?You have the power to change everything, for you are? the Chosen One!? (insert dramatic music stinger here).
Ah, yes, the story of the Great and Powerful, Almighty Prophesied One- quite possibly the single favorite idea hook in the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Sometimes, it seems as if it?s the only one, in fact. I mean, you can?t swing a dead cat in the gaming space any more without knocking into some story or another about some Nobody that comes out of nowhere to become Somebody and save the world/universe based on some dusty, ancient prophesy.
In their new 3rd Person shooter, Advent Rising, developer Glyphx and publisher Majesco attempt to piggy-back a space opera tale of blasters and aliens onto this venerable chestnut of a premise. MyGamer has been following Advent Rising?s development for months despite the game?s seemingly hackneyed premise, however, for one very special reason: Orson Scott Card. Some of you might recognize the name of this Nebula Award-winning Sci-Fi author, famous for such novels as the landmark Ender?s Game and the recently released urban fantasy Magic Street, and developer Glyphx managed to score Mr. Card?s authoring talents for the game?s ?screen play?.
With such an illustrious writer on-board to craft up a science fiction world, the game seemed destined for a place in the annals of greatness. Alas, after the last laser bolt has flown and the last grav tank has exploded into fiery junk, we are sorry to report that Advent Rising, while certainly a solid and entertaining action romp, never manages to rise to the heights that it could have achieved.
Advent Rising is the futuristic tale of Gideon Wyeth, hotshot pilot and brother of Ethan Wyeth, a decorated war hero of the planet Edumea. Aliens, you see, have just made first contact with the human race and a delegation is being sent to meet with them. Ethan is the logical choice to pilot the shuttle that will bear the ambassadors, and Gideon is along at his famous brother?s request.
The visitors have bad news, however. A separate alien faction, known as the Seekers, have been looking for Edumea for a while now, in order to derail an ancient prophesy. Humans, according to this legend, will one day ?deliver? the galaxy, something that the Seekers do not wish to come to pass. Despite the aliens? vastly superior technology, humans, it seems, possess the key to some larger power. No sooner is this bundle of bad tidings dropped on the ambassador than the Seekers appear in the skies of Edumea, where they begin raining death upon the helpless humans. It is up to Gideon to save (or at least avenge) the world.
Advent Rising uses a standard ?over the shoulder? 3rd-person perspective that gamers will be immediately familiar with. Movement uses the standard ?WASD? default layout with the usual options to jump, crouch, double-tap to dodge, etc. A nice touch, however, is the game?s dual-wield feature that allows Gideon to use a different weapon in each hand at the same time, something that the player will desperately need if they hope to survive.
Later in the game, Gideon gains access to powerful mental energies that allow him to lift and throw objects with his mind, create surges of energy that can toss enemies aside, form glowing energy shields and even slow time. The duel-wield feature allows the player to equip these mental powers and guns simultaneously, if desired.
As the player uses weapons as well as Gideon?s natural talents (leaping and dodging as well as his later-game mental powers) he gains experience in the form of upgrades. Guns unlock more powerful secondary fire modes and become more accurate, dodge becomes further and flashier, mental powers do more damage or shoot faster and longer. It?s a nice implementation of a game play mechanic that I wish more developers would use: let the player play like they want and then boost the skills that they favor in response.
Anyone familiar with Halo or Halo 2 will instantly feel right at home inside Advent Rising?s mix of indoor spaceship corridors and sprawling outdoor levels. Jeeps can and will be appropriated. Alien bad guys can and will be run down (accompanied by satisfyingly realistic thunks and blood-curdling screams). Grav-tanks and gunnery turrets can be commandeered and used to blast waves of mindlessly-charging enemies into highly-charged particles? all while the player runs through gleaming corridors of alien design lit with multicolored trim (think a mix of Halo and Tron and you should have exactly the right image).
Game play on the ?Normal? setting is pleasantly challenging, at least until Gideon gets access to his mental powers. After that, well, the game becomes a rout, as Gideon becomes a rampaging engine of Prophesied Doom to the Seekers and everything that they represent. Once I got access to Gideon?s mind powers I found myself relying less and less on guns at all, until I stopped using them altogether a little past halfway through the game?s 10 or so hours of play– they were just so overpowered compared to anything that the enemy could throw at me that I saw no reason to use such primitive tools as plasma cannons and such. Anyone that remembers Lucas Art?s Jedi Knight series and the overwhelming power of the light saber will feel a twinge of d?j? vu the first time they realize that Gideon?s powers can blast enemies plus deflect laser shots, missiles, grenades and anything else, all in one package.
Despite the game?s overall professionalism and polish, there are a few gaffs. Advent Rising makes extensive use of cut scenes to tell its story, sometimes at the expense of gripping game play moments. In one particularly memorable example, Gideon flees the dying Edumea in a shuttle, manning a turret alongside his brother and blasting pursuing alien fighters and dodging Seeker missiles and capital ships. As exciting as that cut scene was, I would have vastly preferred to play the scene in-game and not watch it as a non-interactive movie.
Game play aside, however, it is Advent Rising?s story that had everyone so frenzied and which, ultimately disappoints the most. Despite Orson Scott Card?s name on the screenplay credits, the story that Advent Rising tells is one that comes as no surprise to anyone that?s been playing games or even watching sci-fi movies for any length of time. Besides the obviously clich?d premise, there are a number of illogical or improbable character and story issues, most of which revolve around Gideon?s miraculous and totally unexplained rapid development of god-like abilities, which strain my suspension of disbelief to (and sometimes beyond) the breaking point. Given that Card is a master of the storytelling craft (this author owns several of his books on writing and world building, in fact) it is surprising and more than a little disappointing to see Advent Rising?s plot so mired in such a confusing and unoriginal premise.
The character?s development, however, is top-notch and the dialogue is believable and excellently voice-acted. Gideon?s brother, Ethan, is particularly well acted, and immediately became my favorite part of the game with his easy-going drawl and his refusal to back away from any fight. The aliens, both ally and enemy, are also excellently done, even when falling into the clich? of using British accents to denote ?important characters?, something that usually leaves this admittedly jaded reviewer groaning and rolling his eyes.
Advent Rising is available on both the PC and the XBOX platforms from Majesco.
Game Play- 8 Combat is fast and furious in the early game- the use if multiple guns and a rechargeable health bar will be strangely familiar to anyone that?s played Halo. Not that that?s a bad thing, mind you, it?s just less than ground-breaking. Once Gideon gets his psi powers, however and ammunition is no longer an issue, the game radically changes, becoming almost too easy even on the highest difficulty setting. It is lots of fun to play God, however, smiting alien invaders with a bevy of powerful attacks that fling 9-foot enemies like rag dolls, blast them with exploding ice shards, lifting them high into the air then tossing them halfway to the horizon and even doing a bit of Bullet-Time slo-mo combat.
Graphics- 7 Advent Rising debuted on the XBOX and you can definitely tell that fact when playing the PC version- models are a bit chunky and have that stiff, lower-rez feel that I?ve come to recognize from console ports, even when played at 1600x1200x32. Frame rate is occasionally choppy, especially in the blurry and pixilated cut-scenes. The title?s level design borrows heavily from the Halo school of architecture as well, and is filled with brushed-aluminum-looking structures, spaceship corridors and looming bases that any player of that title will instantly feel at home in. The aliens? technology (most notably the Seeker?s space ship and vehicle designs) is particularly well rendered with an almost anime flair at times, something I particularly enjoyed.
Audio- 9 The game?s voice acting is top-notch and is some of the best I?ve heard I recent memory. Other sound FX are similarly well done and do much to immerse the player in the game?s futuristic world. The music is suitably epic and rousing, ebbing and flowing alongside the game?s sprawling plot.
Value- 7 Particular note must be made of Advent Rising?s lamentable save system, which is clearly an artifact of the original XBOX version. The saving of games on-demand (something I?ve come to take for granted in the overwhelming majority of modern PC games) is not possible, and instead relies on a number of ?checkpoints?. No mention is made, however, of which of these checkpoints is in fact the actual save point you will return to when you come back to the game, a fact that I found frustrating.
Curve- 7 Advent Rising is a game full of potential, barring some disappointing ?ifs?. IF Orson Scott Card had not written the script, would my expectations have perhaps been a bit lower, hence my disappointment in the game?s storyline lessened? IF the developers had worked a bit harder to implement an actual save-game system instead of porting over the XBOX?s antiquated and limited one, would I have been as frustrated with the game every time I went to shut down? IF the art, play mechanics and level design had borrowed a bit less from Halo, would the game have seemed a bit more fresh and edgy to this reviewer?s eye? We shall never know. But, these flaws aside, Advent Rising is still, at the end of the day, an enjoyable romp through a galaxy full of noble aliens, implacable enemies, burning space ships and furious action, and in my book, that?s a win.