Adam put the latest Transformers movie tie-in through its paces, but did it deliver where its predecessors had done so before it.
You could say this review is a little late, or you could treat it just like a wizard, and believe it’s arrived neither late, nor early - it’s arrived precisely when it was meant to. So, now we’ve established this review is a wizard, let’s get to it.
Hearing there's a game coming out that ties-in to a movie usually makes me let out a great big sigh, and Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark would usually have been no exception, however, I knew it was a prequel to High Moon Studios' solid Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, so I held out hope.
Using both Michael Bay’s latest explosion-marathon, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and the previous Cybertron games as a basis for its story, Dark Spark moves between both settings in an incoherent and seemingly-pointless manner. Much of the game is spent on Cybertron, which is a good thing, as the Earth elements of the game are probably the least fun of the two settings. That’s not to say Cybertron is without its faults, many of the environments you pass through look quite similar, using many tunnels and metallic constructs which mean it’s difficult to distinguish one area from the next sometimes.
During the game you get the chance to play as both the Autobots and the Decepticons, as they scramble to take hold of the Dark Spark, to either destroy it, or wield it as a weapon. Flitting between the two factions causes confusion and only adds to the incoherence of the story. Whilst I understand the devs probably wanted to allow players to see both sides of the struggle from the good and bad guy’s perspective, I can’t help but feel it would have been better to separate them as their own standalone campaigns to choose before you begin the game.
On pure aesthetics alone I prefer the Cybertronian look and feel compared to their Earth counterparts', simply because their metallic bodies had a much cleaner and polished look to them. I played the game on Xbox 360, and despite looking good and performing well, there were the odd drops in frame rate from time to time, usually when a lot of explosions or fire was on screen.
Movement of your transformer feels clunky at times, although you can switch to your vehicle form at almost any moment, which is how I spent most of my experience – it just seemed like maneuvering was a little more intuitive. Being able to change form is fun, although there’s little incentive to do so, unless you’re confronted with overly-long passageways and just want to decrease the travel time. Transformers that switch into vehicles with wheels can ‘boost’, but there was no real sense of an increase in speed – you’d hear the rev of an engine, plus feel the vibration of the controller, however visually you don't seem to increase in speed at all. The air-based vehicles were a different story - much more fun to pilot - and when you boosted there was a clear feeling of travelling at speed.
Missions could often feel like more of a chore than actual fun, and I often found myself wishing the enemy onslaughts would soon stop, so I could get a real sense of some kind of progression.
There's one section where you call a train and have to survive the seemingly-endless encroachment of Insecticons whilst you wait for the train's arrival - I honestly felt there wasn't much point in me being there to begin with, as my allies would easily take out all the enemies for me, first causing me to frantically run about trying to find something to kill. But when I realised they were doing just fine without me, I let them do all the killing, until Starscream turned up and I had to actually play.
With around 20 weapons it’s easy to find one you enjoy, but the regular machine gun and shotgun-like weapons fail to give a sense of true impact on your enemies. However there are more fun choices, like the A-4 Pulsar Cannon which fires projectiles akin to sticky bombs you can detonate whenever you want, or the Sling Shock which fires bolas to entangle multiple enemies – these weapon, amongst few others, are a saving grace in the Transformers’ arsenal.
As you play you level up, which rewards you with Gearboxes containing multiple unlockable items, including Transformers (for the multiplayer Escalation mode, which I’ll get onto later), weapon upgrades, and Hacks. Hacks are one-use powerups, which quite honestly I never really took advantage of. When sifting through my multiple Gearbox unlocks I’d accumulated I checked out what Hacks I could equip, and there were a couple I found confusing – one allowed enemies to do more damage to me, but they in turn had less health, and another would increase my fire rate, but my enemies had more health… The advantage and disadvantage of both just cancel eachother out, surely? So I passed on using them.
The odd bug cropped up in the form of objectives - I would arrive at my destination, usually to meet a fellow Transformer, only to be met with them staring blankly at me. It would often turn out I’d missed a hidden enemy, so I’d double back and kill them, return to the objective marker, and fingers crossed I could progress. Another incident happened when ‘Jazz’, one of the Autobots, got stuck on some terrain, meaning I couldn’t progress to the next section until I’d rammed him out of the way in Optimus’ vehicle form.
Dark Spark does have fleeting moments of pure fun and reward, mainly when piloting a flying Transformer or getting to control one of the bigger robots and using over-powered abilities to dispatch your puny enemies. But, alas these moments were rare.
Another saving grace to the game is Escalation mode, which is the online component to the Dark Spark. It tasks you with surviving waves of enemies with the help of up to three other players. Currency you earn can be used to buy upgrades and place defenses to help you survive the waves on the well-designed maps. And remember all those Transformers you unlocked from those Gearboxes? You can play as whichever one you like.
In summary, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is disappointing - it promised a glimmer of hope with its Cybertron aspects, but that wasn't quite enough to prop it up where the movie-based sections and confusing story let it down. If you're a massive Transformers fan you don't need to be reading this review to determine whether to play the game or not, you'll no-doubt have done so already. But, if you enjoyed the Escalation mode in High Moon Studios’ Transformers outings you’ll probably want to try out the new content in Dark Spark, just give the single player a miss.