Transformers Rise Of The Dark Spark

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A Transformers game really only has to deliver on two simple things: make it fun to transform, and make it fun to destroy robots. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is a dud on both of those fronts, and it throws in a confusing story to boot.

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Rise of the Dark Spark has a simple storyline about the bad guys wanting to find the Dark Spark and the good guys trying to stop them. That should make for a straightforward, but a few factors derail the plot. Whereas previous Transformers games, War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, had separate Autobot and Decepticon, Rise of the Dark Spark’s 14-mission switches between sides without much reason or notice, and unevenly at that. In the middle of the Decepticons capturing the important relic, you jump to an Autobot mission where they're on the hunt, and after the halfway point, the Decepticon's side of the story just stops being told as the Autobots march towards their inevitable victory. The switches are jarring enough that you might forget which side you're on at more than one point during the early stages.What’s even more confusing is that in order to tie into the concurrently released Transformers: Age of Extinction movie, Rise of the Dark Spark's entire cast sports the same faux-gritty style of the films, where little separates the factions besides a tiny logo. Aside from the always-game Peter Cullen reprising his role as Optimus Prime, there's few noteworthy performances from the rest of the cast. Jazz tries to be the comic relief, but has nothing funny to say, Drift counterbalances his unique by being exceedingly dull, and the Decepticons only come in two flavors: cackling underlings and brooding leaders.The dull audio and level extends outward, as the soundtrack is a grating Hans Zimmer-style bombast mixed with dubstep, while the stages alternate towards bland, dilapidated Earth cities and samey labyrinth outer-space bases. The few times Rise of the Dark Spark dares to venture outside on other planets it makes for memorable diversions, but those levels are rare exceptions.Shooting is serviceable, largely due to a pretty impressive suite of weapons. Each of the 20 guns you wield in robot form has a very distinct style, from standards like the semi-automatic and shotgun to more esoteric ideas like an electric beam that chains between enemies, a slime cannon that slows down and poisons enemies, and Dead Space-like blade and bolo shooters. However, the enemies you'll use them on aren't much fun to fight with. With the exception of the uniquely shielded “Titan” Decepticon troops, enemies have few intelligent tactics. The ones that lack overpowered weapons will perform extreme evasive maneuvers that are doubly frustrating, since you usually need to clear out all enemies in particular sections to progress. Mindless, unsatisfying melee strikes don’t add anything. There are special attacks unique to each Transformer, but they’re either overpowered in cases like Drift's sword slice, or useless, like Sharpshot's cloaking ability.
The nail in the coffin is that vehicular transformations fail to spice up the combat. If the Transformer you're playing as turns into a car, you can expect clunky turning and a dire lack of a sense of speed, even if you engage both boost and turbo; why there are two separate speed boost buttons is a mystery. The air-based transformations aren't as bad, but since there's no radar, tracking down flying enemies is an annoying game of hide and seek. And for some reason there’s only one Dinobot and one Insecticon transformation during the, but plenty to choose from exclusively in multiplayer. Seems like a waste.Outside of upgrading your guns with larger clips, quicker reloads, and bonuses specific to each weapon, the rest of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark's progression systems fall flat. Unlockable Gear Boxes function much like the customization packs in Mass Effect 3 or Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. However, there's just too much inside these packs. Between the weapon upgrades, new weapons, additional multiplayer characters, multiplayer-only abilities, T.E.C.H perks, and “Hack” difficulty modifiers that work like Halo's skulls, the process of slowly sifting through each item becomes boring fast.

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It's slightly less annoying to open Gear Boxes while preparing your character for the online co-op Escalation mode, which is sort of a microcosm for the mode itself. Pitting you and up to three teammates against 15 waves of progressively more difficult enemies on eight maps, there's a sense of urgency in Escalation, whether it be as you race to revive a teammate or scour the map to replenish or replace a weapon running low on ammo. Escalation doesn't have the epic boss encounters of Gears of War's Horde mode, the alternate objectives of Mass Effect 3, or the insane extraction endings of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare's Garden Ops, but it's still the most entertaining part of Rise of the Dark Spark.Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is available on seven different platforms, a 3DS strategy game (not reviewed here), and a action-shooter that plays similarly on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U. On the PC, PS4, and Xbox One, the game runs smoothly, though there are a few spots where textures are too low res to fit in with the highly detailed robots themselves. On the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U, expect muddy textures, jaggy character models, and pretty awful pop-in on buildings and complicated textures, especially noticeable on things like chain link fences. On the Wii U, the Game Pad simply mirrors what's being shown on your TV screen; there's no touch-pad usage or additional info to glean on the screen. Also, the Wii U version does not include the multiplayer Escalation mode.

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Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark has a few bright spots; the co-op Escalation mode is enjoyable, and there are cool weapons befitting the bots. But the bland is a slog with uneven difficulty, while vehicle transformations and combat are largely unsatisfying. Without nailing that, you’ve got a bad Transfomers game.Editor"s Note: We screwed up a little. In our haste to get this review out to you as soon as possible, we didn"t notice that the Wii U version doesn"t contain the best part of Rise of the Dark Spark: the mulitplayer Escalation mode. That version deserves a lower score, so we"ll update that on Monday. Our apologies for the oversight!