How does one set expectations for a game spin-off to the third installment of the Transformers live action film series? If you assume that it would at least be a by-the-numbers adaptation, then you can take comfort knowing that Activision's Transformers: Dark of the Moon seeks to be considerably more than that. For one thing, the gameplay does not lift scenes from the film. Instead, it's a prologue to bridge the events of the second and third movies.
Like War for Cybertron, the story is spread out across multiple playable characters, each with their own extended chapters. The playable Transformers Activision were able to confirm are Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Mirage, Megatron, Starscream, and Lazerbeak. With an original story comes the freedom to possibly use various locations across the globe, which is what this game does. There's a South Pacific setting, a battle with Starscream over the skies of Nepal, as well as a Russian military base in the wastelands of Siberia. From what I played, the game also utilizes a good mix of interior and exterior spaces.
Bumblebee's skills and abilities are based on speed, agility, and power. Ironhide is the heavy weapons and armor expert and has abilities that allow him to access more weapons than the typical Transformer. As for Megatron, you play through his damaged state from the end of the last film all the way to the character that he becomes in the new movie. Mirage, who makes his film debut in Dark of the Moon, capitalizes on his invisibility ability, making him the stealth character of the game. He is a bit more aggressive compared to his G1 version, now sporting a pair of giant blades on his arm, and is more of a close combat fighter.
As you might guess, the lack of extended time with any character prevents any kind of deep skill development, let alone any kind of tech tree, the kind we've gotten so used to having in our third-person action adventure games. Yet there is a positive in that some of the characters' abilities are tied to the story development, and these same abilities are obviously tied to their personalities. Ironhide, for instance, starts off with a machine gun, a shotgun, and as part of his special ability, a shoulder-mounted gun. As he progresses through the story, Ironhide will eventually get a rocket launcher as well. These upgrades will be available when appropriate, triggered by specific story developments, so don't expect any kind of customization.
Yet, it's not just about being Ironhide when you play his chapter. He gets to have an AI-controlled Ratchet as his wingman for part of the battle. You can also expect other AI allies to play along, both to provide minor assistance, and more importantly, add to the story.
I was less surprised to discover that Dark of the Moon's multiplayer takes much of the gameplay from War For Cybertron. While I was disappointed to not see any sense of improved polish compared to last year's Transformers game, it was pleasing to play as known characters, as opposed to the custom Transformers we were forced to create in the previous game. The cast is broken down into four familiar classes: Scout, Hunter, Commander, and Warrior.
Its other main draw will surely be the ability to customize weapons and abilities. For example, the Warrior class can add a heavy machine gun, grenade launcher, or heavy shotgun to complement the primary weapon, a multi-barrel machine gun. Adding further depth are the upgrade slots, and each can accommodate offensive and defensive abilities. Like War for Cybertron, leveling up will unlock more useful upgrades. Three of the early Warrior upgrades are:
- Rollout: Increases ram damage
- Nemesis Maker: Increases the flak grenade's damage radius
- Backstab: Increases melee damage when attacking from behind
For this demo, I was limited to two maps that were taken from the story mode settings, although unique in multiplayer by design: one set in a more-run-down-than-usual version of Detroit and the other in a Brazilian village. Despite the carnage that big robots in disguise are capable of pulling off, it was disappointing to not see much environmental destruction throughout the matches. I managed to try out the obligatory Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and Conquest modes, all of which have adjustable goal settings for private matches. When asked, an Activision spokesman could neither admit or deny the existence of any additional modes to be unveiled in the future. What I was able to confirm is that multiplayer will be able to support 5-on-5 matches.
With its release on June 14, our next update will most likely be the review of the game itself. By then we’ll obviously have more details on the multiplayer as well as our final verdict on the single player, which does show promise as a prologue to the film of the same name.