That’s the thought that kept running through my head as I played through the first few hours of Transformers: Dark of the Moon‘s single player campaign. That’s not to say it’s a terrible game (we’ll get to that), it’s just indicative of the biggest hurdle you’ll have to overcome when playing this game – especially if you, like myself, are uninitiated into the world of modern Transformers games.
Storywise, the game is a prequel or prologue of sorts, showing the events leading up to the film – and the events leading up to the film aren’t terribly exciting, at least not at first. Three years have passed since the end of Revenge of the Fallen, and the human race believes that the Decepticons have left the Earth. The ensuing narrative takes place over seven chapters: the first three are Autobot missions, the next three follow the Decepticons, and the finale is an Autobot mission.
Developed by High Moon Studios, the team behind last year’s successful War for Cybertron, Dark of the Moon shows the studio working this time within the boundaries of a movie tie-in, and this particular tie-in’s most touted new feature is the addition of a “Stealth Force” form for the Transformers. Stealth Force is a hybrid form: halfway between the Autobots’ and Decepticons’ stylish vehicle disguises and their rock ’em, sock ’em robot forms.
The main draw of Stealth Force mode is that it expands the gameplay to include vehicular combat. It allows you freedom of movement in any direction, a boost in armour, access to more powerful weapons – and unfortunately, a third control scheme to memorize and manage.
As I hinted before, the most cumbersome aspect of the game is its control scheme. You have a Robot form, which consists of standard third-person shooter controls, and you can transform between that and Stealth Force at will by clicking the left stick. However, to get to the standard vehicle form – which you’ll want to, as it’s the fastest form by far and there is quite a bit of distance between some objectives – you have to hold the left trigger. The trigger also functions as your accelerator, so you’ll only use vehicle form when you’re going places, but the change from Stealth Force – where you move about at will in any direction using the left stick – to vehicle form where you have to steer with the right stick, can be rather jarring the first few times.
It’s things like this – the failure to map similar functions to the same controls across all Transformer forms – that make trying to achieve your goal of protecting or destroying the planet much more difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I used my cooldown ability when trying to zoom in on foes in Robot form because it’s set to L1 (which is how you lock on to targets in Stealth Force) and I forgot that I had to use L2 instead because I was in Robot form.
It’s not that the Stealth Force forms aren’t cool – they are. Perhaps even too cool. I often found myself not changing into my Robot forms because of the extra armour, firepower and mobility in the Stealth Force mode. I hardly died in Stealth Force mode. This was kind of a letdown for me – I just happen to be of the persuasion that in being able to choose at will from a sexy looking vehicle form and an awe-inspiring giant robot form that the giant robot form would be much better at kicking arse and taking names.
Despite these difficulties, I did experience a rousing feeling of pride on two occasions. The first was during the opening mission when Optimus Prime finally showed up to fight alongside me; this was when I was being thoroughly kicked in the rear by Decepticon grunts . The second was about an hour after that, when I finally had a good grasp of the controls. Sadly, both of these high points subsided quickly – the former when I saw that, while my inspiring Autobot leader sure looked like he was fighting, there wasn’t a whole lot of enemies blowing up because of him. The latter faded even more quickly when I saw how long it had been. This did wonders for my self-esteem, as you can probably imagine. On the bright side, I began to enjoy the havoc I could wreak now that I knew what I was doing.
In short, what I was able to play of Dark of The Moon was serviceable. Its controls make the learning curve a bit steeper than it ought to be, but that also means there’s a lot more that you can actually do. Fans of the franchise will probably enjoy it for what it is. Stealth Force, while a bit flawed in execution, does in fact make the game more fun – and without it I’m not sure the game would be enjoyable at all. Perhaps it gets better in the second half, where you play as the Decepticons. Goodness knows I’d be much better suited to rampant destruction in this game.