For the last few years, Transformers fans have taken comfort in the knowledge that while the movies were terrible, the games were decent, sometimes even good. Sadly, this is not the case with Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark, a piss poor third-person shooter that Activision are releasing on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, WiiU, and PC.
Made by Edge Of Reality — who did not make any of the good Transformers games — Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is yet another sci-fi shooter in which various Autobots get into skirmishes with different Decepticons, and vice versa. Which kind of makes this like a third-person version of Halo if Master Chief could turn into a trashy-looking sports car.
Oh, but if only it was that interesting (“Spartans, role out!”). Part of the problem with Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is that it doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. And not just because your enemies are all pushovers who sometimes seem lost in thought when they should be trying to kill you. Or because some of the weapons are overpowered, especially when you’re in vehicle form. No, it’s also because there’s a malaise about it, an unenthusiasm that infests the entire game. From the subpar graphics — which would be okay on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or WiiU, but are unacceptable on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PCs — to the similarly bland sound effects and equally generic and redundant battlefields, Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark seems to have been made by people who have no passion for Transformers.
Or, for that matters, shooting games or even games in general. Consider this: All you do in Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark’s story-driven campaign is run around and shoot people. There’s no situational puzzles to solve, no real problems to figure out, just you running, driving, or sometimes flying from one gun battle to another. Which would be fine if those gun battles were the least bit frantic, harrowing, or, heck, just slightly challenging. But even when you’re outnumbered, Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark never makes you feel outgunned.
Except when it doesn’t. While most of Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark is rather easy, there are brief instances when the difficulty spikes considerably, to the point of frustration.
The difficultly isn’t the only problem with Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark, though. For starters, it has a fair number of irritating (though not fatal) technical issues, most of which should’ve been caught and corrected. Characters sometimes get stuck, the camera doesn’t always play nice, and there were moments where things slowed to a crawl or even froze up for a second. There’s even a part where the dialog was grammatically incorrect (“…if the Dark Spark is dropped from height…”). And I can’t remember when I’ve had to sit through such long load times when starting the game or going to the next level. Oh, wait, yes I can: Forza Motorsport 5. But it’s still annoying.
Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark also has a problem so common these days that I now just cut and paste this paragraph into almost every game review I do (seriously, go check): the type is too small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV — y’know, like your mama told you not to — you’ll have a hard time reading the subtitles and other notifications.
In fact, the only thing working in this game’s favor are that the controls are smooth and intuitive, while some of the weapons go beyond the typical sci-fi versions of machine guns and rocket launchers, and actually veer, ever so slightly, into relative inventiveness. The Glass Gas Cannon, for instance, turn the gravity off beneath your enemies, then turns it back on rather abruptly, while the Sling Shock shoots an electrified bolo that electrically incapacitates your target. Though even here things get a bit cliché, like when you find the gun that spits gobs of acid.
Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark also does some interesting things with modifiers. Throughout the campaign, you’re rewarded with these unlockable boxes, which contain such items as new guns, weapon upgrades, and temporary boosts that, when chosen and then activated mid-mission, will, for example, double the amount of XP you earn or boost your health until your nearly indestructible.
But these boxes also contain modifiers that can alter the game’s difficulty in interesting ways. For instance, you can make it so enemies are easier to kill but also hurt you more per shot, or will drop more ammo but less heath (or the opposite), or will make your adversaries tougher but prone to exploding when you nail them with a headshot, inuring any nearby pals.
Unlike in most games, which usually only let you employ such modifiers when you’re playing the game for the second time, Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark allows you to activate them in the middle of a mission, at one of the many weapon terminals you normally use to change or upgrade your guns. It’s not a game changer by any stretch of the imagination (pun not intended), but it is something different.
These modifiers can even be used in Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark’s Horde-like four-player co-op mode “Escalation.” Which is only fair, since many of the problems that plague this game’s uneventful story-driven campaign infect that mode as well. Though while the campaign lacks any real excitement, things are slightly better in “Escalation” — well, relatively speaking, anyway — in part because the enemies are tougher and more vigilant.
“Escalation” also keeps things interesting by taking cues from the version of “Horde” in Gears Of War 3, which let you construct barriers and other armaments. Here, though, you can not only set up barriers, but you can also activate auto turrets, devices that will automatically heal you and your teammates, and even ones that spray an acidic gas (though, unlike in Gears Of War 3, these items are already in set positions, you simply turn them on). None of which makes this as much fun as “Horde,” but the firefights you’ll get into in this mode are more challenging, and thus more compelling, than any you’ll face in the campaign.
Even with “Escalation” being more fun than the campaign, it’s all relatively, and thus not enough to make Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark worth your money. Or anyone else’s money. Or the energy you’d have to expend to physically pick up a free copy you see lying in the gutter. And while I’d say you should just spend it on the new movie instead, if the game is this crap, you can only imagine how bad the movie might be.