Advent Rising (PC)

"Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
where most it promises."

- William Shakespeare, All's Well that Ends Well


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Gaming is a medium that, if pursued with any degree of enthusiasm, inevitably leads to frequent letdowns and unfulfilled expectations. Case in point: Advent Rising, and its disappointing fall from the lofty heights of prerelease hype, to the bargain basement of mediocrity.

Announced in Spring 2003, Advent Rising showed the initial signs of a promising new franchise. The first in a planned trilogy, with a screenplay by celebrated science fiction author Orson Scott Card, the game's early screenshots and concept art hinted at a distinctive visual style. Developer GlyphX Games touted the title as a uniquely cinematic experience, and went so far as to claim that it would "captivate the mind and emotions of the player while pushing the boundaries of gaming to an unprecedented new level."

Despite this almost laughable prerelease hyperbole, I was intrigued, especially by GlyphX's purported emphasis on in-game storytelling. On the games' official website lead designer Donald Mustard wrote, "While [Advent Rising's] story is paramount, it should never have you putting down the controller...we are taking what would normally be cut-scenes and making them playable wherever possible. I want you to be playing through the sequences of a summer blockbuster."

The title's anticipated 2004 release was delayed to 2005, ostensibly to allow it to hit store shelves without having to contend with the onslaught of 2004 holiday releases. At the time, GlyphX whetted gamers' appetites with the pronouncement that "The game as it stands already goes far beyond any other in the realm of storytelling, character development, and evoking the emotions of the player."

As its June 2005 Xbox release date approached, Majesco unleashed some serious marketing firepower, with a full compliment of television, magazine, and comic book advertisements, and even a full-length theater trailer that preceded showings of Star Wars: Episode III. Not content with mere media saturation, Majesco took their promotional tactics a step further, luring gamers to Advent Rising with the promise of cash: The first 500,000 purchasers of the Xbox release would participate in an in-game Xbox-live enabled Easter egg hunt, with a grand prize of a million dollars.


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Ultimately, though, the Xbox release was met with the disheartening realization that the emperor, as they say, had no clothes. Advent Rising garnered a lukewarm response, as reviewers panned the title for numerous technical glitches and an awkward, irritating targeting system. As its GameRankings review score average settled at a disappointing 66%, Advent Rising's console release appeared destined for a quick trip to the bargain bins. To add insult to injury, eager gamers seduced by Majesco's million-dollar contest were later informed that as a result of "technical issues," the contest was cancelled, and no awards would be given. (As a sort of consolation prize, Majesco is now providing participants with their choice of two of a handful of select Xbox titles for free).

But all hope was not lost. Not yet, anyway. A PC version was still in the works, and a delay of more than two months since the Xbox release hinted that GlyphX might be taking time to work out some bugs and refine those troubling targeting issues. The step up to PC hardware capabilities and a mouse-and-keyboard control system both seemed to bode well for the title, and gamers such as myself held out for the possibility that Advent Rising might actually redeem itself on the desktop, at least to some degree. Plus, the PC retail price was reduced to $29.99.

The good news is that by most measures, the PC version appears graphically and technically superior to its Xbox predecessor, and the much-maligned Xbox "flick-targeting" system has been supplanted by a fully customizable mouse and keyboard control scheme. Sadly, though, these improvements aren't nearly enough to save Advent Rising from mediocrity.


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The game's storyline tells the tale of hotshot space pilot Gideon Wyeth, who unexpectedly finds himself caught up in a battle between two extraterrestrial species: the Seekers, hell-bent on mankind's destruction, and the Aurelians, the purveyors of an ancient religion that reveres humans as deity. The story opens as Gideon is dispatched as part of an ambassadorial party to meet the Aurelians, who have traveled to Earth to warn mankind of the genocidal intentions of the Seekers. Unfortunately, the Aurelians are too late, and shortly after their arrival, the Earth is subjected to a full-scale Seeker attack.

The events that follow take Gideon and friends on an entirely linear, third-person adventure that pits him against droves of angry Seekers as he fights his way across multiple planets and spacecraft. Along the way, he finds himself at the center of an interplanetary political debate, and discovers that he does indeed possess the jedi-like supernatural powers described in Aurelian prophesies.

Conceptually, Advent Rising's storyline rises above standard gaming fare, but for a variety of reasons, it never lives up to its potential. First of all, the dialogue is terrible. The game takes itself extremely seriously, which is fine, except that its characters can't seem to refrain from making tired action-hero wisecracks, even in the face of great personal tragedy. The counterpoint to these ill-conceived attempts at witty banter are dull diatribes on interstellar politics and tired pontificating about the fate of mankind and the universe.

In addition, GlyphX's promise of playable, in-game blockbuster events isn't realized in the slightest. Nearly every dramatic action scene, turn of events, or bit of storyline is played out in cutscenes. The gameplay is almost entirely without any memorable scripted events, and consists simply of Gideon fighting his way through waves of enemies, stopping only to activate the occasional elevator or door. For their part, the cutscenes are well-paced and interesting, from a storytelling perspective. Unfortunately, they're of inconsistent quality, with many suffering from choppy animation and other graphical problems.


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Advent Rising's most polished and entertaining feature is its combat system. As the story unfolds, Gideon gains access to an increasing variety of handheld weaponry, to include a total of eleven different human and alien firearms, two of which can be carried at a time. For the most part, they mimic typical sci-fi video game weaponry, but given that they all feature alternate firing modes and can be dual-wielded, there's plenty of fun to be had in experimenting with different weapon combinations.

Gideon also develops an assortment of metaphysical combat powers, which can be mixed and matched with handheld weapons via an intuitive interface that allows quick, on-the-fly assignment of different guns or powers to Gideon's left and right hands. Both his weapon proficiencies and supernatural powers increase over time, and eventually, he learns to throw plasma-like projectiles, levitate objects, generate blasts of psychic energy, and more. There's also a slow-motion jump/dodge effect that acts as a sort of low-rent bullet time.


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In the game's early levels, the combat almost verges on exhilarating, despite the bland level design and sloppy enemy AI. Unfortunately, just past the game's halfway point, Gideon simply becomes too powerful for the player's own good, and it becomes all too easy to just run through the game, relying on a single overpowered ability to blast through waves of enemies. Several scenes feature friendly NPCs that were probably designed to fight along side Gideon, but they usually have trouble keeping up, and as they don't seem to contribute in any real way to the battles, they're easy to simply ignore or forget.

Advent Rising borrows liberally from Halo at seemingly every turn. While most science fiction titles display influences from other games, it's rare that one is so exclusively (and shamelessly) inspired by a single previous title. This isn't to say that Advent Rising is completely without fresh ideas; in fact, when it's not imitating Bungie's venerable sci-fi epic, it exhibits a number of novel design concepts. The game's human characters, for example, are elongated and stylized, and Gideon's combat maneuvers, some of which are fairly sophisticated, are smoothly and stylishly animated.

Though a few of the combat-related special effects are quite impressive, Advent Rising is graphically inferior to most modern PC titles. It's capable of maintaining a smooth framerate even on modest hardware at the highest detail settings, but the game's environments are typically pieced together from big, clunky polygons covered in dull, unimpressive textures. And while it doesn't seem to be broken to the degree of the Xbox version, there's still an odd and varied assortment of distracting unrefined elements and minor glitches.


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Advent Rising's musical score, performed by a 70-piece orchestra and an operatic choir, is fantastic. Unfortunately, its impact is undercut slightly by occasional poor editing and its pairing with the previously mentioned low-quality cutscenes. The sound effects are good, though not necessarily all that original - here again, Halo influences stick out like a sore thumb.

Advent Rising's almost-saving grace is the fact that it keeps the story and gameplay moving at a brisk, varied pace, seldom dwelling for any length of time in a particular setting or area. There are a number of unremarkable driving or turret-shooting sequences that serve to break up the increasingly routine on-foot combat, and there's a liberally spaced checkpoint save system, so you'll rarely replay the same scenes twice. With the exception of a few tedious boss battles, Advent Rising's story propels the player forward fairly quickly, and most players will probably finish the game in ten to twelve hours.

Though the plot's central conflict is drawn to a satisfying conclusion, there's a tacked-on, nonsensical epilogue that apparently paves the way for the series' next installment. Whether that installment will ever see the light of day is doubtful, given the game's uneven craftsmanship, poor sales, and unenthusiastic critical reception. Unfortunately, Advent Rising isn't one of those franchises that gamers are likely to give a second chance.

Advent Rising
Official Site
Release Dates (U.S.): June 2005 (Xbox), August 2005 (PC)
Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: GlyphX Games

Comments

good read. Will definitely let his one pass

Thank you! Very nicely written and critiqued; Certis, I think we have another winning reviewer.

Good read. Not a terribly surprising review, given the massive hype machine that preceded it, although it does sound like there was at least the potential for some interesting game play.

It's too bad that Mr. Card's writing apparently went to waste. Are the (apparently bad) lines of dialog attributed to him as well, or do you suppose they were thrown in by someone else trying to "spice things up"?

I agree with most of what the review said, yet I have come to different conclusions.

Maybe its because I had never heard about the game up until a week before the release. I have no idea where all this hype everyone was mentioning happened.

The giant gorilla boss battle was very creative and fun, as was the assasin on the skiff. The powers were very powerful yet many times there were instances where the game mechanics forced you to learn and build up a new skill. For example the "force push" was pretty unstopable except for said boss battle with the assasin on the skiff. They also had plenty of enemies that would insta-block the "force push" and hence the only way to dispatch them was to wait for them to leap. This was dangerous when amongst a pack.

The gametab reviews are brought down noticably by one reviewer. They are also all based upon the Xbox version that suffered from minor slow down on occasion. (even during cutscenes!) I would give a markedly higher review score if the PC version reduced this. The flick targeting did not bother me, yet if you think I would willingly choose it over the option to have mouse targeting youre nuts.

I enjoyed the story much more than the original HALO's. I havent played HALO 2 so I cant comment. If you are a HALO fan or a Jedi Academy fan (a much better and longer game), you owe it to yourself to pick this up at $30. Its a steal at anything less and Im wagering it wont be long till it hits $19.99.

It looks like it would be entertaining enough to me once it drops below twenty bucks.

I'll wait for the inevitable ridiculously low Gogamer sale price and then pick it up for the PC.

Great review as usual man!

The gametab reviews are brought down noticably by one reviewer. They are also all based upon the Xbox version that suffered from minor slow down on occasion. (even during cutscenes!) I would give a markedly higher review score if the PC version reduced this. The flick targeting did not bother me, yet if you think I would willingly choose it over the option to have mouse targeting youre nuts.

Of the 39 GameRankings reviews used to calculate the average, there's a fairly even distribution, peaking at right around the high 60s / low 70s. There is one review - from CV games - that gave it an "F," which for some reason GameRankings converts to the ridiculously low score of 5%. Oddly enough, they've got that review blocked out in their graph:

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The PC version does fare slightly better over at GameRankings, earning a score of 75% based on an average of four review scores:

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Advent Rising has garnered a scant handful of genuinely glowing reviews, and a number of at least good reviews from major sites and publications. Its critical reception has been less consistent than that of most other titles, probably because in evaluating Advent Rising there's a fair amount of good to weigh with the bad, and everybody's going to sort though its qualities differently based on their own gaming preferences and priorities. For my part, the game's annoyances ultimately trumped its good qualities.

The giant gorilla boss battle was very creative and fun, as was the assasin on the skiff.
Those were my least favorite parts of the game. In fact, I thought all the boss battles were unpolished, formulaic Zelda takeoffs. But that's just me.

Woo! Way to back your words with pie graphs, LaMosca! 10 productivity points for you

Great review. I, too, will give this one a pass. Primarily because they shafted me on the million dollars thing. What a lame-ass cop out.

Fletcher wrote:
Woo! Way to back your words with pie graphs, LaMosca! 10 productivity points for you :)

Actually, I just pulled those straight from GameRankings, I can't take credit. Glad you liked them, though.

LupusUmbrus wrote:
Good read. Not a terribly surprising review, given the massive hype machine that preceded it, although it does sound like there was at least the potential for some interesting game play.

It's too bad that Mr. Card's writing apparently went to waste. Are the (apparently bad) lines of dialog attributed to him as well, or do you suppose they were thrown in by someone else trying to "spice things up"?

I rented this game (thank goodness), and I asked myself this very same question as I listened to the dialogue. I refuse to believe OSC actually wrote some of that stuff. There's just no way.

It really is too bad how this game turned out. I was really buying the hype for a bit there. It's funny how they know how to take the "best moments" from such games and throw them together, just like with a movie preview, to make it look as MAXIMUM as possible. They must have known it was bad.