The Transformers franchise has been around since the mid-1980s, and out of all of the classic cartoons/animated toy commercials from that time period, it has arguably achieved the most pop culture success, specifically in the world of cinema. The Michael Bay-directed series of films have grossed over $1 billion at the domestic box office alone, and Activision is looking to piggy-back off of that success with the Edge of Reality developed Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark.
Simultaneously a tie-in with Transformers: Age of Extinction and a continuation of the War for Cybertron series, Rise of the Dark Spark focuses on the battle for the titular artifact. Capable of ripping holes in dimensions, the Dark Spark is the catalyst for the merging of the two Transformer universes together. This could have been a rather straight-forward plot of the classic battle between good and evil, but the universe jumping that takes place is never really fully explained and made even more confusing by the fact that the campaign has you switching between sides throughout. Whereas Transformers: War for Cybertron had separate campaigns for the Autobots and Decepticons, Rise of the Dark Spark mashes them both together for one uneven and confusing tale.
Although High Moon Studios is no longer in charge of making these games, the gameplay in Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is still very much influenced by their work. As the Autobot or Decepticon assigned for the chapter, you will blast and smash your way past assorted nameless robots and Insecticons. In robot form, the shooting sections are still serviceable, as the controls remain tight and the ability to switch between unique weapons helps spice things up. It’s when you switch into a vehicle that things begin to fall apart, as the controls are clunky at best and frustrating at worst. It also doesn’t help that there is little sense of speed, despite the fact that the game features two boost buttons for some indiscernible reason.
The clunkiness of the controls could have been forgiven somewhat if Edge of Reality had bothered to inject any sort of variety into the levels. Every chapter follows the same basic pattern: go into room, kill enemies, wait for door to open, go into another room and so on and so on. This is essentially the same basic formula used in every main Transformers game since 2010, and it’s starting to get rather boring. And I definitely shouldn’t feel bored while playing as a giant ass-kicking robot that can also transform into a jet plane. To be fair, this was also a problem that High Moon Studios faced with their titles, but at least they did a good job of making you want to switch between robot and vehicle forms. The same cannot be said of Edge of Reality and Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark.
While Bay’s films get crapped on for a variety of (well-deserved) reasons, it’s hard to argue that the features aren’t at least visually impressive. The same cannot be said for Rise of the Dark Spark, which at best, looks like a last-gen title running on current-gen hardware. The Autobots and Decepticons don’t look bad themselves, but they are essentially recycled High Moon Studios assets. The real ugliness, though, comes from the environments, which not only look almost identical throughout, but are bland to boot.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is also a rather loud game, with explosions that threaten to mask the sound of everything else going on. Although, that might not necessarily be a bad thing with the amount of re-used dialogue the enemies like to spit at you during the campaign. Get ready to hear a ton of “He got away!” and “Let’s see what we got!” over and over again, despite the fact that you never left and they know exactly what you got. The voice acting isn’t much better, either, as outside of Peter Cullen’s iconic Optimus Prime, most of the characters come across as either dull or annoying. Special shout-out to whoever did the voice for Drift for doing a completely terrible Ken Watanabe impersonation.
Things aren’t all doom and gloom with Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, though, as the title does bring back the popular Escalation online mode. Pitting you and three teammates against a series of increasingly difficult waves of enemies, Escalation is a blast to play and gives the game a sense of tension and urgency that is sorely lacking in the campaign mode. While I would have appreciated some more variety in the online department, at least this mode turned out rather well.
With Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark‘s release scheduled to coincide with the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction, the general consensus was that the game was going to be nothing more than a rushed tie-in. What we got, though, was not even that, as Edge of Reality more or less dropped the ball at every possible opportunity here. It’s a shame that Activision put High Moon Studios out to pasture, because at this point, I think it’s going to be a long time before we get another great Transformers game.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
While the Escalation mode remains as fun as ever, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is nothing more than a cheap rush job that boasts poor graphics, boring gameplay and a borderline incoherent story.