Explosions, guns and giant robots kicking ass and taking names, what more could you want from a game? After playing Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, you can ask for a lot more. While I haven’t seen the movie, nor am I am going to, I can certainly say you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of it, as this game, despite its name, has a no spark.
I am by no stretch of the imagination a Transformers fan but I was bitterly disappointed with the overall experience. There’s a lot of potential in the game and with more time, a bigger budget and perhaps an extra writer, this game would have a passing grade or even make it into a surprisingly entertaining game. Unfortunately that potential withers away very quickly and what you’re left with is a shell of a game whose only purpose in life is to match up with the new Transformers movie and cash in on it.
I’ve never played any of the previous Transformers games, so I can’t base my experience off those games, but I have noticed certain similarities among other games, specifically Mass Effect – more on that in a bit. It starts off with one of Optimus Prime’s famous speeches about a peril that he, once again, hoped never to see again, and that it is their darkest hour yet again! (seriously though, he will remind you that it’s their darkest hour, quite a lot.) He, of course, is speaking of the Dark Spark, an artifact that can control the will of everyone in the universe. Unfortunately, the Autobots (the good guys) fail to destroy the Dark Spark before Lockdown, the leader of a Cybertronian mercenary crew, gets his hands on it. Now it’s up to the Autobots to defeat Lockdown and destroy the Dark Spark forever.
Rise of the Dark Spark has a pretty predictable story, but it’s not the most cohesive or interesting. The game is divided into 14 stages, and in most of them you get to play a different Autobot or Decepticon. You start off as Drifter, as he enters what looks like a war between the Autobots and the merc crew on planet Earth. In the following stage, you jump back in time during war on Cybertron, where you’ll fight as the Decepticon, Shockwave. The game stays on Cybertron for a long time, switching between factions and characters, before it jumps back to Earth where you pick up the story after the first stage. The jump back in time isn’t unimportant though, but I won’t spoil all the surprises. What it is, is very confusing, especially if you’re not that clued up in the genetics of the Transformers saga – so take my advice and read up on the universe after you’ve played the game.
Next on the list of great disappointments are the graphics. I’m not someone who needs a lot of pixels to enjoy a game, but when I play a game (note, I did not even mention a PS4 game), I expect to see some clarity, stable framerates and some polish. This game is lacking in all three departments. The only thing that’s very clear in this game, is that it was rushed. Rough textures, a hell of delay before the textures and details kick in, bland level design and boring environments are just some of the issues in this game. Other things like the enemy’s really bad ragdoll physics, the audio being spontaneously turned down, sudden muted sound effects and the awful quality of the FMV clips (which I could possibly write a full article on – it’s that bad), just adds fuel to this game’s flaming pile of cons.
It’s not all bad though. One of the two saving graces in this game is the combat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very flawed, but it’s probably the one part of the game that actually works. The controls are simple and doesn’t really have a learning curve. Most of the keys are pretty standard: L1 to aim, R1 to shoot, X to confirm, etc. Each character, be it an Autobot or Decepticon, has access to a primary weapon, secondary weapon and a special ability. Using all three aren’t always needed, but will make your life a little easier. The same cannot be said of the vehicle mode. During combat, or even while you’re running around, you can transform from robot to vehicle by pressing the R3 button. However, changing into a vehicle has its ups and downs. For one, your firepower is a lot tougher, but the controls are hellishly sluggish.
Controlling your character in vehicle form has to be one of the most irritating aspects of the game. It’s pretty much the same as the M44-Hammerhead in Mass Effect 2’s Overlord DLC mission. The learning curve on how to control the vehicle isn’t long, but your reflexes in that form is practically non-existent, and you’re nowhere near as fast as you should be. It’s really just a tiny bit better than the MAKO in all honesty.
What does work surprisingly well, and is actually a little bit of fun, is the multiplayer. Once again, it’s very similar to the MP you’ll find in Mass Effect 3. You can select one of two factions (Autobots or Decepticons) and join a battle of up to four players. The aim is to beat 15 waves of enemy forces. The enemies get tougher with each wave, so it’s not a good idea to tackle the MP in a solo private match. It can drag a little, and I do wish the waves were brought down to 10. As fun as it is, you’ll want the game to end by the time you get to wave 10.
It does at times feel like the game was designed with the multiplayer first in mind, and with the single player added in as an obligation. All throughout the main game, you’ll collect gear boxes that award you with playable MP characters, weapon upgrades, Hacks (items used to change certain parameters like, enemies are stronger but have less health) and boosters. You can use these upgrades, hacks and boosters in the main game, but it’s a lot more useful in the MP, especially the boosters.
In the end, Optimus Prime wasn’t too far off when he said this was their darkest hour. The game really isn’t up to scratch. There’s a significant lack of polish, the poor quality of the visuals, poor storyline and the annoying vehicle controls just manage to bring this game down. Sometimes it feels like a PS3 game that was ported to the PS4 without actually being “remastered.”