Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark review - an embarrassing amount of design flaws

£49.99; PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, PC

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The Independent Tech

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark raises a strange question: when is a movie tie-in game not a movie tie-in game? Ostensibly a cash-in on the build-up to the latest slice of Bay-hem in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Rise of the Dark Spark is also a sequel/prequel to the War for Cybertron videogame series.

If you’re confused don’t worry, you’re likely not half as befuddled with its multiple canons as Rise of the Dark Spark itself seems to be. As the film versions of Optimus and pals stumble across the titular McGuffin - an ancient, all powerful cybertronian artifact called the dark spark – we’re also re-introduced to the War for Cybertron decepticons searching for the same prize in an alternative universe. Going any further into a plot synopsis would give too much credit to a story that can’t differentiate its sparks from its matrixes. Trying to follow the muddled shenanigans of two alternative universes thrown together with all the delicacy of a Michael Bay set-piece is an impossible task and the game’s narrative inconsistency does little to assuage the notion that this is solely an exercise in striking out for coin while the iron is hot.

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This niggling thought is furthered by a frankly embarrassing amount of design flaws. The first level set on Earth is a blocky, dull, gun-metal grotesquery that looks like an early cross-gen game from the last era of consoles rather than the current crop. Textures pop in and out of focus at a leisurely pace and the particle effects for fire and water are laughably awful. Things improve slightly on Cybertron with assets and lighting presumably lifted from the same engine that powered High Moon Studio’s original War for Cybertron series, but in every glowing metal neon shooting playground there are at least two or three surfaces that haven’t rendered in time for your arrival.

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Frustration continues when bullets start to fly and chrome hits steel. Combat is mostly functional with each new battleground providing an appropriate amount of cannon fodder. Unfortunately enemy variations are few and far between and as soon as the odds start stacking up the difficulty curve suffers from absurdly large spike. Watching the almighty Optimus Prime repeatedly crumble under swathes of gunfire does little to imbue the player with any of the sense of power that should come from controlling a hulking Transformer.

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The gameplay’s only bright…well… spark, comes in the form of the actual transforming which brings an extra dimension to firefights, but even this is achingly underutilized. Barrel-rolling past missiles as Jetfire or boosting headfirst into the fray as Soundwave in vehicle form is as close as the game gets to feeling like an accomplished take on a beloved IP.

There are echoes of the surprisingly fun War for Cybertron reimagining of the Transformers universe at the heart of Rise of the Dark Spark, but to paraphrase the franchise’s tagline: this is a sub-par game in the disguise of a decent one.

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