Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark review: out of its Prime
by Robert Workman, shacknews.com, Jun 26, 2014 11:30AM PDT
At one point in time, the Transformers games weren't really that special. The NES game was so atrocious it didn't get a U.S. release; the PlayStation 2 game was acceptable, but hardly fan-worthy; and the movie-licensed games were nothing more than, well, movie-licensed games. But then came High Moon Studios, which reinvigorated the franchise with its original Cybertron entries. Both War For Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron served as a tremendous backbone for adventures to come, and left us hopeful for the latest release in the series, Rise of the Dark Spark.
The only problem? It's not a High Moon Studios development. Activision placed that studio on Call of Duty and opted Edge of Reality to take over development on this new adventure. That's like replacing a favorite bartender who knew how to mix your drinks so well with some old fuddy-duddy that can barely produce a margarita you don't want. That's not to say Edge of Reality is incompetent, but you can just feel some of the magic is missing from this sequel, especially when it comes to current-gen versions.
There's story here, but not much
The game's plot revolves around the Dark Spark, a magical piece of tech that grants the holder the ability to bend the universe's will however they please, including slowing down time. Unfortunately, that holder is Lockdown, who acquires the piece early in the game. Throughout the adventure, you'll not only play as select Autobots, but also a few Decepticons, who have their own little power jaunt when it comes to taking control of the piece. But of course.
Where Dark Spark feels best is when it tries to emulate the successful Transformers antics of old. Watching Starscream go crazy in jet mode and blast targets out of the sky is good stuff, and it's always a joy hearing Peter Cullen pump energy into the voice of Optimus Prime (and, for that matter, Frank Welker do his thing, particularly as Soundwave). However, in terms of new content, Dark Spark has very little to offer.
Case in point: the environments and action look poor and are riddled with technical problems. There were disappearing characters and frame rate issues with the game, especially the Xbox One version. Here was a chance for Activision to really take its Transformers game to the next level, and instead we're just getting the same old auto-fluff. The game does look competent at some points, but it's hardly an evolution for the franchise.
There's also very little to praise about the gameplay as well. For the most part, you're just shooting at a gallery of enemies, moving on, and repeating. The melee tactic still works wonderfully, particularly when you're knocking an Insecticon into the middle of next Tuesday, but the guns offer little variety. Some guns are standouts, like Shockwave's nifty lightning gun that fries every robot in near vicinity to a crisp, but more of them felt uninspired. More creativity on that front would've been nice, and Edge of Reality had to have been capable of it.
Multiplayer has changed, for the average
Perhaps the biggest sin that Dark Spark commits is in the multiplayer department. Rather than offering the full-fledged versus affair that both War and Fall have embraced, this game simply offers a Horde-like mode called Escalation. Here, you'll get together with friends and take on wave after wave of enemies, while utilizing power-ups and weapons gained from the single-player portion of the game.
It's not bad, but it's underwhelming. War and Fall of Cybertron raised the bar, so the fact that this effort couldn't even try to keep up is a shame. For that matter, there's no option to team up with a friend locally. Either you get online or you handle everything yourself. Last time I checked, that's not the Autobot way. Even Optimus Prime needs Bumblebee.
Less than meets the eye
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark isn't a bad game, it's just one that's incredibly sub-par, especially in the face of such brilliant fare that came before. With a little more effort (and a lot more polish), we could've had the kind of Transformers fare that escalated the series to an all-new high. Instead, it's a pale imitation of much better fare.
On the bright side, at least there are no robot balls.
Final Score: System.Collections.ArrayList out of 10.
This review is based on an Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is available now for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Wii U and 3DS.