Imagine what it would be like to become a Transformer. Walking, jumping, and climbing in your humanoid form would be pretty familiar, and you could easily get the hang of whipping out your guns to blast enemies. Driving yourself around might be a bit awkward at first, and flying would be significantly trickier, but the real problems would come when you tried to transform. Shifting your physical form would be really disorienting, and it would take a while before you really mastered it. That's actually a pretty accurate breakdown of what it's like to play Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. In the early going, the controls are uncomfortable but functional. As you play through either of the solid campaigns, you'll get better and better until you reach a point where you can fluidly move between different forms and dispatch your enemies with style. Then the game becomes a fun, engaging romp through the Transformerverse, and taking your skills online gives you a new tactical challenge. Though it takes awhile to get there, and it never outgrows some of its problems, Revenge of the Fallen is an entertaining way to step into the chassis of a giant transforming robot from space.
The two campaigns--Autobot and Decepticon--loosely follow the plot of the movie. Each one takes a solid amount of time to complete, and they are different enough that it is worth playing through both. The Transformer models are shiny and detailed, capturing the look of the movie nicely. The voice acting is less impressive. While some Transformers, such as Megatron and Optimus Prime, sound great, others are almost unintelligible, thanks to poor volume matching or overzealous robotic effects. And the human characters (specifically Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox) are so badly voiced that you'll be thankful only some of the missions actually parallel the movie. Other missions diversify the action with familiar mission archetypes: escort/kidnap, defend/destroy, checkpoint race, miniboss fight, and the like. Each mission plays out in an open area full of items you can destroy (cars, tankers, and light structures); though your wrecking power is so substantial you'll probably wish for a bit more environmental destructibility.
Between the mission types and the maps, there isn't a whole lot of variety. It's not quite tedious, but things can start to feel a bit too familiar as you progress. Fortunately, a healthy array of bonus challenges and unlockables do a good job of keeping things interesting. Accomplishing the two bonus objectives in each mission nets you a solid haul of attribute-boosting energon, and shooting the five targets in each area will earn you even more energon, as well as stall the clock so you can strive for a higher medal by finishing quickly. Overarching objectives challenge you to accomplish certain tasks with certain characters, and doing so unlocks episodes of the original Transformers cartoon, as well as vintage paint jobs and concept art. These goals help flesh out the experience and keep you engaged because they give you something else to do during missions besides focus on the primary objectives. Accomplishing all the bonus objectives and earning a gold or a platinum medal is a tough challenge, and you won't even come close until you've mastered the controls.
There are three different forms ("modes") that each Transformer can take: robot, weapon, and vehicle. In robot mode, you walk around in humanoid form and can jump, climb buildings, and melee attack. Holding the left trigger changes you into weapon mode, allowing you to strafe and blast opponents with your primary and secondary weapons. These two modes are easy to master and switch between, but vehicle mode is a bit trickier. Holding the right trigger will transform you into a vehicle, and you'll immediately start driving or flying, depending on your character. It's cool to watch, but figuring out how your momentum will (or won't) be preserved through the transformation is a bit tricky. Until you get the hang of it, you'll often find yourself on an unexpected vector, speeding off in the opposite direction or just plowing into a building.
Freeing yourself from environmental hang-ups is a hassle, especially when you're trying to escape the battle fray in order to lay low and regenerate health. Driving around the maps, you may find yourself getting stuck on low barriers or other objects that you were previously able to drive over or through. Flying can be even more finicky, especially if you get into a tight spot where you can't transform. Jet and helicopter controls may also present a problem for some because there aren't many customization options when it comes to the steering and altitude-adjustment controls. Expect to suffer some frustration and awkwardness throughout a good chunk of your first campaign. You'll be able to accomplish your objectives; you just won't look pretty doing it.
But once you've mastered the controls, you can really start to flex your metal muscles. You'll be better at avoiding awkward transformations and getting back on track should you get hung up. You'll get the hang of flying and driving skillfully, and you'll be tearing around each area with confidence. Some of the coolest things you can do in the game are so-called "advanced" maneuvers that you execute in vehicle form. The advanced jump launches your Transformer out of car form and into a high jump (fliers are stuck with the strategically powerful yet unexciting hover ability). These jumps are great for leaping over low buildings and obstacles, but when you string a few together, you can drive/hop from rooftop to rooftop, traversing crowded areas in a speedy and exhilarating fashion. And let's say your enemies have appeared down the street and are heading your way. You transform into a vehicle and race to engage them, firing your vehicle weapon to soften them up. When you get close, you fluidly shift out of vehicle mode, throw your momentum into a deadly melee attack and watch a slow-motion close-up of your Transformer obliterating your enemy. It's pretty awesome.
Not only is the advanced melee attack really satisfying, but it and other stylish kills (like offing an enemy while jumping, scoring a headshot, and the like) will also fill up your overdrive meter. Overdrive makes you tougher, increases your weapon damage, and keeps you from overheating, allowing you to tear through groups of foot soldiers with ease or whittle down a boss' health quickly. Earning and using overdrive is a great way to exercise your formidable moveset, and it's essential to getting through levels quickly and earning a top medal. While it is very satisfying to earn a platinum medal, the real enjoyment comes from wielding your diverse abilities in a skillful way. You feel powerful and excited to be a Transformer, and that is Revenge of the Fallen's greatest success.
Online multiplayer offers a distinct new challenge that is best tackled once you've mastered the controls. The modes and maps are pretty standard fare, and they serve as a competent stage for battle. Each Transformer has a unique loadout that includes a primary weapon, secondary weapon, and special attack. In the single-player campaigns, these different abilities provide some welcome variety. In multiplayer, they add a whole new level of strategic depth. Having Long Haul's combat healing ability can help a Decepticon team stay alive long enough to capture a control point, while a well-timed electromagnetic pulse attack from Bumblebee can give the Autobots a deadly window of opportunity. Teams have to strategize in order to make the best use of the complementary special attacks, though team-only chat doesn't kick in until the match begins, so be careful about how much you say in the game lobby. Coordinating your team roster and experimenting with different lineups yield a surprising amount of possibilities. The interplay of abilities and weapons also makes the otherwise run-of-the-mill game types much more complex and engaging.
Though it isn't immediately accessible, Revenge of the Fallen has a good amount of fun and satisfying gameplay. The initial awkwardness of the controls is a bit vexing, and some issues linger no matter how good you get. The single-player missions and multiplayer game modes aren't very diverse, but the various bonus challenges and strategic nuances add some welcome depth. What Revenge of the Fallen does best is make it fun to be a Transformer by giving you a powerful set of abilities and open maps where you can put them to use. It's enjoyable and engaging, and it's probably the best Transformers product you'll see this summer.