High Moon Studios received a lot of attention for Transformers: War for Cybertron, not only for its avoidance of the Michael Bay "reboot," but because it was actually a pretty good game. Sadly, Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't a sequel to that game -- it's a licensed prequel to Bay's upcoming third Transformers movie.
But because it's a prequel, High Moon has a bit of wiggle room with the game's content. Obviously, the Autobots and Decepticons will look like their film counterparts, but the game won't be pigeon-holed into following the events of the movie in the traditional licensed-game manner; instead, the story is all-new, a joint collaboration between High Moon and Paramount.

"We're not going to give you a see-the-movie, play-the-movie experience," said High Moon's Studio game director Shawn Miller. "We're building an original storyline that we developed working very closely with Hasbro and Paramount that is a prequel prologue to the film. It allows us to set up some of the characters and situations from the film without spoiling what's in the movie. It also lets us focus on the experiences of the individual Transformers as well."

See, unlike War for Cybertron, Dark of the Moon doesn't provide separate Autobot and Decepticon campaigns. Instead, different levels focus on the use of exclusive Transformers from both sides, including Bumble Bee, Soundwave, Megatron and Ironhide. Every level has a specific Transformer and they aren't interchangeable, but the gameplay style is entirely uniform.

The demo jumped around a bit, giving me a glimpse at brief snippets of each level. The combat looked pretty mundane -- each level was a linear path, with the occasional enemy ambush to mix up the plodding pace. Whether it was Bumblebee making his way through an undisclosed wooded area (each level was named for the Transformer it starred) or Ironhide walking through a city under siege, it was all very formulaic. Each Transformer had a separate special weapon, but in the end it was just robots shooting at other robots.

Vehicles are a bit more offensive this time around, though. Now the Transformers are much more agile and can freely strafe when in their vehicle form, granting them a surprising amount of offensive power. But it needed more style! Circle-strafing gets the job done, but doing that throughout an entire game hardly seems like a compelling prospect.

Ultimately, it seems Transformers: Dark of the Moon suffers from the same problems most licensed games do, despite its aim to sidestep the traditional license games tropes. Uninteresting game mechanics and uninspiring design seemed to run rampant throughout my guided demo. Hopefully the original story will make up for what looked like an overall lackluster gameplay experience.

Cybertron made for a great setting and to not see it here is disheartening. War for Cybertron's conflict was perfect game fodder: a struggle between giant robots on a distant world is the type of stuff we expect when we cram a disc into our console tray. And for all of High Moon's boasting how this isn't a "see the movie, play the movie" experience, it certainly walked and talked like a licensed game.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.