Even the emotionless Galvatron would be saddened to see a generation of teenagers brought up on Michael Bay’s visually offensive and canon destroying Transformers flicks. Fortunately for veterans, there’s been a shining light among the countless explosions and Megan Fox pouting that has sought to preserve the authenticity of a brand that means so much to so many: High Moon Studios’ excellent Cybertron series.
Granted, the first PlayStation 3 release was a little rough around the edges, but its successor, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, proved to be one of the property’s very best video game adaptations – earning itself a respectable 7/10 in our review. With the aforementioned developer now assigned to the purgatory of Call of Duty production, port house Edge of Reality has been tasked with creating a tie-in to the series’ latest movie named Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark – and sending the series on a crash course with self-destruction in the process.
Initially, you’ll struggle to spot the differences with its predecessor, and who could blame you? The environments look much the same – repetitive, boring, and always shiny – and the roster of classic characters appear to be based upon the same models as their previous gen counterparts. In fact, the only real immediate difference that you’ll notice to High Moon's output is the terrible narrative structure which attempts to glue the game together.
Fall of Cybertron carried us through the titular Death Star-esque planet’s final days – a story seldom told in the universe, and real riveting exposition for fans. Here, however, you’ll be confronted with a yarn that falls to the same flaws as Hollywood’s summer smashes. There’s an attempt here to please both old hands and newcomers – with the franchise’s classic universe clashing with its new one – but it merely results in an incoherent rollercoaster ride that possesses no real direction. The plot is further worsened by a smattering of eye wateringly bad voice acting that oozes with clichés.
As the surface similarities are so achingly comparable to the concoctions of old, you’d expect the game to handle itself much the same, but sadly that’s taken several steps back, too. Each robot in disguise still has a vehicle and robot state, alongside a selection of T.E.C.H. upgrades and utilities gained from completing challenges. Passing said tests and levelling up will reward you with various metal compositions – Silver, Bronze, Iron, and more – as well as unlock multiplayer characters, and hacks. The latter are gameplay modifiers that increase the experience points that you’ll glean from kills, but also make things harder by, for example, introducing exploding enemies – a neat party trick which helps to siphon some diversity from this wreckage.
And this very much is a disaster from a pure presentational perspective. Aside from failing to look like a next-gen game should, it’s worth pointing out that the environment – be it Cybertronian or Earth – will be hell-bent on trying to trap your lumbering hunk of metal, leaving you wasting inordinate amounts of time struggling to escape from the grips of an unruly pile of rubble rather than defending your faction. This issue marries perfectly with the mechanics, which are abnormally clunky in this iteration – many features requiring irritatingly specific positioning before becoming interactive.
To make matters worse, peppered throughout the 14 chapters are some nasty difficulty spikes. These often crop up completely out of the blue, typically in the form of an enemy swarm that rips you into spare parts in an instant. They’re frequent enough to test even the most patient of gamer, and become even more apparent when you’re dispatching Titans quicker than a group of grunts. They also diminish the true joy of playing a Transformers game, which revolves around commandeering giant robots to smash stuff; what good is it when your bot goes down like it’s made out of paper? Survive these moments and you will be rewarded with some standout sequences starring iconic behemoths such as Bruticus and Grimlock, who’ll offer brief reprieve and prove that there’s still a somewhat adequate game lurking beneath this title’s tarnished debris.
Alas, the issues become immediately apparent once more when you switch to multiplayer, with the competitive component constructed by High Moon stripped away like a bad body kit. The co-operative Escalation option does make a return, but while the wave-based combat is still very much intact, it’s riddled with bugs, including one which warps the title’s depth of field, blurring everything beyond recognition save for your robotic avatar.
Assuming that you can actually see what’s going on, you’ll fight alongside three other players in an attempt to survive 15 waves, but even after just a few moments play, it becomes readily apparent that the enemies always spawn from specific locations, leading to clever campers nabbing all of the kills before the foes even reach the battlefield. This means that the mode becomes less of an exercise in skill and more your ability to stave off bouts of boredom. It’s a mystery as to why the competitive aspect was dropped, and we can only hope that it’ll make a return as part of a future update – even if we’re not exactly holding our breath.
Hindered by its desire to deploy alongside Michael Bay’s latest abomination, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark shoots itself in the robotic foot, fumbling with a poor narrative, terrible voice acting, and significantly less polished gunplay than fans of High Moon’s output may be used to. The positive moments are few and far between – with even fan favourite Grimlock failing to make the release feel worthwhile. The developer does deserve credit for at least attempting to please franchise veterans, but that doesn’t detract from the fact this is still a shoddy experience dressed in the shell of its more successful predecessors. It’s not always entirely drab – a bit of mindless blasting is always entertaining in short bursts – but much like the weedy Ultra Magnus, this is still a shadow of the title that it’s trying to replace.