Developer: GlyphX Games
Release Date: May 31, 2005
Advent Rising is a title that I have been following for some time, and I have eagerly awaited its release. This is a game that I wanted to love, and I wanted it to be a Game of the Year nominee. I wanted a new IP for the Xbox to set it above the competitors, but unfortunately, Advent Rising is not that game. The poor storytelling, bland graphics, buggy gameplay, and short length all add up to a mediocre game that comes off as a decent rental, but not much else.
In Advent Rising, you play as Giddeon Wyeth, a budding space pilot and younger brother of Ethan Wyeth, a renowned war hero. Things are pretty normal until a mysterious alien spacecraft shows up at your doorstep, and you, your brother, and an ambassador are sent to investigate their arrival. They inform you that another alien race known as the Seekers is on its way to your location, with the intent of wiping out the human race. While they estimate that the Seekers will arrive in approximately two days, they end up arriving about two minutes later. So far so good, but until the end of the game, this is the last time you will care about the story.
There are numerous cut scenes throughout the story, but hardly any of them focus on character or story development. They are basically action sequences showing battles between humans and Seekers or buildings getting blown up. To make matters worse, these scenes aren't directed well, and you will see the same scene of about 20 spacecrafts flying through a human city numerous times. I don’t know if they thought changing the camera angle would fool us into thinking these were different scenes, but they don’t. It does seem that as the game progresses, these cut scenes are tighter and more coherent, but it's a shame they couldn’t get their act together early on and actually grab the audience's attention.
The gameplay department fares better than the story but still has its problems. The game controls just like any other third-person shooter out there, but with a twist. Instead of aiming at your enemies, you use what is know as “Flick Targeting” to lock onto them and unload a barrage of weapon fire. Basically what this amounts to is pressing the right thumbstick in the direction of an enemy, which will cause you to lock on and strafe around them while unleashing bullets.
This system works pretty well if there are only one or two enemies on the screen at a time, but more than that causes some problems. You will find yourself locking onto the wrong enemy or accidentally breaking the lock you already have. Flick Targeting is also a huge problem when you are trying to find cover. There is no way to disengage the lock so when you are trying to run away, you will constantly spin back around to face the enemy, preventing you from actually getting to cover.
One other annoying control aspect of the game is picking up weapons. The button for picking up weapons is the same as the one for dodging. This means that in many cases, you will run out of ammo, attempt to pick up a gun lying close by, leap out of the way of the gun in question, and proceed to get riddled with enemy fire. Not a pleasurable experience, I assure you. Eventually, you get used to it, but you never really like it.
Once you get the hang of Flick Targeting, the weapons actually make the game pretty fun. There are 12 weapons in the game, each with an alternate fire that is usually very distinct from the primary. At any time in the game, you can dual-wield any of the weapons, giving you lot of variety to the destruction. The animations for each weapon are unique and fun to watch; I especially enjoy the double reload on the rocket launchers.
Another cool feature is the ability to level up the weapons in an RPG-like fashion. More in the vein of Fable or Dungeon Siege, the weapons level-up is based on time used, not on skill points allocated to them. Some of the upgrades are quite potent; for example, there is a pistol that is quite weak, but after a few upgrades, it adds a laser sight and ricochet damage so you can actually snipe an enemy and have the bullet bounce off and snipe an adjacent enemy as well. My only complaint with this system is the ease at which you level up the weapons. The maximum level for any given weapon is five, you can easily max out a weapon with 30 minutes to an hour of use, possibly less if you are in a particularly enemy-dense area.
Where Advent Rising really shines is in the powers you can unlock. Similar to the weapons, these abilities can be dual-wielded and upgraded. Once you unlock the first ability, the game takes on a whole new level of fun. There are some interesting combinations of abilities and weaponry that go great together. I personally like to levitate the Seekers and then riddle them with Darkfire blasts. Then there is the Timeshift ability, which propels you at light speed towards your enemy. This, in conjunction with a nice Discord blast, which sends enemies flying back from your attack, are just two examples of pairings that make for lethal combos. They aren’t without problems though. However, my biggest gripe is how easy the developers have made the game. Once you start throwing enemies around instead of shooting them, it takes a lot of the aerial gunplay completely out of the game. It is much easier to lift a Seeker and throw him into deep space than it is to dodge his gunfire and return with your own, although doing so is admittedly fun.
The final gameplay problem area with Advent Rising is in the enemy A.I. It's definitely not the worst I have ever seen, but Covenant they are not. Enemies will take cover when you are laying down heavy fire in their area, but then they will leap out from behind it or simply stand and shoot even though you have plenty of ammo and they have not recharged their health. They will initiate a pursuit even if you are almost dead and they have numbers on you, and they will not leap out of the way of grenades. Sometimes, they will even get stuck on a piece of the environment, like rocks or doorways, and you can simply pelt them with bullets while they squirm in place, trying to figure out how to get around the obstacle.
One of my biggest gripes with this game by far is the graphics. For a game well into the third generation of Xbox graphics, it looks worse than most launch titles. The character designs are fine, but the textures are so bland and boring that you are never drawn into the universe. I have no idea why the Seekers carry fluorescent weapons around and wear bright clothing. Are they from the gay sector of the universe? The environment fares no better than the characters. The cities are oddly colored and devoid of detail, and there is absolutely no bump mapping anywhere to be seen to add any kind of depth to the world. The lighting is also very uniform and drab, and nothing ever really pops out at you and says "look at me, I’m interesting." The cut scenes are much better and feature a lot of the detail that the game is missing. I especially liked the Aurelian character design because they look, speak, and move convincingly and have more personality than any of the humans. The animation is the only area where the graphics really come through in a big way. The weapon firing and reloading animations are some of the coolest I have seen, and some of the assassination moves you can perform also look devastating. If this amount of detail had been elsewhere in the game, it would be leaps and bounds above where it currently is.
I feel bad for Tommy Talarico, I really do. I watched him talk about this game on G4 for so long, and he actually had me looking forward to it. He did a good job on his part, and the music in Advent is quite good, possibly some of the best in a game to date. The problem is that the implementation is so poor that you don’t really get to appreciate it. Let me elaborate. You will be in the midst of a heated battle, the music is kicking it up a notch and really getting you into the moment. Then, without warning, it cuts out, and there is no music to be heard at all. On the flip side, there are times when everything for miles has been killed and you are simply trying to find out where to go next, and the music kicks in as though something huge is going on. These types of technical flaws are just par for the course, I suppose.
After all that has been said, you might think that Advent Rising is a stink bomb worth avoiding at all costs, but at the end of the day, I had have to say that I still had fun playing it. Even with all of the technical difficulties and bland graphics, I still looked forward to playing the game when I was away from it. I wanted to level up all of the weapons and skills, I wanted to find out why the Seekers are trying to wipe out humanity, and I even wanted to see how the relationship of the main characters panned out. I wanted to play the game because it was fun despite everything else, and above all, isn’t that what games are supposed to be about? I'd like to think so.
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