On the face of it, a game about transformable robots waging an intergalactic war with Earth caught in the middle of it all should be a marvellous thing. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark however, sadly stands as a spectacular squandering of both the license it’s based on and the considerable power of the PlayStation 4.
Rise of the Dark Spark’s campaign chronicles the perpetual conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons, the good and bad guys that respectively exist within the universe that Transformers is set in. Specifically, the narrative settles on a war being waged over the titular Dark Spark, an artefact of great power which is capable of unbalancing the universe as we know it.
It’s the usual wafer-thin sci-fi fluff that we’ve come to expect from the license for sure, but the gameplay in Rise of the Dark Spark does little to make up for the lean and simplistic storytelling that it underpins.
A third-person shooter, Rise of the Dark Spark’s single-player campaign takes players through the quest to retrieve the Dark Spark and lets them experience events from the perspective of both the Autobots and the Decepticons.
Each level or mission though, is a disappointingly dull and challenge-free affair. Usually requiring the player to reach a certain waypoint, retrieve an object or destroy a particular enemy, there is often very little else to do other than blast your way through wave upon wave of mechanical enemies en route to your objectives.
In other games, such a simplistic premise could be overlooked if the core mechanics and the enemy AI was up to snuff. Alas, in Rise of the Dark Spark, your foes will often dumbly wander into oncoming fire freely and will only use cover in exaggerated and predictable manoeuvres.
Furthermore, the level design is hugely lacking. Aside from being geometrically basic and largely featureless, the worlds in Rise of the Dark Spark are a garish and sparsely detailed mess of blurry textures and personality-barren environments.
Detracting even further from the experience is the control of the Transformers themselves. Feeling both sluggish and unsatisfying, the robots often feel more like mobile turrets instead of the almost ballet-like, whirling dervish of mechanical violence that they appear to be in the cartoons and Michael Bay directed flicks.
Where a little pleasure does creep in however, is in the act of transforming the robots into their various flying and land based forms. With each Transformer able to morph into a land-based vehicle or aircraft, it adds a little variety to the proceedings and allows players to escape the relatively unresponsive confines of their bipedal forms.
Sadly, things don’t improve as the focus shifts to the game’s audiovisual presentation. Simply, developer Edge of Reality utterly fails to make Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark look like the game is taking advantage of the PlayStation 4’s substantial visual capabilities at all. As such, it’s difficult to shake off the notion that Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark looks like an early PlayStation 3 title.
With long load times, low detail textures, poorly encoded video, inconsistent framerates and garish, simplistic environments that come together in some sort of gruesome visual marriage, you would be forgiven for thinking you had switched on a different console from seven years ago.
Though faring nowhere near as severely as the visuals, the audio side of the equation falters simply because the only voice actor who returns from the movies to perform in the game is Peter Cullen, who once again lends his gravelly tones to erstwhile Autobot saviour Optimus Prime.
Elsewhere, actors John Goodman and Ken Watanabe as Autobots Hound and Drift respectively are replaced by new folks that don’t even sound remotely similar to their performances in the recent Age of Extinction film. In short, Optimus Prime aside, movie-going fans will almost certainly be disappointed by the lack of voice talent from the recent film.
Far away from the dull and predictable confines of its single-player campaign though, Rise of the Dark Spark’s best chance at enrapturing the player lies in Escalation, the game’s riff of the Horde mode seen in previous Transformers titles.
Supporting up to three players online, Escalation throws wave upon wave of enemies at the group as new characters are unlocked at each successive milestone. It’s an addictive mode which, when combined with the fun of its base-building gameplay mechanics, serves to highlight the poorly constructed and desperately by-the-numbers single-player campaign.
Usually when a licensed game fails to deliver like this, the argument could be made that it is still suitable for kids. In all honesty however, the experience of Rise of the Dark Spark is so far detached from the bombastic spectacle of the big screen movies, that it would feel disingenuous to position it as such.
Greatly inferior to the previous Transformers titles by High Moon Studios, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark’s most egregious transgression isn’t that it’s just a poor take on a beloved license, but rather, that it just isn’t a very good game at all.