Transformers: Dark of the Moon

That tractor just turned into a field

Will the movie industry please leave High Moon Studios alone? Left to their own devices, they made the perfectly serviceable War For Cybertron. While that game never ran the risk of being accidentally labelled a masterpiece, it was definitely a mechanical morph-romp. I use the word "romp" with its knockabout, non-tabloid meaning here. Sadly, there weren't any kinky three-in-a-bed transformations.

Two weeks after the game's North American release, it's pretty telling that High Moon's website doesn't even mention this new game. Why would it? It'd be like Battersea Dogs' Home deciding that its new mascot should be a St. Bernard shitting into a shoe.

Deadline pressures have streamlined a lot of the personality out of the game. The single-player campaign is seven sequential chapters rather than the two campaigns of War For Cybertron. There's no three-player co-op this time. The Earthbound locations are varied, but there's little of the ambition and imagination of the previous game. And the action frequently repeats into long, stifling corridors. Individual Transformers have different powers, but swapping powers out every chapter doesn't feel like progress - it just feels like the right bumper does something different, now.

Stealth Force mode is being touted as the game's new thing, but it's basically a reiteration of the last game's "hover-car" mode. It's the Transformers' third state - between robot and vehicle, where you look like an angry car, and strafe like a hovering crab. You're encouraged to use this mode, because - well, because it's easiest. Your defence is boosted, and weapons seem to kill things more quickly. Seem is the word, here: the combination of gliding and firing in Stealth Force feels extremely airy. Without locking on, you'll often only know you're hitting someone because points come out of their head.

You're encouraged back into robot mode for two reasons. First, for score purposes - you can build your multiplier by delivering melee kills. This isn't explained at all, but it's the only way you'll bag the 150G of easy-once-you-know-how Achievements. The better reason is that it's more fun to play in this mode - you actually feel like you're fighting something.

We saved the worst mode for last: a squeeze of the left trigger in Stealth Force mode converts your robot into a complete vehicle. Driving in Dark of the Moon is how we imagine the Jockey zombie feels in Left 4 Dead 2. It handles like a drunk, greasy pig on a beach ball.

There are strong moments, such as Starscream's aerial assault on the massive Stratosphere. But the five-hour length of the game is its saving grace. It changes regularly enough that the boredom never reaches a level where you'll start examining the decisions in your life that led up to this moment of you throwing valuable existence at a mediocre game.

Multiplayer has just three modes. Two of these are deathmatch, and the third is a classic point-controlling conquest game. With four classes and levelling up, it's good for some short-term close-quarter molestation, but it's not deep enough to keep you interested for long. We'd guess the servers will be deserted by August.

Aside from the easy Gamerscore, the varied look of the chapters, and the fact the game never quite becomes offensively bad, there's some potential here. The easy switch from Stealth Force to Vehicle mode feels great. The ability to flip from foot controls to steering lets you throw yourself into a hand-brake turn, enter Stealth Force mode, and open fire at high sideways speed. It's immediately natural, and would count as a point for the game - but remember, these are the two modes that don't play so well. You'll mainly try it out in a quiet moment because it feels good, rather than because it's useful.

It's a system from War For Cybertron that we'd like to see improved on, not regressed like this. Let's hope High Moon get another shot at a new Transformers title that's not tied to Hollywood's schedules. They've proved themselves capable of better than this.

The verdict

Dork of the Moon, am I right

  • Easy achievements
  • Decent robot mode fighting
  • Nice two-style driving system...
  • ...if both driving styles weren't dodgy
  • Earthbound corridor slog
  • High Moon, Transformers, consumers deserve better
Xbox 360
Action, Beat 'em Up