YOU might not have been around at the time, but the original Transformers game was released on the now venerable Commodore 64 computer in the early 80s. That game, which wasn't officially licensed, had a few nifty ideas, but also suffered from deeply flawed gameplay.
Sadly, with Rise Of The Dark Spark, it looks like history is repeating itself.
The game has a simple premise. The "evil" Decepticons are trying to harness the malevolent power of a force known as "The Dark Spark". The heroic Autobots have to do their best to stop this potential disaster and shooting things is generally seen as the best way to achieve this. The Autobots begin this quest on Earth and then visit a variety of other planets and deep space locations as the battle rages.
The game does not start well. The Dark Spark is one of the least impressive "next generation" releases. You are hit over the head by fairly average visuals from the very first level. The graphics look like they are still running on last generation consoles. The textures on buildings and other surfaces are grainy and the robots move awkwardly at times. They can also get stuck on obstacles, a pet hate of ours.
The levels also lack pizzazz design wise, as they are either ruined Earthbound cities, or messy deep space facilities that look like they have been thrown together with the spare Lego left under the bed.
The environments are really quite barren and it feels like few design decisions have been made with a view to making these arenas entertaining places to play. The only areas that deliver a little more excitement are the few alien planets you visit. These are more colourful and satisfying to explore. It is a pity they are far and few between.
The Dark Spark's narrative is also a mess, as you swap sides between Decepticons and Autobots, and the plot jumps all over the place, like it has a jet pack attached to it. The narrative for each side isn't properly linked, so when you switch sides the story is unnaturally interrupted. It is annoying and seems lazy on the part of the developers.
On the plus side of the ledger, there are 20 or so weapons and some of these toys are super powerful and fun to fire. There are scintillating beam guns, devastating super-sized shot guns and plenty of missiles in between. The game also keeps things interesting with loadout and upgrade paths, so your firepower is always evolving. There is even a cool plasma gun that you can fire that slows enemies. This last weapon can prove quite useful, as your enemies can sometimes zip all over the screen like agitated mosquitoes, making them hard to hit.
Your arsenal can be upgraded for each type of robot and the choices are wide and interesting.
It is a pity that the same can't be said for most of the combat heavy action. The majority of the time you will prevail by simply dodging sideways, using cover and firing at enemies in controlled blasts. This becomes a predictable pattern really quickly and the controls aren't very precise either.
The game's key draw card "Transforming", is also not as enjoyable as it should be. For example some Transformers can change into vehicles. Sadly, the cars are not that quick and don't handle very well when driven aggressively in combat. Apart from a handful of airborne units, they are a letdown.
So in essence Transformers is a game that fails to scale the heights reached by its older siblings like the Fall Of Cybertron. The elements are all in place, but the game could have used more polish and variety.
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