Advent Rising Review

Advent Rising is a disappointing effort on all fronts, and probably isn't worth your time.

Released earlier this year on the Xbox, Majesco and developer GlyphX Games' Advent Rising was one of the most tragically ambitious games to come along in a long time. In development for a few years, Advent Rising tried 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, it failed, thanks to a fairly uninspired storyline, extremely irritating gameplay flaws, and a whole smorgasbord of technical problems that completely wrecked the experience. Now on the PC, Advent Rising has improved. The hideous frame rate problems that plagued the Xbox version are all but gone, as are some of the sound bugs and control issues. With that said, the new control scheme devised for the PC feels a lot more generic in comparison with what the Xbox version tried to accomplish, and the story and general difficulty of the game have remained relatively untouched. It's a better game overall, but it remains a problematic one in its own right.

Apart from his spiked hair and malformed body, Giddeon Wyeth doesn't make for a particularly interesting hero.
Apart from his spiked hair and malformed body, Giddeon Wyeth doesn't make for a particularly interesting hero.

In Advent Rising, you play as Giddeon Wyeth, a hotshot rookie space pilot who lives in a fairly typical 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, which is coming to kill every human that breathes. Sure enough, it doesn't take long for the seekers to arrive, and when they do, they 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 on 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 more. 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 buttons corresponding to your left or right hands to assign them. The Xbox version of the game had an interesting but flawed targeting system known as "flick" targeting, where you tapped the right control stick in either direction to switch your focus to another enemy. Well in this version, the capability has pretty much disappeared. Instead, you can use the mousewheel to select your closest target and then roll the wheel to cycle between other targets. While it's understandable that the developers would try to maintain some level of targeting system, this one seems almost superfluous, as you can just as easily manually aim. And often trying to cycle through targets makes basic character control a lot more of a pain than it needs to be, since Giddeon moves a lot more slowly when he's focused on an enemy.

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.

Just call them the 'Not-Covenant.'
Just call them the 'Not-Covenant.'

Some of the exceedingly annoying control issues from the Xbox version have been fixed here, but they've been replaced by new ones. Moving around during combat is just not nearly as intuitive a thing as it seems like it ought to be. Before you get any of your crazy psychic powers, running around and shooting enemies just feels clunky, partly because trying to dodge with only your base-level dodge move is terribly ineffective, and also because many of the more-powerful guns fire at a seriously slow rate. But then, once you do get your psychic powers, the whole thing becomes a breeze, even on the hardest difficulty level, thanks largely to the lousy enemy artificial intelligence.

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.

The game runs quite smoothly, even with every graphical setting turned all the way up. But there's more to graphics than just a smooth frame rate. 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 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 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. Giddeon and the rest of the main characters barely show any emotion at all during cutscenes, and their mouth movements don't quite come close to matching what they're saying. While you can certainly laud the game's technical improvements, there are still a lot of problems with the overall visual design.

Seriously. What the hell is up with this dude's legs?
Seriously. What the hell is up with this dude's legs?

One of the problems that plagued the Xbox version was its sound design, specifically its musical score. Advent Rising featured one of the best-produced musical scores ever put into a game, and then it was mucked up by the whole editing process. Thankfully, this has been alleviated somewhat. The issues where the score would just disappear from time to time are gone. However, there are still some rough cuts, and too many sequences where big, dramatic choral lines will pop up while you're not doing anything particularly exciting. 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.

Undoubtedly, Advent Rising is a better game on the PC than it was on the Xbox, but it still isn't especially good. 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 though several of the technical problems from the Xbox version have been corrected here, it isn't enough to make it a compelling product. Although GlyphX and publisher Majesco are billing Advent Rising as the first episode in a trilogy, after playing through this game, we think it's unlikely you'll be interested enough to care about any possible sequels. Advent Rising is a disappointing effort on all fronts, and probably isn't worth your time.

The Good

  • A decent variety of special powers, which can all be upgraded
  • Wonderful musical score
  • No more horrible frame rate problems

The Bad

  • Terribly derivative art design
  • Character control can be a serious pain during combat
  • Game is way, way too easy
  • Short and unsatisfying storyline

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