The gameplay is knowingly straight-forward, but an abundance of decent set-piece encounters and a robust online multiplayer component make this spin-off an enjoyable, if entirely mindless affair.
High Moon was onto something when it released War For Cybertron on PlayStation 3. The nostalgic, classic Transformers celebration was a tightly designed, mechanically dense third-person shooter with great boss fights and neat transformation abilities. Pulled onto movie tie-in duty in order to capitalise on the release of Michael Bay's upcoming Dark Of The Moon, High Moon's latest Transformers release plays a lot like an expansion pack for War For Cybertron without the classic personas you love. But make no mistake, this is by no means a bad thing.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is easily the best Bayformers game to date, and perhaps one of the better movie tie-ins in recent memory. The single-player campaign is a mixture of good action and fun set-pieces all wrapped up with a solid arcade back-bone. It's not without its issues, but the bad in Dark Of The Moon rarely outweighs the good.
Most of what's great about Dark Of The Moon revolves around just how powerful the robots feel. You'll assume control of a number of popular Autobots and Decepticons throughout the game's single-player campaign, including favourites such as Ironhide, Mirage, Starscream, Soundwave and both faction leaders. There's even room for a playable Laserbeak cameo, which is neat. With each chapter putting you in control of a different character, you're constantly being prompted to test out new tactics and abilities. While the core action rarely changes, these new abilities provide some subtleties to the gameplay that otherwise wouldn't have existed. For example, Megatron is able to sap energon from enemies, while Soundwave can destroy shields by sending out electrical component scrambling frequencies.
The plot is well put together if a little sporadic. It closely resembles the storyline of the movie, with the Autobots once again desperately trying to protect the human race while the Decepticons attempt to farm the Earth's resources for their own greed. The characters themselves are actually much more faithful to those from the original cartoon series, with Megatron and Starscream's love-hate relationship well captured, and a number of nods towards classic Transformers lore. For the most-part the voice acting is good too, with Peter Cullen reprising his role as Optimus Prime, and Nolan North making a cameo as a human soldier. With that said, Dark Of The Moon has about all the narrative complexity of an instruction booklet. The story doesn't actually go anywhere, and by the end of the game you'll realise that you've come full circle despite the events in between.
The core action itself is good though. Based on the same framework as War For Cybertron, you'll find yourself frequently flipping between your character's vehicular and robotic stance. As we alluded to earlier, one of the best elements of Dark Of The Moon is just how powerful the game makes you feel. This is embodied by an arcade score system which combos your point tally as you take out foes. It's hardly the most innovative mechanic in the world, but it helps to take away some of the tedium of Dark Of The Moon's level design as you casually pick off opponents and watch your score multiply. The vehicle sections themselves are fun too, once you get your head around the finger twisting controller layout. One particular sequence, in which you assume the role of Starscream, is a frantic sky-combat affair where you switch between the character's air-craft and robot form as you battle upon the back of an enormous Autobot carrier ship. Dark Of The Moon is not always the most graphically pleasing game, but this sequence is stunning.
Unfortunately, Dark Of The Moon trips over many of the same hurdles as other movie tie-ins. Despite being based on an already solid engine and set of mechanics, the game lacks the polish of its predecessor, with a campaign much more straight-forward than War For Cybertron. The linearity can be somewhat forgiven thanks to Dark Of The Moon's arcade flourishes, but the brevity of the experience is harder to forgive. We were done with the single-player campaign after about four hours, and with no leaderboards to compare your performance against other players you're unlikely to get multiple playthroughs out of the single-player.
Thankfully Transformers: Dark Of The Moon does boast a robust competitive multiplayer mode which is built on the same framework as War For Cybertron. The component has maintained its unique feel, offering break-neck pacing thanks in part to the mobility provided by each player class' vehicular form. Maps are derived from the single-player campaign, and are a little claustrophobic, but function fine. Our favourite game-type is still Conquest, which is essentially a territories-esque playlist in which players will need to chaotically scramble about the maps to capture and hold various strongholds. There are an abundance of unlocks and perks to play with, but we did find ourself worryingly close to reaching the level cap of one of the muliplayer's classes after just an hour-or-so of play.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon has clearly been hurriedly put together in order to meet the release date of the upcoming Michael Bay movie, but working off the frame-work of War For Cybertron, High Moon's managed to put together a solid action game that's rarely surprising but nearly always enjoyable. The game's brevity is disappointing, but the campaign itself is reasonably paced and punctuated by a number of enjoyable set-piece encounters. Online the action is chaotic and unique, and should hold your attention for a short while assuming the game maintains a reasonable player-base. Like the movie series itself, Dark Of The Moon is knowingly dumb, but that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable weekend romp when you feel like playing something a little bit mindless.