Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark review: scrap metal

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform PS4, PS3, 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, Win
Publisher Activision
Developer Edge of Reality
Release Date N/A

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark demonstrates how easy it is to ruin a good thing.

Publisher Activision previously entrusted developer High Moon Studios with the Transformers license, which resulted in the excellent Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (and we'll just pretend the mediocrity of the Transformers: Dark of the Moon game didn't happen).

The Cybertron games demonstrated a grasp of just about everything that made the idea of a Transformers game exciting — blasting and smashing giant robots with a variety of cleverly-executed weapons in third person, and all the while, shifting between vehicle and robot forms at will. By combining a good balance of risk vs. reward, proper incentives for experimentation, and good level design with a real sense of momentum, High Moon nailed it.

But High Moon's (apparently) last Transformers game released in 2012. With a new movie to tie into in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Activision has given the license to developer Edge of Reality. But that's not all that Activision handed them. Despite having (and using) all the pieces of High Moon's successful Transformers games, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is a shuffling mess of boring levels, bad checkpoints and laughable presentation.

For no discernible reason, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark seeks to unite the completely divergent fictions of High Moon's Cybertron universe with Michael Bay's Transformers filmic reality — ignoring the fact that the Cybertron games were repeatedly insinuated to be a potential origin story for the original animated series. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark opens in the present day Bay universe as Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown is chasing the titular Dark Spark, a matrix that allows the user to do stuff. By which I mean anything whoever wrote or designed Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark thought might be cool at that particular moment, it seems. It can corrupt or mind control other Transformers! It can slow down time and make the user invincible! Time travel!

Lockdown snatches the Dark Spark as Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Drift look on, and then ... it's back to the Cybertron-era to explain what the Dark Spark is, and why it's such a threat.

But what this conceit feels like is an excuse — to retread, recycle and re-use as much as possible from War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark may include the most aggressive repurposing of existing assets I've ever seen in a game. Character models are lifted directly from High Moon's games. Incidental dialogue is lifted directly from High Moon's games. The interface is the same. The in-level loading icon is identical. Each level feels pieced together from bits of the Cybertron games, with the thinnest, most cursory explanations given, if they're given at all.

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Escalation

The excellent wave-based survival mode Escalation makes a return in Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, and it's slightly less disappointing than everything else. You can still team up with up to three other players as you fight off successive waves of enemies, buying stage upgrades and weapon emplacements with currency you earn in level. Escalation is also the primary motivation behind Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark's Gearbox and leveling system: As you play the game, you earn points to increase your level and earn Gearboxes which contain various unlockable Transformers, weapon upgrades, and single-use consumable power-ups.

As with the rest of the game though, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark takes the good component parts of Escalation and fumbles their general execution. Enemy AI is as brain-dead as it is in the campaign and weapons never feel very well balanced.

Number of instances of game-related profanity during this review: 48

If anything, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark's shameless plundering of the Cybertron games makes me appreciate them — and dislike their successor — even more. Edge of Reality's attempt to recreate High Moon's successes demonstrates just how easy it is to blow it completely on execution.

Where High Moon's Transformers games unfolded quickly, covering enormous distances by ground and air, as vehicle or robot form at will, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark crawls through monotonous, boring areas as slowly as possible. The majority of my time with the game involved walking/rolling for 15-30 seconds then waiting for a door to open as I blasted incredibly stupid (though maddeningly lethal) enemies until Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark decided it was time to move on to the next functionally identical section.

War For Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron had moments like this as well, but Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark has also badly upended the series' combat dynamics. Weapons feel ineffective and flimsy or, in the case of the guided rockets that every Transformer's vehicle form seems to have, incredibly overpowered — so much so that by the end of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, I was sitting in vehicle mode most of the time. Swapping forms became pointless in all but a few situations.

That isn't to say that Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is always easy. I was routinely murdered by enemies I never saw who eliminated me with just a few shots, and checkpoints are spaced much too far apart. All of this results in a game that just isn't fun to play.

Drift

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark fumbles the elements of other better games that it lifts wholesale, but it handles what little additions it makes with even less grace. "Movie" reality levels are budget-game material, all flat surfaces and stock buildings. And the few new Transformer designs to feature in Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark are an embarrassment, a barebones imitation at the complexity and sophistication of the Cybertron titles' robots.

This is a game that takes a giant robotic tyrannosaur and makes him the least interesting, most boring character — not to mention the most clearly half-assed transformation in a game full of disappointing presentation elements. The story inelegantly moves from section to section, including a chapter that ends as the Autobots get on a train (let that sink in for a moment), followed by the next chapter starting in the wreckage of said train. The game's dialogue is awful, and its attempt to ape previous games' alternating view of the Autobot/Decepticon conflict only results in a story that feels meandering and pointless.

Wrap Up:

Rise of the Dark Spark is a colossal failure

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is awash in so much borrowed content, so many poorly executed examples of copy-and-paste design from its predecessors, that I can't help but wonder what happened. My best guess? A lack of time. Regardless, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is a colossal failure, serving only as a reminder of how much better its predecessors were.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark was reviewed using a "retail" Xbox One download code provided by Activision. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
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