- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2011

I gave up on the Transformers movie franchise long ago (I couldn’t sit through the insipid first film), but was still optimistic that it’s latest video game equivalent could come close to last year’s gaming spectacle Transformers: War for Cybertron.

Alas, with a title sharing the film moniker, the licensed movie game development demons do rear their ugly heads.

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Activision and High Moon, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated: Teen, $59.99), a gamer will feel stuck in another half-baked, repetitive grind as he fights waves of enemies and bosses through the solo campaign of this chaotic, third-person action game.

However, it’s not all bad for the Transformers’ fans.

I do suggest working through the campaign to simply admire the visual style of a virtual prequel story starring the never-ending battle between Autobots and Decepticons.

Players split time controlling each faction as they uncover a plot to restore the power of Megatron and unleash Shockwave while maneuvering stars such as Bumblebee (also a yellow Camaro), Ironhide (pickup), Starscream (fighter jet) and Soundwave (SUV).

In control of onboard, heavy-duty artillery with access to missile batteries, grenade launchers, shotguns and machine guns, combat is a clanky, sound and visual effects loaded, sensory attack.

Highlights include some gorgeous cut scenes (the Transformers look movie quality), stunning locations (reference the sunset over a Mayan temple), slightly varied missions that include using the cloaking magic of Mirage (its sniper rifle also made me giddy) and watching enemies crumble into piles of toasty metallic embers.

Additionally, I’m still a sucker for the ability to change from robot to vehicle with the click of a controller button. It’s a gaming magic trick that oozes of the pop culture memories while giving players the cold sweats remembering the days they actually tried to transform one of real Hasbro toys.

An interesting twist to the latest game has developers now offering a hybrid transformation that gives players the best of a Transformer or its converted equivalent.

In Stealth Force mode, players use a transformed vehicle that moves like a hovercraft and is loaded with weapons.

If the game were rated E+10, I would call it a welcomed, learning curve crutch, as in this form players control characters that are often unstoppable. 

Instead, as a Teen-rated spectacle, it seems too big of a helper in a short campaign.

Now, here’s where I had my fill of fun in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

The multiplayer maelstrom allows up to 10 online buddies to form teams, customize Transformers (including unlockable versions of Shockwave and Ratchet) within four classes (scout, hunter, commander and warrior) and use powers and weapons load-outs to duke it out on death-match-style modes.

Nuances such as bonus abilities for kill streaks (such as marking enemies for all teammates), collecting experience points to level up and painlessly hooking into a match really makes those lovable robots in disguise come to life.

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