When you think of Transformers, you likely recall the catchphrase “robots in disguise.” Autobots and Decepticons can go from behemoth robot to your average GMC in a heartbeat, able to fool unsuspecting eyes into thinking they are no more than your everyday automobile. So it seems a bit strange to then transform halfway back into a robot and dub your new form “Stealth Force Mode.” But that's what this game does. Weren't these bots already pretty stealthily disguised as a Mack Truck or Suburban? How do gun turrets make them less noticeable? This is only one of the several confusing elements that make up Transformers Dark of the Moon — Stealth Force Edition, and we haven't even opened the box yet.
Taking on the roles of several Transformers from both the Autobots and Decepticons, the game has you play through a prequel of sorts to the new movie that shares its name. You never actually get to go into robot form though. The game is really just about cars blowing each other up, and plays like a watered-down version of the PlayStation classic Twisted Metal. The cover art even dons a badge proclaiming it as a "Vehicle Combat Game."
Each stage you play through is confined to an arena, and you are given various objectives to complete while battling a never ending amount of enemy vehicles. If you blow up your car, you start over. Objectives include defeating a certain amount of cars... sorry, Transformers,doing laps around the stage, blowing up generators or not letting generators get blown up. And that's about it. After four hours of play, the game ends. Missions can be replayed, but for a game with no online or multiplayer, that isn't much content, especially considering the price.
The main schtick of the game is balancing between the two forms of your robot: its regular car form and its gun-toting battle form, which the game confusingly dubs “Stealth Force Mode.” In your regular state you can travel much faster and take corners at high speed, but are pretty much defenceless and unable to battle. In Stealth Force Mode you bring out the guns and can strafe and move slowly, operating the R and L buttons to turn. B fires turrets, Y fires Missiles and X does a 180 degree turn. The A button switches you between modes, and you can only stay in battle form until your Stealth meter runs out. Stealth Force Mode controls better, and is where the most fun is to be had, but you can only stay in it for brief stints. Your Stealth Meter can be replenished over time though or refilled by collecting “energons” scattered throughout the stage, which also restore your life meter.
In default form you drive using only the Circle Pad: there is no brake or gas button, so you have to push the pad forward to move, or back to reverse. Of course moving in reverse switches your right and left movements, but this only comes into effect once your car has stopped and begun moving in the new direction. This makes for some incredibly annoying moments in the game, as holding back slows you down, but won't reverse your controls until you move in the opposite direction. This is somewhat remedied by the 180-degree turn command, but for a game based around driving there should be a smoother solution. It is not unworkable, but boy is it irritating.
Each robot has a different speed and missile type, but aside form different coloured blasts, the missile variety comes in two forms: a powerful homing missile or a less effective wide spread shot. Still the different bots offer up some much needed variety to the game, however small the differences are. Bigger cars like Optimus or Ironhide are tougher but slower, while agile cars like Bumblebee have more ammo and speed. Once you run out of missiles you can acquire more from power-ups, which will reappear in the same spot after a bit. There are also temporary power-ups that give you a shield, unlimited ammo or speed boost for short amounts of time.
There's not much variety in the graphics, in part because you play in the same arenas several times throughout the game. The 18 missions will re-use stages frequently, sometimes even with almost the same exact objectives, making the entire game feel a bit rushed and hollow. There is a white snowy level, a city arena, a dusty brown level and some grey indoor stages — all of which are very small — and the game doesn't deviate mush from these basic designs. Even the robots in their car form look like they belong on the original DS. Transforming into battle form looks a bit better, but for a robot car shooting missiles, the graphics still feel barren and uncool. Even the 3D effect is pretty useless, with little pop that causes more distraction than visually enhancement.
You have only a blipping radar to help you navigate, which shows enemies and objectives, but no map. This makes navigating new levels hard, but since they repeat so much this problem eventually fades. Still, the indoor segments are so grey and lifeless that you may actually drive into a wall thinking it's an exit. Surrounded by a sea of mundane corridors, indoor levels become frustratingly dull and hard to navigate. This becomes doubly annoying when the stage tosses dead ends to up the challenge, but it just comes off as tedious.
There are some strange hiccups in the game as well, like sporadic framerate drops or getting stuck by a building entrance even though your vehicle is clearly not touching anything. The borders of doorways and walls sometimes invisibly extend just a tiny bit past themselves, and it's enough to cause you to accidentally come to a complete stop. Pair this with the horrible steering and you have a frustrating happenstance that occurs way too much in the game. Having to start a level over because your car blew up is already annoying, but getting shot to pieces because your fender is hooked on an imaginary barrier is infuriating.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this game is that even with all its annoyances, it can still manage to be fun for brief moments. Blowing up cars is entertaining, but the game somehow manages to fumble this core concept with way too many irritations: dull graphics and repetitive missions and objectives are bad enough, but even they could be overlooked if the game's control scheme wasn't so bad. Transformers: DotM - SFE is over in just about four hours, but after struggling with its cumbersome controls, you may be thankful to say goodbye to this scrapheap.