The Transformers franchise has had it’s share of clangers in the video games industry stretching back to the mid-80’s. Many developers have tried and failed to make a decent game based on the robots in disguise and it wasn’t until 2010 that the Hasbro property would finally get some critical and financial success with Transformers: War for Cybertron.
Entrusted to High Moon Studios, the game received rave reviews from fans and critics alike as “the most highly-rated, critical success of any game that’s had the Hasbro brand”. 2012 saw the inevitable release of a sequel, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and although not as popular as it’s predecessor, it still received positive reviews. Fast forward to 2014, a new developer at the helm and a third game is the series has been released, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. Have Hasbro gone three for three? Well no.
To put it bluntly Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark demonstrates just how easy it is to ruin a good thing.
With High Moon apparently reluctant to return to the Transformers Universe they created and a new movie tie-in needed for the release of Transformers: Age Of Extinction, publisher Activision handed over control of the Transformers licence to developers Edge of Reality.
Where High Moon had succeeded in creating a solid story with no direct tie-ins to the Michael Bay movie universe, more as a potential origin story for the original animated series, the new developer has decided to ignore the inconsistencies in the two unique timelines and attempt to merge the two with the help of, annoyingly, time travel.
The game begins on Earth, modern day, with Lockdown, in all this Michael Bay glory, chasing down the titular Dark Spark, basically the evil twin of the Matrix of Leadership (don’t worry too much about it’s origins, the game doesn’t). The holder of the Dark Spark can do many amazing things, from corrupt and brainwash all other Transformers (apart from any character you’re playing as apparently) to actually controlling time itself.
Now remember, this is designed as a direct tie-in to the movie Universe.
In comes our heroes, Optimus Prime, thankfully voiced of Peter Cullen, Bumblebee and Drift all sporting their Age Of Extinction looks. They fail to stop Lockdown and then we’re thrown back in time to the War for Cybertron universe.
From this point on the narrative is split into two acts. The first set on Cybertron where a younger Optimus is on a mission to stop Megatron from finding and taking control of the Dark Spark. Replace Megatron with Lockdown, Cybertron with modern Earth and that’s the second act. The story essentially repeats itself as it tries to merge the two separate story-lines and fails miserably.
The story feels disjointed, lacking depth, interest and any attempt to add a little intelligence. It’s dull, mediocre and barely worthy of poorly written fan-fiction.
So what about the game-play? Surely with the pedigree from it’s predecessors to pillage there must be some good elements?
The good news is that Edge of Reality have used the same user interface as High Moon’s games making for an easy transition for fans of the series. Sadly the cannibalism didn’t stop there with the, now outdated, character models being used and even some of the dialogue. In many ways this game feels like nothing more than a cheap rip-off.
The game-play itself is nothing like the previous games. Where War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron were fast paced, allowing the player reasonable freedom and the ability to cover vast distances in no time, this game feels like you’re playing the role of a geriatric tortoise, it’s mind-numbingly slow. Poor load times, slow rendering and dull, repetitive challenges lead to the solo-campaign being woefully unenjoyable.
That said, it’s a far from easy game. The overall objectives for each level are easy enough and aren’t going to require much in the way of brain power but there are a number of occasions where you may get stuck, lacking in the right ammo with hordes of enemies heading your way. Even on the easiest setting these bad guys can take quite a few blasts before they meet their maker and yet a few good shots from them and you’re clambering for a decent hiding place. This is something that might make the game a little enjoyable, a challenge, but the distance between save-points can be so vast that any fun you may have will likely turn to frustration.
It’s not all bad though, there is a saving grace within this game and that’s in the multiplayer. Named Escalation mode, like it’s predecessors, it’s basically a survival horde mode which allows up to four players to team up and cooperatively blow the crap out of the bad guys. This mode is a lot more fun and fast paced compared with the single player option, mainly as you have full access to the entire arena and can stretch you robotic legs somewhat.
Players are able to customize their chosen Autobot/Decepticon with weapons, hacks, additional tech and abilities meaning that the more hardcore tactical players can take on roles as healer or ammo distributor. The mode offers a number of locations to choose from, each with their own unique bad guys at specific waves. The one disappointment with this mode is the predictability of the enemies, once you’ve played a few games you begin to see a pattern of behaviour that makes it very easy to outwit the AI and complete the 15 waves.
Graphically this game is poor, it would be mediocre on last-gen consoles so to see this game running on the substantially more powerful current-gen machines is laughable. The transforming animation from robot to vehicle is simplistic at best, the character visuals painfully lacking resolution and detail and the large majority of the backdrops from the Cybertron missions are stolen from a game created before the current-gen machines were even announced.
Sound wise this game isn’t that bad, the ambient soundtrack varies from level to level and matches the scenes perfectly. The vocal work doesn’t disappoint with Optimus himself Peter Cullen on top form, it would be hard to imagine anyone else portraying the Autobot leader at this point. Though not the movies voice-over cast, the additional vocals all do their jobs well, adding an array of likeable vocals which give the poorly rendered characters some personality.
A new developer with the new idea of merging the War Of Cybertron universe with the established, yet contradicting, movie universe in an attempt to utilize the popularity and success of High Moon’s great work whilst making a movie tie-in has done nothing but severly damage an otherwise brilliant gaming series.
In the same way that Arkham Origins did nothing for the Batman story and came across as nothing more than a poorly constructed Arkham City clone, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark has that same feel when compared to it’s predecessors.
The story is mediocre and the graphics are dated at best. Multiplayer saves this game from complete disaster, though even that can get tiresome with a limited choice of arenas and predictable AI.
Fans of the series should be praying that High Moon take back the licence for any future sequels.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Playing as Grimlock
Escalation Mode is worth a go
Peter Cullen’s voice work is great as ever
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
The graphics are well below par
The story is dull
Despite the occasional tricky enemy, the game requires little to no brain power