As with any summer blockbuster spectacle, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (the movie) is getting its own series of videogame adaptations to help promote the supposedly final chapter of Hasbro’s box office-busting trilogy. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation have their own similarly-named editions for their high-definition consoles to play with, while Nintendo console-owning fans get their own specialty versions, Transformers: Dark of the Moon Stealth Force Edition for the Wii and 3DS. As we’ve come to expect from their billions of movie-themed games in the past, Activision has parceled this version of the game to an entirely different developer, Behaviour Interactive, who are perhaps best known for titles like Wet, Naughty Bear, and about a million other crappy movie-themed ones.
Those expecting a full-on action game will probably be most disappointed, as you won’t actually be playing any of your favorite Autobot/Decepticon heroes and villains in their fully transformed humanoid modes. Instead, you’ll guide them through 18 levels of vehicular combat; alternating between their standard vehicular and weaponized-vehicular (i.e. Stealth Mode) forms. Gameplay takes place across a variety of arenas and locales as your hero/villain is charged with defeating a set number of other Transformers, defending satellites/objects, or some combination of the two. The only variety comes from switching between different Autobots like Bumble Bee (Camaro) and Optimus Prime (truck) and Decepticons like Megatron (tank), but the actual gameplay never really changes from blowing up enemies and collecting glowing Energon/Ammo bits.
In case you’re wondering, there’s an actual story here, but apart from using some nicely detailed Flash-style animatics (and the great Peter Cullen), almost none of it has to do with its movie namesake, and given how threadbare the actual gameplay is, you’ll probably either quit playing before you see it all or long for the curly-scenes in-between. Either way, I wouldn’t presume to spoil the ‘fun’ here, and let’s just say that the evil Megatron is up to his old tricks again and be done with it.
While in ‘stealth mode’ you’ll have access to your bot’s fun stuff, namely his mega-weaponry, which includes standard-issue machine guns, missiles, launchers, etc. There’s not much variety or differentiation between any of the different Transformers you’ll play as, though bigger vehicles – like Optimus – can sustain and inflict more damage simply by crashing into enemies head on, which often proves to be a lot more fun than having to constantly switch between modes otherwise.
The game’s real problem lay not in its lackluster premise and presentation, but in how each of the bots actually control. Naturally, being a vehicular combat game, you’d expect them to control like vehicles, and here the game does an admirable job of simply letting you pilot them forward, turning, 180 degree turns, and zipping around the arenas. But switch to Stealth Mode and things begin to crumble, as an otherwise simple control scheme becomes a complicated and overly-intricate mess, almost as if the developers wanted your weapon-stacked vehicles to control like a first-person shooter. You’ll gain the ability to strafe, but it’s not integrated well at all, and given that being in Stealth Mode saps your precious Energon supply (as well as slows you down) it just isn’t much fun at all.
Given that nearly all the arenas take place in some variant of a desert, why be in Stealth Mode at all when there are no humans around in the first place? More to that, why even call it Stealth Mode when there’s nothing ‘stealthy’ about a hot sport car packing machine guns and missiles?
In case you’re curious, both the Wii and 3DS versions are pretty much the exact same game, with Activision wasting no time in taking advantage of the more powerful 3DS hardware (than the original DS, anyway) to double-dip their hurried development cycle between the Nintendo versions. Or that could be between the 3DS and Wii versions; it’s difficult to tell which might have come first as they’re both so disappointing, so graphically out-of-date, and lack polish in any meaningful way.
Neither takes advantage of their respective platforms’ strengths, as the Wii version eschews motion-controls entirely (yay?) for standard Wii Remote + Nunchuk combo that works decently. Too bad the same can’t be said of the 3DS’ controls, which are tied to the console’s microscopic buttons, which only exacerbate the game’s horrendous control scheme by mapping it in the most finger-cramping way imaginable.
Once you ‘transform’ into assault mode they go entirely to pot, as you’re tasked with not only using the analog nub to accelerate and steer, but you’ll have to use the itty-bitty shoulder buttons to both turn and strafe to the sides. PLUS you’ll have to keep track of the three buttons for standard fire, missiles, and transforming. They’re so tiny it’s too easy to hit the wrong one, and having to juggle practically every single button on the 3DS at once is literally painful. I can usually deal with the console (and it’s predecessor’s) finger-numbing buttons, but the lack of thought put into such a horrible interface did me in.
It’s a shame so little effort was put into the game’s visuals, which are as basic and uninspired as the mundane gameplay. There are some decent transforming animations here and there, but the rest of the package is just so basic and simply designed that you might start to wonder if the developers realized the last decade and a half since the first Twisted Metal game (on the original PlayStation, no less) actually happened. Wide, open spaces are followed by claustrophobic spaces followed by more wide, open spaces, all seemingly designed to let your vehicles zip around inside.
Again, the 3DS fares worse here for the very gimmick it’s trying to wow us with – the 3D. Not only is it nothing special, but like so many other games on the console, cranking the 3D slider up also degrades the frame-rate, though it never makes the game unplayable (the rest does a good job at that).
Why bother calling a game Transformers: Dark of the Moon Stealth Force Edition when it’s clearly not based on the blockbuster movie of the same name, there’s no semblance of stealth, and you never actually get to be a real Transformer at all? It’s all about the cash-in, which Activision is no doubt expecting to be heavy given how huge Hasbro’s mega-franchise has become again at the multiplex. It’s a shame that we’ve yet to get at least one really good videogame to go along with it, and this hastily slapped together effort may be the worst yet. A mediocre attempt at the reliable vehicular combat genre, it feels like a shoddy multiplayer game that’s been shoehorned into a single-player one, and one that diehard Transformers fans should probably stay far away from.
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