Once Upon A Time In China And America, great minds from the video game and martial arts worlds put their heads together and came up with the grandest of concepts. The Last Hero In China was hired to play the leading role in a fancy new game that would mimic the best in kung-fu cinema. A project like this may have High Risk, but all that were involved were sure of its success.
Critics and fans, however, were not as confident. Would the game live up to the hype? Would it transform action games as we know it? Would it truly Rise to Honor?
Nope, not so much. While Jet Li's first foray into the digital universe certainly captures the cinematic action stylings we would expect from a game of this caliber, it fails to deliver anything better than a shoddy performance. Straight from the Cradle 2 The Grave.
You play as Kit Yun, an undercover police officer trying to solve the mystery of his father's death while posing as the personal Bodyguard to the powerful crime lord Boss Chiang. Along the way, you'll meet new friends, make new enemies and search for the meaning of honor. That, and beat up a boatload of thugs. It's all straight out of a typical Hollywood or Hong Kong action flick.
True to form, Rise to Honor shows off some very high production values in an effort to make the game look and feel like a movie. Jet Li and other skilled actors lend their voices in the appropriate English and Cantonese flavors depending on the location. Authentic martial arts action and motion capture is provided by Jet Li himself, along with world renown fight choreographer Cory Yuen and California's own Zero Gravity stunt team. This combo provides the game with a nice library of moves and sweet fight sequences, made even more interesting by way of fully interactive environments. Throw objects, break furniture and even slam an enemy's face down into the kitchen grill. Very cool.
But in their quest to create the ultimate interactive movie experience, the developers forgot to iron out the gaming basics. The One biggest problem is the lack of decent control. Kit's Fists Of Legend are executed by moving the right analog-stick in the direction of the attacker, with shoulder buttons used for blocking and adrenaline attacks. While it sounds simple on paper, "stick mashing" isn't much fun at all. Some directions feel awkward; sometimes you'll try to click an attack and get absolutely nothing.
Using the right control stick for attacks might work well in a game like Smash TV, but here is just limits the gameplay brutally. The four face buttons aren't used at all since they can't be reached while fiddling with the right stick, leaving a single shoulder button to execute all non-fighting actions, including jump, climb and use.
I'm all for gameplay innovation and applaud the developers for trying something new, but the analog stick control just doesn't work well. The absence of the face buttons removes pretty much any hope of a deep combo system, leaving the gameplay flat and repetitive. Click, click, click, click"
Making it all even goofier is the world's most effective block button, which has supreme powers as you'll usually be able to hold it down and block everything thrown your way. It's like you were Born To Defend or something.
When Kit isn't beating the smack out of the bad guys with his hands and feet, our Hero dishes out punishment with guns ala John Woo. The coolness factor is there, but the bottomless ammo clips put a damper on any vague sense of reality or danger. Just run around like a maniac and use your Lethal Weapon 4 an endless stream of death. The absurd notion of "cover' doesn't help either, with plastic garbage cans and other small objects able to block some serious enemy firepower.
Rise to Honor adds a third gameplay style in the ever-popular stealth mode. All you need to do here is avoid some flashlights long enough to give the bad guys yet another swift chop in the back. It's pretty standard stealth fare, but it feels silly standing three feet in front of an enemy who can't see you since his flashlight only goes two feet in front of him.
But that's about par for the course, as the enemy AI is weak. Every bad guy in the game follows a predictable attack pattern which can just be avoided or blocked and countered. This makes the game much easier than it should be; decent gamers should have no problem flying through Rise to Honor in a single weekend.
Some odd locked animations also plague the game, unintentionally providing moments of funny frustration. When enemies manage to hit you, they will continue to do so until you hit the ground and once a combo starts there's no getting a block in edgewise. Fortunately for you, this goes both ways. If you start a combo on a thug and get interrupted by a punch in the back, the thug will continue to get pummeled by your powerful chi, eventually succumbing to a bevy of invisible attacks. I guess that's why Jet's the Tai Chi Master.
Even the extras are pretty thin. Beating the game yields Hard Mode, a few short videos of two Shaolin Kids and a pair of extra costumes. I love the Fong Sai-Yuk look as much as the next guy, but it isn't enough to get me to play again.
As a gamer, martial artist and Jet Li fan, I can't help but be disappointed with Rise to Honor. A more traditional control scheme and some serious gameplay polish could have done wondersfor this game. Instead, terrible control, lame AI and a few other rough edges hand Rise to Honor the Black Mask of shame.