For anybody that has grown up since the 1980’s, you have likely experienced at least some version of Transformers. Whether it is the old G1 series, the toys, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, or perhaps even some variations on the series like Beast Wars — the Transformers have always been around in some capacity. After years of disappointing game releases, including the movie based tie-ins, we finally received two very fun and faithful Transformers games with War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron from High Moon Studios.
Then came the announcement that the High Moon game universe and movie universe were going to be crossed over in a brand new game, known as Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. This was especially surprising considering another developer, Edge of Reality, was taking over the series rather than the one who started the line of games. This new developer certainly had a lot to live up to, and with the new Transformers: Age of Extinction movie just hitting theaters, Activision seemed to time the release perfectly.
The Transformers games have certainly taken a number of different approaches to story in the past, with a few games like War for Cybertron having an Autobot story and Decepticon story able to chosen from the main menu, in whatever order you choose. The sequel chose to have a more linear approach, with an Autobots story followed by a Decepticon story, which was then tied together near the end with the Dinobots. Transformers Rise of the Dark Spark chose to go with the latter approach, but it did not work nearly as well.
Rather than splitting up the story a bit, what should have been two campaigns were more intertwined and in turn led to a lot of confusion. It could have worked well if there was more structure around the story early, but instead you’d get to a point and it would switch to the other side, with you hardly knowing what happened a lot of the time.
This led to a much larger issue in the game, especially early, the inability of knowing who you were even playing as sometimes. By going to the campaign level select, you can see what character you use in each level, but there are some levels in the game, like the second stage, where you will switch around a few times. There was a long period of time where I had no idea who I was controlling between Sharpshot and Shockwave, due to similar design from the back and no way to tell from the in-game menu.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark offers a wide array of weapons, with both light and heavy weapons to choose from throughout the game. Early in the game, characters will be more locked to specific weapons that you start the stage with until you gain access to more. However, as you get further into the game and everyone has the ability to use most every weapon, changing Transformers on each stage really doesn’t even matter, as they all begin to play the same, minus their special ability.
Getting to play as Grimlock late in the game is almost worth the price of admission
There are also a number of what are known as “T.E.C.H” in the game that you can use in battle, which can be quite useful, especially on the tougher difficulties. These can also be used in tandem with what are known as “hacks,” that work almost like the skulls do in the Halo series. They make the game more difficult but you get more XP in battle. An example is the Tough Guys hack that has the enemies dealing more damage, but they have less health. By using this, you will gain 200% XP while it is active. This is a neat little addition that helps to make the levels a little more difficult to help lengthen what is a very short game, but that is a topic for discussion in a bit.
The campaign itself has a decent story for Transformers, where the good guys are trying to prevent the bad guys from getting the Dark Spark, but the random timejump to present time about 3/4 the way through the game just felt weird. It was obviously a way to tie in the ongoing movie franchise by setting that part after the events of the new movie and bringing in Grimlock again, but it just felt tacked on overall. There was nothing new throughout most of that segment that we hadn’t seen the rest of the game, outside of the short Grimlock portion, and those levels were much shorter than the previous ones.
The one pretty cool thing about tying the two universes together is that we got to see both classic Cybertron looks for characters like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, while also gaining access to their movie look in later levels. This allows fans of both series to experience using a few of the characters in the game at least.
While playing through the game’s campaign can feel a little repetitive and monotonous at times, getting to play as Grimlock late in the game is almost worth the price of admission. Between his robot and T-Rex form, Grimlock is a force to be reckoned with in this game. You can just charge around the battlefield and light everyone up with your fire breath in T-Rex form, or smash everyone in robot form. I would almost have preferred a game where you played as Grimlock for a majority of it, rather than about a stage and a third. Besides Bruticus, he was really the only Transformer who felt different from the rest in battle, outside of each one’s special abilities.
Throughout the campaign, there are various tasks for you to complete that while repetitive, are still something to strive to complete. Some of these are as simple as “destroy 100 Decepticons” or more specific like “destroy five Titans” and “destroy a certain number of enemies with this specific weapon.” By completing these or leveling up, you will obtain special boxes, ranging from rankings like iron and silver. These each unlock characters for you to use in the online Escalation mode, along with plenty of hacks and T.E.C.H that you can equip in campaign or Escalation mode.
The game’s campaign is overall quite short and really could be finished in one sitting if you have time to sit down and dedicate to it. Surprisingly, the second level is probably the longest in the game, while the later levels just fly by and seem like they are over not long after starting. The previous games were not the longest games ever, but they certainly seemed longer than this one did while playing at least. It almost felt like the game was rushed for release and could have easily used more polish. For example, simple things like the sound mixing between the background noise and characters talking can be problematic sometimes, where it is hard to even hear them speak.
Outside of the Grimlock sections, probably one of my favorite parts of the game is the return of Escalation mode. Rather than going with competitive online multiplayer, Escalation mode is basically horde mode in a Transformers setting. It was one of the standout modes of the past games from High Moon Studios, and Edge of Reality does a great job bringing it back with tons of customization. Through the aforementioned boxes you earn from completing various tasks, you will unlock new Transformers to use online, including those we use in the game as well as other random characters like Zeta Prime and Ratchet. This mode is a blast to play and is the one thing that could bring me back to this game in the future.
Overall, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is a very playable but disappointing game. After the high marks that were set by High Moon Studios’ two Cybertron games, this just feels like a lackluster follow-up. The method of trying to tie in the movie universe seemed way too forced and with the game being so short and lacking in environments, it almost feels as if it was rushed just to make the movie’s release date. Luckily, we do have the exciting Grimlock sections and Escalation mode to keep us happy enough to make the game at least worth playing, just nowhere near at full price. With a little more polish, this could have been a much better game that lived up the gaming franchise’s standards.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, X360, PC
- Published By: Activision
- Developed By: Edge of Reality
- Genre: Third Person Shooter
- US Release Date: June 24th, 2014
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark feels like a game rushed just to coincide with the movie’s release, which ultimately led to a disappointing follow-up to a great game series."