On paper, Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark sounds ingenious. By bringing together the Michael Bay movie universe with that of High Moon Studio’s well-received Cybertron series, it looked like Activision might be able to keep gamers happy while also releasing a lucrative tie-in for the recently released, Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Sadly, somewhere between that piece of paper and the completion of the final product, something has gone horribly wrong. The first sign of trouble was the news that developers of the surprisingly brilliant, War For Cybertron and Fall Of Cybertron, High Moon Studio’s would not be involved. Instead, development duties went to, Edge of Reality whose finest work outside of a handful of solid ports was the decidedly average, The Incredible Hulk.
Like that game, Rise Of The Dark Spark suffers from a similar sense of overriding averageness. I’d be hard pressed to say that it’s a bad game as, despite its array of issues, I actually rather enjoyed it, but the fact of the matter is; when compared to its somewhat illustrious predecessors, Rise of the Dark Spark pales in comparison.
Things could have been worse though. As horribly, uninspiringly forgettable as this game is, it’s abundantly clear right from the off that the humble goal of averageness was only attained due to an array of re-used assets from the far superior Cybertron games.
It’s at these moments, when the game reverts to the Cybertron template and the G1 inspired character designs that Rise of the Dark Spark is at its best. It’s simplistic, largely uninspiring stuff, but in these Cybertron-set stages, the game just about passes for a poor man’s, War For Cybertron.
Back on earth though, back in the Michael Bay inspired universe, man, things are pretty dire. Without the array of re-usable assets, visually, Rise of the Dark Spark goes from relatively poor to stupidly, outrageously, flat-out unbelievably ugly. Honestly, the first stage alone will see many turn off their shiny new next-gen console before they even reach Cybertron.
Those opening moments involve a Japanese Transformer named Drift who, while somewhat understandably not voiced by Ken Watanabe as in the movie, is inexplicably voiced by what sounds like some guy from anywheresville USA instead. It’s arguably a minor issue, but immediately sets the tone for the game and subsequent lazy implementation of the Cybertron template.
As bad as that may be though, it’s quickly forgotten as you come to the horrifying realisation that you’re playing a supposedly next-gen video game that genuinely looks worse than the majority of those available on your iPhone. That may sound like hyperbole, but I’m totally serious; the stages and characters for the earth-bound Michael Bay inspired stages are staggeringly ugly. Again, it’s not like the Cybertron-based stages are works of art (far from it), but by comparison, they almost look like they’re from a different game……which they kind of are I suppose.
Never before has a game so brazenly ripped off its predecessor and never before has the subsequent work piled on top been of such a consistently low quality. The difference between the largely copy and pasted Cybertron stages and the new earth-based ones is borderline outrageous and highlights a game that was both rushed to market and clearly short of the required budget.
Luckily, while the stages are bland and forgettable, the core gameplay, again thanks to being taken en masse from the previous games, is competent and largely enjoyable. Any vehicle on four wheels is still far too slow, but aerial combat is entertaining and the fundamental shooting mechanics are slick and well implemented.
An array of collectibles too, while somewhat randomised, do allow for a decent selection of weapon upgrades, additional skills and cool little unlockables that do a solid job of keeping you somewhat engaged in the otherwise one-note gameplay. The additional abilities too, while doing little to mix up the core gameplay, do give each Transformer / Decepticon their own unique attributes.
It’s a shame then that with such solid mechanics to fall back on, that the game would see fit to introduce such horribly annoying difficulty spikes. While offering up a reasonable challenge for the majority of the experience, Rise of the Dark Spark is home to numerous instances of incredibly frustrating insta-death. Be it invisible snipers or examples of poor level design, these moments, in combination with poorly placed checkpoints provide yet another reason to give this poorly developed game a miss.
Outside of the relatively lengthy campaign, despite there being absolutely no online competitive play, the game does come briefly to life in the co-op enabled, Escalation Mode. It’s little more than a Horde rip-off, but due to the decent mechanics and surprisingly solid level design, is without question the most fun you are likely to have with this otherwise forgettable movie tie-in.
Most likely to be remembered as the game with the worst first level of any game ever, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark just about recovers thanks to its outrageous pilfering of High Moon Studio’s previous work. Poor level design and some truly horrendous difficulty spikes always keep this the wrong side of average, but the core gameplay remains solid if uninspired while Escalation Mode provides a surprisingly entertaining addition to an otherwise forgettable package.
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