The concept of games with a cinematic touch isn't exactly anything new. Some developers have been chasing the dream of presenting their products as interactive movies for years, with varying levels of success. These days, however, the technology is there to really make this dream more of a reality. But just because a game can properly emulate the storytelling and tension of a movie doesn't automatically make it great. Sony's new beat-'em-up, Rise to Honor, may have the flashy action and storytelling that you'd expect from a martial arts flick, but unfortunately, the gameplay doesn't hold up its end of the bargain.
Martial arts superstar Jet Li stars--in polygonal form--in Rise to Honor. Li plays an undercover cop named Kit Yun. Kit has infiltrated a Hong Kong crime family and begins the game in charge of protecting the leader of the syndicate, Boss Chiang. Without spoiling too much of the story, you're eventually put on a path to San Francisco to find Chiang's daughter. But there are forces out there who want to prevent you from reaching your goal, and you'll have to do a lot of fighting and shooting to complete your mission.
Fighting and shooting are the two types of scenarios you'll encounter in Rise to Honor. Most of the game is focused on hand-to-hand combat, so you're usually pitted against several foes at the same time. Much like Microsoft's fairly recent Xbox game Grabbed by the Ghoulies, you'll move around with the left analog stick, and you'll attack by pushing the right analog stick in the direction of your opponent. Constant tapping will execute combos, and you can tap in different directions to attack multiple foes with one combo. In addition to this, you can block attacks, counter attacks, and pull off slow-motion combos (that feature more impressive attacks) by spending some of the juice on your adrenaline meter. The combat works well by handling the multiple-attackers-thing without resorting to any sort of lock-on requirement. But even with breakable environments and some objects that can be used as weapons, the combat feels overly simplified and really gets old fast. You'll see the same combos again and again, and the enemy AI isn't really interesting at all.
The other main gameplay type in Rise to Honor is shooting. Here, Kit is armed with a weapon and is given a limitless supply of ammunition. The R2 button is your fire button, and the right analog stick is used to lock on to your enemies, which is required before you can shoot. You'll also make use of cover by hiding as your enemies try to gun you down. However, the cover system isn't so fluid, and it forces you to come all the way out of hiding to lock on to a target or to fire your weapon. A mechanic to either fire from behind cover or, even better, one that lets you pop out, take a few shots, and pop back behind cover almost automatically would have made the gameplay feel smoother. Other recent games, such as James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing and kill.switch, have combined cover tactics with gunplay in an expert fashion, so it's disappointing that Sony doesn't have something similar here. Additionally--though this is a minor point given the fact that the game isn't striving for realism--some of the cover in the game is pretty insane. The concept of hiding behind a plastic garbage can that can somehow take 40 rounds from a machine gun--without any of the bullets making their way through the can and in to the back of Jet Li's head--is a little crazy.
The rest of Rise to Honor consists of cutscenes--and lots of them. The nice thing here is that the cutscenes are really well done, regardless of whether they're simple dialogue or full-blown action movie-like set pieces. If the gameplay was better, you'd probably find the constant cutscene interruptions pretty annoying, but given the lackluster gameplay mechanics, the storytelling is the real star of the show. Annoyingly, most of the game's real action takes place in cutscenes. At one point, for example, you only get to control Jet Li as he runs away from a helicopter. But when he finds a pair of Uzis and shoots the helicopter out of the sky, your PlayStation 2 is behind the wheel. This happens more often than you'd like, and it really makes you think that the game part of Rise to Honor would have been a lot better if you were able to control any of the game's heavier action scenes.
One of Rise to Honor's strongest points is its graphics. Though the fighting animation isn't as smooth as you'd hope, it does a decent job of mimicking the appearance of a Hong Kong-style action movie, and the character models--particularly Jet Li, who looks quite accurate, save for a head that looks slightly larger than the real thing--are all pretty good. Though you won't find Rise to Honor to have the best graphics on the system, it does have a solid look to it. The game also does a good job of providing a seamless experience. The game autosaves your progress in the background, and the in-engine cutscenes fade from one to the next without you ever getting stuck while waiting at a loading screen. This keeps the pace of the action up, even if most of the action is out of your direct control. In addition to all this, the game also has widescreen and 480p support for HDTV owners.
In the sound department, Rise to Honor does a good job. The game's dialogue is fully spoken, and you're given two speech options. The game is in English when you're in San Francisco, but you can choose to hear either English or Cantonese during the Hong Kong sequences. Most of the game's speech is done well, though there are some clunky lines here and there that sound a little hokey. The game's ambient sound and music do a good job at setting the tone of the game, and the sounds of combat are as you'd expect.
Rise to Honor is the sort of game that casual players and people who don't normally play games at all will find quite attractive. It's very simple, and the cinematic aspects of its presentation are pretty impressive. However, as a game, it's a short, overly simple endeavor that you can expect to finish within a day. It's worth renting and messing around with, but it doesn't have enough longevity to warrant a purchase.