In a just world, Transformers: Dark of the Moon would be a bit of a victory. It would be a sign that the right team - a team that had already made a decent Transformers game, when left to its own devices - could tackle that most treacherous of propositions, the movie tie-in, and emerge with something brilliant.
Sadly, this is not a particularly just world. The bad go unpunished, the good are rarely rewarded, and Dark of the Moon is yet another victim of the brutal race to match a film’s release date.
High Moon’s follow-up to the thoroughly decent War for Cybertron isn’t a disaster, it’s just rushed. Tied to a movie’s schedule, the designers have opted for a single-player campaign that’s limp, unambitious and short, and bolted it onto a multiplayer suite with only three game modes, two of which end in “death match”.
The plot, which provides a confused build-up to the new film, leaves the developers messing around with Michael Bay’s off-cuts, while the cinematics, front-end and absence of co-op support all suggest something that was put together with one eye on the clock. This feels like a work project rather than a game: you can sign off on the deliverables, but you won’t really want to play it.
What really does Dark of the Moon in is a lack of weight. Whether you’re clomping through the campaign as a three-storey robot or firing explosive rounds from the gun you’ve got bolted to your arm, Dark of the Moon struggles to create a convincing world of heavy metal and ten-ton warriors.
The robots you get to play as may look the part - character models have a toymaker’s eye for detailing, transformations are suitably intricate and the voice actors are all there and doing their best to provide Shakespearian treatments of lines like “You must defeat Mixmaster!” - but they float through a series of environments that often barely register their presence. There are no earth-shaking thuds as Ironhide drops down from a ledge, and little in the way of genuine impact as Soundwave fires off a sonic boom. In the Detroit section you can blow nearby cars to pieces, but there’s little to indicate that you’re genuinely causing extra-terrestrial havoc.
Beyond that crucial disappointment, the campaign’s something of a non-event. The story’s made up of seven missions that shuffle you back and forth between roles as A-list Autobots and Decepticons, but two of those stages are little more than slightly expanded boss fights. While the levels often come with pretty skyboxes, whether you’re in a chewed-up urban centre or a Mayan ruin complete with a terrible secret, you’ll likely find yourself moving through endless corridors and clearing out room after room of identikit enemies.