There’s a new Transformers film out, and with it comes a not-at-all-based-on-the-movie game to coincide with the release. Licensed by Hasbro and developed by Edge of Reality who brought us the brash and chaotic Loadout, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark tries to make itself stand apart from the crowd, though you can’t help but notice that the budget for the movie didn’t extend to the game. However, should you let that bother you?
Rise of the Dark Spark, or RotDS as I’ll refer to it from now on, is a third person shooter that tells the story of Autobots and Decepticons fighting once again over a device that wields ultimate power – the Dark Spark. Megatron wants to use the device to enslave the universe, Optimus Prime wants to stop it from harming anyone. It’s a shame that the intricacies involved in packing a 20 foot tall robot into a truck don’t transfer into the ambitions of the ex-Cybertronions: it’s good vs. evil with no grey areas and no subtlety either, but then it’s about giant robots from space fighting it out with massive weapons and metal fists. It doesn’t do intellectual. What it does do is running around shooting things and pulling levers, and occasionally flying around shooting things. And pulling levers.
What we have in RotDS is a decent shooter mechanic that doesn’t try to do anything beyond what it’s meant to. Running, aiming and shooting are all smooth and simple to manage, and the core draw of Transformers is the ability to change form at will, and this is catered for too. However, there’s not really any point in transforming if you’re a ground vehicle because your robot form can run faster than you can drive, or that’s what it feels like at least. There’s also the fact that the vehicles aren’t the licensed ones you’re used to seeing, they’re the Cybertron versions. Optimus Prime is a big rig, it’s what we’re all used to, in this he’s more like a squat fire engine type thing. The core shooting experience is what the game aims for, not driving, and there’s no satisfaction in taking the wheeled approach because you’ll most likely just get stopped by immovable barriers or invisible walls. Flying is also there (or hovering we should really call it), which is competent and means you have some degree of freedom to tackle the enemies in the sections where it’s available, but it’s nothing beyond what you’re doing when you’re on the ground. Check out the gameplay video below for an idea of what it’s like.
Level design is perfunctory corridors with the odd cavernous space so you can use your flying abilities, and with the majority of levels set on Cybertron rather than Earth, you’ll get used to rusty metal being your main backdrop. You’ll also get used to not seeing much else. It’s fair to say that whilst there is decoration in the areas you visit, you don’t really notice them because it all blends together when the colour palettes mix. There’s detail and colour in the Autobots and Decepticons, and the variety of other Transformers types you’ll meet along the way, but 90% of the time is spent looking at the back of your robotic avatar so you miss any of the work that’s gone into character modelling. Having said that, the PlayStation 4 version I reviewed was pretty poor in terms of visuals. It’s not that it’s atrocious, it’s just that it should have looked better on the latest generation of hardware, not like a first generation PS3 game.
Sound is good, and the voice acting exactly as you’d want a Transformers game to be. Peter Cullen returns as Optimus Prime, the ubiquitous Troy Baker is there voicing several characters, as is Nolan North, Jim Ward of Capt. Qwark fame, and many others. There’s a lot gone into this to get good performers and make it sound right. There’s nothing to knock in that respect, but maybe that’s where a lot of the focus went instead of putting new ideas into the game. The experience of the Edge of Reality team has lent some additional elements to the game though, with upgrading being based on achieving in-game challenges or racking up certain types of kills. Each time you complete a event, like 75 kills with a particular weapon, you’ll be granted a Gear Box that contains a random selection of items for you to use (think battlepacks from Battlefield 4). There might be new weapons, upgrade points, characters to use in multiplayer, perks or even hacks that change the nature of the game to give you more XP earning potential. XP ranks you up, though doesn’t really seem to do much else beyond giving out new Gear Boxes, either in singleplayer or multiplayer.
The weaponry on offer is standard shooter fayre, even if it has been given exotic sounding names, and you can only carry two weapons at a time – one standard and one heavy. There are usually several points throughout a level where you can change up your loadout, but there are also plenty of handily placed guns lying around so you don’t have to worry about missing the filling stations too much. Missing them does lose your option to change the perks you’re carrying, assuming you’re using them effectively, or have remembered you’ve got them. Each character also has a special move, for want of a better term. These are either powerful punches with area effects, stealth capabilities or even floating turrets; and are usually made apparent when you have to use them to negotiate an obstacle e.g., punching a barrier open. Everything works, everything is effective, and each weapon can be used by all characters so it’s a matter of finding what you like best.
On the multiplayer side, there are two forms. One is a more social element to the singleplayer mode whereby counters will pop up every now and again to tell you how your friends performed on that level. It adds a small amount of competitiveness that aims to get people vying for the most kills, though this will depend on people buying the game. The true multiplayer element though is what I like best in a shooter – co-operative. Escalation mode is basically a Nazi Zombies/Extinction style survival game where you and three others try to defeat 15 waves of increasingly difficult enemies. The arenas are nicely designed with multiple routes around them, and currency you earn for defeating the waves can be spent on defensive fixed position weapons to help you get through. It’s quite good fun, and if you fail a wave you get three chance to complete it before it’s game over. What is bad is the host migration implementation. If your host leaves it will stop the game, select a new host, then reload everything. Not good. There are no other multiplayer modes, just Escalation with several different maps to complete.
Is it worth your money? On PS4, no. No. And no again. I cannot believe that the R.R.P. on this is £59.99, there’s just not enough to it to warrant that cost. The game has solid third person shooter performance, but is uninspired; the graphics are severely dated; and the actual fun of Transformers being robots disguised as everyday vehicles or items is absent. Would it be worth the money on another platform? After checking the store prices, it’s still no. Can I recommend you play it? This is the funny thing, I quite enjoyed it, particularly the Escalation mode, so yes. The game reminded me of the ones that, as students, we’d rent to play in a weekend, passing the pad round the living room. We knew they’d not be the best in the world, and we definitely didn’t have the money to buy them new, but we could get several hours of entertainment out of them, and this is what Transformers: RotDS manages.
A review copy of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark for PlayStation 4 was provided by the Activision PR team.