Tranformers: Dark of the MoonESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: 3rd Person: Action
Devloper: High Moon
Xbox 360 Features
Online Multiplayer: 2-10
1MB to Save Game
In-Game Dolby Digital
Network Players: 2-10
4.5 GB Required Hard Drive Space
HD Video Output 480P and 720P
Having reviewed the previous three Transformers games on the Xbox 360, most recently Transformers: War for Cybertron, my expectations were held in check in preparation of the next games release. This being said, I was somewhat optimistic considering the success of War of Cybertron, which featured an enjoyable co-op mode and a single player campaign that was a hoot. Yet, before War of Cybertron hit the scenes, Transformer video games were typically characterized as rushed, repetitive, and riddled with issues. So when the recently released Transformers: Dark of the Moon for the Xbox 360 and PS3 arrived at my home office, I was hoping the franchise could not only build on, but improve on, last year’s offering. Unfortunately, the streak of really good Transformer games has ended at one, as Dark of the Moon takes the franchise back a few steps to its rushed and repetitive roots.
As far as the visuals are concerned, Dark of the Moon is both a hit and miss. In terms of the negatives, some the cut-scenes look downright awful. They lack detail, are not clear, look more last gen than next gen, and seem like they have been ported across all consoles, including the Wii. Secondly, while the enemy Transformers look decent, they all have similar appearances and there is simply not enough variety from one AI Transformer to the next. Additionally, the landscapes and other in-game levels can appear bland at times and enemies just tend to blend into their surroundings. It is not a problem when you only need to blow away a few enemies; but once you engage in some of those intensive big battle sequences, enemies are hard to pick up.
In terms of the positives, Dark of the Moon does feature some very compelling levels and the design of many of the landscapes can be considered well done at times. Yes, as mentioned above, some do come across as bland, but others simply look stellar. For instance, some of the high-speed highway sequences look very good, as the lighting and details are impressive. Many of the levels do a great job of capturing that Transformers franchise feeling. As for the Transformers themselves, they also look very good. The overall detail of the Autobot and Decepticon characters is very sharp and they are certainly comparable to their computer animated counterparts on the big screen as they are easily recognizable for fans of the franchise. At a quick glance you can tell the developers spent a significant amount of time perfecting their look. The actual transformation from vehicle to robot is very smooth and looks great on an HD display.
Overall, the audio in Dark of the Moon is comparable and on par with previous Transformer games. That is to say, it is good but won’t blow you away. For starters, the voice acting is very strong. All the Transformers sound authentic and just like their real-life counterparts. Peter Cullen essentially steals the show as Optimus, which comes as no surprise. He sounds fantastic, and as I just mentioned, very authentic. Megatron sounds equally great and his voice stand-in does a good job. The rest of the cast is excellent, accurately conveying the personalities of their given characters. The game’s sound effects are also top notch. The sounds of cannons blasting, lasers firing, landscapes crumbling, and other Transformers-like sound effects that we have all heard at one time or another deliver. The music is decent, albeit forgettable. I just did not find myself humming any tunes afterwards; in fact, the score left no lasting impressions with me.
Dark of the Moon is a third-person shooter much like the previous games and it is a movie tie-in whose role is that of a prequel to the film of the same name. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game were developed by High Moon Studios who previously developed Transformers: War for Cybertron. Although movie tie-in games typically get a bad rap, and deservedly so, I had some hope for Dark of the Moon considering High Moon was back at the helm. Yet, Dark of the Moon does not quite measure up to last years War for Cybertron, and you cannot help but think the development team must have been hand-cuffed somewhat when developing the game. This was likely a timeframe issue, but it will be evident to all those who played and enjoyed War for Cybertron. Before I get into the 'nuts and bolts' of the game, let me give you a bit of background in terms of the games storyline.
It has been three-years since Megatron and the Decepticons last threatened the world. Earth’s leaders believe Megatron fled the planet in defeat, but Optimus Prime knows better. A transmission is intercepted, exposing Megatron’s plan to spread chaos and distrust among the humans. It’s a race against time as Optimus Prime and his Autobots hunt Megatron and the Decepticons to save their adopted world from total destruction. That is the story in a nutshell and sets the stage quite nicely. All in all it’s not a bad storyline, but let’s face it, not many gamers are playing this game for an in-depth narrative experience.
Throughout the game’s seven levels, you play as both Autobots and Decepticons. Transforming from robot to vehicle is still the core of the game and it is still accomplished very fluidly. The controls are fairly straightforward; however, it did take me some time to get acclimated with them. Some of the basic controls such as using the sticks to move and firing with the right trigger are present; however, clicking with the left thumbstick to transform, and clicking the right thumbstick to melee attack, seems awkward. Often I would transform when I didn't want to transform and use an attack that I did not intend to use. Needless to say, it took a bit of time to get my bearings straight.
The controls are very similar to last year's game, but new to the franchise is a gameplay mechanic called Stealth Force. Here you can convert to a third hybrid state that combines the weapons and firepower of Robot Mode with the agility and maneuverability of Vehicle Mode. Stealth Mode is enjoyable, but the only problem with this mode is you end up spending too much time in it. In this mode you are equipped with unlimited ammo and your health takes far less damage. There is really no incentive to play the game in Robot mode taking all that punishment and losing all your ammo. In Stealth Mode you can run amok and cruise through the various levels with ease. Well certainly much easier than when you are in Robot mode. This aspect of the game just seems unbalanced and Stealth Mode simply takes away from playing the game as a robot.
Before you start each level, you can play as one of many Transformers; all of whom have different abilities. As you progress along in the single player campaign, you get to play as various transformers; all of whom have the capabilities of transforming and all who have weaponry that can pack a punch. As I suggested above, you can get away with rarely transforming though and cruise through the game in stealth mode but this really takes away from the enjoyment of the game.
The single player campaign is a short one. You can burn through it in 5 to 7-hours which is extremely short in this day and age of gaming. Much of the game consists of repeatedly blowing away enemy Transformers, but there are some timed sequences, a degree of exploration (albeit very limited exploration), and some boss fights thrown into the mix. Many of the missions involve clearing out an area filled with Decepticons or Autobots (depending on which side you wish to play as) and then repeat. There are some objective based missions but the majority of them involve lots of destruction and carnage. It does get very repetitive but it can be very enjoyable at times; however, at the end of the day there is nothing incredibly innovative about the single player experience even though it has some enjoyable elements. Unfortunately the campaign is not playable cooperatively and is only a single player affair. Sadly, last year’s drop in/drop out cooperative experience is gone and I am a little puzzled why High Moon left the 2-player co-op out.
The adversarial multiplayer component of the game is surprisingly enjoyable. Once you jump into the online menus, you can choose between several classes and then customize your transformer. Similar to the Call of Duty online modes, Dark of the Moon features an XP system. Whether it’s surviving for more than 60 seconds or simply killing the enemy, the game features a terrific little upgrade system that makes the online play all the more enjoyable and addictive. Sure, It is not as deep as the CoD upgrade system; however, it is certainly impressive for a Transformers game and on par with last year’s title.
There are all the various adversarial modes you would expect such as Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch and a Conquest mode. Many gamers will spend the majority of their time in the Team Deathmatch mode; however, the Conquest mode is a blast. Those of you who enjoyed the CoD’s Domination mode will enjoy Conquest mode as it works the same way. Teams must capture the energon nodes located throughout the map. Hold down the nodes for the longest period of time and your team wins. Bottom line, it is enjoyable and fun.
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