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The never-ending struggle between the Autobots and the Decepticons rages on in Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, a new offering that bridges the worlds of the recent video games from High Moon Studios and the Michael Bay films. The result: A game that is exactly what meets the eye. Nothing more, nothing less.
While Rise of the Dark Spark features the same voice cast and assets as the most recent Cybertron-focused Transformers games, the team at Edge of Reality actually took the reins on developing this latest romp. The game begins on Earth, with the Autobots of the feature films dealing with a new robotic menace who has come into possession of the titular Dark Spark, an artifact that has the ability to freeze time, bring robots back from the dead and apparently rip a whole in time and space.
With the outcome of that encounter still hanging in the balance, the game shifts perspective to the planet Cybertron, taking place sometime in the midst of the war that highlighted the previous two High Moon Transformers games. Basically, you can think of the majority of Dark Spark as a handful of chapters that were missing from the Cybertron storyline that then have an impact on the Transformers of a different time and dimension, namely the film universe. At least that’s what I think is going on. One of Dark Spark’s major downfalls is that the narrative is so poorly paced and disjointed that it becomes difficult to follow who has the Dark Spark, what they’re trying to do with it and why.
This is one of the many areas where it becomes extremely easy to compare Dark Spark to the Cybertron games. Whereas those stories flowed through a steady stream of peaks and valleys and told a memorable tale of a civilization in the midst of a war that is literally tearing its world apart, Dark Spark’s yarn is about as clever as your average Saturday morning cartoon. While that’s certainly fitting, considering the source material, the Cybertron games proved that just because we’re dealing with robotic, gun-toting trucks doesn’t mean we can’t expect a compelling narrative to boot.
Had the Cybertron games never existed, Dark Spark would likely be hailed as the greatest Transformers game ever created. Unfortunately for this latest offering, it only exists because of those previous two titles, both of which set a high water mark that Edge of Reality simply could not manage to equal.
But that’s not to say I did not enjoy my time with Rise of the Dark Spark. Quite the opposite, actually. While I would have certainly preferred a more polished, comprehendible experience, the fact remains that assets from the previous games serve as a backbone for this latest adventure, and I’m happy to report that that skeletal structure remains intact. The bots still control like they did in the Cybertron games, the maps (though less interesting to look at) are built from the same pieces and there are new and exciting characters to control on both sides of the war.
I love the sound and feel of these games, and Dark Spark did a good job of making me feel like a walking bucket of bolts manning a turbo-charged shotgun. While some of the maps are little more than corridors leading into rooms leading into more corridors, there were plenty of wide open fighting arenas and stretches were it felt natural to transform into vehicle mode and hit the boost button. The arsenal is also nicely varied on foot, offering up plenty of bot-versions of familiar weaponry and a few unique scrap makers that are fun to unleash. Your vehicle firepower is usually limited to a machine gun and a rocket launcher, so it would have been nice to see a bit more variety there.
Each bot also has a unique ability, ranging from an invisibility cloak and a darting melee attack to a laser-firing drone or a tether that lets you swing around certain parts of the level like Spider-Man. And then there are the flying missions and the couple of chapters that let you take control of some of the heavier hitters, which served as a nice change of pace and marked the highlights of the campaign. There’s nothing revolutionary about the campaign, but if you’re looking to stomp around and blow up robots with all manner of flashy weaponry, then Rise of the Dark Spark certainly delivers on that count.
There’s also a nifty unlock system that rewards reaching various combat goals with crates of upgrades and new bots. Most of the weaponry can be boosted with these upgrades (faster reload, additional effect), the new robots can be used in Escalation mode, and you can also earn game-altering boosts and gear that help keep things fresh, like a drone that heals both yourself and teammates, or a “H.A.C.K.” that makes enemies drop more ammo, but dish out more damage.
The campaign will take you through 14 missions spread out across eight or so hours. It’s enough to get the job done without overstaying its welcome since, yeah, all of that nonstop shooting can get pretty repetitive.
Once you’re done with the story, there’s plenty of replay available in Escalation Mode, which is where I suspect most of the folks who enjoy the game will be spending the majority of their time. You start off by picking your favorite loadout, including Decepticons and Autobots from a large roster of fan favorites. After that, you can team up with three other players to drop into one of eight maps, each offering 15 waves of baddies to destroy. You’ll earn in-game currency as the waves pour on, which can then be spent to activate, repair and upgrade stationary gear like turrets, domes that corrode your enemies’ armor and electrified gates that force them to funnel in a certain direction. Get on a half-decent team with a decent mix of helpful abilities and Escalation mode is an absolute blast.
The lack of competitive multiplayer, though, is a little confusing. They’ve already got a huge roster of Transformers to pick from and a collection of maps that would accommodate, say, 4v4 or 6v6 matches nicely. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why at least some bare-bone basic modes weren’t made available for folks who want to kill some time blowing holes in robots controlled by other people. Escalation is fun and should provide loads of additional mileage, but nothing compares to the variety and challenge experienced in your average round of competitive play.
If I may be so bold as to make a painfully obvious analogy, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark isn’t the prettiest, fastest or most reliable machine on the showroom floor, but it will get fans of the Cybertron games from Point A to Point B in one piece. There are a few ridiculous spikes in difficulty and the occasional bug, but the Transformers DNA that made the most recent games so much fun to play still pumps through Dark Spark’s engine.
As a quick aside, the 3DS version of Rise of the Dark Spark, developed by WayForward, is a completely different experience compared to the version reviewed here. A PlayStation 4 copy of the game was played for the purposes of this review, which offers the same content on the PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. The Wii U version is missing Escalation Mode, which I feel would drastically affect my overall opinion of the game.
Players: 1 - 4 (online)
Platforms: PS3, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, PC,
Developer:Edge of Reality, Wayforward Technologies