Version tested: Xbox 360
Contrary to what the slogans will tell you, these Transformers offer exactly what meets the eye. This is a game-of-the-film so beholden to formula that you can probably finish the review in your head right now, without even playing the thing. Did you imagine repetitive gameplay, uninspired missions and shiny characters stomping around a strangely inert and lifeless gameworld? If so, give yourself a biscuit.
Marginally better than the horrible 2007 Transformers effort, developer Luxoflux has addressed some of the more glaring problems but sadly hasn't managed to apply the same sheen that made its Kung Fu Panda game such a nice surprise. The problem of how to balance a game that needs offer third-person action, plus driving and flying, all within the narrative and time constraints of a blockbuster movie remains unsolved.
Once again split into two campaigns, Autobot and Decepticon, the openworld approach of last time has been ditched in favour of self-contained arena levels. You thunder through a story even more garbled and illogical than the one Michael Bay put on-screen, undertaking missions in Shanghai, America and Egypt, with a brief diversion to the ocean to explain how Megatron managed to rise from the depths.
Objectives are simple and limited in number. At their most basic you simply have to destroy a set number of enemy robots. Other times you're be required to find a tiny digital Shia LeBoeuf or Megan Fox and carry them from one place to another, or stand next to broken equipment and press a button to fix it. Escort and protection missions - oh joy! - make up the rest, with a couple of checkpoint races for good measure.
It's gaming by numbers, in other words, but few would expect anything more from a movie tie-in. As long as you get to wreak havoc as a giant shape-shifting robot, who cares about things like innovation or ambition? Those who subscribe to that reductionist philosophy will certainly be amused (though I suspect they could be just as easily distracted by shining colourful lights on the wall and playing a kazoo) although even the most determined unthinking player will probably begin to flag under the sheer weight of repetition.
Some curious control scheme changes don't help matters. Unlike previous Transformers games, where pressing a button turned you into vehicle form with a-chunk-a-chunk-chunk, this time around you can only remain in vehicle mode as long as you hold down the right trigger button. This also acts as your accelerator, so transforming - an action that should be pretty central to a game about Transformers - becomes something of a nightmare.
As soon as your legs are replaced by wheels, you're rocketing off. There's no way of stopping or reversing - you just keep moving forwards. The left trigger allows for handbrake turns, but given that many of the levels are full of tiny cramped streets the whole design of the vehicle side of the game is a recipe for frustration. This goes double for the planes, which get jammed on walls with depressing frequency, laughing in the face of physics as they go. Complicating matters even further are an array of advanced combat moves. Charged by holding a face button while in vehicle mode, then releasing the trigger while keeping the button held down, it's a clumsy, finger-boggling way of activating something that should be bread and butter.
This over-complexity blights the structure of the game as a whole. The scoring system is convoluted, relying on multiple bonus objectives, secondary missions, hidden icons, time limits, medals and challenge points to progress and climb up the leaderboards. Not only are these parallel requirements vaguely explained - little more than a splurge of menus numbers and stats, dumped in your lap at the beginning and end of each stage - but it's also almost entirely pointless.
It gives the illusion of a game with lots going on, but there's little substance behind the statistics. Earning a medal for each mission in each location, for example, opens up that map for free-roam play. Of course, the word "play" takes on a different meaning when you realise you've been rewarded with a completely empty level, devoid of enemies and collectibles. There's not even any traffic. It seems these eerie ghost towns are simply there to help you grind your way through the requirements for unlocking bonus content, such as using Bumblebee's turbo 100 times. Some of the extras are worthwhile, such as complete episodes of the original cartoon, but it's hard to see why anyone would want to go to any effort to earn the numerous galleries of concept art.
The game lasts only a few hours per campaign, yet somehow the relentless onslaught of disconnected noise and imagery manages to dilate time so that it feels three times as long - much like the movie, actually. The single-player route through Revenge of the Fallen spits you out at the end feeling punch-drunk, jetlagged and a little confused. You know you've just experienced something, but you probably couldn't explain what or why beyond the fact that lots of things exploded. Something to do with energy and pyramids and prophecies and did that robot really have a beard?
Where this game improves on its predecessor is the addition of a multiplayer mode. In any other game this basic offering wouldn't be notable, but the chance to four-on-four Transformer-tweaked variations on the expected flag capture and base-holding game types will certainly appeal to fans. A more ambitious game might have offered more than a handful of perfunctory maps, or offered a more nuanced distinction between unit types for a more strategic style of play, but small favours are better than no favours at all - you can pretend to be Optimus Prime and shoot your friend who's being Megatron. Yay.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is therefore the quintessential movie tie-in, a self-fulfilling prophecy of functional banality. On the surface it's brash, busy and superficially attractive, but underneath it's hollow, blatantly padded and more than a little monotonous. It's never much fun, but nor is it wonky enough to be terrible. It's simply there, a forgettable distraction. Some will doggedly plough through the whole thing in deference to their attachment to the source material or just to convince themselves that it was money well spent, but there's not much more on offer than that. The gaming equivalent of empty calories.
4 / 10