Here at EF we’ve been fans of Transformers since the Generation One days of the early 80’s. After years of terrible games we were starting to think it was impossible to make a decent one. However this changed when High Moon Studios created Transformers: War for Cybertron in 2010.
In 2011 they released Transformers: Dark of the Moon but it felt rushed and limited due to being a movie tie-in. In 2012 they returned with a direct sequel to War for Cybertron with Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. The game was very well received and the future looked bright for Transformers fans.
When Transfomers: Rise of the Dark Spark was announced we found ourselves worried because High Moon Studios were not the developers. Instead development of the title was being handled by Edge of Reality (Loadout). Another thing that got us worrying was that the game aimed to bridge the continuities of the Cybertron games and Michael Bay’s Transformers film series. This presents us with a game that is part movie tie-in with Transformers: Age of Extinction and we all know they rarely turn out all that great.
The main campaign in Rise of the Dark Spark is set over 14 chapters and these are set in both the movie and Cybertron continuities. However there isn’t an equal split so be prepared to spend most of your time on Cybertron. To tell its story the game features a large cast of over 40 Autobots and Decepticons.
Beginning on Earth you take the role of new Autobot Drift who looks like a samurai in robot form. After meeting up with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee and fighting through waves of enemies you discover the Dark Spark. It’s basically the evil version of the creation matrix (known as the AllSpark in the movies). Sadly Lockdown gets to it first and he uses its power to escape with it.
The action then shifts to Cybertron and the Decepticons where you take control of Soundwave. He’s on a mission for Megatron and is accompanied by Shockwave and Starscream. The narrative continues to jump around for the rest of the game with no real focus on any one character. It’s a bit of a mess which is further let down by the uninteresting story.
The game is played from a third-person perspective and mainly consists of moving to the next waypoint whilst fighting through swarms of Insecticons or waves of cloned bots. The gameplay gets repetitive quickly as you move from room to room and take out more waves of enemies. Progressing to the next section normally means hunting down every enemy in your current location. There’s very little freedom in how to tackle each situation resulting in a very linear game.
To try and keep things interesting you can transform from robot to vehicle which is usually a car or jet. Doing so doesn’t really change much and there is very little reason or benefit from doing so. The cars handle strangely and the jets feel very restrictive due to the small areas. Combat is very simplistic and repetitive with little strategy other than dodge and shoot. There is a nice variety of weapons on offer though from standard guns to more exotic choices.
Frustratingly the robots never feel as tough as you’d expect. It’s all too common to die in seconds and have to repeat a section multiple times before you can progress. There’s no way Optimus Prime should die so easily. Transformers also frequently get stuck on small objects instead of just stomping on them like you’d expect.
As you play and complete challenges you can level up your characters. Completing challenges such as killing a certain number of enemies or taking them out in a certain way earns you Gear Boxes. These are jam-packed with all manner of upgrades and items but frustratingly you need to go to the pause menu each time you want to open one. The contain single use power-ups, extra characters for multiplayer and hacks to make the game more difficult like the skulls do in Halo.
The strongest feature of the game is the voice-acting. There’s Gregg Berger (Grimlock and Lockdown), Troy Baker (Jazz, Jetfire and Kickback), Nolan North (Bruticus and Cliffjumper), Fred Tatasciore (Megatron) and Optimus Prime himself – Peter Cullen. Having such a good voice cast really helps the game and there are some great performances here.
Graphically the game looks nicest on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. On these platforms the action is smoother with some nicer textures and more detailed Transformers. On the other platforms expect lower resolution textures, slowdown and pop-in as some assets load.
In addition to the single player campaign the game also features an online wave-based co-operative multiplayer component (as long as you’re not playing on Wii U). This mode is called Escalation and allows you to team up with up to three friends against waves of enemies. There are a small selection of maps to choose from with 15 progressively difficult waves to overcome.
The multiplayer is a little more entertaining that the single player campaign but we don’t feel there is enough to hold your interest for long. So many other games do this kind of multiplayer better along with many more features. Most strange is that there is no co-op campaign mode or competitive multiplayer to let you pit Autobots vs Decepticons with your friends.
Overall Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is a much weaker game than those created by High Moon Studios. It attempts an interesting setup in an effort to appeal to the widest range of Transformers fans. Sadly the story is confusing and the gameplay is lacking. Transformers fans will still want to check it out but sadly we feel most will find themselves disappointed.