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Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Dark of the High Moon

Company: Activision

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had a lot of issues, the biggest being the lack of big robot action in what was supposedly a big robot action movie. There's no telling what the movie sequel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon holds, though after some hands-on time with the tie-in game, the lack of big robot action will not be a problem.

Though it shares a subtitle, the Transformers: Dark of the Moon game is a prequel to the movie. According to High Moon Studios, the same team behind the excellent Transformers: War for Cybertron, the movie will not directly reference parts the game (as was the case with Disney's Tron: Legacy tie-in). However, if you play the game, certain plot aspects will be much clearer. For example, one of the levels on display explains how Megatron acquires his new semi-truck form from the next movie.

Following his defeat at the end of Revenge of the Fallen, Megatron found refuge with a group of Russians in Siberia. Many of the story details are still a closely-guarded secret, though the level showed a less-than-powerful Megatron working his way through the facility blasting away at an assaulting robot force. War for Cybertron's co-op gameplay is gone; the focus is instead on providing very directed experiences built around certain Transformers. Nearly every Transformer from the movie gets a chance to strut his stuff. For instance, Megatron's level focuses on his brute strength and ability to drain life from other robots.

A better example of the different play experiences available in Dark of the Moon involves a new Autobot, Mirage. Described as the Autobot's "ninja," Mirage's section drops him into a jungle area in search of an ancient temple. The only thing standing in his way is a group of Decepticon drones. Not a problem, except Mirage's weapons are damaged and he can't transform, forcing him to rely on a cloaking ability.

Every bot has two abilities, one that quickly refills over time and another that fills by collecting Energon fragments (think the red orbs in God of War). Using Mirage's ability, I had to work my way through the jungle to sneak up on guards. As long as Mirage is still, he's invisible. Moving around reveals quick flashes, so there's a definite strategy to levels. Mirage's other ability is a damage boost, which helps a lot when faced with tougher enemies. I was actually able to use the two, as well as Mirage's three-hit melee combo, to take down two guards that, according to a rep, I was just supposed to sneak past.

Two other levels on display, featuring Bumblebee and Ironhide, showed Stealth Mode, one of Dark of the Moon's other additions. Stealth Mode is a sub-step between robot and car mode offering all of the speed of vehicle mode with the firepower of robot mode. Based on the levels I played, Stealth Mode is a neat addition, particularly when you're surrounded by enemies.

Dark of the Moon's multiplayer should be instantly familiar to anyone who spent time with War for Cybertron. Unlike War for Cybertron, Dark of the Moon is limited by the movie canon, meaning you can't create your own bot. Instead, you play as characters from the movie, which are organized under four class types: Hunter, Warrior, Commander and Scout. For example, Optimus and Megatron are Commander types, while Bumblebee is a Scout. You're still able to make cosmetic changes, so the "restriction" isn't much of one.

Each class has strengths and weaknesses, as well as unique abilities. The system has been streamlined just a bit, allowing for quicker access to abilities and removing some of the more confusing ones, such as the Hunter's ability to camouflage itself as a member of the opposite team. As you play through matches you'll earn experience, which is then used to purchase new abilities and perks, granting greater customization options for your bot.

I was able to play through two match types on two different maps. Team Deathmatch follows the standard "kill or be killed" format, though the addition of vehicle forms changes things. How much is changed, however, depends on the map. For example, the Chicago map was custom built for Hunters (which are jets), meaning you need to keep your eyes on the skies. Most matches on this map became high-powered dogfights with ground forces finding sniper spots in ruined buildings.

The other mode on display was Conquest, where teams fight for control of command nodes on the map. The addition of Stealth Mode adds a Twisted Metal feel to matches, especially in the Mexico map, which was dotted with corridors and a large central area. Although there's little to the match types, cruising around in Stealth Mode, blasting at enemies, then converting to full vehicle form to zoom away is incredibly satisfying.

It is hard to talk about a licensed game without also mentioning the associated stigma. Though they usually get a bad rap, with a team like High Moon Studios at the helm, there's no reason to think Transformers: Dark of the Moon won't deliver a great experience.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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