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‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ Video Games Fire on Most Cylinders [Review]

The Transformers: Dark of the Moon PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS and DS video games recently hit stores in preparation for the June 29th debut of the newest movie in the Michael Bay franchise about transforming robots and explosions, and we’ve had a chance to check out all three and their new Stealth mode feature, which allows your ‘bots to keep blasting even when they’ve transformed.

As a kid my favorite Transformer was Jetfire, a Transformer who actually wasn’t a Transformer at all, but a recycled action figure from Macross/Robotech. Jetfire was my guy because unlike most of his contemporaries he didn’t simply transform from a robot into a vehicle; he had an awesome in-between mode. What’s cool about turning into a vehicle if you have to put away your giant laser gun, am I right? Therein lies the beauty of Activision and High Moon Studios’ Transformers: Dark of the Moon tie-in games and their new Stealth Force feature, which weaponizes each Transformer’s vehicle form.

The Dark of the Moon tie-in games serve as something of a prelude for the film with a story that takes place before all the humans who loused up the first two films have a chance to start hogging the spotlight. Basically all the Decepticons are in hiding after the events of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Optimus Prime leads a host of recognizable Autobots on a hunt to wipe them out. Later on gameplay shifts to a few Decepticon missions with guys like Starscream showing up to reveal what they’re up to. The game wraps with an epic battle and a big “To be continued…” for the Dark of the Moon film.

On the PlayStation 3

What’s Fun: From a purely cosmetic standpoint, Dark of the Moon looks pretty on the PS3. There’s no glaring weirdness and you feel like you’re doing your Transformer thing on a current generation console.Controls are smooth with the exception of the PS3′s cumbersome L3 transformation button. If you play in easy mode as I did, you won’t be too punished for unintentionally twisting from car to robot mode in the middle of a mission objective, but it’s simply too easy to accidentally swap forms when it counts.

Vehicle mode physics — especially in “Stealth Force” — feel a bit more like driving a boat on a smooth lake than tearing across rough terrain. It’s a bit surreal at first, but ultimately acceptable once the game’s countless bullets and plasma blasts start quaking your controller and destroying the surrounding flora, fauna, skyscrapers and civilian vehicles of the surrounding environment. You’re a functionally magical alien car, so if realism has to give way to precision, the tradeoff seems fair enough.

As third person shooters go, there’s plenty to enjoy about Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Each playable character metes out their share of destruction through sprawling melee attacks and a choice of two guns and grenades. This is virile videogame stuff, through and through. You’re a cool robot slaying generic robots without a care in the world.

I played through about 3/4 of the game off and on over the course of a few nights, interrupted every 20 minutes or so by a pug that wanted to play fetch. The gameplay was easy enough to step away from for a few minutes at a time, but I was happy to wrap up my missions once the pup was satisfied. That’s the kind of game Dark of the Moon is on the PS3. You’re glad you’ve got a few neat things to do, but you’re just as glad that you know you’ll have it wrapped within the week. It’s uncomplicated fun you can play as you please. Hardcore gamers will scoff, casual fans with disposable gaming income will internalize a list of improvements they’d like to see in a sequel (interactive environments, epic in-air combat, co-op play?) and call it a night.

What’s Problematic: I guess it shouldn’t feel jarring when the bloodthristy (oil thirsty? Energon thirsty?) tone of the Bayformers films overshadows good, clean fun, but there’s still something a bit depressing about hearing Optimus Prime lead you on missions rooted in killing with a song in his voice like some kind of genocidal grandpa. The Optimus Prime of my youth was played as a somewhat reluctant soldier caught in the grips of a tragic — if fun to watch — civil war. The guy in these games says things like “Force is the only thing Decepticons understand!” and that’s super creepy. I know Activision is just relaying Bayisms here, but man, the dialogue can get oppressive. To be fair, a kinder/gentler Prime shines through at times — especially when scolding the trigger-happy Ironhide for collateral damage (just Earth vehicles, the game doesn’t even let you aim at humans), but ultimately the Bayness of the whole affair winds up smacking you in the face like that old rake you forgot you put down in your yard.

On the Nintendo 3DS

What’s Fun: Since the 3DS is still a young system without a ton of games, I’m still getting used to the novelty of its 3D display. In Transformers: Dark of the Moon Stealth Force Edition, the tech adds a bit of flavor to the game’s main tasks of shooting bad guys, collecting Energon and ammo, and shooting more bad guys. The game’s colorful and super bright character models and backgrounds might have you switching over to the regular 2D mode after a bit due to overstimulation, but the visuals look nice either way.

What’s Problematic: Compared to its beefier counterpart on the PS3, the 3DS version of Dark of the Moon seems to hammer the “Stealth Force” mechanic in your face more than it probably should… like for the entire game. It’s essentially a Transformers version of Twisted Metal, but it’s sadly lacking much of what makes either franchise special. You’re stuck in vehicle mode the entire game, armed only with the option of switching from a regular car to your weaponized mode. Problem is, playing in “Stealth Mode” means you’re constantly depleting Energon. This puts you in a choked environment with a ton of enemies, constantly scrambling to hit save points, temporary shields and fuel. If the rewards for this challenge were meaningful upgrades or an evolving experience from mission to mission, it might make the scramble worth it. I was frustrated enough with the affair to drop the game and move on after a few hours, but your mileage may vary. As it stands, I’d recommend the PS3/Xbox version or the more diverse DS version of Dark of the Moon unless you’re an absolute die-hard.

On the Nintendo DS

What’s Fun: While the DS is slowly going the way of the buffalo now that its successor the 3DS has arrived, there’s still no replacing solid gameplay. This version of Dark of the Moon may not have as much graphic polish as other versions, but it delivers what mobile gamers are after: Playing as a true transformer that can change forms at will.

Just like the Pokémon games, there are two versions of the Dark of the Moon on the DS: Autobots and Decepticons. As their names suggest, the games act as parallel narratives and allow players to experience one story from different sides of the fence. They’re equally satisfying from a basic gameplay standpoint.Controls are a snap and upgrade opportunities make each map seem worth exploring while you mow down opposing forces. Still, I favor Decepticons for breaking up my time spent as Bumblebee and other heroic ‘bots in other versions of the game. Also? Everyone is really, really mean to Starscream and that’s just fun to watch.

The missions are fast as the gameplay is mostly linear and the difficulty level is low. That’s not a complaint in my book as I typically game on the fly and don’t have tons of time to commit to epic titles, but it’s worth noting that these DS games have campaigns that will only take experienced players a long afternoon to complete. When you only have so much time to commit to a game, though, it felt nice being able to wrap the Decepticons version.

What’s Problematic:

There’s not much to complain about on the DS version that’s not symptomatic of the system itself. Graphics are a little wonky from time to time as the camera rotates to follow your adventures and the backgrounds are basic.If you’re the kind of gamer who rides the buy/trade/buy carousel, you won’t mind. If you game on a budget, you’ll want to keep the game’s relatively brief duration in mind.

Overall

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a solid, if imperfect way to slay evil machines. If you’re fond of the Bayformers mythos, this title is worth your gaming time on the PS3 and the DS. If, like me, you kind of loathe how unimaginatively crass the Autobots and the Decepticons are portrayed under the Bay films, but haven’t experienced the novelty of transforming, rolling out and killing evil mechanical dudes on a current gen console, you’ll probably still get a kick out of this game if you turn off the volume and put some Stan Bush singles on repeat.

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