Reviewed: June 18, 2005
Reviewed by: Mark Smith

Majesco Games

GlyphX Inc.

Released: May 31, 2005
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen


Supported Features:

  • Dolby Digital
  • HDTV 480p
  • Xbox Live Features
  • Friends
  • Content Download

    Screenshots (Click Image for Gallery)

  • Previously known for budget titles and GBA Video, Majesco is quickly making a name for itself with numerous high-profile titles. BloodRayne 2 and Psychonauts are perhaps two of the best games I have played in the past year, and now they complete the hat trick with Advent Rising, an action shooter in the same vein as Halo, only with a much more massive scope.

    To bring this epic adventure to life GlyphX combined the talented pen of sci-fi author Orson Scott Card with three Emmy and Grammy award-winning musicians to create an action-adventure “experience” that rivals most movies and certainly any game currently available on the Xbox.

    Yeah, that’s right…I said it. Advent Rising has three times the story Halo and its sequel had combined, a soundtrack that puts Bungie’s game to shame, and gameplay that…well…frankly doesn’t live up to the rest of the presentation. It desperately tries, and on many levels offers something truly unique, but gameplay definitely stumbles under the weight of a laboring graphics engine that the Xbox simply can’t handle.

    I had seen Advent Rising just two weeks prior to getting my own review copy at E3 and at that time the framerate was very choppy and the graphics were rather simple with flat-shaded polygons rather than any detailed textures. I simply chalked this up to a pre-release demo for the show. Not quite the case.

    But I get ahead of myself. Before we pick apart the graphics, let’s jump into the game and its unique blend of action that combines weapons and godlike powers. After all, you do play god, or at least “a god” in this game, and like any aspiring deity you need to start off with the global destruction of your planet and entire race.

    You are Gideon Wyeth, hotshot Military Academy alum who, despite being one of the best pilots in the galaxy, still lives under the shadow of his war hero brother, Ethan. Olivia is Gideon’s fiancée, but knowing how these stories work out that won’t last for long, especially when you introduce the sexy “other woman”, Marin, who shares not only Gideon’s piloting skills but also his thirst for adventure.

    The story kicks off with you in route to the orbiting space station to join a delegation that will be boarding a MASSIVE ALIEN SHIP parked just to the left of the station. To makes things short and sweet, you meet the aliens, they are friendly, they are here to warn you about a dangerous alien race called the Seekers who want to kill you, and they are 2-3 days away from your planet.

    Oops, forgot about that galactic time zone difference. They are here NOW. Time to kick some ugly alien butt. After a failed attempt to cleanse the space station you take the escape pod to the planet surface where you participate in another unsuccessful attempt to cleanse the planet of the alien hordes. After a daring dash through the city, as the orbiting alien ships bombard the planet with asteroids, you catch a shuttle off the planet just as a “planet-killer” rock destroys your planet and your race.

    You meet up with the friendly aliens who awaken the godlike powers you have always had but never known about. Hmmm…perhaps this is why the Seekers want you and your race dead. Nothing worse than a planet full of deities running around the galaxy. After you complete “God 101: An Introduction to Righteous Ass Kicking”, you are prepared to help the aliens defend the rest of the galaxy from the Seeker scourge.

    Imagine taking these games; Halo, Pariah, Psi-Ops, Enter the Matrix, and Second Sight and putting them all in a binary blender. Puree for 45 seconds and out pops the delicious gameplay for Advent Rising. The game can be played from either a third or first person perspective, although it’s obvious from the horrible weapon models in the first-person view that the designers never wanted you to play that way. In fact, the only time I ever hit the Back button to switch to that view was when an infrequent camera bug would lock my third-person view at the wrong angle.

    The third-person view is practically required for the Flick Targeting system used in Advent Rising. Basically, you are going to be horribly outnumbered during any encounter so flicking the right stick toward any enemy direction will lock on that enemy, not only allowing you to circle-strafe, but also attack with much better accuracy. There is a bit of intentional lag in the lock-on cursor, so it is possible to miss if the enemy is aggressively dodging your attacks.

    Before Gideon’s godlike powers are awakened he must fight like every other action game hero. He can perform melee attacks that we quickly learn about in a bar brawl where you and your brother put the smack down on some space marines. Then it’s off to the holographic training room to learn how to use weapons, one and two at a time.

    The weapon system is fairly ingenious, not terrible original, but highly refined with the left and right triggers drawing and firing their respective weapons. You can only carry one weapon in each hand at a time, but you can always trade off with any weapons lying around the battlefield or conveniently located in weapon lockers on just about every wall. The game is very good about supplying just the right weapon for the occasion.

    Weapons range from a pistol to the standard machine gun and shotgun offerings and you can even duel-wield rocket launchers, something most useful when trying to take down enemy dropships. Depending on whether you have one or both weapons drawn determines how many targets you can lock onto with the Flick Targeting. It’s a very intuitive and fluid system that allows you to run into a room and lock onto enemies, even those off the sides of the screen or behind you. It makes for some very cinematic, John Woo firefights.

    Once Gideon starts learning his god-powers the game has the potential for becoming a bit off-balance. At first you can only telekinetically Lift and toss around enemies, perhaps push them back with a Surge, or create a Negate energy shield to block incoming fire.

    Lift and Surge can do light damage and eventually kill enemies if you smack them around enough, but later in the game you will get the Aeon Pulse and the powerful Shatter ability. Aeon Pulse drains your power meter a bit too quickly to be effective, but once I got the Shatter power I pretty much stopped using weapons all together.

    All of these powers can be “leveled-up” simply by using them. Increasing the Lift allows you to toss around multiple foes, while upgrading Shatter increases the damage and number of ice shards, creating a swarm missile effect. Upgrading the shield allows you to create more than one shield or even an energy sphere.

    The D-pad gives you relatively quick access to weapons and powers. Weapons are on the inner ring and powers are on the outer rings. Simply tap the direction as many times as it takes to get to the weapon or power you want then pull the left or right trigger to assign it. Time slows down while in this menu, but you can take damage if you take too long. The black button gives you an alt-fire mode while the white button is dedicated to tossing grenades.

    Throughout the game you will fight on a space station, a couple of planets, both in cities and in sprawling vistas, and even on (no, literally ON the hull of) an enemy ship before getting inside it. Each level takes you someplace new and exciting with at least 8-10 cinematic cutscenes that further the story between the intense action. There is even a level that pays homage to the storming of the beach in Normandy.

    Enemies are plentiful and come at you in great numbers, which offsets any possibility that your powers might have unbalanced the gameplay. They aren’t terribly crafty in their AI but you will have to learn a few tricks to take down a few of the sub-bosses and the larger ones. Some creature can use shields so you have to use your powers in synch with your weapons. It’s also very gratifying to suspend an enemy in midair while you and your team of friendly alien comrades unloads into his twisting corpse. Boss battles are nothing more than pattern recognition and knowing when and where to target.

    Advent Rising puts you behind the wheel of a Halo-style buggy as well as a Seeker Tank that looks like an X-Wing with varicose veins. These levels are pretty exciting and help break up the traditional aspects of the gameplay, but they really don’t do anything we haven’t seen a dozen times before. I did enjoy the turbo function of the buggy that was required for jumping a few ravines and the final hover tank escape through the lava tunnels was very intense.

    I had only a few issues with the gameplay. Obviously the first one was the framerate, which is more of a graphical issue but it did affect the gameplay slightly. Thankfully, the lock-on system managed to keep things playable and I never died due to camera problems.

    My biggest complaint with the game has to be the lack of direction. Even though you can pause the game and view your objectives at any given time they are so vague that it may as well say, “Win the Game”. You never have a map, there are no waypoints, and the levels are freaking huge! Early on they would say, “Go to the training room”, or “Go to the shuttle bay” and I would simply wander around and by some stroke of sheer luck end up where I was supposed to go. It gets progressively more difficult to find where to go as the levels get bigger.

    Combat was fairly straightforward but there were a few places where enemies spawned infinitely. I found this to be rather unfair since there were other areas where doors wouldn’t open until you had killed all the enemies. And what’s with the SkinBeast boss? Other than the bar room brawl in the beginning of the game I never used melee attacks, and then for the final boss (well, what we think is the final boss) you have to slap him around with your fists, with no in-game hints to do so. After wasting nearly thirty minutes I consulted a strategy guide to find out this nugget of info. Lame.

    At the end of the day, when the battle (not the war) was won, I have to admit that I really enjoyed Advent Rising, much more than either Halo, or the more recently released Pariah. The story combined with the enthralling musical composition had me glued to the edge of my seat from opening to closing credits, and even a special surprise waiting for me after the credits.

    A great story, challenging gameplay, and majestic music can make me forgive a lot, but the graphics in Advent Rising test the limits of my mercy. I supposed there is a certain style to the game that you either like or dislike. Everything is overly saturated with rich vibrant color to the point of becoming an animated comic. The characters are exaggerated, almost deformed, with long 70’s-style disco legs and funky hands and fingers in close-up views. Faces are low-detailed and pasted on, and lip-synch is not very good. Mouths continue to flap long after the dialogue is over.

    The alien designs are wonderful, and oddly mirror those found in Halo to some degree. There are all sorts of creatures, two legs and four, giant dinosaurs, robots, and enemy ships you have to contend with. While they are all imaginative, none are terribly frightening, well, maybe the SkinBeast until you learn his secret.

    The environments are amazing, indoors and out, with great architectural design and suitable details to make you think these places are real and inhabited. Textures are weak to non-existent. Some areas and objects are merely flat-shaded polygons with no detail, while other areas like the temple have faux textures that fall flat without any bump mapping.

    Lighting is excellent and Advent Rising features what in my opinion is the best natural water effect ever seen in a game. The ripples, the splashes, and the reflections are all flawless. Other special effects like explosions, smoke, and particle effects are excellent.

    The cutscenes all use game-engine graphics for seamless blending of story and gameplay. Unfortunately, this means they also share the same troublesome framerate issues. The game literally chugs into single-digit frames on some scenes where there are massive amounts of special effects taking place, and even the movies, on the wide panning shots, stutter across the screen. Again, it doesn’t hurt the gameplay, but it does put a bit of tarnish on what would otherwise be a highly polished game.

    If the framerate really bothers you, Advent Rising is also out for the PC. While we haven’t tested that version yet, I’m betting a nice gaming rig will have sufficient juice to crank this game out in all its glory.

    The soundtrack for Advent Rising will be in stores next week and even if you don’t play this game you MUST own this soundtrack. Tommy Tallarico heads up the composition for this epic score as well as doing all the sound design. Together with Charlotte Martin, they co-wrote, “Greater Lights”, which she sings during the closing credits.

    Emmy Award-winning Mark Watters conducted a 70-piece orchestra giving this game a surreal movie-like quality you only get in the biggest and best videogames these days. Grammy Award-winner, Armin Steiner (Finding Nemo, Seabiscuit, Matrix Trilogy) mixed and recorded the soundtrack and fit it to the gameplay for an emotional experience that is beyond words.

    The script is amazing, as you might expect since it was written by Orson Scott Card. Every line of dialogue, both human and alien is perfectly in place to create and enhance the story and make something totally sci-fi totally believable. The designers didn’t go crazy with Hollywood talent, but there are a few familiar names in the credits including Dwight Shultz and Michael Bell.

    The script, as well as the actors, gives the characters a great sense of development. You see Gideon start to get a little cocky as he become more godlike, and there is even a bit of subtle humor injected into the dialogue, even from the aliens.

    Sound effects are thunderous and the Dolby Digital mix surrounds you in the epic sounds of a futuristic war. My sub-woofer got a real workout with this game. My only one small complaint is the variance in sound levels between movies and gameplay. I was constantly increasing the volume to hear the movies then scrambling for the remote when the game started and stuff started falling off the walls. An odd oversight considering the amount of work that went into the audio portion of this game.

    I finished Advent Rising in just under 12 hours. It would have been more like 10 hours if I had figured out the SkinBeast solution sooner and not got caught up in fighting infinite enemies for nearly an hour. Near the end of the game (after the SkinBeast) some rare bugs popped up including the game locking up no less than four times during the lava tunnel escape. Resetting the game took me back about 10 minutes worth of gameplay so there was nearly another wasted hour.

    There are no real story branches or decision points in the game. It’s all fairly linear and follows the prescribed story to take you from the beginning to the end…of Part 1. Advent Rising is the first installment in a planned trilogy of games, plus a PSP prequel coming later this year. You’ll play it once for sure and likely play it again just before Part 2 comes out, whenever that is.

    There is also support for downloadable content including a mini-game challenge where you can win a million dollars. The box says the contest starts on 6/9/05 but as of this review when I check for online content it keeps telling me there is none available.

    Advent Rising is interactive fiction at its finest. This is what Halo wanted to be; hell, it’s what Star Wars wanted to be. Orson can write circles around George Lucas when it comes to stories, characters, and dialogue.

    Admittedly, this is a solo, story-driven, action-adventure, so those looking for online action should look elsewhere, but for anyone else who is looking to immerse themselves in one of the most compelling stories, combined with intense supernatural action, and music and sound that makes me want to rethink our rating scale, look no further than Advent Rising.