Developer: High Moon Studios
Film tie-ins, as a general rule that has been long-established, are usually rubbish. This has to do with a list of factors that usually include a rushed development cycle, lack of funds and content limits among its ranks. They are predominantly multimedia cash-cows, piggy-backing off of a different medium's success with as little outlay as possible for as much financial gain as the publisher can grab.
Not that we here at Dealspwn have an issue with people making money, far from it. But we do have issues with rushed and mediocre games.
Thankfully, Half Moon's last effort was actually pretty good. War For Cybertron had the advantage of being released alongside Revenge of the Fallen, but being in no way associated with that movie. It was incredibly metallic and grey, but it was also brimming with fun, action-packed gameplay, some outstanding dialogue and voice-work and a whole host of fan service to those who'd been with the series since the Eighties. It was clear that it was a labour of love on the part of the developers, even if the end product still didn't quite produce the majestic Transformers game that the robots in disguise perhaps deserve.
Dark of the Moon, however, is a bit like War For Cybertron-lite. You would have hoped that considering WFC's successes, this game would have built upon its predecessor's strengths and, in some cases, it has to be said that Dark of the Moon makes for a more colourful game than last year's effort. Earth provides some nice environmental changes from metal, metal and more metal. Soundwave in particular gets to sun himself on a beach before hiking up a mountain, taking out a research complex and, finally, outrunning a lava flow by driving as fast as possible through the cavernous intestines of a volcano.
The Transformers themselves, and the narrative will place you in the shoes of several Autobots and Decepticons, are smoothly animated. Once again, you can snap between robot form and your vehicular 'stealth mode', the latter being somewhat overpowered on all of the Transformers with the possible exception of Megatron. Both modes have different weapons, although there's not a huge range of difference in terms of how the individual robots actually play, unlike last time around. They look pretty horrible, too, this time fully modelled on the Michael Bay series rather than combining the look with a G1 feel as they did before. The texturing on Starscream, for example, is nothing short of awful, though you only really notice this in the cutscenes.
Handling as a robot is relatively straightforward, but the shift into vehicle form provides some frustration. Soundwave's level was both my favourite and most irritating level by far. The gameplay was broken up nicely with some TPS action at the start, some pretty environments and a jaunt around a complex with Laserbeak that was interesting (although, again, underdeveloped and underexplored). But when it came to the evacuation, the idea being a cinematic race through a crumbling volcano as it goes active - a pretty epic concept if you ask me - the controls ruined everything.
For starters, the non-combat accelerator is on the left trigger. When has a driving game ever used the left trigger for anything that increases your speed! The cars and trucks handle so badly in this mode that it's tempting to just stay combat-ready, but then the lava catches up with you and you die. And then there are navigation issues too, which would probably actually have been fine if it wasn't for the fact that I was constantly unconsciously ploughing Soundwave into a wall because steering with the left trigger down is totally done on the right stick.
But the complaints don't stop there. There are six levels...six...and someone had the cheek to call the dreadful boss battle at the end a seventh but that's only because it's tedious as hell and lasts fifteen minutes. You can bust through the game in five hours and, although there are Autobot and Decepticon symbols to find, put in no doubt to try and entice you back for a replay, you won't want to. There's no co-op this time around either, so you can forget about playing the main campaign through with a mate.
Thankfully, there is a multiplayer mode to try and provide some value, but even this has been stripped back. The experience points system from War For Cybertron is still intact, and you can still customise your Transformer and their loadouts. But there are fewer modes this time around: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and a Conquest-style mode entitled Domination. There's no Escalation (the 'Horde mode' of the previous game), there are no support classes, weapon pickups or anything to tempt you away from going straight to a bargain bin and picking up WFC for a tenner.
The multiplayer is fun in short bursts, because it's a lite version of what came before. The main game has it's enjoyable parts, where it's reminiscent of the previous game. The truth is that Dark of the Moon is actually a superior film-tie in game. It plays relatively well, at least in comparison to its rushed brethren. But you'd never buy it, there'd be absolutely no point precisely because there's a game out in the big wide world that does absolutely everything this game does, and does it far better.
Reviewing is a process that is dictated by precedent, our critical views of today shaped by the quality of yesteryear's games and this provides a problem. You see, on its own, Dark of the Moon would get an average score, it's not the worst game we've ever seen at all. But it's certainly one of the most pointless. The fact is that there is literally no reason why you'd buy this game. It's not even a case of personal preference, the elements that make up the two titles are so similar - it's just there are less of them and they're rushed and poorly made in this game. Half Moon have already made a game better than this...over a year ago. Buy that instead for a fraction of the price.
- The combat
- The quips
- The multiplayer
- You can get all of that AND MORE in War For Cybertron
- Too short
- Actually lacking in features that were there a year ago
The Short Version: I have to stress that on its own, Dark of the Moon might have received a higher score. But the very existence of War For Cybertron, a game that does everything this game does consistently better, renders this film tie-in utterly redundant in the end. Half Moon are capable of so much more than mere Gamerscore padding.