Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark And My Certain Doom

By Alec Meer on June 25th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

I've hidden a clever clue in this image

Sometimes in this absurd job I catch myself in the mirror, notice what I’m doing and have to tell myself to stop. I did that around three hours into Rise of the Dark Spark. I’ve played a great many games that are a great deal worse than this mostly recycled new Transformers game from Activision, but the reason this one had me sneering at myself is due to knowing that I played it only because I felt I should.

Because some strange and not at all socially useful part of my brain retains a fascination with an 80s toyline, cartoon and comic about shapeshifting robots. Because I still buy some of those toys when I feel bored or unhappy, but now I also read websites about them. (I still buy some of the comics too, but that I will defend because the one called More Than Meets The Eye is a genuinely excellent comic regardless/in spite of its subject matter.)

It’s something I do/enjoy(?) purely privately, partly because it seems shameful and partly because I don’t really understand why I do it. Many people have exciting skeletons in their closet, but all I have in mine is some dusty boxes with ‘Hasbro’ and ‘Takara’ written on them that I really need to get around to eBaying. An awful lot of other grown adults like these toy robots and their fictional universe too, but they’re not ashamed of it and nor is there any reason they should be. I envy them their enjoying what they enjoy, because I don’t. Because it’s not what I want to be. Because I want to be smarter and more cultured, whatever that actually means, but instead I voluntarily do things like play Transformers: Rise of The Dark Spark.

Because this working day could have been spent playing one or even several bold, clever, strange or inspirational OR bold, dumb, annoying and forgettable but-at-least-they-tried games from any number of other sources, and which aren’t just cash-magnets released to tie in with a movie that is almost certainly abysmal on any level beyond the superficially bombastic.

Because I just had to go and play Rise of the Dark Spark even though every trailer I’d seen for it looked dull as a bootleg Gobot, even though even its lousy Verb Of The Adjective Noun subtitle sounded like it was generated by a spreadsheet, even though I’m extremely conscious that it’s been so damn long since I wrote anything the slightest bit gonzo or investigative or at all out my comfort zone on RPS. Instead, I proceeded directly to my comfort zone, and it made me extremely uncomfortable. Because because because of the wonderfully pointless things I does.

To a large degree the purgatory I now find myself in is not this game’s fault, but instead is very much of my own making, a certain long-overdue facing up to a manchild habit I could really do with leaving behind. (But probably never will entirely, because they’re making more and more wonderfully-engineered ‘Masterpiece’ Transformers that are laser-targeted to suck money out of the wallets of people like me.) On other hand, if my three or so hours with this clumsy merging of the awful Michael Bay movies’ universe and the adequate but forgettable War For/Fall Of Cybertron games had included even one single thing that I wanted to tell anyone about, I might not be mired in this existential crisis at all.

Its first three hours do not include one single thing I want to tell anyone about, at least on a level beyond complaint. Like this: everything looks dark and cheerless, and everything looks basically the same, and even when I’m in its largest rooms and playing as guy who can turn into a jet, I feel like a wasp stuck in a jam jar.

Clearly, I don’t know what Transformers: Verb of the Adjective Noun tries to do later on. Maybe the game suddenly becomes filled with amazing setpieces, or unbridled fan service, or if there’s an encounter between two different Optimus Primes or Grimlocks it’s the most exciting thing since Unicron exploded. Maybe I’m being unfair. There is every chance I’m being unfair. But Christ, when the structure of all that comes before that is ‘enter large room / waves and waves of mostly identical enemies appear / die quite a bit / return to checkpoint / try again / door unlocks / repeat’ all I can think is ‘what am I doing with myself?’ And ‘why?’ And why. And stop. I must stop.

There are experience points and things to unlock, but they’re all just guns that go pew pew pew in the big rooms full of waves of enemies in a different way, and I don’t care about any of them. I care a little bit about unlocking the classic, Generation One Optimus Prime character model, because somewhere deep down that’s where this problem I have comes from, but I know that it won’t really change anything and I know that it was already in the previous game anyway – a great deal of Rise of the Dark Spark is simply recycled, in fact.

I know that I could be doing better things for myself, and better things for this website. At the same time I know that maybe this post has warned a few people off doing what what I did, and indeed spending money to do what I did, and I hope there’s some sort of value in that.

Toy robots. Games in which I repeatedly fire a gun at people until there are no more people. I can do better. I must do better. I will do better.

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45 Comments »

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  1. kevmscotland says:

    Disappointing. Expected but still disappointing.

    The real shame is the last 2 Cybertron games from High Moon Studios were actually rather good and completely separate from the movies. Not sure why they felt the need to merge them.

    • derbefrier says:

      Yeah I only played the first one but it was surprisingly fun. Hell even the multiplayer was pretty well made

  2. pepperfez says:

    This article isn’t a waste even if the game that inspired it is.

  3. KungFuMassa says:

    Alec, did this game, banal as it is, happen to coincide with some sort of existential crisis? You sound exactly like I do when I realize I’m 35 and still on the lookout for a mint condition Soundwave With All The Bits at garage/boot sales and my wife comments about how awful it was for Hasbro & co. to condition my generation to lust after toys using a cartoon.

    Regardless of the fact that Transformers the cartoon was conceived solely to sell action figures, it still has a meaningful place in our hearts. Don’t feel badly because society says you should grow up and get over it, or you have some notion about what being an adult should be (to the best of my knowledge, nobody knows what the hell an adult is supposed to be).

    But don’t overdo it. For example, people in their mid 30s with vast collections of action figures and whatnot are taking things a little too far.

    • Crane says:

      “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C. S. Lewis

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        Harlander says:

        Nice. I was worried I’d have to be the one to use that quote.

  4. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    Well, nothing can disappoint me after they announced their glorious plan to merge Cybertron and Movie universes. So… This exists and will hopefully be forgotten soon.

    • Optimaximal says:

      What amazes me is that they’re trying to meld all the universes in one big Infinite Crisis-esque event by using a badly-made video game.

      It’s like they’re trying to destroy everyone’s ongoing expectations before they start. WHY OH WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST GET SIMON FURMAN TO WRITE THE BAY-FORMERS MOVIES AND SAVE EVERYTHING THAT WAS GOOD & DEAR ABOUT THIS FRANCHISE!

      *cries*

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    Zunt says:

    You OK Alec? Hope you’re OK.

    So here’s a thought. If an impressive fast car (truck, motorcycle, jet) is a symbolic penis, then what the hell does that make a Transformer?

    • DanMan says:

      Both, obviously.

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        Harlander says:

        Symbolic hemipenes.

        It’s a masculine symbol for kangaroos and certain snakes.

    • Ravenholme says:

      Mental Gymnastics?

    • mr.black says:

      Masturbating if alone and sex if in group, obv.! You play with them, they change their shape, become more powerful, they get into action that lasts either too long and gets boring, or is too blurry, shaky and afterward you’re not sure what exactly happened.

  6. WiggumEsquilax says:

    Modern directors and video game journalists don’t seem to get that Transformers wasn’t so popular on the weight of shooty/stompy robots alone. It did have heart, albeit often confusedly/accidentally.

    Beachcomber the Bob Ross stand-in, for instance:
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-big-picture/9466-Nothing-Gold-Can-Stay-The-Most-Bizarre-Episode-of-Transformers?utm_source=latest&utm_medium=index_carousel&utm_campaign=all

    • Nicodemus Rexx says:

      Thanks for pointing out this video. That makes some really good points about the franchise I’ve been trying to explain to people for a while.

      • WiggumEsquilax says:

        You’re welcome. There’s other episodes that weren’t afraid of challenging children.

        In “Desertion Of The Dinobots”, Grimlock learns that even if you don’t like someone, you can still work with them for mutual survival. As opposed to the infinite power of friendship retread that most contemporaries to G1 rolled out.

        In “The Secret OF Omega Supreme”, Omega puts revenge aside, even though the Constructicons inflicted brain damage on him, in the form incurable anhedonia. A disease most shrinks today still don’t recognize. Though for some reason, the writers of Baldur’s Gate 2 did, i.e.: Irenicus.

        In “The Burden Hardest To Bear”, Hot Rod learns something about duty and honor, or something. I don’t know, it’s presented in a very Japanese way.

        P.S. Did anyone else notice I compared Alec Meer to Michael Bay, and he didn’t even blink? Alec knows the truth.

  7. Nicodemus Rexx says:

    Hey Alec. If you’ve never watched Transformers: Animated and the art style doesn’t warn you away (heck, even if it does) go watch it!

    Whenever I get depressed by the vague emptiness of all the characters in the Bay films, I can watch some TF: Animated and remember why I continued loving Transformers even after I got too old to reasonably be buying the toys.

    It’s a show made by TF fans for TF: Fans who have no shame for their love, and are pretty darn good story writers to boot. I mean, Swindle (when he eventually shows up) is voiced by Fred Willard, which is brilliant.

    • Optimaximal says:

      The problem with TF: Animated is it’s almost impossible to find in the UK. They have the first two series spread across a lot of DVDs but the final series is missing and there’s no (Region 2) boxed set.

  8. LionsPhil says:

    Clearly, Alec, you need to move up to Little Ponies.

  9. serioussgtstu says:

    “You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that changed from one thing to another. The Japanese have funded a full-length animated cartoon about the doings of these toys, which is all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I’m destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen.”

    —Orson Welles

  10. skyturnedred says:

    Whose job is it to proofread these articles?

  11. KDR_11k says:

    Big mechs that transform are awesome but I think the Transformers games kinda fail to convey that these are big mechs and not just space marines with more greebles. I still regularly boot up Armored Core Verdict Day just to toy around with different equipment combinations and look at the fancy unfolding animations on some of the bigger guns (a big, chunky unfolding animation before firing always makes guns seem more threatening, like the Annihilator turret in Total Annihilation slowly unfolding before firing its instakill shots). There’s a lack of transforming mechs in games, there are a few mech games coming out like MAV, MWO and Hawken but mechs that do fancy form changes? In none of them.

  12. Zekiel says:

    Poor Alec. Good article. I am reminded of why I love RPS.

    By a strange coincidence I just finished playing Fall of Cybertron. Largely loved it as undemanding shooter-y fun with largely optional transformation-y bits and oodles of fanservice for anyone who loved the original Movie. Was briefly excited to hear a sequel was just about the come out. Then discovered said sequel melded the X X Cybertron games with the Bayformers movies. Excitement quashed. Why would anyone think this was a good idea? Clearly they are worlds apart stylistically – how can you even claim the first two images in this article are from the same game? Am slightly wondering whether this is all just a clever trick being played on me.

    • Zekiel says:

      PS Those masterpiece Transformers look awesome – basically what my memories of the original toys look like. (Googling what the original toys actually looked like is decidedly disappointing)

    • WiggumEsquilax says:

      Activision sacrificed the Cybertron games, and High Moon Studios, upon the altar of advertisement for Paramount Pictures.

      Even if this game makes less money than it’s predecessors, the increased ticket sales will likely justify the inferior game. Assuming you don’t care about game quality in the first place. Which for Activision shareholders, isn’t assuming a great deal.

      • Zekiel says:

        I don’t understand – why would the game generate increased ticket sales? Isn’t it more likely that Activision are hoping to shift more copies of the game with an ill-advised movie tie-in?

  13. DelrueOfDetroit says:

    This sounds very similar to the experience I had playing the latest Spider-man game. Kind of wish I had read Batman comics instead so then I’d have decent nostalgia fodder. As it is, I love Spider-man but the games are mostly shit whereas Batman has good games but I don’t really care about playing as Batman.

  14. ItsGillan says:

    Well i put less then 10 hours into this game I have beaten it on the hardest difficulty quite easily btw I have already unlocked EVERYTHING there is to unlock and multiplayer is very boring horde style game with only like 4 maps and all the characters look the same. you never do a vehicle on vehicle fight. I am glad i was gifted this game on steam. if i had paid for this to be done everything in 15 hours i would be a little more upset. Ha and if there is one thing in any game that lets you fly that drives me insane it is invisible walls i felt very claustrophobic that entire game even in areas that are wide open. as for even transforming really not even necessary well that is if somehow you run out of ammo you can switch for that ammo. game looks alright transformations are nice and fluid. the challenges are bugged out and while driving the vehicles seem extremely “light” and get caught up on nothing or go flying in some other direction or flip, The story line is dull and boring and predictable the entire way through as well Really other than the nice looking transformations there is nothing good about this game.

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    quietone says:

    Never played any of the previous Transformer’s games, assuming they would be crap. Decided that I should play at least ONE Transformer game before I die.

    I bought this. For about 15 long minutes played it.

    It should feel like a lumbering, all-powerful robot slash vehicle.

    Feels like a seriously undernourished Frogger(TM) character.

    Uninstalled it.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Why didn’t you do a little research beforehand and try War for Cybertron & Fall of Cybertron? They’re servicable at best but have credible G1-inspired plotlines and the characters look like Transformers.

  16. wcaypahwat says:

    If i feel the need to play a transformer, I dig out the old PS2 because gosh darn it :http://www.mobygames.com/images/shots/l/70065-transformers-playstation-2-screenshot-the-gigantic-tidal-wave.jpg

    It just feels like it ought to

    • Optimaximal says:

      Are you honestly recommending someone play something related to Armada?

  17. Likethiss says:

    Excellent article. I wish that RPS would just accept that most of these games with problems with female portrayal or any other “hot” issues are actually made for kids and manchildren and lower the expectations accordingly. Cannot expect the games to grow up with you because there will always be new kids who want the same shooters you played when you were younger. The save the girlfriend fantasy is quite harmless in my opinion.

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      Harlander says:

      I dunno, you could make the case that it’s more important that stuff aimed at kids doesn’t have dodgy messages.

      Of course, in the past trying to control that has led to awfulness like the way that, in cartoons of a certain vintage. any dissenter from the group is always wrong.

      Uh. As you were.

      • Likethiss says:

        Yeah ofcourse there shouldnt be dodgy messages in anything marketed to kids, but i think that the bigger problem then would be the kill everything mentality in all of these games. I liked Doom when i was growing up and when looking at it with adult eyes it is violent nonsense which i wouldnt want my kids anywhere near. But my 12 year old younger brother is only interested in games where you can cause a lot of mayhem and violence. Boys have been more interested in violence from the start of time so i dont think they would want us curating the games for them. And we wouldnt have wanted that either i’d say.

        Ofcourse it would be ideal if they were hyped to play a game with no violence that teaches you good values in life and maybe teach about history and math while at it. But that i believe is the parents responsibility not the mindless entertainment they consume.

        And there are games for grownups too just dont look for them in the mainstream. Yeah my mind just wonders around and i dont know what it is really i want to say, but theres some thoughts!

        E: A few more thoughts on the subject. Why is it that games journalism is every kids dreamjob, especially boys? They love those games they are playing and cannot think of anything cooler than getting paid to do so and hyping them with some added authority. But what happens when you finally make it as a games journalist and realize that the stuff you grew up on and loved is really not aimed at you anymore when you are well past your 20’s?

        It’s not like the kids even read a site like RPS which is nothing like metascore where you can find the hottest flavor of the month games so i think RPS should just stop posting about the AAA releases and the craziness they are ridden with.

        It’s like a movie site which would spend all it’s time moaning about the inherent crappiness of the blockbuster movies. They are not going anywhere soon, so wouldnt it be better to just ignore them and let the kids enjoy their fix of transformers megablasting explosion movies?

        • pepperfez says:

          Games are at least pretending not to be for kids anymore, so it’s fair to take them at their word and hold them to adult standards of…not-sucking, at least. And games are in a weird place where the equivalents of prestigious Oscar-bait and dumb summer blockbuster are the same thing (BInfinite, Tomb Raider Next, etc.), so “Don’t expect Transformers to be Schindler’s List” doesn’t work the same way.

          That’s leaving aside the fact that expecting women to be depicted like people shouldn’t be asking too much of even the most immature genre.

          • Likethiss says:

            Good points. Thank you.

            “Games are at least pretending not to be for kids anymore” Thats the main thing though. They are only pretending. Especially the AAA games. They use false marketing to hint there would be something genuinely interesting going on, but i really dont remember having any great moments in the bigger games. I do watch dumb shooter movies sometimes when i just want to unwind or whatever. Same with the games. Was there really anything thought evoking going on in Bioshock: Infinite, which seemed to be regarded as a masterpiece in games storytelling?
            Then theres games like Europa Universalis when you want something more sophisticated and clearly marketed for adults. The R ratings in games like GTA are to get the kids interested, and to make it more cool to have a parent who doesnt care and buys it anyway.

            And the portrayal of women issue is of course important, but i dont see anyone on the internet analysing the trailers for Hollywood Shooter 5 for the women/men ratio, because it’s a taken they are overly macho. So couldnt we just let there be power fantasies aimed for boys? There are lots of videogames which attract both genders, like the Sims, but why would every game need to be like that? There are games that mostly girls/women play too and thats just fine.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Designers are growing up with us, too, though so it’s not unreasonable to speculate that some priorities in development may be reassessed, provided that the desire for maximised profit isn’t riding roughshod over everything else (admittedly a big provided).