A few months ago, I came across an article on IGN Xbox about a new game current in development called Advent Rising. I’m still not really sure why I clicked to read that article — maybe something about the artwork on display grabbed me — but the game instantly intrigued me. For the next couple of months, I followed along with the games developments, salivating over each and every video and trailer that came out, and patiently waiting for the release date.
And then the reviews started coming in, reviews that were, for the most part, lackluster. So I decided to rent it instead of plunking down $40 or so, and having just beat the game last night, I realize I made a very wise decision. In a word, Advent Rising is ambitious, but perhaps just a little too ambitious for its own good.
But first, the good things:
- The story: If nothing else, Advent Rising promises a very epic and involving storyline. Far in the distant future, humanity has finally had contact with aliens, only to realize that A) they’re on the brink of extinction from an evil race and that B) they’re prophesied to be the godlike saviors of the galaxy. Sounds pretty good to me.
- The graphics: Some folks have criticized the game for looking too cartoonish. Personally, I love highly stylized look of the characters, weapons, and environments; in fact, I wish they would’ve pushed it a little more. I’m tired of all of these games that try to be as realistic and envelope-pushing as possible. It smacks of a gimmick more than anything else, and it’s refreshing that Advent Rising took a different route.
- The sound: Advent Rising has two things going for it in this department. First of all, there’s the score, which was recorded with a 70-piece orchestra and sounds simply magnificent. Second, the voice acting — which is almost always a stumbling block it seems (why companies will spend millions on graphics but won’t hire decent voice actors is beyond me) — is surprisingly good, and in some cases, just excellent.
So far, so good. Solid storyline, stylish graphics, excellent music and acting — what’s not to like? Well, for one thing, the game really fails to combine all of the elements together in a terribly good manner. The game shoots for a very epic and cinematic feel — and stumbles time and again.
Cinematic cutscenes are sprinkled liberally throughout the game. However, the transitions to those cutscenes is often so jarring and arbitrary that it detracts from rather than adds to the scope of the action. Furthermore, the game’s storyline never quite proved as smoothly edited as could have been. I realize that we’re talking about a video game here, not Citizen Kane. But if you’re going for an epic, involving storyline, full of intrigue, twists, and startling revelations, you’ve got to handle them better than this.
And then there’s the gameplay. Much has been made of Advent Rising’s “Flick Targeting” system. In theory, it’s a way to allow the player to quickly target a bunch of opponents quickly and easily and dispatch them while doing enough cool moves to make Neo jealous. In theory, it’s great. But in practice, however, it never quite works out that way.
For starters, the default sensitivity was way too high, meaning your targeting reticle jumps all over the place during combat (which happens quite regularly). Yes, you can adjust it, but it always resets itself upon re-entering the game (more on that in just a bit). Second, there were times where my “Flick Targeting” would lock up, meaning I couldn’t move around and target other things on the screen.
At first, I chalked it up to my controller, which can get a little janky at times. However, switching from “third person” to “first person” often cleared that up, a little random bit I learned. Which brings me to final, and most pointed statement.
All of my complaints with the game can basically be summed up in this — Advent Rising feels and plays like a game that was shipped out about one or two months too early. And no, I’m not necessarily referring the slow framerates that occur during the game’s many intense moments. I can look past slow framerates and jittery action. There are more fundamental issues.
For example, at one point in the game, you’re asked to choose between saving Character A and Character B (I won’t say who, for risk of spoiling the story). I chose to save Character B and went along on my merry way. I saved my game, called it a night, and picked up where I left off — only to discover that I was now saddled with Character A. If I’d loaded my game one way, I would’ve seen my original choice, but since I loaded it another way, the game had reset itself and reverted to its default storyline.
How in the world does this make any sense? How can this, in any way, be considered good game architecture? It shouldn’t matter how I load my game; the storyline that I play out should be the storyline I save, not whatever default the game is set to. It strikes me that this is the very sort of bug that testing is supposed to track down. It also strikes me as a very obvious bug that even the slightest bit of testing would’ve revealed.
This is one of the more major bugs, but there were other ones that popped up throughout the game — little graphical glitches, weird occurrences, strange gameplay issues (like my aforementioned issues with the “Flick Targeting”), etc.
Advent Rising has an awful lot going for it, that much is obvious. And I love seeing games trying to give players an epic storytelling experience. But when your ambitious storyline and stylish artwork are overcome by the most basic and obvious of gameplay/interface issues, it undercuts everything you’re trying to accomplish and results in a very frustrating and confusing experience.
Of course, a quick perusal of the game’s various forums reveals that there are many who either overlooked or didn’t experience these issues, and for them Advent Rising is one of the year’s best. I wish I could say that, but I just can’t. I am intrigued by the game’s promised sequels (it’s supposed to the first part of a trilogy) but I really, really hope the developers take a long, hard look at some of these issues and thoroughly quash them in the next installments.
It’d be a shame to give such a promising series anything less.