Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
Developer: Edge of Reality
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $59.99 – Available Here
Activision hopes to benefit from the box office smash that is Transformers: Age of Extinction with this sorta-kinda tie-in, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. It may be a 3rd-person shooter in the vein of Transformers: War for Cybertron (2010) and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (2012) before it but, unfortunately, the developers who resurrected the Transformers video game series, High Moon Studios, were not at the helm of this entry; Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark was instead created by Edge of Reality. The outcome? A game on the edge of disaster.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark weaves through two realities, or universes: the film space and the video game space. Opening with the discovery of the Dark Spark by the Autobots, after the crash of a mysterious meteor on Earth in the film continuity, players are introduced to the object as a powerful relic with the ability to bend the laws of existence and rip through dimensions. Lockdown drops in and escapes with the relic before players are transported to Cybertron and the game continuity, where we are caught up on the state of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, with the former at their “darkest hour”. It’s an odd experience, given the game continuity is set as a prequel to Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, while the film continuity is a sequel of sorts to Transformers: Age of Extinction. Audio logs make their reappearance, adding some depth to the world and proceedings. And by now, you know what to expect from a Transformers story. Thankfully the journey into alternate universes doesn’t result in a particularly scattered adventure, although it only last approximately 5-6 hours long…
Carrying on from the above, truly depressing is the fact that the story is so devoid of entertaining moments and gameplay of well-implemented mechanics, that the Campaign ends up feeling extremely repetitive and dull. Personally, I couldn’t find the motivation, patience or pure tolerance to finish the 14 chapters therein. A major gripe is the absence of any weight to these supposed multiton Cybertronians. Controlling a huge, yet agile war machine should feel appropriately weighty and impactful, whilst maintaining a certain level of maneuverability. Perhaps the developers mistook unwieldy controls as a representation of weight. Even the shooting is barely adequate in its impactfulness; appropriate feedback in general is lacking. You’d also think that transforming from humanoid mode into alternate mode, especially in the case of those who transform into vehicles, would enable faster traversal, but there is a distinct lack of speed in virtually all the carplay. Kicking in the turbo boost brings the acceleration up to what would normally be considered normal levels. And controlling the direction you drive solely by the right thumbstick is an absolutely mind-boggling gameplay design choice; at least in Halo, the direction was dependant on the camera’s aim!
Basically, walking around feels sluggish without the sense of weight (how does that happen?), and driving around in alt mode feels quite unnatural and lofty, like piloting a hovercraft. On top of this, the A.I. is dumb to the nth degree, so you can imagine with all these poorly designed and implemented elements how aggravatingly bad the Campaign can be. The only other mode in the package is the online co-op focused Escalation, where four players band together to repel waves of increasingly tough enemies. Escalation has been included in the other “War for Cybertron series” titles, but is enhanced this go around with upgradeable defenses. The “survival” game type popularised by Gears of War can be played across levels based on both Earth and Cybertron, with over 40 different playable characters to choose from. This is the highlight of the game as a whole and, as they say, it’s always more fun to play together. Then again, it’s not like the mechanics change; the shooting and core gameplay is still mediocre – it’s just more palatable as a shared experience.
Visuals & Audio
In this instance, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is just what meets the eye; a cheap cash-in with early seventh generation graphics and ugly, bland, tiled textures. The PlayStation 4 version has to be one of the worst looking titles on the console; granted, the game was ported over from last-gen development kits…or at least I hope, because otherwise there’d be no excuse for its banal, flat and undetailed visuals. A notably vexing visual aspect is the warped sense of scale; it does not feel like you are embodying a 12-15 foot tall robot amidst a large city, but a normal sized entity traversing through a miniaturised environment. Instead of scaling up the characters, it’s almost as if the surrounds have been scaled down, and to an incorrect ratio to boot. At least the character models from the movie continuity have been translated over well enough.
Those who have played its predecessors will hear familiar musical pieces, especially in the Cybertron missions of the Campaign, which are practically ripped from the last title. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is also the first Transformers game to feature a real song in Linkin Park’s ‘Until it’s Gone’. On the upside, fans will appreciate the return of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, and the best V.O. artists in the business – Troy Baker and Nolan North – lending their talents. On the other side of the same coin, as offensive or racist you may have thought Drift’s Japanese accent was in Transformers: Age of Extinction, there is something to be said about maintaining continuity as he no longer speaks with such an accent here. I wasn’t expecting Ken Watanabe to record the voice, but c’mon! Elsewhere in the audio department, expect lots of explosions, repeated lines and annoying, high pitched sound effects. (that intercom!)
It’s such a pity that High Moon Studios did all this great work in making the first universally acclaimed Transformers titles since the self-titled release of 2004, just for Edge of Reality to come in and undo that hard-earned reputation. Harsh? Possibly…but there have been very few games in recent years that I literally couldn’t bring myself to continue playing for any significant amount of time, and Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is one of them. Aside from the outdated visuals, it is boring, clunky and flat-out not fun. Escalation could be its single saving grace for many gamers, but is one mode alone worth a full RRP purchase? Die-hard fans of the franchise might slog through the Campaign, and even be blinded by their rose-coloured glasses, finding some middling redeeming qualities, but make no mistake about it, objectively, this is not a good game. If only Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark could transform into a good game! Let’s hope there is revenge for the fallen in the next outing.
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