Transformers has been fairly fortunate with it’s franchise tie-in games over the past few years. The series was developed by High Moon Studios, for Activision, with more care and effort than is usually placed in cash grab titles. That’s not to say they’ve been perfect or great or even must plays but they’ve been good enough to pass a couple of hours with. Even the obviously rushed Dark of the Moon had good things at it’s core. Which lead to what happens to all good developers owned by Activision. High Moon was “promoted” out of the trenches and on to the team that fiddles with the all mighty CALL OF DUTY! series. Pity that. Edge of Reality, a studio that’s been around since the around since the late 90s, takes the wheel for this entry.
A purple meteor crashes on Earth within it’s rocky crevices lies the Dark Spark, the antehisis of the Autobot’s Matrix of Leadership. Where the Matrix grants a debatable amount of wisdom, the Dark Spark allows it’s owner to bend the universe to it’s will. Yeah. It does seem a little bit lopsided in power, even more with all the tedious dialog about equal and opposite balance blah blah blah. Of course, the Autobots fail to recover the nasty little plug and play peripheral and the hunt for the Decepticon who has taken it is on. Because this is a Transformers title we then flip once again to Cybertron, the robot homeworld, where once again it’s the Autobot’s DARKEST HOUR and once again the Decepticons are about to win the ancient war for control. We take the Decepticon’s side as they search the battle scarred metal planet in search for the… all together now… Dark Spark! Why they’re bothering with this waste of time and resources when victory is pretty much assured is never really explained in anyway that makes sense.
The script is awful. These are long established characters, they have personalities that are recognizable beyond what’s presented here. All of the Autobots are flatly heroic and all the Decepticons are bumbling fools. That might not really get across how incompetent they are. It makes you marvel that they could ever succeed at anything. The awkward slapstick is unending and desperately forced in like an afterthought. Maybe in a panic to salvage something here? Either works.
The voice cast is anchored by Peter Cullen being supported by a who’s who of voice actors. They do their best with what they’re given but none of them can do much with it. The musical score might cause ear bleeding. Short but obnoxiously “epic” orchestral tracks are feed through a cheap Do-It-Yourself-Home-Techno-Party program. Then it’s looped endlessly at a volume level that’s sure to make the dog next door howl but fortunately drowns out some of the worst dialog.
Level designs are boring. Alternating between destroyed Earth city and identical ancient outer space catacombs it all doesn’t just look the same ingame, it looks just like a million other titles. Specifically it’s all poor copies of a couple of environments from High Moon’s last entry in the series. The visual copies don’t stop just at the level looks but it extends to all the weapons, all the enemies and everything. Of course the environments can be forgiven if the gunfights and transformed segments are good. I mean, what else do you really need in a Transformers game? The fights in High Moon’s series were solid so if they’re lifting stuff they’ve just taken them, right?
Wrong. The fights lack any need to really engage. Wave after wave of enemies who all react the same way. Who mindlessly repeat the same patterns with the occasional incomprehensible dodge move thrown in just to annoy the player. The only redeeming feature in them is the large armory at your disposal. Of course all of that was lifted out of High Moon’s efforts.
So gunfights aren’t so great. What about vehicle combat, you ask hopefully, that gleam that seems to appear whenever a beloved childhood favorite makes a new appearance. The same gleam that leads you to go to every film adaptation and drag the little ones along, the gleam that whispers to you in the dark just how great the coming Masters of the Universe movie is going to be. Well, you can just turn that off right now. Vehicle play is even worse. All the vehicles feel slow. There are even two boost buttons at your command and you still never get any feeling of speed or change in tempo. Flying robots should always be awesome but instead they’re more of a chore, lacking anything to help you navigate they end up being a tedious game of hide and seek. Ground vehicles lumber along without power steering through sets that never give them a chance to be used as anything more than a “Well… it’s Transformers so we should probably have them, you know, transform.”
Activision… please give the franchise back to High Moon. They will eventually make that truly great Transformers title that folks want in their heart of hearts. It’s never going to happen with Edge of Reality or the dozen other B and C teams you have on the bench. Learn a lesson for once. Good studios you own can work on more than just CALL OF DUTY!!!. Really they can.
Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark- 3/10- All the points are for the voice cast. Just don’t bother.