Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Review

By Dave Horobin, 2 years ago
With a new Transformers movie hitting cinemas recently, it came as no surprise to most when Activision announced a game to coincide with its release. What was a surprise however was the news that the game would see a switch in developer from High Moon Studios to Edge of Reality, and even more surprisingly, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark would attempt to merge High Moon’s G1 inspired universe with the very different Michael Bay movie fiction.

Does the game live up to its well-received predecessors, or is it a return to the scrap heap for the Transformers franchise?

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Back in 2010, High Moon Studios proved to gamers that there was more to offer from the Transformers franchise than the previously seen movie tie-ins. Instead, Transformers: War For Cybertron was a nostalgic nod to the 1980’s G1 cartoon, and the game’s solid mechanics and origin story proved to be a hit with critics and gamers alike. Two years later, High Moon added on the solid foundations they had built with Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (Xbox 360), ramping up the action and scale in almost every possible way, delivering arguably the best game the franchise has seen to date.

With Rise of the Dark Spark, new developer Edge of Reality’s attempt at merging the differing High Moon and Michael Bay versions of the franchise results in a thoroughly confusing campaign that quite literally recycles some of the best moments the previous games had to offer and somehow turns them into a bland and predictable experience.
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Rise of the Dark Spark begins on Earth with the Autobots looking to capture the Dark Spark, an ancient Cybertronian artifact that allows the user to bend the universe and its inhabitants to their will. Predictably, things don't go quite as planned and the story switches to historical Cybertron to explain what the Dark Spark is, and why it is so important.

Back on Cybertron, gone are the Epic cut scenes and large scale levels that made for the fun and varied gameplay in Fall of Cybertron, instead the dull looking corridors that were the main criticism of its predecessor return. Throughout the majority of your return to Cybertron, you’ll spend your time walking through small corridors that give you no room or need to use the Transformers' alternate modes, fighting waves of cannon fodder AI enemies.

Even with War for Cybetron's endless corridors, the end of each level usually had a pay off with a large boss battle against some of the franchise's most well-known characters, in Rise of the Dark Spark even they are missing for the vast majority of the game. Instead the only enemies you’ll meet along the way are nondescript grunts that rarely transform or offer any real resistance.

When you do come to a larger area, the ensuing gameplay feels like it’s not there to suit the story, but seemingly because it was easier to directly copy elements from the previous games than to come up with something new – even if it does on numerous occasions contradict events from the previous games or the new movie.

The events of the story become further confused as the campaign switches back and forth between present day Earth and historical Cybertron over the course of the game’s fourteen levels (as well as between the two warring factions with no real explanation as to why) before finally dropping the Decepticon side of the story half way through the game, leaving the Autobots to march on to their inevitable victory.

Back on Earth, the level design isn’t any better. Instead of Cybertron's corridors, you’ll work your way through drab, dilapidated and lifeless streets, tunnels and buildings, fighting the same re-skinned AI, with no reason to switch between the alternate modes unless prompted to by the game.

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The one saving grace for Rise of the Dark Spark is that the game offers a very competent shooting mechanic that is taken directly from Fall of Cybertron. As far as third-person shooters go, it’s more than adequate and there are a large range of weapons and abilities you can use to customise your loadout at multiple points throughout each level. From the standard assault rifle, shotgun and sniper rifle, to the more exciting weapons like the Energon Harvester which depletes enemy health and refills your own, to the V32.Cybr Corrupt@r which converts enemies to fight on your side, each weapon has a unique feel and style.

A new unlock system has been added which rewards you with Gear Boxes for completing both level and game specific challenges such as get X amount of kills with this ability or gun. When opened, Gears Boxes allow you to unlock new weapons, weapon upgrades, special abilities and hacks (similar to skulls in Halo) that can be used in both campaign and multiplayer, as well as a large array of some of the franchises best known character skins for use in Escalation.

It does add some replay value to levels, but after completing the campaign and playing a few games of Escalation, chances are that you’ll have the vast majority of the unlocks at your disposal already which makes opening new Gear Boxes a tedious and largely pointless exercise.

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Visually the game looks OK on both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One versions of the game, but there’s very little to distinguish between the two. It very much appears to be the same engine used on Fall of Cybertron with little or no work done except for the new Earth levels and character designs. There are the occasional frame rate drops here and there on both systems, but by far the largest annoyance is the game pausing to load the next section of a level at strange and unexpected moments.

Peter Cullen makes an enthusiastic return to voice Optimus Prime, and does a good job, but the rest of the cast are mainly forgetful and have very little to say. Much of the soundtrack and dialogue again feels as though it was taken directly from its predecessors to save time.

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Competitive multiplayer has been removed from the game completely, with only the Escalation mode making a return from previous games. This time there are eight well designed maps that see you and up to three other players work your way through fifteen waves of enemies.

Escalation is a fun game mode that offers a lot of character customisation, and at times can offer some frantic gameplay as you try to revive a downed teammate or find more ammunition, but unfortunately it doesn't offer any real challenge. Even without communication between your teammates, you’ll find that completing wave fifteen is relatively easy to achieve.

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For achievements, the game offers a pretty standard list, with a large number available for completing the campaign, picking up collectibles and performing specific weapon and character kills. None are difficulty specific, so if you want to blast through the campaign as quickly as you can, you can do so on easy in around five or six hours. Escalation achievements such as completing wave fifteen can be quite easily done in quick match with random players, whilst the remaining ability and weapon specific achievements can all be done in a solo match .

Activating Prime mode when you hit level twenty-five (similar to prestiging in Call of Duty) makes a return, but this time XP is earned in both single and multiplayer game modes. At the time of writing after completing the campaign and playing to wave fifteen in Escalation mode three times I’m already at level seventeen without much effort.

The vast majority of gamers will find earning the full 1000 Gamerscore an easy task, and it should take no more than fifteen hours at the very maximum.

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Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark appears to be every bit the rushed movie tie-in that many people expected when it was announced back in April. The campaign is dull and confusing, with no epic boss battles between the franchise's large cast of well-known characters to keep you excited or wanting more. Fans of the franchise will likely find enough from the game to get some enjoyment from it, and the shooting mechanics and Escalation mode will make it playable for those of you looking for a relatively quick 1000GS. Overall Rise of the Dark Spark is a very forgettable experience that mainly serves as a reminder to the great work High Moon did with its predecessors.

The reviewer spent approximately nine hours playing through the main story and Escalation mode, unlocking 26 out of the game's 50 achievements. This Xbox 360 copy of the game was provided courtesy of the publisher.
Dave Horobin
Written by Dave Horobin
Dave is the TrueAchievements Social Manager and has been a Newshound since 2010. When he's not chasing developers and publishers for early review copies, he can usually be found on the TrueAchievements social pages discussing all things TA related.