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Transformers: Dark Of The Moon Preview

by on May 5, 2011
 

There isn’t a long or proud lineage of great games that tie-in with big budget movies. LEGO games tend to buck the trend but they are more LEGO tie-ins than movie tie-ins. Honestly though, they are about the extent of the list. Games of movies; they don’t always work!

The point of this little digression is to highlight that when a chance appeared to play the Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the game of the upcoming film, one could be forgiven for not being overwhelmed with excitement. However, this game is in the hands of High Moon Studios who developed Transformers: War for Cybertron last year, a top-notch action game that did good work with the Transformers license. With a good developer in place this has a chance to be one of the better movie game tie-ins, maybe worth some of your hard earned money!

The game was being shown in what looked like an old London opium den, now handily converted into a modern conference centre, with a few levels being demonstrated and an opportunity to play through a short portion of the game.

High Moon wasted no time and went straight to the Bumblebee level, an all action affair that saw the yellow robot transform from humanoid to vehicle, and finally to a Stealth Force mode. Stealth Force is a hybrid transformation that leaves your robot shaped like a car whilst still able to strafe. This transformation was certainly peculiar, it being the least like actual Transformers, and also seemed a lot like a solution that was desperately seeking a problem. In fact, when the Bumblebee level was available to play later in the day, it was clear that the developers had designed tight, low, weaving sections of the level, just so players had to navigate in Stealth Force mode. These sections felt bolted on to the driving and shooting action and were the weakest aspects of the demonstration. There is so much scope for gameplay when you are controlling robots covered in guns which can turn into amazing vehicles that it seemed a shame to attach a feature that isn’t a large part of Transformer’s lore.

Trailers for Michael Bay’s film have been hitting the internet for a while, and Activision and High Moon Studios have certainly taken cues from the summer blockbuster. The game is a prequel to the action in the movie, presumably set between Transformers 2 and 3, and the developer has tried to cram in as many Autobots and Decepticons as possible, mirroring the armies of robots shown in the most recent teaser for the movie. Ironhide, Bumblebee and Mirage were all Autobots that were confirmed as playable with Laserbeak, Starscream and  Soundwave confirmed for the Decepticons. Each character will bring a slightly different type of gameplay (Mirage has a stealth based level, Ironhide is guns-blazing action) and should make sure that the game is incredibly varied throughout and gives a broad vision of the Transformers world shown in Bay’s film.

One particularly interesting sequence shown to the crowd had Starscream, in fighter plane form, chasing down an Autobot called Stratosphere, a giant talking C-130 communication plane. Weaving between bullets and rival jets, Starscream had to land on the back of Stratosphere, transform, and then start tearing the Autobot about with his robot claws. It was the standout set-piece of the demonstration and showed the potential that the Transformers has. Not many other games would actively encourage such insane action sequences.

The Bumblebee level was the only one playable at the event and it mixed robot action and driving pretty evenly with its Stealth Force component. Combat was intense, and with no cover component, fairly breathless; the player always keeping Bumblebee moving and his gun firing. The strategic element of the combat comes from making transformations, but in the section that was available to play, it was clear which form was “correct” for each area, slightly nullifying strategic decisions and problem solving. Driving sections, long expanses between areas of combat, were brisk and visually interesting but the driving handling will need to be tightened in the final game if the player is truly going to get the sense the are driving a finely tuned, massively power robot-cum-supercar.

Movie tie-in games have a rightfully horrendous reputation, so it is great to see a studio with good pedigree with a license, like High Moon and Transformers, paired up for this game. Certainly, if you love Transformers then this game will give the variety, the transforming and the action that you crave. However, whether this game will live up to ‘War for Cybertron’ remains to be seen. The early impression is that the levels are a little simplistic, too precisely built around each characters unique properties, and that this leaves little room for strategy. Stealth Force feels bolted onto the main game and adds little. The biggest question is whether, with so many different levels and game mechanics, can all of them be fun?

High Moon have shown that they can get Transformers right. Here’s hoping that they do.

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