TRANSFORMERS: Rise of the Dark Spark Review – PC/Steam
Some good voice acting, interesting Cybertron locations
Horribly dated graphics, 30fps multiplayer, no PvP, mindlessly repetitive shooter gameplay in linear levels or open arenas with poor AI, numerous scripting bugs that will force you to restart or reload.
I’m a big fan of Transformers. Probably not as big as some since I’ve only gotten interested in them since the movies and recent series of video games have started coming out, but I’m still a big fan. The Transformers games have always seemed to be better when not directly tied to the movies as was the case with War for Cybertron and its 2012 follow-up Fall of Cybertron, both created by High Moon Studios and Matt Tieger, one of the greatest Transformers fans you could ever meet. His love for the franchise really shined in every facet of those games, but sadly, the latest installment in the Transformers franchise has been farmed out to Edge of Reality and the results are less than stellar.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is perhaps the worst Transformers game in the game franchise – yes, even worse than those movie spin-offs from the last gen. In fact, Dark Spark somehow manages to go back in time with graphics that may have been acceptable in the early days of Xbox 360 or PS3, but I pity the person who buys this game on the Xbox One or PS4 in hopes of a next-gen experience. Even the PC version (often a step up from console) fails to match the quality of the games that have come before it.
Pre-rendered cutscenes are of surprisingly low resolution and loaded with compression artifacts. Once you get into the game you have a reasonably good quality model for whichever robot you are controlling, although their animations are stiff and awkward. Gone are those cool seamless attack transitions from vehicle to robot. In fact; none of the animations flow together all that well. Enemies are limited in type, design, and intelligence. When you aren’t wandering through linear corridors the map will open up into an arena-style area and you get to run around playing in brief spurts of what versus multiplayer might be like if Dark Spark actually had that. The enemy AI is moronic, and with your early arsenal of overpowered weapons there is not much of a challenge.
Things start to look a bit better the further you get into the game. Level design is slightly more original once you get to Cybertron, but textures are always a bit flat and low-res and there is this perpetual mist or haze over everything in the game; both indoors and out. I’m guessing this might be to help maintain the 60fps in the single-player game, but it would be nice to turn this filter off – then again, that might only reveal the inferior texture quality even more. There isn’t much in the way of particle effects, lighting or shadows other than the occasional lens flare from the sun or a bright light.
As a big Transformers fan I can tolerate antiquated graphics if there is solid gameplay to distract me, but sadly there is none to be found. The game is an endless sequence of fighting land and air enemies using a mix of your primary and secondary weapons or morphing into your vehicle mode that can drive or fly and shoot depending on who you are. In most cases transforming is really never about tactics as much as it is switching to a new ammo source when your guns run dry. Admittedly, there are some level design situations that force you to transform; at least temporarily. There are numerous terminals scattered about the levels that let you switch out any unlocked weapons and you can also pick-up new weapons left lying around the levels along with abundant ammo drops and Energon cubes. The variety of weapons is impressive as are the visual effects they produce – perhaps the only bright spot in this game.
Sound design is also rather poor; at least in the mix. By default the music is too loud and even at max level it is nearly impossible to hear the dialogue in some instances – turn on subtitles if you care about the story. Sound effects are powerful and there is good spatial use of speakers and LFE for anyone with a subwoofer.
As hinted above, there is no competitive multiplayer so those that loved that mode in previous games are out of luck. Returning is the fan-favorite, Escalation, the four-player, wave-based, co-op, survival game with 15 waves and a handful of maps; only two of which are new. There are more than 40 playable Transformers to choose across both factions, and the XP and level system does seamlessly span both story mode and Escalation, so if you finish the campaign first you’ll have a slight advantage going into multiplayer.
The campaign is short; only a 5-6 hour affair and with limited multiplayer potential there isn’t much to keep you playing, assuming you have the patience to even finish the game in the first place. Numerous scripting bugs appeared in nearly every level. In one level my two AI comrades rushed ahead and blocked a hole in the wall preventing me from proceeding to the next waypoint. In another level an animation of a small robot coming out of my chest panel stuck and rendered all of my controls except the right stick inactive as I stood there and got beaten to death. In another level one of my sidekick robots got stuck in a wall. As you can imagine, I am quite familiar with the “reload checkpoint” menu option, which only makes me wish the game had more frequent checkpoints. At least the multi-stage boss fights save between each stage.
Here is the first 90 minutes of unedited gameplay with commentary and a few of those bugs I mentioned.
As it stands, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is ugly, boring, and in many instances, broken. I cringe every time a new game tries to span both last and current generations, but I would have at least hoped Dark Spark would have been “as good” as its predecessor; especially since it seems to be using a lot of recycled resources. It’s easy to tell there is no passion or love for Transformers in this game – at least not on the same level as the High Moon Studios games, proving once again that movie spin-offs in video games are just a bad idea.
Sadly, I cannot recommend this game to even the most diehard Transformers fan. In fact, the more you love Transformers the greater your disappointing will be with Rise of the Dark Spark. It is just another hastily prepared movie cash-in game with poor production values and broken gameplay that will be quickly doomed to retail bargain bins and the Winter Steam sale, and even then I would recommend caution.