Transformers: Dark of the Moon - first hands-on preview

At GR few things are as equally loved and hated as Transformers. Most adore the original toys and cartoons of our youths, especially the animated film from 1986. Oppositely, we hate the brainless live-action Michael Bay films of the last few years, especially the second one. We weren’t sure how to feel when we heard High Moon Studios, developers of the best Transformers game to date War for Cybertron, were behind the upcoming game based on Bay’s next Transformers flick, Dark of the Moon. After taking the game for a quick spin, it’s possible it just might get out from under the film’s long shadow of mediocrity.

Animportant fact that distances this game from how bad we imagine the film will be is that the game isn’t a simple, boring recreation of the events in the movie. Instead the game acts as a bridge between the second and third flicks, with an original story that takes place during the intervening years of the two films. It focuses on Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots hunting for the remaining Decepticons, while Megatron and friends are slowly rebuilding their force while avoiding capture.


Above: Megatron is still hanging in there

Unlike recent Transformers games with separate campaigns for the good and bad guys, the singular story is linear, with you switching between Autobots and Decepticons in alternating chapters. And each level is assigned to a specific Transformer rather than giving the player a choice between several like in War for Cybertron. Though it seems unfortunately narrow at first, the dev’s intention is to tailor every level for the featured Transformer instead of making sacrifices in stage design to fit multiple types of characters. After we had some fittingly fast fun with Bumblebee in the opening stage, we were beginning to see their point.


Above: Ironhide doing his thing

Compared to speedily driving from shootout to shootout as Bumblebee, the next level had a more measured pace to go with the bigger, slower Ironhide. The heavy weapons expert of the Autobots, Ironhide is a personal favorite of ours, as he acts like a walking tank, deliberately taking down swaths of enemies with loud blasts echoing from his intense arsenal. His newest weapons only increased our esteem for the bot, as one of his special attacks has him pulling out a giant gun and mowing down fools, similar to taking a Gatling gun from its perch in Halo 3.


Above: The new and improved Soundwave (though we miss the tapedeck)

Up next was a stage featuring Soundwave, who’s looking much closer to his boombox roots compared to his ridiculous design in Transformers 2, as he now has deadly sonic blasts coming from the speakers on his arms. Soundwave also goes old school when he calls his comrade Laserbeak into action. The robo-vulture went into stealthy the field to clear out a room full of Autobots, which was a fun callback to the classic Transformers mythos.


Above: Laserbeak moves in for the kill

Now’s as good a time as any to bring up the new Stealth Force mode, which is meant to enhance the whole “transforming” aspect of the Transformers. Previous games usually split it so the robot-form was standard third-person action and the car modes worked like fast-paced car combat. Stealth Force splits the difference. Now when you transform into a vehicle, you still have heavy weapons at your disposal that are sticking out of the car, which makes strafing and picking your shots pretty easy. Plus at any time in Stealth Force you can step on the gas and go into the standard fast and inaccurate vehicle mode.


Above: Bumblebee's Stealth Force mode

It works as an entirely new third form for the Transformers to take, which could really shake things up. Each Transformer has different weapons and abilities dependent on the form, which we noticed in the level progression of the Bumblebee stage. We shifted pretty naturally and quickly from speeding down the road to a shootout, entering Stealth Force and blasting enemies while dodging and strafing, then racing on down to the next fight once those guys were dispatched. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in the final game.

With some real diversity shown in later levels, including a stealth-based one starring Mirage, a new ninja Autobot, and an intense flight level pitting Starscream against the Aerialbots, Dark of the Moon really surprised us. Though we’ve yet to see what the multiplayer is like (though we will soon) and the game’s mid-June release date is pretty close, it seems like High Moon Studios might just have found a way to make the Bay films palatable to all Transformers fans. Now if they could just include a Stan Bush song in the credits...

May 3, 2011