Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Review
+Occasionally high-paced action
+Escalation mode is fun
+Has a good roster of Autobots and Decepticons
+GRIMLOCK IS PLAYABLE!
-Next-gen versions have PS3-era graphics
-Vehicle mode is seriously underutilized
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is basically the big, rusty, scrap-metal fused knot that ties every Transformers game and movie from the last few years together. By being the direct sequel to High Moon Studio’s totally fun Transformers: War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, it also serves as an incredibly convenient prequel to the Transformers movie universe. If, like me, you didn’t immediately consider the idea in your head that the classic Transformers and Bay-verse Transformers were all a part of one giant, weird, robo-smashing timeline and feel the need to ask why that suddenly is, then don’t bother because Rise of the Dark Spark doesn’t feel the need to explain. The upcoming Age of Extinction movie clearly needed a video game tie-in. So why not kill two giant, metal death birds with one stone and throw them in a blender? That said, Rise of the Dark Spark fails to do either of them much justice because it is both a shadow of its predecessors, as well as a lazy and thoughtlessly mediocre movie-inspired game.
While I imagine no one was expecting Shakespeare here, Rise of the Dark Sparks’s plot pretty much goes as follows: Decepticon and paid mercenary Lockdown show up on the outskirts of modern-day Earth while looking for the Dark Spark, an ancient relic that has literally just crash-landed there after spending a good amount of time whizzing through the darkness of space. The Dark Spark acts as a direct opposite to Optimus Prime’s Matrix of Leadership, in that instead of instilling knowledge and the power of life, it pretty much just gives whoever possesses it the power to fill the universe with complete chaos and bend things to their will. Lockdown detects that Optimus and company are also on Earth somewhere, and immediately makes it his goal to ruin their day by taking a small army and rolling over the majority of the planet while working to acquire it.
The game then spends the majority of its time flashing back to the Autobots’s last days on Cybertron and what becomes the most trigger-happy game of hot potato this side of Kaon. Both sides race to keep the Dark Spark out of each other’s hands before the moment where it’s inevitably launched off the planet. Like I said, none of this is given to you in a way that’s even remotely impossible to follow. Megatron wants it because he’s bad (though he only shows up in person briefly), Optimus wants it because he’s noble and wants to get rid of it, and Lockdown is looking for it for reasons that make me think he should of been wearing a twirly, silent-movie villain mustache the whole time because of how shallow and silly his motivations are for being the main threat in the game.
Gameplay wise, Edge of Reality (who took the reins from High-Moon for this installment) isn’t reinventing the wheel, but giving you a sturdy and definitely well-worn one it found in a garage somewhere. There’s a good selection of Autobots and Decepticons to play as here, which it makes note to alternate between them so you have a fair amount of time with both factions. When the action picks up, the game is entertaining and frantic, but also entirely standard and generic if you’ve played the previous games. Shoot things, upgrade your weapons/loadouts via lockboxes acquired by doing level specific side tasks or just leveling up your character profile, shoot more things, repeat. Simple, really. Enemies can be relentless and occasionally challenging, but also sometimes act as if they’re only running on a couple of gigabytes of hard-drive memory, as they’ll at times run right into your line of fire and stand around lifelessly as you get the drop on them.
If there’s one thing that the game could of benefited from, it’s a sturdy cover system, especially in the more open and hectic areas. I found myself constantly running for my life because, as I soon realized from looking at the game’s control scheme, there wasn’t a button that allowed me to catch my breath behind a wall or barrier. This of course also led to a whole lot of death and having to restart entire sequences I was very close to finishing. Plus, for a game about transforming robots, the transforming part sure got underutilized in Dark Spark. There are no race-specific quests, an oddity for a game with so much literal wheel power, and in general very few reasons to transform at all beyond the too few times when the environment begs for it. The one highlight here, and really, the highlight of the whole game in general, is towards the end of the game when Dino-Bot fan favorite Grimlock becomes playable for a brief and exciting sequence. Say what you will about this game, but playing as a giant, fire-breathing robot T-Rex is about as exhilarating and fun as it sounds.
Beyond the main campaign, there’s very little to keep you playing beyond the Escalation Mode, which returns from the Cybertron games and serves as a survival/horde mode where you and four friends can jump online together and basically annihilate up to 15 waves of deadly transformers. It’s more than entertaining if you’ve got some spare time and are just looking to go in and wreck something. Plus, all of the levels and items that you acquire throughout the campaign transfer over into Escalation, and vise-versa, so leveling up is really a simple process if you put enough of an investment into it.
Graphically speaking though, Rise of the Dark Spark is easily the one of the lowest resolution games I’ve played on my PS4, and anyone hoping for a Transformers game that utilizes the console’s high-definition power is going to be massively disappointed. That’s not to say it’s completely terrible looking, but it’s so obvious that Edge of Reality directly ported this from their work on the PS3 version of the game and called it a day. I almost had to check to see what system I was playing it on. The cutscenes in particular stand out by being full of fuzz and jagged edges, and the environments are not just boring, but lifelessly blend together at times in ways that are really kind of ugly and unacceptable. Again, this isn’t a huge issue, especially if you could care less about graphics and care much more about shooting things in the face, but putting in a little bit more of an effort for the graphics would have been nice.
Transformers, Rise of The Dark Spark isn’t necessarily a terrible game. In fact, at times it is quite decent. But the overall result is an incredibly mediocre experience that fails to rise above the bar set by i’s predecessors, as well as being a disappointing movie cash-in. If you’re a die-hard Transformers fan, it’s worth renting for a weekend, but this game isn’t worth your time if paying full price.