Transformers: Dark of the Moon First Hands-On Preview

There's certainly more than meets the eye in our hands-on look at the new gameplay from Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

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There are few franchises as iconic and popular as the Transformers, but with great support comes great expectation. Michael Bay's movies have enjoyed success at the box office, but a similar level has yet to be achieved in video games. We were lucky enough to attend an event in London where Activision was hoping to rectify this situation by offering us a hands-on with its latest reincarnation of the series, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. We watched some exclusive gameplay and even had the opportunity to play as Bumblebee and Ironhide in two of the game's playable chapters.

The presentation started with Sean Miller, the game's director, showing off the nearly finished product. Miller began by emphasizing that DOTM's campaign will act as a prologue to the upcoming movie, so fans who want the gaps filled in between the films should benefit from playing the game before seeing the film. Miller also elaborated on the importance of centering the storyline on individual characters in the series, allowing gamers to emotionally bond with their favorite Autobots and Decepticons. Finally, he also mentioned the importance of the new stealth force combat mechanic, a new system that allows much smoother integration between robot and vehicle gameplay.

Without revealing any spoilers, the story is set three years after the events in the second film, where humans believe that the Decepticons have disappeared. However, after a quick turn of events, we found ourselves on the first level as Bumblebee, scouting a rogue Decepticon signal in a city. We were pleasantly surprised with the look of DOTM's combat, in particular the new stealth force mechanic; an ability that transforms your robot into vehicle form with weapons deployed and ready for use. The demo showed what seemed like smooth and flowing combat as Bumblebee easily locked onto enemies and blew them to smithereens. The first segment of footage concluded with Optimus Prime and Sideswipe jumping into the action and helping Bumblebee eliminate the Decepticon threat.

The next level saw Ironhide as the main protagonist--the weapons expert on the Autobot team. We were expecting Ironhide to feel different from Bumblebee but were quite disappointed that gameplay seemed almost identical. The urban Detroit environment set the scene for mass destruction, and Miller emphasized the importance of the "robots in disguise" theme, where players would not know whether the cars on the streets were Decepticons or not. This was quickly overshadowed by the bright red auto lock-on system that clearly made all your enemies visible, however.

The demo moved swiftly on to another segment of the game with Soundwave taking center stage. As a fan favorite, Soundwave will be heavily involved in the game's story. Soundwave's level was set in a jungle and his unique ability to use sound as a weapon was emphasized, although the regular bullets and the energy beams he was firing seemed to do the exact same amount of damage. A neat tag-team feature was revealed with Soundwave's new partner Laserbeak getting in on the action. This little robot vulture was used to stun enemies and open a gateway for Soundwave.

Starscream's level showed off the new flying mechanics in a heated battle in the sky. A huge C130 bomber jet Transformer called Stratosphere was also introduced, and it was up to Starscream to chase him down. The air combat added another exciting dimension to the gameplay, with fast-paced action and plenty of explosions. It appeared as if Miller's assistant had a lot of trouble landing on the giant bomber plane, taking several attempts, but finally he landed and proceeded to rip off its control panel and take the plane down.

Arguably the coolest addition to the Transformers cast was demoed next. Mirage, a ninja Autobot, gave us a little introduction to the stealth gameplay elements of DOTM. Using his cloak ability, Mirage was able to sneak past enemies in another jungle map and even perform swift melee executions if he managed to get behind the enemy. After finding and eliminating two Decepticons, Mirage entered a Decepticon crypt and the presentation ended.

We were only given two levels to play, the first of which allowed us to try out Bumblebee, who handled well. Stealth force, which is activated by pressing the left stick, transformed our robot into its vehicle form with all weapons deployed to cause massive destruction. In this form, we could strafe and auto-lock onto enemies with relative ease. By holding the left trigger, we were able to put our weapons away and transform into a normal vehicle, although the constant need to hold down the left trigger to stay in this mode was frustrating. The combat heavily depended on stealth force, as there really was no need to transform back into a robot. The other playable section featured Ironhide causing havoc in Detroit. It was another straightforward shooting level and aside from the environmental change, there was little difference between the two Transformers.

Activision's product specialist Noah Kircher-Allen promises that DOTM will offer a, "consistent fan service to both hardcore and contemporary Transformer fans throughout the game." With new multiplayer details being revealed in the upcoming weeks, stay tuned for more news and previews about Transformers: Dark of the Moon on GameSpot.

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