Developer: Edge of Reality (Main versions), WayForward Technologies (3DS Version)
Release Date: June 24th, 2014
Available on: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewer’s note: I played the PlayStation 4 version of this game. There may be differences between versions.
Soulless. This is a word I’ve almost never used to describe games before. Yet at the conclusion of Rise of the Dark Spark I was sitting there with little to say other than soulless. Oh sure, there’s a bunch of other words I can use to describe Rise of the Dark Spark as well. Words like confusing, broken, generic, glitchy, boring, muddled, or just flat out bad, but soulless is the one that comes to mind first. Edge of Reality, taking over for High Moon (who was too busy porting Advance Warfare or something), managed to take a beloved series and hand us one of the most pitiful third person shooters I have ever played.
Rise of the Dark Spark follows two stories. The first takes places on Cybertron and between War For Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, which kind of stinks because Fall of Cybertron ended on a cliffhanger that will not be (and probably never be) resolved. For this segment the Decepticons are trying to secure a weapon called the Dark Spark that allows them to control other transformer’s minds, while the Autobots are trying to stop them. The second part of the game, however, takes place years later on Earth and tries to hastily and sloppily connect the Cybertron games to the Michael Bay movies. In that segment it’s pretty much the same plot, only replace “Decepticons” with “Lockdown” and set it at some point during Age of Extinction. As expected, the pairing of plots makes little sense and elements used for the Earth stuff completely clashes with what’s used for the Cybertron stuff. I question how Grimlock managed to end up on Earth after Fall of Cybertron specifically showed him stuck on Cybertron.
The best thing I can say about the gameplay is that it gets pretty much all the basics right, but I wonder how much of that is true because it just reuses all the mechanics from Fall of Cybertron. You can carry a primary and an heavy weapon (of which there are exactly zero new weapons since Fall of Cybertron) and can turn into a vehicle at the click of a button. Each character has a special ability that you can activate with the right bumper. These abilities have varying use. The levels are far less open, leaving Bumblebee’s/Cliffjumper’s grappling hook to be basically useless. Likewise, Sharpshot’s cloaking ability is basically useless as there’s no stealth segments like Fall of Cybertron had. Soundwave’s ability to deploy Laserbeak should be useful, but Laserbeak seemed to constantly find interesting things on nearby walls to ram into and get jammed on. On the other side of the equation, there’s some abilities that are so hilariously overpowered that there’s no point using anything else. Swindle can deploy a turret that does all the work for you, Optimus Prime can put up a shield that throws enemy bullets back at them, and both Jetfire and Shockwave have an ability that basically kills anyone in front of them. The worst offender, though, is easily Drift. His blade rush ability may as well be called “kill the four closest enemies”.
I mentioned vehicles before, but I just want to take a moment to note that vehicles are basically worthless. There’s a few segments where you’re forced to fly as a jet, and one where you need to drive as a car, but I mostly used the vehicle forms to avoid having to reload my guns and have something to shoot quicker. The weapons on the vehicles are actually sometimes stronger than the ones you’ll just be picking up, so that’s the most use I got out of vehicle form. Once you actually upgrade the weapons though (A process that has been made painfully random, but that’s for later) then you can get some better damage output and accuracy out of them. I would say I used the vehicles to go faster, but top speed in a vehicle and top speed just sprinting are both painfully slow and there’s little difference between them.
Every now and again the game tries to break the monotony of going from point A to point B and shooting people by putting you in control of one of the bigger Transformers. You’ll get to play as Bruticus for all of 10 minutes, while Grimlock gets about 30. Both Transformers are kind of fun to play as in the sense that you’re basically invincible and get to spend some time just wrecking anyone who may be near by. Yet with a campaign that is about 6 – 7 hours in length, the fact that only 40 minutes were fun is a huge problem.
One odd change is the removal of Energon Shards and replacing them with a new system called Gear Boxes. The game has challenges you can complete for doing things like killing a certain amount of enemies with a specific weapon or finding audio logs. Complete a challenge, or level up, and you’ll be awarded with a Gear Box. Inside you’ll find a batch of five to seven random items that can include one use Tech Items, new Transformers to play online as, abilities to use online, Hacks, or weapons. The first time you find a weapon you’ll just unlock the ability to grab it at a store. Every time you find it after that, however, you’ll be able to get an upgrade for it. This means that your ability to upgrade is entirely based on if you get lucky and find the right items in a box or not. By the end of the game I still had a couple weapons locked because I had just flat out not gotten lucky with the random number generator at that time. I mentioned Hacks earlier, which is one of the few new systems added to the game. A Hack is a one use item that does something like make an enemy have more health or drop less ammo. On the other hand, if you have a Hack active you’ll get more XP for kills. It’s a risk/reward system that isn’t a bad idea, but is ultimately useless when there’s not much point to XP besides finding more Gear Boxes.
I can’t leave a review of the single player portion of the game without spending a paragraph describing how hilariously glitchy this game is. I decided to keep a record and within the first hour of the game I ran into ten glitches, two of which actually forced me to restart from checkpoints to fix. Some of these were kind of minor, like at one point where Bumblebee’s torso began to spin wildly for no reason (I later actually found out this is how the AI preforms melee attacks, but that raises the question of how this is an effective melee attack and why he was doing it with no one around). Another moment saw Shockwave get downed in a pool of acid, leaving the game to beg me to go heal him, but finding myself unable to do so as he’s, well… in a pool of acid. The worst offenders is the ones that force me to restart the game. One such glitch saw Starscream suddenly decide to live up to his name. It started with Starscream making the “I’m damaged!” shout a lot before he suddenly shot up and into the environment, getting jammed half inside and half outside of a wall I could not reach. Because the game required Starscream to move on, I had to restart the chapter. Later in the very same chapter a boss was suddenly invincible, forcing me to restart from a checkpoint and refight him.
While Fall of Cybertron had a competitive multiplayer mode, Rise of the Dark Spark sees that removed to instead focus on the co-op mode Escalation (except on the Wii U version, where it’s oddly absent.) Here you and up to three other players have to survive fifteen waves of enemies. Killing enemies and breaking open chests can get you shards which you can then spend on buying and upgrading turrets, barricades, healing stations, and other devices to assist you. Ultimately it’s the most fun I had in Rise of the Dark Spark, but it’s still a pretty boring mode. It also suffers from glitches like the main campaign: at one point a flying enemy got stuck off the map where no one could reach and we had to quit the game because we couldn’t advance past that round.
There’s really not much more to say about Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. It’s a barely playable game that only manages to bore once you can play it. The story makes no sense, and the only mechanics that feel good are the ones lifted right from Fall of Cybertron. I can’t recommend Rise of the Dark Spark to anyone, not even to die hard Transformer fans. I fear that we’ll never get to see High Moon’s next take on the series now.