Transformers has exploded into a franchise befitting the size of its principle characters over the last few years, the Michael Bay-directed Hollywood blockbusters achieving huge box office success despite low critical ratings. With the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, now released, Activision have launched a tie-in game across all major formats. Have Wii version developers Behaviour Interactive converted the questionable quality of the source material into a worthwhile game, or is this a title that gamers will want to transform into trade-in credit?
A different approach has been taken with the Wii edition of the latest Transformers title, adding an extra subtitle in the process: Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Stealth Force Edition. This is because Wii’s Transformers game disappointingly does not feature the monstrous mechanical men stomping and battling as they are traditionally seen - surely the most appealing part of the franchise. Instead, Transformers: Dark of the Moon takes on the mantel of a vehicle combat game, with the titular characters switching between their standard vehicular structures and slightly upgraded Stealth Force battle tanks, inspired by the toy sub-series.
The protagonists, both Autobots and Decepticons, charge around 18 missions trying to stop and carry out evil plans respectively. The story is told well through voice overs and cool, though mainly static, cel-shaded panels, and it’s interesting to see the tale shown from both points of view. The problems of Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Stealth Force Edition begin to reveal themselves once play kicks off, however. It becomes apparent early on that this is not a lengthy title, with the first few missions cleared in minutes a piece. In total, it took just two hours and 40 minutes to reach 100% completion; that includes re-tries, some co-op play (a third of the levels can be played alongside a second player in split-screen), the cutscenes and the end credits.
Restricting the Transformers to wheels alone does not help Stealth Force Edition’s cause either, as it completely limits the game’s possibilities. Story-wise it’s quite varied, with numerous reasons for defending and attacking locations, hacking systems and reviving long-powered down comrades, but it’s a different scuttle of steel when it comes to the gameplay. Each level essentially boils down to driving in circles around combat arena-style stages, blowing things up, dodging enemies and passing by glowing targets. The Transformers can only attack in the more maneuverable Stealth Force mode, with unlimited machine guns and special weapons that must be reloaded by collecting icons strewn over the maps, but top speed and automatic energy recovery are only accessible in their ironically more stealthy standard forms. This basically means that players spend their time speeding around, flicking into battle mode to dispatch enemies until their energy nears depletion, before changing back and darting off to hunt for energy modules to save their titanium tail pipes. Boss battles rev their engines every so often, but these too follow the same patterns: roll on up, unload some ammunition at bonnet-blisteringly close range, make ungraceful exit to heal, repeat until mass explosion.
This makes for a straightforward, repetitive game that might be more fun were it not for awkward movement controls. Doing away with specific buttons to accelerate and brake, the nunchuk’s analogue stick commands all movement; pushing up makes you go, down reverses and moving left or right, shock horror, turns your Transformer. That’s all fine, until you morph into Stealth Force mode and the controls are mixed up; now, the D-pad controls the turning movements and the analogue stick strafes instead. Add in the fact that you are changing between the vehicle styles often and you end up with a rather confusing control scheme. It would have made more sense to map turning to the analogue stick at all times, using the D-pad to strafe when in the necessary form. The inclusion of a handy 180 degree turn button is welcome, however.
Follows a very strict pattern of drive, blow up, escape and repeat no matter what the level objective, and it’s tied up with the misguided choice of different control systems for each vehicle form. Competent but hardly compelling.
Basic environments are recycled throughout, but the Transformers themselves are quite detailed. The cel-shaded story panels look good.
Standard heroic music, decent voice acting. Voice clips are repeated a tad too often in certain missions, however.
It takes less than three hours to 100% complete this, a full price game. You can add a little more time to sail through the co-op levels with a friend, but only a third of the levels are playable in this way. The lack of a multiplayer battle mode, online or not, is a striking absence and should have been a given for a game such as this.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Stealth Force Edition is unfortunately stricken by a strange control scheme, an extremely short campaign and a repetitive nature, despite a fairly interesting scenario and solid, glitch-free gameplay. Not only that, but the key appeal of Transformers is stripped out by using the less exciting gun-mounted car Stealth Force style as a basis rather than the traditional giant fighting robots. Altogether, Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Stealth Force Edition makes for a less than (Optimus) prime experience.