To say I enjoyed High Moon’s take on the Transformer’s franchise would be an understatement. Having played Fall of Cybertron in preparation for this game, my expectations were heightened by just how much I truly enjoyed that game. It looked good, played well, and told and interesting story. Edge of Reality’s Rise of the Dark Spark, on the other hand, tries to do everything Fall did, but does it much worse from every angle.
One thing the Cybertron series did well is take an established intellectual property and explore an untold part of it, weaving an interesting tale that works exceptionally well as a video game. Rise of the Dark Spark throws all that out the window in it’s opening mission which takes place in (enter generic city here) in Michael Bay’s movie universe.
In this, the first of 14 chapters, the Autobot Drift is tasked with investigating a meteor that crash landed in the middle of (enter generic city here). After fighting through dozens of enemy transformers, whose presence makes no sense in the film universe since almost all transformers are dead, Drift arrives at the crash site of the titular Dark Spark where the nefarious evil transformer clashes with Optimus and then Peter Cullen talks in that cool voice.
Leaving that side of the story behind, the game transitions to Cybertron at a time shortly before the beginning of Fall. Here the Decepticons are searching for their own universe’s Dark Spark, thus establishing the only link between the two stories being told. Instead of doing some crazy interesting multiverse travel where Cybertron Megatron can find out that he died in the movie universe and two Grimlocks go at it in an epic Dinobot battle, Edge of Reality thought it better to center two completely separate stories around their own versions of a MacGuffin, with only one link between the two stories ever actually popping up.
Sadly, no matter which universe you are in, the gameplay is the same. The gunplay feels fine, but all the guns are either the exact same from past games, or new weapons that function quite similarly to past weapons. Unlike in War and Fall, where levels are built with using the ability to transform first, most of the gameplay takes place in either empty, uninteresting arenas or empty and narrow walkways. No, saying empty both times was not a typo, both Cybertron and Earth suffer from having a lot of space and nothing to occupy that space with but giant robots that are fighting each other.
What objects and structures do populate the chapters look abysmal. Even on the current gen (PS4 and Xbox One) textures look extremely muddy, that is, when they pop in after minutes of loading. Speaking of loading, jumping in to a new chapter will sometimes invoke a painfully long loading screen.
While the setting, gameplay, and look of Rise of the Dark Spark are all sub-par at best, the worst part of the campaign has to be how pointless it all feels in the end. Making a prequel is hard because you are telling a story that has to either explain why established characters are the way they are, or it must be insignificant enough to (in this case) the plot of the other games these characters are in. Rise of the Dark Spark fails to do either of these things. There is no character development to be found and the Dark Spark is also an extremely powerful and important artifact that continually gets brushed off to an absurd degree.
Escalation is the other mode, and the only multiplayer offering in the game. By leveling up in both campaign and in the Escalation mode itself, players can unlock Mass Effect 3-like packs full of either new weapons, upgrades, or new characters. Also like Mass Effect 3, Escalation mode is purely a horde based mode, but variety is nowhere to be found here. The maps are as bland as they are in campaign, and every transformer you unlock falls under one of four categories, with the only difference being the type of vehicle they transform into. Even Dinobots and Insecticons, known for how different they are from regular transformers, control exactly like the cars and planes that make up the other 80% of the roster.
I can usually find the good in games that are universally disliked. When I pick up a new game, there is a 99% chance there is something about it I will like. Rise of the Dark Spark is one of those rare one percenters. Edge of Reality’s new game commits one of the cardinal sins of gaming: it is, in every way, completely and utterly forgettable.
Disclaimer: While playing on the Playstation 4, I tried to find Escalation matches with other players, waiting for up to ten minutes one time to find a match. I never found a single other player. As such, I had to play through the Escalation mode alone, which could have provided for a much worse experience, but I don’t think that having three other people playing this poor game would have saved it.