The Transformers franchise has always been very near and dear to my heart. Growing up in the 90’s, my early exposure to the robots in disguise came in the form of Beast Wars. Without getting into the awesome details, it involved the Maximals (good guys) vs the Predacons (bad guys), who crash landed on a mysterious planet and had to assume the form of animals. It’s a bit different than the traditional story fans across the world have come to know and love, but it hooked me in a way few shows could growing up. Transformers had fallen off the map for a few years until it made a return to relevance in 2007 when director Michael Bay took things to the big screen, gaining quite a bit of success. Three movies later and the Autobots and Decepticons have never been bigger. The most recent movie, Transformers: Age Of Extinction has just hit theaters, and with it spawned countless new toys, merchandise and, of course, video games.
If I had to summarize Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark in a few words, they would be confusing and disappointing. Developed by the team at Edge Of Reality, Rise Of The Dark Spark attempts to follow in the footsteps of the awesome Cybertron series, War Of Cybertron and Fall Of Cybertron by game developers High Moon Studios. This third entry in the series uses almost all of the assets and resources from those games, from character and weapon models to gameplay and combat, but with much less polish and fun.
The story is where the confusing part of things comes in. The current day movie universe Autobots come under invasion from legendary Decepticon bounty hunter Lockdown and his army of minions. He has come to Earth looking for the dark spark, a cybertronian artifact of incredible power, capable of ripping holes in the fabric of space and time — you know, typical stuff. Anyway, Lockdown gets his hands on the dark spark, and uses its power to blend the War/Fall of Cybertron and movie universes together, and the confusion and chaos ensues.
The biggest issue with the story is the jumping back and forth between timelines and universes. It’s convoluted and difficult to follow, and really made the story much less enjoyable in my opinion. They give no rhyme or reason for switching back and forth between factions, which was one of the previous two installments’ strong suits, having an individual story for both Autobots and Decepticons. Having two coherent and opposing stories instead of one lumped together mess allows for a more fleshed out Transformers experience, and with the massive roster of bots from both sides, keeping things wrapped together is a must for a good Transformers game. Unfortunately, Rise Of The Dark Spark fails in that respect.
Gameplay is one of the strong areas that Rise Of The Dark Spark has to offer, but only thanks to the great groundwork laid by High Moon Studio’s previous entries. The game plays as a pretty standard third person shooter, complete with jumps and rolls, with the added twist of being able to transform from car to robot and back at any given time. This feature worked really well in the level design that was found in the two earlier games, but fails to impress in Rise Of The Dark Spark for the most part, due in part to the less open level design and much more linear paths taken as you make your way through both Earth and cybertonian locations.
As you make your way through the fourteen different missions within the eight to ten hour campaign, you will control some of the most famous bots from both sides of the conflict. Classics like Autobot leader Optimus Prime and Decepticon overlord Megatron are front and centre as they usually are, but we also get the chance to see favourites such as Soundwave, Bumblebee, Starscream, Cliffjumper, and my personal choice, Jetfire. They all have their own awesome vehicle modes from the two universes, like tanks, jets, race cars and even dinosaurs. The variation of forms is really cool, and they all have their own weapons such as cannons and missiles. However, these weapons don’t really add as much to the overall experience as they did in previous games.
Each character has both a primary and heavy weapon, along with a special ability such as invisibility cloaks, explosive attacks, and healing beams. all of the weapons found in the game can be upgraded 4 times, with things like added ammo, more powerful shots, things like that. The variation of different types of weapons is pretty cool, but again nothing new is added from the two previous installments, which was a huge letdown.
The high point of Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is its amazing voice cast, made up of some of the greatest voice talent in the industry. Included in the list are names like Troy Baker, Nolan North, Dave Fennoy, Steve Blum, and the legendary Peter Cullen reprising his iconic role as Optimus Prime. Hearing these guys voice the most heroic and evil of the Transformers universe is a huge plus. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t live up to the masterful voice casting.
Outside of the campaign, you can find escalation mode. This 4 player online co-op mode is a mix of horde mode in Gears of War 3, and the infamous Zombie mode in Call Of Duty. Spread out over a dozen or so maps, escalation mode sees you and 3 others fight off waves of increasingly difficult enemies, with difficult boss baddies sprinkled in every few rounds. Scattered throughout the different maps are defense structures such as machine turrets, chemical weapon fields, decoy holograms and electric fences to try and stop enemies from taking you and your team out. You are given three lives, and once they run out, that’s it. It’s game over and you are forced to watch the rest of your squad try and make it to the end, round fifteen. When it works, escalation mode can be quite a bit of fun. You can unlock different tiers of item crates, and inside, one of the 40 different autobots and decepticons can be found and then used. Some really cool bots can be found like Wheeljack and Demolisher, but can ONLY be used within escalation mode, which I thought was a real bummer. I would have really loved to use these guys in the main game.
Visually on Xbox One, Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is a huge let-down. It looks marginally better and crisper than a game you would find on the previous gen systems. Character models have a weird shine to them that make them look almost glitched out at times, and the environments aren’t anything that couldn’t be found in the previous games. My biggest problem with Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is its lack of innovation in any form, and the overall polish on the game is mediocre at best.
Overall, Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is a pretty big let-down. The story makes the Michael Bay universe look Oscar-worthy, the visuals are severely lacking for what the current gen is offering in its early life cycle, and while all of the good things that the series is known for are present, they are there with a lack of effort and polish. This is a real shame since the Transformers lore is full of great stories and history just waiting to be told. Here’s hoping High Moon Studios are hard at work with a proper sequel that fans can look forward to in the near future.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of Transformers: Rise Of the Dark Spark. The game is also available on 3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U. Official website: http://www.transformersgame.com/