Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark (RotDS) is perhaps the worst Transformers game ever made, and a fine example of how poor execution can absolutely ruin even the best of settings.
Its potential-stuffed central concept of giant transformable alien robots fighting each other on Earth over the mysterious but powerful Dark Spark artefact is constantly undermined by uninspired level design, hammy voice acting and dull, repetitive action that didn’t thrill and engage so much as make me wish I could stop playing and go do something else.
Throw in a confusing story that’s told from the perspectives of both the Autobots and Decepticons (with jarring transitions between the two), a badly-spaced checkpoint system that will have you re-playing unnecessarily difficult sections of the game over and over again and an overly-long single-player campaign (14 chapters!) and you don’t have a game that’s worth playing, you have one that should be skipped.
Nothing to see here
A cardinal sin in any Transformers game is the absence of eye candy, which RotDS commits with enthusiastic glee. The mostly-bland levels look like they were put together in five minutes flat, some textures are laughably low-res (low even for the Xbox 360), edges are jagged and ugly and the robots themselves look like recycled models from previous Transformers games, with only a few exceptions (Grimlock). It really is a puzzle, because if there’s one entertainment property that relies on eye candy to sell its lack of depth, it’s Transformers.
One of the best reasons to play a Transformers game – the ability to swap forms – is sadly rather underwhelming in RotDS. While the actual transition animations don’t look too bad, there’s no real incentive to switch between the two on the fly: fighting in vehicle form is often more effective, as robots control better as cars and aircraft than they do on two legs.
The game’s difficulty is also a little off. Some levels I breezed through while others proved irritatingly difficult. One of the early missions had me attempting to flip four separate switches (itself an unwelcome trope), which would have been fine except each one was protected by a swarm of opponents that overwhelmed me time and again, sometimes with only one switch remaining.
What made it worse was there were no checkpoints between them, so when I failed – even if it was on the fourth switch – I had to re-start the section. Several spots in the game proved similarly annoying – easy one minute, tough-as-nails the next – leaving me feeling like the designers were doing it deliberately. It was not appreciated.
We’re taking losses
Sound in RotDS is another disappointment. The soundtrack is suitably movie-like for the most part, but the repetition of some enemies’ lines is just terrible. Their repertoire seemed to consist of “Let’s see what we got!”, “We’re taking losses!” and “He got away!”, which just about drove me up the wall. Easily the best part of RotDS’s audio was Peter Cullen’s reprisal of his role as Optimus Prime; the rest was either unremarkable or annoying.
20% not terrible
There are a few spots of brightness, though: the Escalation co-op mode that has you fighting waves of enemies with up to three of your mates can be fun; as you fight you earn in-game currency that unlocks level upgrades, turrets and new characters to play as, and it is pretty cool the first few times. However, poor enemy AI quickly saps the joy from it, to the point where it’s unlikely you’ll play Escalation for long.
The game’s upgrade system also isn’t terrible as it adds a sense of progression and customisation. While you play, there are Gear Box drops that contain weapons, upgrades and ability boosters that can be used to spec out your Transformer, you can set various boosters that give you things like experience multipliers, bots that can repair you when deployed as well as set your primary and secondary weapons. All equipment that is unlocked in multiplayer is available in single-player, and vice versa.
How about no
Unfortunately two okay-ish points in an otherwise messy, badly-executed game are not enough for me to recommend Rise of the Dark Spark: its flaws are too many. Only if you’re a die-hard fan of the movies or you want to amuse your four-year old who has a mild obsession with Optimus Prime should you consider grabbing this one.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is out now on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U and PC. The Wii U version doesn’t have Escalation, however.