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 disorienting, and it would take a while before you 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. That is, you would, but an array of technical flaws and performance issues will probably keep you from getting that far. Whether you suffer an erratic frame rate, washed-out environments, or some other breed of problem depends on your particular computer, but it's very unlikely you'll be able to play unhindered. It's a real shame that Revenge of the Fallen, which is a fun game to play on other systems, fares so poorly in its PC incarnation.
One of the big issues is the frame rate. On modestly powerful PCs, it regularly drops to low levels, making the game look like a slide show for long, agonizing moments. Though this problem lessens on PCs that well exceed the system requirements, it is still there. Trying to get the hang of the tricky controls while dealing with an erratic frame rate is frustrating, to say the least. The other big issue involves environmental lighting. The contrast drops to very low levels, making it difficult to perceive depth or distinguish enemies from buildings. Certain objects occasionally light up correctly, giving you a glimpse of the proper lighting that you could be enjoying. It's still possible to play with this contrast issue, if you look at the screen intently and use the neon-bright heads-up display to guide you, but it's not very fun. The array of visual performance options is pretty flimsy, so you can't do much tweaking to improve your experience.
If you forge ahead despite these issues, you'll find that 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 (unless you suffer the contrast issue), 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 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 right mouse button 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 left mouse button 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 lie 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. The keyboard and mouse controls also present some awkward dexterity challenges that take some practice to overcome. 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 (if the frame rate can keep up). 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 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's 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. It's too bad this satisfaction is subject to technical issues. The stuttering frame rate and visual problems can really take the wind out of your sails.
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, though you have to delve through performance problems to uncover it. 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 number of possibilities. The interplay of abilities and weapons also makes the otherwise run-of-the-mill game types much more complex and engaging.
At its core, Revenge of the Fallen has a good amount of fun and satisfying gameplay. Unfortunately, the entertaining stuff is buried beneath sizable technical problems that make it hard to enjoy what the game has to offer. Other issues, like the tricky controls and unimpressive mission diversity, seem like comparatively small hurdles. It's a shame that the fun of being a Transformer gets so muddled in this problematic PC port.