What makes a Transformer a Transformer? You don't need to know the difference between Soundwave and Shockwave to know that it's their ability to change from robots into vehicles, weapons, boom boxes, and other things that defines the Transformers. How strange it is, then, that Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Stealth Force Edition strips the robots in disguise of this quintessential characteristic. Here, you're limited to the Transformers' vehicle forms and their "stealth force" forms, which are slower, more maneuverable versions of their vehicle forms with weapons attached to them. Yes, this is a Transformers game in which you never play in robot form, and this bizarre limitation prevents it from feeling like an authentic Transformers experience. This might have been forgivable if Stealth Force Edition managed to be a fun vehicle combat game, but it isn't; it's a shallow, short, and dull game that has nothing to offer Transformers fans or anyone else.
Stealth Force Edition is broken up into 18 missions, across which you play as eight Transformers, including the speedy Camaro Bumblebee and the lumbering tank Megatron. None of the missions takes more than a few minutes to complete, so there's only roughly two hours' worth of content here. But nonetheless, you won't be sorry when it comes to an end. Although there are 18 individual missions, they only come in a few different flavors, and by the time the credits roll, you'll have had more than your fill of each one. In some missions, you must destroy a certain number of enemy Transformers. It's such a tedious task that, by the time you've fulfilled your first objective of destroying 12 Autobots or whatever the mission might call for, you're ready for it to be over, and being presented with a new objective--"Defeat 12 more Autobots," for instance--only prolongs your suffering. Other missions are checkpoint races against the clock in which you must scurry quickly from one spot to another while enemy Transformers try to kill you. There are missions in which you must either destroy a few structures or protect a few structures from enemy attacks. And, finally, there are a few boss battles, which all play out the same way.
None of these mission types are exciting because the underlying gameplay is so shallow. In vehicle mode, you move quickly, with all of your movement handled by the circle pad; there are no accelerate or brake buttons, although there is a button to immediately perform a 180-degree turn. When you shift into stealth force mode, weapons sprout from your shell, and although you move much slower, you can strafe from side to side. And you'd better get used to doing so, because strafing and shooting are all there is to the combat in Stealth Force Edition.
Each Transformer you control has two types of weapons: a machine-gun-like weapon with unlimited ammo, and a special weapon--a missile launcher, shotgun, or the like--with ammo you must collect from around the small environments. Combat boils down to getting close to enemies and strafing and shooting until they explode. There's no depth, no room to develop different tactics; you strafe and you shoot. If you're fighting a boss, you frequently switch back into vehicle mode, speed away to track down some energon to restore your health, and then head back to the boss to chip away at his health some more. And that's all there is to it. The action starts off tediously and doesn't evolve at all from there. Two hours is absurdly short for a game, but Stealth Force Edition overstays its welcome within the first few minutes.
There's a bare-bones story in Stealth Force Edition, but it offers nothing more than a flimsy setup for each mission. It's too bad, because the visual style of the animated cutscenes that precede certain missions is the only good thing about the game, striking an interesting balance between the character designs of the Michael Bay films and the vibrant colors of the classic Transformers cartoons. Aside from these brief interludes, the graphics are as dull as the gameplay. The drab urban and desert environments are sparse, textures are simple, and there's not a single moment of inspired design or visual surprise. The sound design is similarly poor; generic enemy grunts repeat generic phrases so frequently that you'll wish the Transformers had never crash-landed on Earth.
The fact that this sad excuse for a vehicle combat game features Transformers characters only makes it more dissatisfying because it utterly fails to capture the essence of the license. If it's a Transformers experience you're after, you're much better off buying some Transformers toys and making up your own adventures, as they're sure to be more fun, and to involve more transforming, than this game does. Regardless of what you're looking for in a game, you won't find it here. Steer clear of Stealth Force Edition at all costs.