Being a Transformers fan since it’s debut in the 80’s, I’ve always made sure to check out the games that have come from the recent revitalization of the franchise. High Moon Studios did a pretty good job with their entries, so it came as a surprise to learn that they wouldn’t be handling the latest entry, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, which has given over to the studio Edge of Reality. It’s sad to say that while the game plays a lot like the previous ones, it definitely has lost some of its spark (pun intended) this time around.
The story is a bit hard to follow, as it does a lot of flip-flopping between different eras of the Transformers, from the movie versions to the old TV series to the previous games. Yes, it actually is as bad as it sounds and plays out just the same. Basically it comes down to the Autobots trying to stop the Decepticons from obtaining the Dark Spark, an item of immense power and evil that’s pretty much the complete opposite to the Matrix of Leadership. While you plug away at the tedious levels, at least the controls aren’t as bad. There’s your standard shoot, jump, dash, switch weapons, etc buttons. While the D-pad controls some of the cool bonus items you pick up along the way, such as shields and boosts to weapons that help taking down enemies a little easier. Anyone who has played Fall of Cybertron, etc will feel right at home with the controls and movement here.
Going back to the missions, players will have to fight their way past a fourteen mission campaign that constantly switches between the Autobots and the Decepticons, often without much reason or notice while doing so. A perfect example of this is during one of the Decepticon missions that has you searching for an item, just to stop halfway through and make you jump to an Autobot part of the mission that stays on their side until the stage is complete. I’m not sure about other people, but that left me confused, frustrated and not wanting to play much more of the game. Even with the cool weapons you can get, such as machine guns, shotguns, laser cannons, and wild ones such as an ooze gun that slows down enemies, they can only do so much to help ease the frustrating gameplay. This comes from badly made levels that play out like a tedious maze and the wonky AI that has most enemies either stand there and pummel you from afar or weak enemies that go crazy dipping and dodging faster than you can aim.
The ability to transform your character sadly comes off as though it was an afterthought they threw in. Instead of making the gameplay better, it actually takes away from it. If you’re playing as a Transformer that can turn into a car for example, you’re treated to a sluggish transformation followed by a lack of any sense of speed, even when you use the boost button. While the flying Transformers fare a little better, the lack of any kind of mini-map or radar makes finding enemies while flying around next to impossible.
You would think at least the multiplayer section would be better right? Well sort of, as all you get is an “Escalation” mode that pits you and three teammates against fifteen waves of enemies on eight maps. But there is some fun to be had here, as things do tend to get interesting when you’re rushing to or from enemies while also trying to save your teammates from losing, and find more weapons, ammo and boost items to keep you and your friends in the game.
Another thing that disappointed me from the start are the graphics, which look like glorified PS3 visuals. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just ported the PS3 version to the PS4 and just gave it a higher resolution, as nothing here looks next-gen worthy. The audio is a mixed bag as well, as the music ranges from an orchestrated score to wild dubstep. The legendary Peter Cullen does what he does best as Optimus Prime, but even he can’t save players from the rest of this game.
I had some high hopes for Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, as I was looking forward to finally playing a next-gen Transformers title at long last. Instead what I got was a ported over PS3 game that’s a giant transforming headache of frustration. While there is some fun to be had in the online escalation mode, that can’t save this from being the disaster that it is. With any luck, perhaps some patches and a lower price might transform this into a good game. But as it stands now, the spark has fizzled from this once decent franchise.