Transformer: Rise of the Dark spark is the third instalment in the War for Cybertron series and the fourth instalment in the movie game series, and serves a prequel to Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and a sequel to the film Transformers: Age of Extinction. This is all well and good, but how does the gameplay? And does it stand up to previous instalments of the franchise? Read on to find out.
So, it’s no secret that I am a huge Transformers fan. Ever since I was young I have enjoyed following the antics of the noble Autobots and their devious foes, the Decepticons. I was even convinced I saw a Transformer following my mother and me when we were driving along the motorway when I was about 5, that was until she pointed out it was a left-hand drive vehicle. With that being said, I am no fool, I understand that a lot of movie tie-in games usually fall short of the mark. Rise of the Dark Spark, however, isn’t your typical movie tie-in. I mean yes, it does elude to the upcoming Michael Bay blockbuster (Or at least I assume it does, seeing as I have yet to see the film), but it also fits in nicely with the War for Cybertron, and the Fall of Cybertron. The game is split between Earth and Cybertron, following two alternate dimensions, one set in the video game universe, the other in the aftermath of the third theatrical release.
So, Rise of the Dark Spark starts off on Earth, following the continuity of the movies, with you controlling an Autobot named Drift, with a Samurai complex. Throughout the mission, he spouts out various phrases which imply the Decepticons have no honour, the usual stuff. I personally thought this was a brave move by Edge of Reality, unless you’re quite a big fan of the franchise, you’re not likely to know who he is, which I felt could put new players off from the get go, unlike War for Cybertron, who puts you behind the wheel of everyone’s favourite Beetle: Bumblebee.
The opening mission sees you tracking down the titular item: The Dark Spark, an ancient Cybertronian relic that is the antithesis to the Autobot’s Matrix of Leadership. Where the Matrix of Leadership imbues its holder with the combined knowledge of the Primes gone before, the Dark Spark is capable of bending an entire universe to its users will. Some of the older generation one fans may also remember that this relic has been mentioned before in the original cartoons, it was said to be hidden deep in the heart of Cybertron, and was the Decepticons very own Matrix of Leadership, the Quintessons convinced the Decepticons that they had the device and would give it to Galvatron in exchange for helping them invade Cybertron. It’s nice to see that Edge of Reality have taken something from the original series and modernised it to fit in with the current generation of Transformer games and movies. For a geek like me, that’s a massive bonus!
Now, to me the controls feel a little bit wooden, and did take some time to get use to, which I found was an issue in the previous games, however, when thinking about it, it may be to emphasise the fact you’re a giant robot from another planet, which is further backed up by the scale of other vehicles when in your robot form.
Throughout the game, you can collect and upgrade new weapons. And by completing various challenges, you gain EXP, which helps you level up, and unlocks Gearboxes – chests – which contain usable items to help you during battle, or weapon upgrades. One of my more favourable items, or hacks as they’re known in the game, is the one which makes your enemies explode upon defeat. This is particularly useful against those damned Insectacons, taking out one will usually inflict damage on a nearby swarm-mate. I now know why the Autobots despise them so much.
Throughout the game, you play as various Transformers: Drift, Soundwave Shockwave and Sideswipe to name a few, and each bot has his own special ability. For example, keeping in the theme of a Samurai warrior, Drift has a move called “Blade Dash” which allows him to dash between the closest of his enemies and slice them in two, where Soundwave, on the other hand, launches Laserbeak, who follows you around, taking pot shots at your foes. What I particularly liked about this, is each ability is specific to the Autobot or Decepticon you are playing as and fits his (its?) personality, which explains why Starscream has the ability to cloak!
So far, I have really enjoyed Rise of the Dark Spark, I love the throwback references to the original series, and I love the generation one inspired designs of the Transformers during the Cybertron portions of the games, however, there is one thing that really lets this title down, and it really is something of a problem for me: the cut scenes.
Don’t get me wrong, graphically, the game is pretty impressive. It’s not cutting edge, next gen and has been developed alongside the Xbox 360 and Play Station 3 versions, but it doesn’t have the normal movie tie in feel to it either. The first level was a little blocky and barren, but other than that the attention to detail is excellent from the second level onwards. When idle, parts of the characters move, showing that they are machines with independent movements. The transformation animations are also very fluid, and they genuinely look great (Nothing is more pleasing than speeding down a highway in Optimus Prime’s vehicle form, jumping, and then transforming!).
The pre-rendered cut scenes, however, are very low quality. The character models are far too shiny, and a lot of the scenery is blurry. For me, a cut scene is a reward, especially after a tricky section in the game (and Rise of the Dark Spark is rife with these). I was seriously disappointed with this, and I felt that they had been rushed, and not optimised at all for the system. (Just for information, I was playing on the PlayStation 4).
This being said the voice acting is superb. Peter Cullen once again reprises his role as the Autobot leader: Optimus Prime. The dialogue has been written very well, and truly fits the characters, the banter between Starscream and Megatron is truly reminiscent of the original series, and a few of the lines have laugh out loud moments, such as Starscream’s “My problems are the only ones of any significance”.
Overall, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is an enjoyable game, with some great nods to the 80’s cartoon, which lifelong fans will definitely pick up on. The only thing that truly lets it down is the quality of the cut scenes. Now honestly, this shouldn’t annoy me as much as it does, but it takes away from the charm of an otherwise great game. But graphical faults aside, it is still a great entry into the Transformers universe and is a must play for any Transformers fan.