Video Game Review - Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
It had to come to an end, didn’t it?
You see, we were on such a good run. Sure, the video games associated with
each of the movies, Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon ran the gamut from “meh” to “suck”. But we got spoiled. War for Cybertron gave us the Transformers game we’d all been waiting for and Fall of Cybertron expanded on that by giving us the chance to summon strikes from Metroplex, play as a combiner and rampage as Grimlock. But on top of those mechanics, the story was equally compelling telling us the story of Dark Energon and how it played into the final days of Transformers on their homeworld. Fall of Cybertron ended on the Ark just before it crashed to Earth, making us all wonder if High Moon Studios would give us the G1 game we’d all been waiting for since 1984 (yeah, the Japanese PS2 game doesn’t count).
When the announcement came out that the next game “Rise of the Dark Spark” would involve two universes, the one from the High Moon games and the one from the movies, well, it certainly piqued my interest. Was this going to be a “Crisis” or Multiverse style story? And the concept of the Dark Spark was pretty cool too. If the Autobot Matrix was spawned from the spark of Primus and the focus of the Full Moon games was Dark Energon (the blood of Unicron), then a matrix spawned by Unicron’s spark? Pretty cool.
What we get lives up to none of that. Sadly, High Moon isn’t the force behind this game, instead being made by Edge of Reality. And that absence is felt. The game feels more like an expansion, not the epic the trailers would have you believe, both in terms of story and in gameplay. In fact, in some ways, it even feels like a step backward.
First, let’s talk story. Go back a couple paragraphs…see that? Yep, not even close. We start off with a movie-verse level that ends with Lockdown getting his hands on the Dark Spark. Already, we’re running into problems. Of the two franchises the Transformer games have become, movie-verse and pre-G1, one set of those have been all but universally panned while the other has been either lauded or, at the very least, been tolerated. So which one would you start off with? You’d start on the good foot, which, incidentally, would be the pre-G1 stuff. Nope. After this opening movie-verse level, then we flash back to a series of pre-G1 levels with the Autobots doing their best to keep the Decepticons from getting the Dark Spark. You play both sides and this side of the story eventually culminates in Optimus versus Megatron with the relic eventually freed from the Decepticons and launched into space. The problem with the pre-G1 stuff is that the stories of War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron are pretty tightly woven (as I remember)…so to inject this, well, for lack of a better word, expansion pack into the story is handled about as gracefully as a crow bar. War for Cybertron led us to the Autobots fateful decision to abandon their home planet and Fall of Cybertron showed us the evacuation process…culminating in the final moments on the Ark prior to its crashing on Earth. There’s really not much in the way of room to squeeze in this story. As for the movie-verse story…well, Age of Extinction takes us from Lockdown’s first appearance on Earth to his demise at the hands of Optimus…so again, not a lot of room for this story to wiggle into without tossing continuity into the wind.
Now, before I sound all internet-hate-nerd on this game, I will say that I can overlook any supposed slights toward continuity if the game is fun to play. Sadly, this is not the case. First warning sign? Playing the game felt like work…and when play feels like work, well, then it is work and thus, not play. [Don’t read that sentence while high…or drunk. Actually, just skip it entirely. – Ed.] Other reviews complained about the repetitive in game dialog from opponents. I learned to ignore that rather quickly. However, the game’s propensity for cheap shots causing more respawns than one would like…THAT got irritating. Quick hint, if you hear a voice and don’t see them right away: A) they’re behind you and B) you’ll be dead before you find them. This doesn’t make the game fun…it makes it a chore. Also, this game doesn’t add anything to the mix. War for Cybertron gave us the foundation…our first Transformers game that didn’t suck. Fall of Cybertron added to that: switching gun hands, combiners, dinobots and so forth. This game…nope. We’ve got all the toys from the previous games, which in some ways makes it feel like High Moon just dropped off the code and models to a random studio and said “Have fun, we’re out!”, but even then, well, let me just go to my main gripe: Grimlock. It should be fun to play as Grimlock…especially in the premise of this game. Movie-verse Grimlock trashing a city, munching on Decepticons. This should be fun as shit. Instead, I get stuck or hung up on every damn car or tanker truck that happens to be present on the streets. Are you kidding me??? A giant Tyrannosaur cannot step over…or ON…a puny human vehicle. And trying to eat Decepticons? Again, this should be a hoot! Instead, it requires timing akin to a goddamn NASA rocket launch. Either that or the ‘Cons have been training with Mohammed Ali or something. One last thing…and this might just be me…but the Chapters in the game really didn’t have much in the way of distinct breaks. I like to have these little breather points so that if I have other stuff to do around the home or need to be going to bed for work the next day, there’s an easy and natural place to bow out. Many times while opting to quit the game, I had no idea as to whether or not I was going to start off at a checkpoint…or if I was going to have to brave yet another dirty onslaught with cheap shots galore that I barely squeaked my way out of last time.
With a Multiversal story and the foundation of the two previous games, it would have taken more effort to screw this game up than it would have to just keep the ship steady. Congrats, Edge of Reality, that’s exactly what you’ve done. Looking at the circumstances, one could argue that perhaps this game was rushed to coincide with the release of Age of Extinction into theatres. This is most likely what happened, but still is no excuse. After weathering this, one can only hope that the Transformer video game franchise follows in the steps of another game franchise that made this mistake, the Batman: Arkham games. They too went with the first two games being by the same developer, the third game being made by a placeholder only to have the original developer return for the fourth. A G1 on Earth Transformers game (that didn’t suck) has been in the dreams of Transformers fans ever since the original cartoon aired. If there’s any way to beg High Moon Studios to come back and give it to us…we need that information now. Sadly, I suspect it’ll take “a little energon…and A LOT of luck.”