There's nothing inherently wrong with ambition, but ambition is nothing without a solid framework to back it up. This is what is most notably missing from GlyphX Games' Advent Rising, a sci-fi themed action adventure game that seems to shoot high but falls hard. In development for a few years, Advent Rising tries to do an awful lot of things at once, attempting to combine a cinematic gameplay experience with an all-new sci-fi universe and some unique control and combat mechanics. Unfortunately, none of these elements comes together well at all. The presentation is a technical nightmare, the story is poorly told, and the modicum of uniqueness the gameplay has to offer is almost completely murdered by sloppy mechanics and a myriad of bugs.
In Advent Rising, you play as Giddeon Wyeth, a hotshot rookie space pilot who lives in a fairly prototypical futuristic scenario. Giddeon gets on with his hero-pilot older brother, has a loving fiancée, and generally lives an average life of the future...until a mysterious alien spaceship arrives at a nearby space station. Giddeon and his brother are naturally invited to the greeting party, along with a human ambassador. Thankfully, these aliens are friendly; unfortunately, they've come to warn the trio of another race, known as the seekers, that's coming to kill every human that breathes. Sure enough, it doesn't take long for the seekers to arrive, who then start blowing the human civilization to smithereens.
Any fan of even the most boilerplate sci-fi will immediately see all of Advent Rising's inspirations from a mile away, which is especially disappointing since its script was purportedly cowritten by noted sci-fi author Orson Scott Card. Thoroughly ripping off everything from Halo to Star Wars to even Titan A.E., Advent Rising's plot has little in the way of originality going for it, and it doesn't help matters that the story is told fairly shoddily along the way. Giddeon and his cohorts are rarely given much chance for character development, and in those instances when they do get to say something, they're given nothing of meaning to talk about, instead spouting cheesy one-liners that even George Lucas himself would be embarrassed to put to paper. The rest of the time, they're just running around, trying to avoid things that are blowing up around them. In fact, the vast majority of the cutscenes just involve a lot of overwrought battle sequences with lots of scenery exploding all over the place, impossible amounts of laser gunfire flying about, and no meaningful story development whatsoever. All this sort of comes to a rather unsatisfying conclusion, too.
In terms of gameplay, Advent Rising is a fairly run-of-the-mill third-person shooter. You're handed plenty of futuristic weaponry, including pistols, machine guns, laser rifles, rocket launchers, and other such. The basic shooting feels pretty good, especially since you can both dual-wield any combination of guns and pick up new weapons pretty much on the fly by standing over an unused gun and pressing either X or Y to assign it to a specific hand. The game also features an autotargeting system that immediately latches you onto nearby foes and lets you switch between them by tapping the right control stick in the direction of the desired opponent. This aspect of the targeting isn't half bad, and it does generally do what it's supposed to do without much duress.
However, there's one big fundamental flaw with the whole system: namely, its irritating tendency to latch onto targets as you're walking along. Essentially, as you move around, enemies and objects you can target will catch the attention of your reticle, so you'll immediately snap your focus to them. This is a big problem, mainly when you're trying to maneuver around a group of enemies to get to a health pack or a fresh ammo clip, as your speed is immediately reduced by about half when you're targeting something. You can click the right control stick to remove the reticle, but it will immediately snap to a new target the next time you get close to one.
When not using guns, Giddeon can eventually learn and then use a number of psychic powers that he gains because...well...he just kind of does. Seriously, the setup for Giddeon's special powers is pretty hacked together, but once he does gain these powers, combat becomes immensely easier. You'll be able to use everything from telekinesis to a sort of psychic push move that knocks anything around you back on its ass. These powers can be combined with your weapons to a certain degree, so you can, for instance, use telekinesis to pick up a bad guy. Then you can either toss him aside or start pumping him full of lead. Unfortunately, these powers, at least against the majority of enemies, do really tend to make things much too easy, as you can just fling them every which way and leave them hanging (for what feels like forever) while you just blast away. The one particularly cool thing the game does have to offer, with regard to combat, is its upgrade system, which automatically rewards you with power-ups for both your psychic powers and guns just for using them frequently. Sadly, few of the upgrades really feel that significant, but they're a nice touch, regardless.
There are some exceedingly annoying control issues with the basic combat as well. For one thing, the button assignments border on lazy. The same button you use to dodge an attack, for example, is the one you use to pick up weapons. So you can be running toward a weapon on the ground, and then you'll suddenly dodge away from it, because in the heat of the moment, you didn't stand still for that extra second needed to bring up the weapon-pick-up icon. It's doubly irritating because the black and white buttons are barely used at all. (And it's not like the developer ran out of buttons to use.) Another problem stems from the way you assign weapons and powers to Giddeon's hands. You do so by pressing a direction on the D pad to bring up a menu that lets you do the assigning; however, in a perplexing move, the developer opted not to stop the onscreen action while you're doing this. It slows down to a crawl, but if you're in the middle of a battle, you'll still get hit while you're making your selection. Considering you may want to switch weapons or powers during a fight, that's a pretty dumb move, though the game does counterbalance this somewhat by letting Giddeon automatically heal once he gets a few moments to himself. And you can heal fairly easily-- even during a battle--by just running off into a corner somewhere, as the game's enemies aren't really smart enough to properly chase after you.
Your average enemy, the seeker, isn't very smart. It's programmed to shoot at you if it sees you; it will run around a little bit if you shoot at it; and it occasionally leaps at you (a move you can very easily dodge). Even when you're facing a bunch of enemies, the combination of your psychic powers and the seekers' relative stupidity makes it a breeze to get through most every confrontation fairly unscathed. And even in those few instances where you're up against bigger, more-daunting foes, odds are they'll get stuck in a piece of the scenery, or they'll bug out in one fashion or another if you just wait around long enough.
In fact, bugs punctuate practically every section of Advent Rising's design, especially in terms of the game's presentational elements. Any time the game tries to transition between a cutscene and a gameplay sequence, the music and the frame rate--and everything else--hitches up badly. This happens during gameplay too, as the frame rate will drop into single-digit territory and then pop back into its normal 30 frames-per-second rate at the drop of a hat. There's rarely much rhyme or reason to why the game hitches up; it just does...and on a constant basis. What makes the situation even more perplexing is that Advent Rising really isn't much of a visual powerhouse, so it's tough to fathom what, exactly, is making the game chug along so poorly. The environments are pretty bland, the characters don't feature much in the way of varying animation, and even when there's a lot going down onscreen, it's usually centered on heavily scripted events, which, incidentally, won't trigger from time to time, forcing you to start the sequence over. The game even crashed on us a few times in seemingly arbitrary locations and situations.
Technical problems aside, Advent Rising doesn't have much going on from an aesthetical perspective, either. The art design is boring and terribly derivative. Take the seekers, for example. They're a conglomerate of neon-colored aliens that shoots lasers, carries big neon-colored melee weapons, uses energy shields, growls a whole lot, and is hell-bent on wiping out the human race. If you've played Halo, you might be familiar with another, all-too-similar race of bad guys. If it were just relegated to that one example, it might be forgivable, but Advent Rising really does just look like a third-person Halo. The heads-up display is practically the same as in Halo, the game's main vehicle type (the "Scythe") looks a whole lot like the Warthog, and the game even uses similar fonts. Even when you get away from all the Halo aping, the remaining components just aren't interesting. The human characters are bizarrely designed, with legs that take up two-thirds of their bodies, and they feature altogether bland costume designs. Giddeon and the rest of the main characters barely show any emotion at all during cutscenes, and their mouth movements barely even come close to matching what they're saying.
Advent Rising's biggest tragedy comes from its sound design, specifically its musical score. The game features one of the best-produced musical scores ever put into a game, and then it pretty much mucks the whole thing up by screwing up the editing process. We love the big, dramatic orchestral pieces and choral lines, but we don't love them when we're just wandering around an empty area while not doing anything in particular. It's especially grating when the music overpowers the dialogue, preventing you from finding out what's going on. And in other seemingly key action sequences, the music will just cut out altogether, or it will chop up badly during a transition, effectively killing whatever usefulness the music once had. The rest of the game's sound is fairly average. The voice acting is predictably overwrought in some areas, and it's underwhelming in others. Meanwhile, the sound effects are adequate for what science fiction demands, but that's about it.
Though it's hard to blame anyone for aspiring to create something that goes beyond the usual sci-fi action adventure sameness we've all grown accustomed to, Advent Rising rarely feels like it legitimately has such aspirations. It just seems like it thinks it's a lot more original and interesting than it actually is, ultimately coming off as kind of pretentious and pastiche. The game doesn't really do anything mechanically that you haven't seen before; the story never finds a way to grab you; it's pretty short overall; and the lengthy laundry list of technical issues pretty much drives the final nail into the coffin. Though GlyphX and publisher Majesco are billing Advent Rising as the first episode in a trilogy, after playing through this game, it's unlikely you'll be interested enough to care about any possible sequels. Advent Rising is a severely disappointing effort on all fronts, and it just isn't worth playing.