Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox, Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii-U, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
If you’re interested in buying Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, there’s a good chance that you’re only interested in giant robots fighting other giant robots. That being the case, the game will not disappoint you too much. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something with a decent story, interesting characters, or revolutionary gameplay, then you will probably want to look elsewhere.
The plot revolves around the war over the Dark Spark, a magical MacGuffin which is apparently both extremely evil and extremely powerful, but which doesn’t actually seem to do much at all. In fact, the game’s name is misleading; the Dark Spark doesn’t rise, it just sits there. The bad guys – at times the Decepticons led by Megatron, at other times the mercenary Lockdown – want to obtain and control it because they are bad, and the Autobots want to obtain and destroy it because they are good. That is literally all the depth that the story has, and literally all the motivation that its characters are given.
There are certain twists and turns to the tale, as the Dark Spark changes hands multiple times and the war spills across two different planets – but it completely fails to make any sense. There appears to be some sort of time travel mechanic involved, or possibly parallel universes, but the game never really explains what’s going on and only people with a thorough knowledge of the Transformers universe will be able to unpick it. It doesn’t help that the point of view is constantly changing as you are given the chance to play as a host of different characters, all as forgettable as one another. You become so bombarded with irrelevant minor characters that it’s even likely you’ll sometimes forget the name of the Transformer you’re playing as.
Of course, nobody ever accused the Transformers franchise of having a deep narrative; for all his many faults, director Michael Bay at least realised that the film series should be about giant robots fighting one another, and not probing the mysteries of the universe. That, after all, is what people want and expect from it. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark follows this same philosophy and does at least provide a good amount of action for those seeking it.
For the most part, the game plays as a third-person shooter. Each character can equip a light weapon and a heavy one, and you’ll use these to merrily blast your way through each level. In addition to this, each Transformer has a unique(ish) skill that they can use; for example, Drift can charge at enemies using his sword, while Bumblebee can use a grappling hook to attain higher positions on the battlefield. Melee attacks are also available but are extremely clumsy, and require pressing the R3 button to activate. This is unfortunate, as being able to engage in fluid hand-to-hand combat would have added more depth to the gameplay and fitted neatly with the visually exciting action the series has become known for.
At times, the game makes the dubious decision to take you away from the action. Several levels contain platforming sections, but the movement mechanics aren’t really set up for it and they don’t play particularly well. Another level requires you to cover your ally’s approach by sniping from the cliff tops, with similarly frustrating results. You’ll line up an enemy in your sights and pull the trigger – only for the gun to fire uselessly into the edge of the cliff. Such segments as these are really too unrefined to be any fun.
The shooter gameplay of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is competent more than thrilling, and doesn’t do anything particularly original. Naturally, however, the game also gives you the opportunity to transform into other forms, and this is where things aren’t quite so good. The vehicular forms tend to be unwieldy, and – with a few exceptions – you’ll find yourself wanting to avoid them. To make matters worse, they are often completely useless; there is only one brief section, playing as Optimus Prime, where transforming is actually worthwhile. Given that this is the core concept behind the franchise, it seems strange that more effort wasn’t spent on improving it.
Adding to this problem is the fact that the level designs rarely allow the transformations to take place. You’ll battle your way through a variety of different environments – a warzone, the Decepticon headquarters, a military facility in the jungle, a city on Earth – but often the narrow spaces will actively dissuade you from changing into vehicle form. The environments themselves are, as with much of the game, competent but unspectacular. The settings tend to be urban and industrial, and largely fail to catch the eye.
Given the power of the new console generation, the graphics are an immense disappointment. It’s possible that this is due to the decision to release across as many consoles as possible, including the graphically inferior PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U, but is hardly an acceptable excuse. Gamers using the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One will be left wondering why they dished out for a new console, as little to no graphical upgrading has been afforded to them. Ultimately, this just comes across as sheer laziness.
In fact, laziness is something which pervades the entirety of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. Whether it’s the graphics or the gameplay or the story, it all feels like just a little more effort could have made a big difference. The game fails to set itself any kind of high standards, and resultantly falls short of its potential. The game is short on content too, and can be easily completed in half a day. The online mode, in which four players fight off waves of enemies, is hardly engrossing enough to increase its lifespan, either.
Although it feels like more than a mere movie tie-in, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark still isn’t a good enough game to stand on its own. Those who buy it will likely be most interested in seeing giant robots doing battle with other giant robots, and though it will deliver on this it won’t do so with sufficient fun to make it particularly interesting. Add to that the lacklustre nature of its other elements, and it is barely worth investing the six or seven hours required to complete it.