This is one of those times I’m sorry I listened to the reviews on a game and passed it up. I had been following Advent Rising mostly because its story was written by Orson Scott Card (author of the Ender’s Game series) and it was originally supposed to be an epic, three-part sci-fi adventure. From the screenshots and scraps of gameplay videos I saw, it looked quite promising.
However, upon its release Advent Rising got anywhere from mediocre to downright insulting reviews. Most complained of crippling bugs and game engine problems, making the game virtually unplayable. Others said the story was boring and then made worse by bad voice acting talent. I have no idea what game these people were playing.
This is in no way a perfect game. I did experience some slow down in the more graphically intense parts, but it was minimal. The story is very well told and held my interest throughout and I thought the voice acting was top notch. It takes the game, and the story, a little while to get going and I wonder how much of the actual game these reviewers played.
As a matter of fact, in over a dozen reviews that I read the authors all make the same exact statement that “the story is highly derivative.” It seems like quite a coincidence that they all use the same language and hit the same three points; poor story, buggy gameplay, sub-par presentation. I saw nothing that came close to backing up any of those claims. It’s almost as if the reviewers on these big name game sites had read other peoples’ articles before writing their own and then “borrowed” the important bits. I think I’m onto something here … but I’ll save that for another article.
Back to the review — I loved the game. Level and character design are excellent, making this one of the few games in recent history I would load up just so I could look around. I think the main reason for the periodic slow down is that the draw distance on some levels in incredible. At the start of the game you’re on a space station and can see alien ships and planets through the large windows in an atrium-like complex, and they’re the actual ships and planets … not two dimensional background texture maps. When you move, you see distance and angle changes, meaning that some of the objects are modeled miles away from the player. Add a hundred or so detailed alien enemies shooting lasers all over an exploding space station and you can see why the game engine might get winded.
The game has you play as Ethan, a pilot who lives in the shadow of his brother, who is also a pilot but apparently the most famous man on the planet. A strange alien ship (the first encounter humans have had with another species) arrives at the station and Ethan brings the ambassador to meet the visitors. These aliens worship humans as gods for some reason and warn the ambassador that another alien race that is bent on the destruction of human-kind is on its way. They show up earlier than expected and all hell breaks loose.
It’s in this first stage of the game that one of its best aspects is used; you have to make a choice to either save your fiancée or your brother, as there’s only one escape pod left and you don’t have time to get both. This changes the entire tone of the game from then on. As a matter of fact, I played through again and chose to save the other person and it had a drastic effect on the plot. This happens about two or three times throughout the game and really adds to the replayability.
The fun starts about an hour in when you find out that you’re one of the last surviving humans and your mystical powers are awakened with the aid of your new alien friends. These are much like Jedi powers from the Jedi Knight series: push, pull, speed, jump, etc. But there are some interesting ones like the ability to put up an energy shield in front of you and place it somewhere in the level, or the ability to suck in all of the energy around you, creating a vortex that drags in surrounding enemies and disintegrates them (an effect that looks quite good).
You can level up the powers by using them more, just as you can level up your weapons prowess but using all of the fifteen or so varieties you find. Upgrades for weapons unlock secondary fire and dual-wield abilities, and power upgrades result in less energy usage, increased damage or duration, and new effects. The dual-wield targeting system was one of the best I’ve ever seen, letting you target two separate objects at the same time. The ability to mix and match weapons was also fun; allowing you to carry and fire both a heavy explosive and a handgun for accuracy made for some interesting tactical decisions.
After about six or so hours I stopped using weapons completely. I focused on using my new combat skills in order to level them up and soon enough I could take out a group of enemies with methodical quickness. You’d think that would make the game boring, but dispatching a room full of aliens with acrobatic and brutal attacks, vaulting over stunned foes and delivering shockwave-inducing hits … it never got old. The attack and power animations are a lot of fun to watch and really give the sense that the hero is a total badass.
Graphically, I think the game is beautiful. The design of the environments and alien species is top notch, creating a world that had history you could see without having to read about it during cutscenes. During the larger battles there was some stuttering, but nothing that brought the game to its knees. I think the problems stem from over ambition and a lack of hardware power. I’d love to see what this game could look like on the XBox 360 or PS3. Top notch art direction is always a plus for me.
I think the only problem I had with the game was that it’s unfinished. There really isn’t an ending as it’s just a set up for a sequel that will probably never come because the game got panned. It’s really sad because, unlike games like Halo, this plot could fill a trilogy or more with solid installments. I can only hope Card decides to finish the universe he started with some novels because I actually cared about the world he created and the story so far seems to only scratch the surface.
All in all, Advent Rising is a great game that got some unwarranted bad reviews . If you can find it cheap or for rent, I’d highly recommend it.