Rise and fall.
Some people just try too hard. Take the Chinese government, for example. When the U.N. declared an international anti-drug day, China gleamed with joy. "We can do that!" they thought, and so they took all of their convicted drug dealers out of prison, carted them to the local sports stadium, and publicly executed them
We have no doubt of the good intentions of either the Chinese government or the entirely unrelated developers of the wildly hyped Advent Rising. However, while the drug dealers were dispatched quickly and efficiently, the execution of Advent Rising is a bit messier. The culprit, I suspect, is that this game tries way too hard.
A quick summary of its more attractive specs give an idea of just how high this cumbersome booster rocket of a game aims. It's a third-person shooter that follows a script penned by a sci-fi literature giant. You can dual-wield weapons, each of which has both regular and alternate fire modes. You can throw grenades. You can perform cartwheel dodges in slow-motion. Every skill, power, and weapon "levels up" with continued use. You can drive vehicles, hang from ledges, generate and carry energy shields, lift and throw objects with your mind and manipulate time itself, all while never staring at a load screen. Plus, the girls are impossibly curvaceous. It's enough to blow your O-ring.
All of this looks great on paper, but in the finished product, the extensive list of features gets in the way of more important things, like framerates and glitches. Fundamentals aren't just for European basketball players, people.
Take the story written by sci-fi guru Orson Scott Card. You play as Gideon Wyeth, a hero who has seen every human die except for himself and two friends, and the species bent on exterminating the human race, the Seekers, is looking to finish the job. The story isn't bad, but it isn't great, either. It feels like somewhat juvenile science-fiction, the kind with loads of brainless action sequences, sexual fantasies, and zero character development.
For instance, Gideon doesn't mourn much. When his brother dies, he shows his grief by flirting with his fiancí¯Â¿Â½e. When his planet is destroyed, he shows his grief by flying away. When his fiancí¯Â¿Â½e bites it, he shows his grief by getting down with the last surviving female (who happens to be hot and willing). A pimp? Truly, but not a very likeable one.
There are welcome touches of humor along the way that keep the game from getting too serious, but if you're looking for videogaming's next great, science-fiction epic (Advent Rising is supposed to be the first part of a trilogy), you might want to check another arm of the galaxy.
Speaking of which, the armaments in Advent Rising are considerable. As promised, you can dual-wield guns, dodge, lob grenades, and use all kinds of special psychic powers to dispatch hordes of bad guys. At first, Gideon is not skilled with any of the weapons or powers, but by the half-way point, he will be able to reload a machine gun with one hand while firing rockets with another. Or he will be able to pick up several enemies with his psychokinetic powers and toss them over a cliff. Or he will climb up the side of an alien and break its neck with his bare hands. The best thing about the game is its combat depth, and there are literally hundreds of ways to take down the dumb uglies.
However, the control scheme for all this madness gets a bit sticky. Targeting is handled by flicking the R-stick in the direction of the enemy. It works much better than the toggling of Grand Theft Auto, but still has problems. For one, the R-stick is also your camera control, so you can get "stuck" targeting an enemy when you're really trying to run away. Adjusting the "flick sensitivity" alleviates this somewhat, but having the camera crank around every time you run by a rock is a persistent frustration.
Also, the buttons you use to pick up weapons are the same ones used to dodge and reload. Many times I tried to grab a gun in the middle of a firefight, only to cartwheel dodge several yards from where the gun lay, mocking my futile effort.
The control issues extend to psychic abilities, too. To switch from using a gun to using one of your psychic powers, you must manipulate the D-pad, which triggers a giant, obstructive menu. The action slows down behind it, but it is still possible to get killed while fumbling through the confusing scheme.
The alternate-fire option is another sweet function that's a pain to use. Switching from a machine-gun to its mounted grenade launcher requires a combination of buttons, instead of, you know, one. Although the game as a whole is not particularly difficult, the control scheme is crazier than a muskrat in rollerskates. Every button on the controller has something to do, and some buttons have several things to do. The game tries to pile too much onto the poor pieces of plastic.
This goes for the look of the game as well. Though the environments are suitable enough for a space epic and the monsters and gunfire are passable, the whole thing has a tendency to slow down severely. Some of this is caused by the "behind-the-scenes" loading of areas and environments, but even when each level has fully loaded, the graphics simply aren't very impressive. The space ships flying around in the background are cool, but the camera is jumpy and skittish, which is distinctly uncool.
Where it fumbles in its execution, Advent Rising does score some points in its atmosphere. The game pushes a very bright look, using lots of oranges and pinks that appeal to my fruitier side. The orchestral score is powerful - albeit questionably used - and the voice-acting is solid. You do feel like you're in another world, and it's a pretty believable one.
The people populating it are not, however. Not only does Gideon's hair change length radically and unpredictably, but the cast of female extras are, one notices quickly, all the same person. It gets especially ridiculous during cut scenes, in which crowds of identical humans flee explosions. I haven't seen five hundred women wearing the same little black dress since my last New York high-society function.
Aliens and bad guys are a little more varied in their attire, but the software running their brains seems softer than tofu. They run out into the open, guns blazing, and seem incapable of any strategic attack. Because the firefights get so hectic, the lack of artificial intelligence doesn't make the game too simple. Given some ginseng root and a dose of Kaplan courses, though, it could be much better.
Most gamers will cruise through this puppy in about ten hours, which seems about right. Although much of the gameplay is pretty linear, the experience is nicely varied. There's some light platforming, some familiar vehicles, and a few interesting situations like parking a spaceship or dying in a snowstorm.
But you cannot escape the game's lack of polish. Worse than the obtuse control, budget cast of extras and framerate issues are the glitches, and they are plentiful. The game bugs out a lot, especially when you try to ride elevators or target gun turrets. Sometimes the elevators just won't work, forcing you to reload the game. Other times you cannot "untarget" gun turrets, even after they are destroyed. For a game four years in development, it should be far more stable.
Like a luxury car with a rusted engine or a fudge sundae made with frozen yogurt, Advent Rising is a study in untapped potential. Although the core gameplay and concepts are really good, the package is marred by execution errors left and right. Way to reach for the stars, but boy, that's a long fall.