A Game You Want to Like, But the Game Just Won't Let You
You play as Gideon Wyeth, a rookie space pilot and younger brother of one of the more respected pilots in the area. When a mysterious alien spacecraft shows up at the space station, you and your brother are chosen to fly the human ambassador to the ship to meet the aliens. Fortunately, they are extremely kind. Unfortunately, they bring news of a second alien race that is coming to wipe out the humans as one of their own has given up their location to the enemy. Assumed mythology suddenly becomes hard truth as the alien race known as The Seekers soon arrive and begin laying waste to everything around you. Early on you must make a decision between saving your fiancee or your brother, and the story unfolds from there.
The first thing you'll notice in AR is that the human models are slightly distorted in an anime-esque way. Their legs seem to make up 2/3's of their body which makes for some unique running and jumping animations. Other than that, the models are fairly generic until you meet the alien races. The aliens are so detailed that it makes the humans look half-assed. The aliens are also the first obvious thievery in the game. They look like they're straight out of Halo. The special effects in the game are good but many of the levels seem a bit bare and dull. The aliens, with their flourescent skin and neon shields, are the most colorful things you'll see most of the time. Where the graphics really fail though is in the framerate department. The game is constantly hiccuping for no apparent reason. It's not like there are 50 guys on screen or Half-Life 2 graphics here. The game struggles just to chug along through regular hallways at times. There's no real excuse for it. In short, the parts that look good seem stolen and the original parts look dull.
Advent Rising tries to be ambitious with the controls as well, but fails again. First of all, you can dual wield weapons much like Halo 2. This works great most of the time but the button layout becomes an issue when you want to swap weapons. For some unknown reason, GlyphX decided to have separate buttons for dodge and jump, when they could have easily been fused together. Dodge (X) is used similarly to games like Max Payne and Jump (A) is your standard platformer leap. As if that wasn't hectic enough, to pick up a weapon with your left hand you press X. So, if you are running through a firefight and need to pick up a new gun full of ammo, you must come to a complete stop on top of the gun on the floor then press X, or else you'll go into a slow motion dive forward and completely miss the gun. It's simply maddening. The design team also tried something new with the way you target enemies. Instead of manually aiming at each one, you simply "flick" the right analog stick in the general direction to lock on to an enemy. This sounds great in theory, as you can do it at any time and have pinpoint accuracy, but the problem with this new approach is quickly apparent. Since the right analog is also your camera, and the game constantly forces you to move quickly before being overrun by enemies, as you start to run, touching the right analog stick at all will cause you to lock onto the very things you're trying to get away from. This cuts your run speed down significantly and also makes it impossible to see where you're going. You need 3 thumbs and 3 thumbsticks to make this control scheme work correctly. It's not unplayable, it's just awkward. As the game progresses, Gideon learns some telekinetic powers which make the game more playable, but honestly it makes it too easy. On occasion you will have use of vehicles, which control exactly like Halo. The "Scythe" is pretty much a Warthog anyways, so it only makes sense.
The sound is the high point of the game, but also has a huge down side. Tommy Tallarico, of Electric Playground and Judgment Day on G4 fame, is behind the music in this project...and no that's not the huge down side. He's put together quite an epic soundtrack with the help of a 70-piece orchestra and a full choir. The soundtrack has that dramatic feel of a film and fits the game's story nicely. The problem is that sound design team apparently didn't know what to do with these marvelous pieces of music. Most games now days deftly ramp the music up and down to fit the player's situation. Not in Advent Rising. If I'm driving my Scythe (Warthog) along a cliff and jumping ravines with my boosters, the orchestral score works great. But if I'm walking through a hallway and trying to listen to what someone has to say, TURN THE MUSIC DOWN! It's just sorry management of an otherwise beautiful production. The voice acting is actually pretty good and the sound effects are as well.
I'm not sure if I should be disappointed in the game's 8ish hours of length or glad it was done and over with quickly. After beating it, there's not much point in going back as the story is fairly linear. They're planning on a trilogy, so they can't give the player too many liberties in the first chapter.
Again, I really wanted to like this game, but they made it very hard to do that. I like the idea, but they needed to flesh out the character development a bit more and make me actually care about these people. I didn't get that from this game as much as I would want from a story such as this. Advent Rising seems to be a case of a group of ambitious people with good intentions creating a game they didn't have the means to produce, and that's a sad tale. Their scope was so grand that they forgot about some of the little things such as when I pick up a weapon, how about telling me what the name of it is on screen instead of just an icon of the gun type? Or how about a map or some type of guide to aid me in finding where my next objective takes place? Several times I became stuck in the game world and had to restart from the last checkpoint just to continue. Advent Rising may be worth renting but it's not worth $50. If you can hold out for a month, you can get it for $30 on the PC, but I don't know if you'd really want to. Hopefully GlyphX learns from their mistakes, as this was their first title, and the next installment will fare much better.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of teh game. ***