Advent Rising Hands-On Impressions

We go a few rounds with a work-in-progress build of Majesco and GlyphX's story-driven action game.

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At a recent press event in San Francisco, we got to try out a playable version of Advent Rising for the first time. For those not in the know, the game is the first of a planned trilogy of action games in development at Salt Lake City-based GlyphX Games, and it focuses on storyline and narrative as much as on its gameplay. Though it's still in pre-alpha stage (meaning all of its features haven't been implemented yet), we were impressed at the cinematic direction the game is going.

Advent Rising attempts to marry an engrossing sci-fi storyline with fast-paced shooting action.

The storyline in Advent Rising is actually pretty imaginative and sounds like it will extend nicely to a further two games. In the game's universe, a number of intelligent alien species have all reached space-faring status and met up with each other as they've explored the galaxy. In their intercultural dealings, these races have come to realize that they all share a common legend that refers to a mystical race of superbeings who will one day return and unite the other races of the galaxy. These beings are known universally as humans (dum dum dum!). You'll play as Gideon Wyeth, a human who becomes embroiled in a galactic plot between other races when humanity first learns of their existence. Over the course of the game, you'll grow into the powers and abilities that the humans of legend are said to have.

Advent Rising uses a lock-on mechanic that's a little different from what action gamers may be used to. Instead of moving a cursor around the screen to establish a lock on an enemy, you can simply flick the right analog stick in the direction of a lockable target and you'll automatically lock onto it. This applies not only to enemies but also other objects you can interact with, such as weapons that can be picked up.

In one of the levels we played, we took control of Gideon as he fought his way through a space station being overrun by hostile alien forces. This level is set early in the game, and so we got a pretty good feel for the way Advent Rising's dual-weapon mechanics will work. You begin with a simple pistol that can be equipped to your right or left hand via a pop-up menu. As you fight, you'll be able to equip the weapons of fallen enemies into your free hand. Each hand is controlled by one of the shoulder triggers on the Xbox controller, and you can assign any weapon to any hand and generally lay waste to your enemies with both weapons at the same time. There will be 15 weapons in the final game, each with an alternate fire mode. Our favorite was the microwave gun, which sent enemies flying backwards with massive waves of heat.

Later on in the game, you'll be able to equip more than just guns as Gideon begins to learn and make use of some sort of innate special powers. We saw several of these in a later level that let you create force waves to push enemies backwards or pull off some pretty crazy acrobatics while firing at your foes. In fact, Gideon will have weapons, melee fighting skills, and special powers, and you can generally play using the attacks that suit your playing style best. The game will track your performance and subtly improve your abilities in those areas, which will encourage gamers to play Advent Rising in the way they prefer.

Lead designer Donald Mustard was on hand at the event to talk about some of the less tangible aspects of Advent Rising. The most interesting element of the game that we heard about was the way it'll present you with major story-related choices that will have effects further down the line. For instance, early on you'll be forced to choose between rescuing your fiancé or your brother during an alien attack, and of course events will differ dramatically later in the game depending on which person you choose. Not only will the ending of Advent Rising differ based on what you've done throughout the game, but the second game in the trilogy will also accept the ending you received in the first game and pick up from there. Mustard said this will be accomplished by either having the second game read from your Advent Rising save file, or by simply issuing a code that you can input at the start of the next game.

The game features dialogue written by author Orson Scott card.

Its presentation is still solidifying, but Advent Rising is looking pretty impressive so far. The game uses the latest Unreal technology on both the PC and Xbox to power its visuals, and the environments and character models have a solid and cohesive look that's characteristic of that engine. The environments we saw--which were situated aboard a space station and on some lush alien world--had a detailed look, and there were some pretty impressive lighting effects on offer as well.

Though it's many months away from release--the game is slated to ship sometime this fall--Advent Rising is looking cool so far. The designers definitely have a clear plan mapped out for marrying an engrossing narrative to tight action gameplay--in fact, Mustard spoke about his background in film and stressed that story and motivation in his game are of paramount importance. Speaking of story, Advent Rising is also notable because famed writer Orson Scott Card is writing the actual script for the game. We'll be interested to see where the game goes, and we should know more at E3 when Majesco and GlyphX show off more of Advent Rising in action. Stay tuned till then.

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