It was a serene moment. A few E3s ago, two men from a gaming magazine were invited to see a "behind closed doors" presentation of an upcoming sci-fi title for the Xbox. It had been written by renowned science fiction author Orson Scott Card and was under "feverish" development. Thirty minutes and a dozen or so controller hand-offs later, the two men realize that they have heard very little of what the gentleman giving the presentation has said, as the on screen action proved to be far more engrossing than anticipated. A few years later, Advent Rising hits store shelves without any of the mystique, appeal, or fascinating gameplay seen that day and proves to the world that even with the extra years of development time and a top-notch writer, Advent Rising could not rise above the blatant mediocrity that a title from Majesco has come to signify.
"Urge to kill... Rising."
Despite the promising beginnings, it does not take too long after startup to realize just how poorly executed the title is. The pauses, skips and jump cuts of the opening cinema are harbingers of the bug-addled mess to come. Several times throughout the course of the game you will swear it just crashed, only to watch it pick up where it left off (usually with a character in mid-sentence) about twenty seconds later. Soon the shoddy controls, graphical glitches, and inexcusably flawed sound design start to bring Advent Rising's enjoyability level down to a level on par with changing a cat's litter box.
Graphically, the game would have been something to behold had it been released in 1999 on the Dreamcast. Models and textures are adequate, but never get anywhere near a level of impressive detail. Seams on the joints of characters become visible at times as well, an anomaly this generation of systems corrected ages ago. The world created by Mr. Card deserves so much more respect than it gets, being relegated into a non-interactive backdrop. None of the people or places can be spoken to and nothing around them can be touched, as if the main character is a ghost nobody but a select few can see or hear. Bearing in mind this is an action title and not an RPG, this is still inexcusable.
Animations are choppy and inaccurate, looking as if half of the animation frames are being dropped every time you make a move. Pressing the jump button makes the character launch into this really bizarre, chimp-like leap, reminiscent of the way Donkey Kong jumped in the Super NES' Donkey Kong Country. The design of the main character and the human NPCs as a whole is a bit odd, as they all seem to stand with their legs spread (like the "A" font on the Advent Rising logo), and walk like they just got off a horse. Running animations haven't been this silly since the original Gabe Logan design in Syphon Filter for the PSOne, and the enemies you will face in the game can be summed up with two words: Covenant Wannabes.
"This is great... and all I've done is enter my name! 'Thrillhouse!'"
With all of the great strides in sound design on games these days, how they let the title ship in its current state is unfathomable. For starters, a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix that fails to utilize the center channel in any way is a throwback to first-generation Xbox sound design. Those without a surround setup may not notice this much, but those who have grown so accustomed to 5 full channels of aural bliss with titles like Halo 2 are going to be irritated. In addition, the sound effects are garden variety zaps, bangs, and crashes heard a million times before, with the occasional few seconds of brilliance thrown in for good measure (the opening docking sequence was the only time in the entire game where any sense of immersion is conveyed by the sound design... it's actually reminiscent of the later titles in the Wing Commander series).
The orchestral compositions are brilliant. A 70-piece orchestra with members of a “legendary” tabernacle choir was hired to perform the score, and it shows. However, the implementation of the music in the game is so haphazard, inappropriate and silly that one begins to wonder if they just dropped any part of the score into any place that had a musical hole that needed filling, regardless of tempo or context. The result is a triumphant, pulse-pounding score when you're standing in the middle of nowhere with nothing going on... shameful.
"The flick stick trick makes you sick..."
At its core, Advent Rising is a third person shooter adventure... with a completely useless and annoying first person mode thrown in to raise the gimmick count. Players assume the life of Giddeon Wyeth, your typical "plays by his own rules" sci-fi hero with attitude to spare and, evidently, the key to the leftover wardrobe closet from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." The story begins with a Utopian future on the brink of utter ruin from another race called Seekers, who are hell bent on exterminating the human race for no apparent reason other than they are a bunch of meanies.
All the usual ordinance is present in both their earthly and alien forms: pistols, rifles, rocket launchers, grenades, et al. Players lock onto their targets in a semi-Zelda style method called "flicking," which incorporates short flicks of the right thumbstick in the general direction of the enemy you wish to target. This is the perfect example of the myriad of ideas for this game that sound better on paper than they ended up being. Although the system works decently, it has an annoying tendency to lock onto either an inanimate object or another enemy all on its own. This can be exceptionally frustrating and dizzying to the point of nausea when you're trying to flee a melee and the camera is spinning around wildly in direct contrast to where you are trying to look/go, despite many attempted uses of the 'center camera' feature programmed into the click down of the right thumbstick.
All of these gameplay mechanics are rounded off by Giddeon's acquisition of psychic powers. Yes, my friends, you too can grab a monster and hold him in the air as you fill him with lead (or plasma, or whatever) time and time again. This not only changes the entire balance of gameplay in the players favor to such a degree that all challenge disappears, but it becomes pretty repetitive and dull as well. Just using your powers and weapons leads to skill upgrades, and this only exacerbates the issue even further. Tack these traits onto a situation where the frame rate has dropped (and it does drop frequently) to about 9 fps, and what you've got is a total mess of a game that needed to bake for several more months, at least.
Side Note: Players should also be aware that there are several areas where Giddeon has a tendency to get permanently stuck between objects or walls, effectively crashing the game. If this happens, there is no recourse but to reload a save.
"I wouldn't play this for a million dollars! Huh?! You will?!"
Yes, true believers, Majesco is prepared to pay. Big time. Enclosed with a purchased copy of Advent Rising is a free two-month trial of Xbox Live, and brother, are you going to need it. From June 9th, 2005 to August 15th, 2005 Majesco is holding a "Race To Save Humanity" contest, enabling players to win loads of cash and prizes for putting up with their lousy product. Once a week for six weeks after June 9th, an icon will be downloaded via Xbox live and placed somewhere in the game. The first person to find this easter egg will be given a code to use when they log into the contest website with their Xbox Live gamertag. The first person to successfully complete the challenge (their ARE hints available as to the item's whereabouts) is that weeks winner. The prizes include Xbox Live subscriptions, SoBe products, Advent Rising strategy guides and cash in denominations from $10K through $50K. This culminates with a single one-million-dollar winner at the end of the contest's run.
After playing Advent Rising for a considerable amount of time, you will be convinced of the motivation behind this contest. As a matter of fact, if they had put the money they are giving away toward development, Advent Rising may have been a little more "Blade Runner" and a little less "The Fifth Element."