck, I’m tempted to simply direct you to last year’s review of Transformers: War for Cybertron and say “It’s like that, but shorter and simpler.”

So if your time’s at a premium, there you go, that’s your review! Toodles!

Wait I have integrity . . . and a micro-bomb implanted at the base of my skull in case I try to deliver anything less than a thousand words.

Oh alright. Let’s break with tradition, and look at a licensed tie-in folks! If we set a precedent, maybe next time we can look at one that’s better than mediocre!

Transformers Dark of the Moon video game

For all the reviewers out there wondering why Cars 2 has a car with spy gadgets, young boys LOVE cars that shoot stuff . . . it’s pretty much an instinctive response.

From all reports I was fortunate when I missed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or at least its theatrical release. I did play the video game however. So I assume almost all the screen time was with the robotic heroes and not the human characters who only showed up in a few voice overs, that there was a moment where our protagonists shot at floating Decepticon logos to extend the runtime of the feature, and then there were two separate but equal climaxes of the movie, one where Optimus Prime won, and another where Megatron did!

All that happened in the movie, right? Right?

Regardless of what actually occurred, I assume the status quo from the TV series was roughly achieved in part deux of Michael Bay’s ‘splosion saga, since both the Autobots and Decepticons, as well as their respective leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, are present here and continuing their war on Earth.

Transformers Dark of the Moon video game

“It was like that when I got here!” claims Ironhide. If this were any other city I’d call him a liar. Detroit on the other hand . . .

“War” is the key concept of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (hereafter referred to as Tran:DaMn for brevity’s sake), as the game amplifies the scale of battle a tad. Or at least tries to, but in between the two films, War for Cybertron came out, and guess what that was about? Since this particular theme is coming up again, the sense of scale actually seems less impressive than it should. Of course it’s hard to top a planet of robots locked in eternal combat. At least Earth’s varied locales bring in some much needed color.

Everything should feel familiar to WFC as its developer, High Moon Studios, was tapped to make Tran:DaMn. This means the game is functionally quite similar too; you go from chapter to chapter, with a unique robot in each, using third person shooter mechanics sans the ability to take cover but with the ability to turn into a car (and for Starscream, a jet). On top of this, the game also comes with an online multiplayer mode that is functionally the same as WFC’s (though some of the class names have been changed to protect the innocent).

Using their familiarity with what is obviously the same engine, much of the fast paced shooting/transforming dynamic from WFC returns, as does the basic structure. You spend roughly half the game’s time with the heroic Autobots, before flipping sides, as Megatron’s plot of releasing Decepticon assassin Shockwave from a Russian space prison is enacted. So I guess this is actually a prequel to the upcoming film then?

I’m really not sure; the narrative style is blunt and so mired in level trivialities that you never get a sense of larger context until the end. To be honest, it really doesn’t matter that much. Plot is present solely to allow the mechanical men to fight each other over the game’s seven missions, like some sort of toy-porn for kids; so . . . pretty much what you’d expect from this franchise!

Oh yes, you read that correctly, seven missions; as in the number following two zeroes when you watch a Bond flick. An epic Tran: DaMn ain’t.

A short experience isn’t always bad, but if you were expecting a game equivalent with High Moon’s last robot rumble, you will be disappointed. Gone too are any of the truly interesting character dynamics drawn from the larger franchise mythos, as they stick with the movies’ condensed and reduced interpretations of the characters. This means Bumblebee can’t talk, Starscream doesn’t try to usurp Megatron, and no one seems to have much important history with each other except two seconds before a boss battle. Hey, at least they got rid of all the pesky humans though!

Transformers Dark of the Moon video game

Damn it Starscream! Why does easily the most annoying character in the entire series, have the absolute coolest form?

There are a couple of other issues too. The health system is reduced from segmented blocks to a basic regeneration method (which I’m not a fan of). Controlling the transformers themselves feel pretty sluggish except when you’re in “stealth force”, which is to say “transformed”. But “stealth force” is hampered by some really odd, overly complex controls that never feel natural.

Then there are the loading issues on the larger levels where every few minutes you get a chunky “LOADING” pause as the streamer tries to catch its breath as if it were a smoker in a foot race. In fairness, this is mostly confined to just one stage (the Soundwave level) partially because it seems the largest. Also because it’s easily the coolest in the game?

Transformers Dark of the Moon video game

Any level that lets you play ‘Metal Gear Transformer’ with robird Laserbeak before escaping an exploding volcano is worth any amount of loading as far as I’m concerned.

However, these really aren’t the primary issues with the game. Rather we get the most basic problem with most movie tie-ins: the sense that this was rushed. Aside from the low level count, the biggest indicator is the game’s scoring mechanic.

I’m sorry, you just don’t put in a score multiplier system into a game these days unless A) you’re going for an (ideally competitive) arcade experience or B) you’re trying to hide the fact that there isn’t much content. This game is definitely the latter. The core function of an old-school scoring system in a single player experience is to encourage replayability. Or to unlock stuff, but here there’s nothing to unlock, so I think we’ve hit upon the feature’s purpose. Not the worst thing in the world, but it betrays the intent of some good developers stuck with a bad situation.

Transformers Dark of the Moon video game

You might say Megatron here has the touch. Perhaps even, the power?

Most devs don’t want to make games tied into films for some valid reasons. While a license without a hard tie-in allows for innovation (again look to Arkham Asylum or even WFC), a license with one means you HAVE to be finished at a certain time, and if you want to ensure the game is functional you HAVE to lock everything down with basic concepts and make sure they never break. The sheer fact of a hard date prevents too much experimentation. Especially if they’re rushed, which the developers obviously were here (their last game came out just a year ago).

So High Moon, obviously full of people that care, did the best they could with what they had. They re-used as much of their previous work as possible to produce a polished bit of fluff as quickly as they could have. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking and it’s not quite up to their standards, but it is fundamentally fun.

So if you you can turn your brain off for a while, or if you know what the word “Unicron” means, you’re probably going to enjoy Transformers: Dark of the Moon, or at least the video game version. It’s the perfectly average popcorn to go with a summer blockbuster: a delicious treat that’s won’t fill you up, isn’t particularly good for you, and you can share. If you can get it for cheap, check it out, otherwise you’re probably better off trying to sneak in a snack from home.

Oh and call me Nostradamus: This game will be better than the movie by a measurable metric. Why?

Not in the game: Shia LeBeouf.

Transformers – Dark of the Moon Trailer

As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the "California Literary Review," who still haven't decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional "Missile Command" high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to "follow" him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas @TheCromulentMan

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