We can all generally agree that Michael Bay's Transformers flicks have been oversized chunks of gooey action-film candy, with the latest, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, clocking in as the most boomtastic and brainless of the series. But like Bumblebee stuck between robot and Chevy Camaro form, the Transformer videogames have been significantly slipperier to categorize.
When they've been shamelessly shackled to the movie franchise (think Transformers: The Game), they've tended to be shallower than your typical episode of Celebrity Rehab. When they've forged their own plot and path (think last year's Transformers: War for Cybertron), they've shown flashes of creativity and the thrill we've come to expect form controlling metallic monsters that are -- wait for it -- more than meets the eye.
The game based on Dark of the Moon splits the difference between the two approaches, with less than stellar results: While the paper-thin plot takes place prior to the movie storyline (which has the distinct advantage of sparing us any time with a digital version of Rosie Huntington-Whitely), the combat sequences quickly bog down into a morass of repetitive firefights.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Transformers game without some significant shapeshifting. You're given the option of stomping around in robot form, which grants you the ability to do things like launch homing grenades and spin-kick through the air like a metal-coated version of the bride from Kill Bill.
But once you've test-driven the vehicular stealth mode, which gives you offensive firepower and leaves you far less open to enemy missiles and attacks, you may never go back. Even in the face of a phalanx of angry Decepticons, it's almost impossible to die, as every one you off releases energy that restores your health meter.
A couple missions force you to try alternative strategies -- in one Autobot-themed foray, you can only sneak and use melee attacks -- but otherwise, progression is often as simple as using the right shoulder button to lock onto the nearest robotic baddie and firing away.
As in War for Cybertron, you'll play on both side of the conflict, giving you access to different Transformer powers. But whether you're helming the Autobots or Decepticons, there's a lot of driving through deserted environs in Dark of the Moon -- where are all those humans the robots are supposed to be protecting? Or perhaps it's more appropriate to say "floating," since basic actions like turning and backing up never quite feel like you're piloting an actual vehicle.
Whenever possible, try dropping the pedal and ramming into your enemies. Watching them sail through the air before evaporating into smoke and ashes -- it's one of the game's pure and simple joys
It's too soon to say if Michael Bay's done treating Hasbro's robotic toy franchise as his personal summer-mobile cash cow, but I'd bet 10 vintage Optimus Prime toys we haven't seen the last Transformers videogame. Here's hoping High Moon Studios get a chance to tackle one that isn't tied to a movie.