Review: Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark (PS4)

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Title: Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (8.7 GB)
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Edge of Reality
Price: $59.99 (PS4), $49.99 (PS3)
ESRB Rating: T
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Wii U, Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Few things are more disheartening than anticipating a game that is being touted as a sequel to a title that you held in high regard, only to be reminded that said sequel is tied to a movie release and is not created by the developers of the original. Such was the case with Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark.

Still, a lingering hope remained, in that this game was created using a great deal of elements from Fall of Cybertron, the spiritual prequel to Dark Spark.

I’m somewhat happy to say that Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark feels like Fall of Cybertron 2.0, or more precisely, this game feels like a story DLC attachment to Fall of Cybertron. It’s not a horrible game, but it seriously lacks the original content to consider it a true sequel in any shape or form.

TRANSFORMERS: Rise of the Dark Spark_20140624214051

Gameplay:
The story for Dark Spark takes place somewhere nestled in the movie universe (for the Earth levels) and during the events of Fall of Cybertron (which take place on Cybertron) before the Autobots depart Cybertron to escape the war. The Dark Spark itself is basically an anti-Matrix of leadership and it is being sought by the Decepticons as well as the bounty hunter, Lockdown (the new villain from the movie Transformers: Age of Extinction). It is said to posses great power, so naturally Megatron wants it.

The game goes back and forth between Earth-based levels and those stages that take place on Cybertron, though it seems to lean heavily on the Cybertron-based content, which is not a bad thing, since the Earth levels are not nearly as nice-looking.

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If you’ve played War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, this game will not feel foreign to you. It plays exactly like its prequels. A third-person shooter at heart, Dark Spark puts you in the role of Autobots or Decepticons across various levels. You can transform into land-based (or flight-based) vehicles and engage the enemy. Throughout the fourteen levels, you will explore different locations across the war-torn planet of Cybertron as well-known characters from the Transformers universe (some that were unplayable in the previous games). While the game, much like its predecessor, does not contain a cover system, Dark Spark gives you plenty to work with by allowing you to switch gun arms and peak out of structures.

If you enjoyed the campaign in the previous High Moon Studio Transformers games, you will probably enjoy Dark Spark. But I found something was lacking, which is why I tagged this game as feeling more like a DLC or 2.0 to Fall of Cybertron. Both prequels took place during a time in the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons, where the entire planet was at stake.

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Through the use of dialogue and vast set pieces, as well as epic battle sequences, Fall of Cybertron made you feel like you were in the middle of something much larger than yourself. Dark Spark falls a bit flat in that category. Sure, you realize that this takes place alongside the bigger battle and that what you are doing is important. Heck, there is even some witty dialogue between that characters that brings the combat and exploration to life. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to hear some references to comic book characters that have never appeared in the cartoons or movies. But ultimately, you are going from hallway to hallway while the real battle is taking place somewhere else on Cybertron. I was constantly waiting to come out of a corridor into an epic battle but unfortunately, that never happened. So while I can safely say that the play mechanics remain pretty solid, (probably due to their being honed by High Moon Studios prior) the sense of purpose in each stage is lost in the subdued storyline and lack of epic-ness in the set pieces.

You will still find plenty to do because Dark Spark allows you to level-up during the campaign. This leveling system is shared between the campaign and the multiplayer Escalation mode. As you level, you unlock “Gear Boxes”. These cool little boxes open to reveal perks and mods to your character (again in campaign and Escalation). One mod allows you to gain 6X the experience per kill, while others grant you more health drops at the expense of ammo drops. Finally, gear boxes also unlock characters in Escalation. Unlocking these definitely gives you reason to level-up and add to your desire to move forward in the campaign.

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Visuals:
I experienced Dark Spark on the PlayStation 4, so while the graphics were definitely sharper than previous Transformers games and even had some added effects (like great reflections on the walls and ground), the game is still a last-generation game updated in resolution and framerate. This is not a Tomb Raider-like update from one console to the other. Still, the differences are there and it makes me wish that we could get a PlayStation 4 version of Fall of Cybertron and War for Cybertron, as the added resolution and sharper textures definitely make the game more enjoyable. There are still some pretty noticeable texture pop-ins, and I have spent seconds in an area before a texture goes into full resolution. These situations were present in the previous games, but they become even more obvious when everything else is sharp on the screen.

Audio:
While Dark Spark does contain a new main musical theme, most of the music is familiar, as it is taken directly from Fall of Cybertron. The same can be said about the effects. Games like Call of Duty do this on a yearly basis, so it’s not quite a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the effects in the recent Transformers games have been fantastic, and it would seem strange to change them at this point. The game does contain quite a bit of new dialogue to move the new story forward, and most of the voice actors do a great job portraying their on-screen cartoon counterparts.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Here is where a lot of fans from the previous games will lose interest in Dark Spark. While this game does contain multiplayer, it does so only in the form of the Escalation mode (co-op Horde mode from the previous games in the series). There is no competitive multiplayer in Dark Spark. If you were going into this game expecting some new levels to kill your transforming buddies within, you might be disappointed. What Dark Spark does provide is more of the fun co-op gameplay.

Characters are unlocked by playing the campaign and earning those aforementioned gear boxes. The cast is pretty robust (up to 40 characters from the Transformers lore). Unfortunately, I did not see the option to create your own character from Fall of Cybertron which is a bit of a bummer (but this is probably due to the fact that the character creation was for Deathmatch in the previous game). Escalation works much as it did before: take out legions of enemies and open up pathways to continue the battle over waves and waves of bad guys. As you fight, you can visit shops and unlock weapons and ammo. It’s a great system and is as entertaining as it always has been. But the crowd who is looking for a competitive mode might want to steer clear because it’s simply not in this game.

Conclusion:
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is not a horrible game. I’m sure this is due to the framework that was established by the previous games which were developed by High Moon, but it is not a good game either. It lacks the epic-ness from the previous campaigns and it lacks the strong multiplayer component as well. What Dark Spark does provide is a mildly entertaining game in the same universe, with the same mechanics and gameplay. But it truly does feel more like an expansion to Fall of Cybertron than any sort of full-fledged sequel. As such, I would consider your purchase with that in mind.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • IceSamurai Dono

    (I’ve only read your ; Letter Head & Conclusion)

    I’m shocked that publisher don’t just price this at $20 and add a (after movie credits traitor) after you beat the game (use irl movie actors). Make it 5 minutes of some side story no one cares that much about and I bet a lot more people who liked the movie would buy it no questions asked.