Imagine for a second that you’re Jet Li, incredible martial artist. Your mentor has been gunned down in cold blood in front of you. You’ve been tasked with a delivery of a letter that exposes you to death at every turn. You have to protect a childhood friend from being assassinated. Even worse, your job depends on surviving seemingly impossible numbers of weapon wielding thugs. Would you be able to Rise To Honor in Sony’s latest action title?
In Rise To Honor, Jet plays Kit Yun, an undercover Hong Kong police officer on assignment to infiltrate and take down the criminal element of the city. He manages to become a trusted bodyguard for Boss Chiang, a well-known Hong Kong crime lord. Much more than an employer, Chiang is practically a surrogate father to Kit, raising him after Kit’s father was murdered. However, when Chiang decides to leave the criminal world behind him, a sniper assassinates him shortly after being attacked in a restaurant. As he dies, he instructs Kit to deliver an envelope to his daughter Michelle in San Francisco. Yet Kit doesn’t know just how dangerous this delivery to his childhood friend will be. With Chiang’s death and presumably his secrets included in the letter to Michelle, every crime lord in Hong Kong wants to get their hands on this note, putting anyone connected to it in danger.
From back alleys and rooftops to nightclubs and restaurants, Rise To Honor takes Kit through a number of locales that feature brawls, chases, stealth and gunfights. However, instead of a level solely being constructed with one sequence in mind, Rise To Honor keeps the action moving by intermingling the conventions together. For instance, on one level, Kit gets into a massive gunfight with a number of gangsters. This turns into a chase sequence where he attempts to run away from a sniper in a helicopter, ending up with him fighting hand to hand with a group of hoods. While there aren’t multiple paths to maneuver through each level, the environments are fully interactive thanks to the R1 button, allowing Kit to bounce off or hide behind objects to avoid attacks. Other objects can be wielded as impromptu weaponry, meaning that barrels, chairs and other items can be thrown at people as needed. Even cooler, opponent’s heads can be smashed into walls or desks in the heat of battle. It’s apparent that the designers went to lengths to implement the improvisational style Jet uses in the movies, and it shows.
Obviously, combat is a major part of gameplay. Yet, unlike other games that can degenerate into button mashing exercises, attacks are relegated solely to the right analog stick. This lets players to attack in any direction a threat comes from by slapping the stick in its direction. This doesn’t restrict it to cardinal directions; in fact, there is a section later on in the game where you can perform full 360 attacks with a partner. Successfully landing attacks builds up Kit’s adrenaline meter, which can be used to avoid incoming blows or trigger more elaborate moves. Kit can also block or dodge incoming attacks, but this drains his defense meter each time an enemy misses him and refills as he strikes, which turns hand to hand combat into a much more organic, flowing system. Gun battles are also handled in the same way; Kit can target two enemies at the same time or even blow up objects to eliminate groups of people.
Taking great care to provide a visually distinctive game, Rise To Honor delivers with heavily detailed environments that realistically deform or break based on the level of impacts received. Glass shatters, boards break and dust go flying everywhere, similar to that of Hong Kong action movies, so the verisimilitude between the two mediums remains intact. Character models are large and detailed, and it actually appears as though thug number one doesn’t look the same as thug number one hundred. Jet stands out as Kit, and the designers markedly studied his motion capture sessions. Everything from his katas to the way he flips weapons with his feet has been faithfully reproduced, and it simply looks amazing. This animation extends to the combat sequences, and in the thick of battle you might swear that you’ve seen similar fight sequences in one of Jet’s movies. Thank Cory Yuen for this, as he and his team motion captured just about every martial art they could think of. When I asked Cory about it, he guessed that there was upwards of ten thousand moves captured within the game, making Rise to Honor the most intensive motion capture game ever. (I could be wrong about that, but I doubt it.)
There are some graphical flaws within Rise To Honor that casts a shadow on the impressive design of the game. The first, and most obvious problem is the fixed camera that sometimes chooses awkward, unfriendly angles to gameplay. This is especially noticeable during chase sequences where the camera is placed in front of you on low angles. This sometimes results in jerky camera movement as players stop and the camera continues, or hitches as it gets stuck on corners before swinging around to capture the action. Unfortunately, this can sometimes result in Kit’s premature death. The other issue can be a surprising hitch with collision detection during combat. Sometimes attacks won’t even land on opponents, yet they’ll go flying. Other times enemies will hit each other and there will be a pause before bodies will collapse on top of each other.
Rise To Honor’s soundtrack is nicely controlled, creeping into the background during the few peaceful moments between battles, and swelling nicely during combat. The sound effects are also well designed, with appropriate effects made for each item. The voices, however, shine within the game, as Jet and the other people lending their speech to the characters provide a film-like performance. Unfortunately, there’s no option to leave the game solely within Chinese, so the total feel of a Hong Kong action movie is somewhat broken. This isn’t a major problem with the game, but it would’ve been a nice feature.
Rise To Honor has a pretty solid plot, good combat scheme, and impressive design. Unfortunately, one of its greatest flaws is its length. Even with the number of levels or game conventions, a player can probably crank through Rise to Honor in about 10 hours or so. Combined with its rigid linearity, there isn’t much in the way of replayability. In fact, once you’ve beaten the game you unlock basically everything the game has to offer. While the character and level designs are nice to look at, and the videos are interesting, there’s nothing you have to work for once you complete the game. The only cool thing is the ability to change the character model of Kit Yun to reflect differing periods of Jet Li’s film career, including the ability to play through the game as Wong-Fei Hung, a character Jet played in numerous films such as The Legend.
The other major issue can sometimes come from the analog stick combat system. While it’s incredibly natural and can react to incoming threats, there are sections when you simply need faster response times than the stick can provide. Even trickier is the fact that you’ll wind up whaling on your analog stick in the attempt to kill people, which can actually have the effect of killing your controller. I actually broke two controllers previewing and reviewing this title simply because the analog stick snapped under the amount of force I exerted upon the controller.
However, gameplay issues aside, Rise To Honor gets many things right for an action title with a celebrity name attached. With a plotline that could’ve been ripped out of a Hong Kong movie and his good friend Cory Yuen directing the fighting, Jet Li delivers an adventure that’s enjoyable and begs for a sequel. Let’s hope that other developers are taking notes from this game, because this is how titles with Hollywood talent should be made.