Dear Optimus Prime: I'm so very, very sorry. We Earth-dwellers are not the beings of possibility you took us for, the creatures for whom countless Autobots have laid down their lives. Lo, you have given unto us the concept of fabulous outer-space robots that can morph into dinosaurs, hotrods and spaceships. And we have given you back Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, the videogame equivalent of a party popper that refuses to pop.
Rise of the Dark Spark is a special kind of average - triple-distilled, carbon-reinforced bland. Whether because developer Edge of Reality isn't equal to the strain of releasing across six different home formats, or because Activision thinks it can get away with dropping features, the latest adaptation is the leanest since High Moon's surprisingly solid Transformers: War for Cybertron. There's no longer a competitive multiplayer mode, for starters - all you get is Escalation, in which up to four Xbox Live players defend one of seven maps against 15 waves of foes, buying and upgrading defences with cash earned from kills.
The campaign also doesn't support co-op, despite the almost constant presence of ally characters. It blurs Decepticon and Autobot perspectives, catapulting you into the other side's cockpit every chapter or so. This is jarring but inconsequential, because you'll undertake much the same objectives whether you're battling to exploit the power of the Dark Spark or safeguard it from such abuse: go here, pull or shoot this, kill everything. Part of the campaign occurs on Earth, or at least a version of Earth that's mostly boulders and shipping crates, while the rest takes place on Cybertron, where even doors that take 10-15 seconds to cycle open can't save the game from the occasional embarrassment of a mid-level loading pause.
The nuts, bolts, gears and pistons of Transformers combat are much as in previous games, which is good news if you like third-person shooters with nicely differentiated (and upgradeable) weapons and gizmos, and not-so-good news if you want to feel like a Transformer rather than a squad mate Commander Shepard probably won't get to romance. Having to open Gear Boxes via the pause screen to unlock gear is immediately tedious, and there are rough edges everywhere: the AI sometimes gets stuck behind things, paralysing the script till you track down the enemy in question, and many checkpoints are dropped right in front of unskippable cutscenes. But every so often, you'll stumble into a big open area with dozens of enemies, vomit yourself into the shape of a hoverjet and have a rare old time tossing rockets around like a kid with a bucket of snowballs.
A Transformer can be pretty much anything - that's the whole point. Alas, a licensed game thrown together to coincide with a major movie launch is only really allowed to be a handful of things: inoffensive, economical and on-time. Rise of the Dark Spark ticks all of those boxes. It's the most hatefully unhateable game I've played.
Activision's Transformers adaptations shed a little more charm and fascination each time they transform. This super-lean take feels like the last OK offering before the rot truly sets in.