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Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark - Review
Movie tie-in games almost always come with a giant warning sign attached to them. You know that their primary goal is to act as extra advertising for the respective movie and that any good gameplay is almost always going to come second. With the possible exception of Spiderman 2, most movie tie-ins also suffer from a lack of fresh ideas, instead cannibalising whatever genre is popular at that particular moment.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark attempts to side-step this by offering an alternative to Michael Bay's brand of Transformers movies. Without the need to be shackled to Bay's two and a half hour long films about stuff exploding, Rise could, in theory, go off and do its own thing.
And it kind of does, in a fashion. Drawing more upon the cartoons and toy ranges, Rise of the Dark Spark has you hopping between Autobot and Decepticon characters throughout the single player campaign. The robot designs look and feel like they should; the swooshes and clicking that accompany switching from robot and vehicle form can't help but elicit chuckles of glee.
Even the voice acting manages to feel authentic, this is largely down to the fact that Peter Cullen still voices Optimus. The game has both the Autobots and Decepticons fighting over two different timelines which eventually begin to cross over, bridging the gap between the previous games' stories, and the Michael Bay movies. All of this fighting is due to the Dark Spark, an all-powerful McGuffin which is essentially a big excuse to have a load of big robots smash each other to bits.
Where things fall apart is everywhere else. Rise of the Dark Spark is a third-person cover shooter but lacks any cover system, making it feel oddly dated as you have to tap into the pre-Gears of War mentality of shooting games, where twitch reactions and constant backpedalling reigns supreme. Guns are predictable and enemies in general line up in front of you to get shot down. There's very little strategy involved, but the main killer is that it's simply dull to play, with the enemies not being all that exciting to fight.
This is largely due to a lack of creative enemy designs. The stock grunts come in very few variations which is frankly appalling considering the main appeal of the Transformers series comes from being able to see cool-looking robots duke it out. Several early chapters have you facing off against the Insecticons, which is especially annoying considering they almost all show up as swarms of small bugs, meaning you spend most of the time shooting down at the ground.
Your primary weapon can be switched up either at a terminal, which are dotted around each level, or from random pick-ups. Again, the game suffers from a stunning lack of imagination, with most weapons falling into the automatic rifle or shotgun variety. There's the option of upgrading weapons by completing additional objectives (e.g. kill fifty enemies with a certain weapon), but they have such little impact on your ability to kill things that it comes across pointless.
Transforming from robot into vehicle should have made for more fun too. While the ability itself is neat, and the game does manage to handle both robot and vehicle controls well, there's just very little need to actually use most of the Transformer's alternate forms. In order to try to encourage players to use them, many levels are much larger than they would otherwise need to be, in order to give you enough room to manoeuvre around as a car. Even with this mind, transforming your character into its vehicle form rarely has enough benefits and will likely see you get shot to pieces instead. It's a perfect example of a game mechanic being forced into a pre-existing game formula, rather than a game being built around an interesting concept.
Some Transformers, such as Starscream, morph into aerial vehicles which fare a little better. There's the added problem though that these sections introduce really tiny enemies that are a nightmare to target, meaning you spend most of you time as an awesome jet-fighter trying to lock on to a handful of annoying pixels that seem capable of blasting you out of the sky in just a few shots.
Which leads to yet another of the game's myriad flaws: an inconsistent health system. Your character has a standard health bar, along with a regenerating shield. Still, it's difficult to gauge accurately how much of a threat different enemies are. Some can shoot at you for days and only knock off a chunk of your shield, others result in almost one hit kills. It's incredibly frustrating not least because checkpoints are placed at some odd locations, usually meaning you'll have to backtrack through a good portion of a level you've already completed.
Along with the lacklustre single player campaign, developers Edge of Reality also saw fit to throw in a quick multiplayer mode too. For reasons unknown, this mode isn't available on the Wii U version but it's not missing much, since the multiplayer functions essentially the same as the single player, albeit with groups of up to four taking down waves of enemies in horde mode-style scenarios.
There's some very basic customisation here, but nothing to get excited about. Most options consist of nothing more than bolting on a few items here and there like extra health and experience points multipliers. Likewise, the game makes a big deal about introducing tons of extra Transformers but since most work the same way, bar a few unique attacks, their inclusion is little more than a colour palette swap.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is lazy. It adds almost nothing to a genre that's already oversaturated and manages to do very little with a franchise that, in the right hands, would be perfect for video games. Movie tie-ins are less frequent now than they used to be, but this one still proves the eternal rule: they're almost always really bad.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark was released on June 24th for the Xbox One, 360, PS3, PS4, Wii U and 3DS.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
© 2014 LudoLogic