Transformers fans will probably remember the amazing outings for the Autobots and Decepticons that have popped up in the past few years. We’re not talking about the licensed movie versions of the game, those things verge on blasphemy. Instead witness what was done with Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, both of which managed to deliver fast-paced, varied (for a given value of varied) and exciting games that really seemed to fit into the Transformers universe. Picture that in your mind and picture it hard because there’s almost none of that to be found in Rise of the Dark Spark.
Activision, with the development of Rise of the Dark Spark, handed over control of the series to developer Edge of Reality. High Moon Studios were the folks who made Transformers games good but any goodwill that may have garnered should be pretty much gone now. Never fear though, some of High Moon’s games do live on, in the form of reused assets from the actually-good titles of late.
The Story (Such As It Is)
There are two universes meeting here, something that probably should not have happened. There’s the Michael Bay movie Transformers, and the High Moon Transformers in the same game for some reason and they’re all on the lookout for something called the Dark Spark. The Dark Spark is an ancient relic/plot device that evil factions want to get their hands on since it can control the universe and everything in it. Or something. We don’t really care any more, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from either the Bayformers or Cybertron perspectives.
By that we mean that events are inconsistent with both the latest Transformers film and the previous events in the Cybertron games. It’s almost as if this game was designed to screw with both timelines at once but it can’t be intentional, can it?
Going Through The Motions
Let’s forget the story then, it’s bad but that hasn’t stopped Michael Bay from making money. How about the gameplay? Well, if you’ve played High Moon’s games then you’ll know what to expect. Exactly what to expect, since it seems they took the combat, transformation and movement mechanics directly from those titles. And then placed them in stodgy levels where you’re more likely to die of boredom than from an enemy attack. Except when enemies manage to get a few hits in, since most of them can wipe players out without warning. That’s not a difficultly spike, that’s cheating.
Running (or driving or flying, depending on your game-assigned Decepticon or Autobot – there are no choices here) and gunning at least feels smooth but, even though we were playing Rise of the Dark Spark on the PlayStation 4 it didn’t have the sort of visual polish we’d like to think would be used for Sony’s new console. Level design and most of the gameplay is just… boring. That shouldn’t be possible when you’re a large sentient robot armed to the… whatever large robots have in place of teeth and causing explosions at every turn but RotDS has managed it.
Repetition Is Bad
Gameplay is fairly simple, in a very bad way. Head to objective, get stuck somewhere, fight off wave of enemies, move on until the next door/train/inexplicably inaccessible area halts your progress so you can rinse, repeat and head off to the next bit of crummy exposition to take place.
And heaven forbid that you actually get killed, because the checkpoint system here is very, very silly. Checkpoints before cut-scenes, checkpoints several objectives back, checkpoints behind several doors that you have to wait for in order to progress… So you’re stuck in Groundhog Day, if you’re unlucky enough to be killed by an enemy unit.
But the areas are repetitive as well so at least things are consistent. The Cybertron areas have some variety to look forward to but the action taking place on Earth looks a whole lot like everything else that happens on Earth and it’s bland and tasteless throughout.
What is new is the levelling system, which ties into the Escalation multiplayer by letting you unlock playable characters. Complete a challenge for XP or by killing enemies and you’ll level up. Each level and completed challenge will give you a Gearbox, one which randomly drops weapons, equippable items or the aforementioned Escalation characters. It’s a bit like opening a present and is one of the few decent things about RotDS.
We’ve seen better from Transformers games. We know how good they can be. And that’s why Rise of the Dark Spark seems to be so, so very bad. It’s lazy, boring, repetitive, repetitive, and makes the other games in the series look bad. We’ll look up Optimus Prime and friends again if the franchise goes back to High Moon or if there’s no movie tie-in involved but this, despite being a wholly functional game (with wave-based multiplayer), just isn’t worth our or your time.