Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Review

Transformers isn't only hitting theaters this week. It has also crash-landed into consoles. Is this a good thing?

Release Date: June 24, 2014Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, 3DS and PCDeveloper: Edge of RealityPublisher: ActivisionGenre: Third Person Shooter

It’s an undeniable fact that movies based on video games and video games based on movies rarely work. The two similarly skewing industries are like magnets, constantly repelled from each other whenever they are near.

The trio of movie tie-in games released by Activision and High Moon Studios in conjunction with Michael Bay’s Transformers films have, for the most part, lived up to that unfortunate legacy, but the War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron games (also developed by High Moon) lived in their own universe and drew critical acclaim. Unfortunately, while Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark isn’t a direct movie-tie-in game (there are film universe Transformer characters, but the story does not mimic Transformers: Age of Extinction) it falls well short of the legacy of the Cybertron games.

Developed by Edge of Reality instead of High Moon Studios, Rise of the Dark Spark embodies all of the typical flaws that usually plague tie-in games in that the final product feels as though corners were cut.

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Rise of the Dark Spark centers on the fight between the Autobots and the Decepticons to control the “Dark Spark,” a relic that will allow its possessor to control the universe and mess around with time. Primarily based on Cybertron with bookended missions on Earth, the game’s environments stand out as one of its most profound flaws.

Cybertron, with some exceptions, is dull and homogeneous, with many missions taking place in large grey and purple halls with little variation. On Earth, grass seems like a green slab and trees crumble when struck by Grimlock, as he stomps across streets that have little texture past buildings with next to no character. Damage, like a stray bullet, fades away in an instant. Rise of the Dark Spark is very unimpressive from a visual standpoint and not at all what you would expect from a PlayStation 4 game.

The character designs are, by contrast, solid and a little bit more distinct, but I still expected more.

Unfortunately, the game’s flaws aren’t only skin deep. The gameplay is closer to boring than not as we switch from Decepticons and Autobots throughout, trudging along and shooting at a rotating group of villains that only offer a challenge when they are grouped together and accompanied by irritating drones. It took me awhile to get through some of the combat heavy levels, not necessarily because of the games difficulty, but because of the lackluster aiming system that moved too slowly to keep up with attacking rivals. The weapons are pretty similar as well, but you can upgrade throughout to up the oomph of your attacks, at least.

While the basic “bash and dash” simplicity of these levels won’t make you eager to replay this game over and over, it is worth noting that each level will require a fair commitment of time, so at least you won’t feel like you put down $60 for something that you will finish in two hours. At least not in my experience. I’m not as good a gamer as you are. I’m sure of it.

Going back to the game controls, the steering is less than optimal and I felt the need to change the controller configuration early on to move the “melee” control to a more basic button than the default position, which is awkwardly assigned.

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With all of that said, though, Rise of the Dark Spark can be dumb fun at times (like the movies) and there was the occasional moment where I caught myself smiling, like when I transformed mid-air into a jet, messed stuff up as Grimlock or heard Peter Cullen voicing Optimus Prime, but those moments are few and far between, sadly.

Besides an occasional buffer during gameplay, the twitchy sound is the weirdest and most unexpected flaw as the action inches down to a muffled whisper from its overloaded norm when characters are speaking. If that inconsistency weren’t bad enough, those voice breaks also seem to vary in volume, making it hard to hear what the characters are saying to each other and hard to keep up with the story, as it were.

As for multiplayer, it’s called Escalation Mode and it allows for 4 player online co-op that has been widely compared to the “Horde” mode from Gears of War: essentially, you and the other players choose from an impressive list of Transformers (there are 40 playable Transformers in the game, all told) and then battle waves of enemies. There is no local co-op, which is an unfortunate thing because sometimes gamers know people in life as well as on the internet.

Overall, this effort by Activision, Hasbro, and Edge of Reality to, as was said in the release announcement, “bridge the generations of Transformers together, linking the worlds of Generation One, the Paramount Pictures films, and also Activision’s Cybertron titles” falls flat with a story that makes this game feel like the abandoned and discombobulated bastard child of the previous Transformers games and the film franchise, not a celebration of those things.

If you’re still interested — and I wouldn’t fault you for feeling the pull of nostalgia and the want to play a fresh game with these beloved characters — I do urge you to see about renting this game or borrowing it if at all possible. Say what you will about Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, but at least if you don’t like them, you only paid $12 to watch them underperform.

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2 out of 5