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Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
by Andrew Testerman

Following on from last year's Transformers: War for Cybertron, High Moon Studios' latest Transformers-licensed title - Dark of the Moon - gives players the opportunity to transform once again into the legendary machines. Andrew Testerman sees whether it lives up to expectation. Reviewed on Xbox 360.

Last year, High Moon Studios gave gamers something they thought they’d never see: a legitimately fun Transformers game that stayed true to the fiction of the original 80’s series. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon, High Moon took the play mechanics that made Transformers: War for Cybertron so enjoyable, and implemented them into a new game, based on the upcoming movie. On paper, it seems like a recipe for success, but Dark of the Moon falls short in several of the areas its predecessor excelled in, and ultimately doesn’t manage to be much more than an above-average licensed game.

Dark of the Moon presents players with a two-act campaign, playing during the first half as Autobots and the second half as Decepticons, with a small Autobot epilogue. The narrative deals with the two sides fighting to control technology known as 'MechTech', though exactly what MechTech actually does is a little dubious, as the uses are never really mentioned in the game itself. The game’s story is a prequel to the upcoming movie, but - apart from ominously showing the moon in a few cutscenes - the connections with the film seem pretty tenuous. Unless Nolan North is actually featured alongside Shia LaBeouf and Tyrese Gibson?

The heart of a Transformers game is, of course, the transforming mechanics, and this is where Dark of the Moon is at its best. Players click the left analogue stick to change from robot to vehicular form, and vice versa, with each form having its own distinct advantage; vehicles are slightly more unwieldy in combat, but have heavier armour. New to Dark of the Moon is the Stealth Force mode, a hybrid of the robot and vehicle form with heavy weapons and the ability to strafe. The range of movement afforded by this system greatly shines in multiplayer, where a hasty retreat is sometimes necessary to avoid death.

The shooting mechanics that make up the brunt of Dark of the Moon are fairly solid, with each weapon having a nice sense of heftiness to it, in particular the heavy weapons like Megatron’s Fusion Cannon. A few issues hold it back from greatness, though; it’s pretty tough to gauge whether or not a shot connected with an enemy, especially since some of the guns can be wildly inaccurate. Also, the Transformers’ movements make the Cogs from Gears of War look positively graceful, and it’s all-too-easy to accidentally galumph into a wall and die from repeated shots to the back. Most annoying are the flying controls, an awkward mix of hovering, strafing, and ever-changing altitudes that never quite does what the player wants.

Presentation-wise, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Dark of the Moon ditches the monotonous metallic greys of War for Cybertron in favour of a variety of locations, like a dusty, remote South American village, a bombed-out incarnation of Detroit, and a lush tropical island complete with lava-strewn volcano interior. There are even a few nice atmospheric touches, such as small flocks of birds, or brilliant morning sunrises. However, the game is filled with technical glitches, ranging from the annoying (getting stuck in the environment) to the cringe-inducing (reloading a checkpoint because a scripted moment didn’t trigger).

Multiplayer is solid, if unspectacular. Players can customise their character loadout, choosing from different weapons and abilities, as well as assigning perks. Similarly to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, each of the game’s four classes level up separately, encouraging players to experiment but also rewarding those who stick with and specialise in one class. Unlike last year’s game, players are allowed to choose from licensed Transformers in matches, though the design of Michael Bay’s Transformers can make it hard to tell Bumblebee from Enforcer without first looking at the colour. Sadly, the multiplayer has its fair share of glitches as well, often acting laggy and occasionally dropping players from matches entirely.

Much of the content in Dark of the Moon is good enough, but seems downright lacking when compared to War for Cybertron. Dark of the Moon's single player is woefully short, clocking in at about six hours on Normal difficulty — in the face of War for Cybertron’s two-part, ten hour campaign, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Also, War for Cybertron’s robust set of multiplayer modes have been significantly cut down in translation to this iteration, from seven in last year’s game to three in Dark of the Moon. Perhaps High Moon was rushed in getting Dark of the Moon out in time for its film counterpart to hit theaters, but the shortened campaign and dearth of multiplayer modes give the game a small, slightly unsatisfying feeling, especially for a title that costs sixty dollars at retail.

Dark of the Moon is good fun while it lasts, but its brief playtime, lack of multiplayer options and host of technical glitches make it worth only a rental, for everyone but the most stalwart Transformers fans.

7/10 [?]

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- Andrew Testerman

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