Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark seemingly straddles the line between the better-than-they-should-be “Cybertron” games, and the ‘really-should-know-better-by-now’ movies from Michael Bay. I was apprehensive going into it, hoping that it would take more cues from the former. How did it pan out? Well…
Game: Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
Developer: Edge of Reality
Let me preface this review with this. I have been a fan of Transformers since I was very, very young. I currently have a collection of merchandise that would probably make a 12 year old jealous, and adorning the wall of my “man cave” are two wonderful prints by Tom Whalen centering around Optimus Prime and Megatron. It’s a franchise I hold dear, in spite of the direction that Michael Bay’s taken the movies since the nostalgia inducing ‘actually quite good’ first outing.
With that little intro out of the way, it’s time to launch into the review. I’m going to come out and say this straight up. The story in this game might be its strongest point. And that’s saying something, because it’s really quite bad. Having not yet seen the latest movie, I’m not sure how closely the game follows it, but it’s truly awful. Excuses for wave after wave of identikit enemies flood the campaign, with very little substance or reason actually given to the teeming mess of decepticons and cybertronian mercenaries that litter the environment. At the heart of the story is the Dark Spark, the Yang to the Matrix of Leadership’s Yin. It’s ultimately a very poor addition to the franchise, and seemingly ties into the movie in the most convoluted way possible.
I really don’t know how to put this lightly, but the graphics in ROTDS are absolutely atrocious. I’d say it looks like a poor PS3 game, but frankly I’ve seen iPad games that look and run better. The frame rate never climbs above 30, and frequently dips below, whilst everything appears to be made from cardboard boxes with poor textures applied. Literally everything has a sharp edge to it. Quite how this is being distributed on the latest generation of consoles is beyond me, whilst games like GRID Autosport are being held back on the previous generation of hardware. The character models are dull and have extremely poor detail, even in cut scenes. The screenshot below was taken from a cutscene in the early going of the game, and I was genuinely stunned that I was seeing a game running on Sony’s latest beast. There is very little else to say on the subject of graphical performance, other than the constant re-use of poor quality textures certainly threw an unexpected element of nostalgia into the mix, having not seen such poor implementation since the PS2 era.
Not all that much better than the graphics to be honest. Weapons don’t sound like the mighty cannons they should, enemies repeat the same two or three lines of dialogue ad nauseum, and environments feel lifeless and bland. The only saving grace, as ever, is Peter Cullen’s performance as Optimus Prime. Bizarrely, the overall voice cast is of surprisingly high caliber, with Troy Baker and Nolan North joining the party, and Fred Tatasciore reprising his role of Megatron from the previous games. Unfortunately, it never gels in the way that it should. Dialogue feels stilted and forced the vast majority of the time.
The key thing to a Transformers game, you’d think, would be the transforming. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t even get that right. “Press L3 to Change Form” is the message that comes up on the screen. Change form. In a TRANSFORMERS game. Anyway, the vehicle movement feels like you’re driving on ice at the best of times. At its worst, using L2 to accelerate and the right stick to steer is a nonsensical control scheme that just seems out of place in 2014.
When you do, er, change form, the shooting feels archaic and loose. The level design plays into the poor gameplay, with invisible walls everywhere, hindering any sense of exploration. There comes a point very early on when there are small walls all the edge of an area that you should be able to jump on. But no, you just jump into empty walls. The same comes when you look out across an area and try to jump down, only to be met with frustration as you hit yet another barrier. Honestly, it plays like something from the early days of the PS2.
If you can stomach it, the campaign for Rise of the Dark Spark is plenty long enough. There’s also a multiplayer mode, which seems more tolerable than the single player offering.
I actually came into Rise of the Dark Spark with relatively high hopes. The “Cybertron” games have actually been quite good, and with the dawn of new console hardware, I was looking forward to seeing what was possible for my favourite robots in disguise. Sadly, what we got was a half-baked offering that was clearly put out to meet the movie’s release date. As a long term fan, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is about as fun as having unnecessary surgery. The only thing that poses any form of saving grace is Peter Cullen’s voice work, but if you’re after that, there’s plenty more Transformers content that you could be watching.