Retrospective – Advent Rising (Xbox)

THE FIRST (AND LAST) IN THE TRILOGY

When I was a lad, I used to love climbing trees. I would imagine most youngsters do. One of the very first things you learn when clambering over our bark-encrusted buddies is the principal of reach. Or, more specifically, where your reach ends. Over-ambitious? Reaching too far? Then it’ll be a few weeks in plaster for you. After your first big fall, you soon learn that the branch you thought you could just about reach might as well have been the moon. So, you set your sights a little lower and concentrate on having fun.

Personally, I don’t think anyone at GlyphX Games has ever climbed a tree, as the principal of not over-reaching oneself seems to have passed them by with a whooshing noise.

Advent Rising was supposed to be an epic. A sweeping space-opera concerned with the future of mankind, told over a trilogy and promising production values to match its ambitious storyline, GlyphX were always reaching for the stars. Sadly, they missed.

That’s not to say that the intent was misplaced, the bare bones of a very good game were there. However, there are so many technical and gameplay issues that what could have been a very good sci-fi shooter turned out a bit of a mess. Perhaps the best way to explain what went wrong is to look at Majesco’s press release for the game and analyse some of the promises they made.

advent1
“What’s that? Halo? No, never heard of it boss…”

“Unprecedented single-player gameplay that allows gamers to play through the thrilling action sequences of a blockbuster movie or game, rather than just watch them…”

It plays like any every other third-person sci-fi shooter you’ve played. There’s nothing ‘unprecedented’ or ‘thrilling’ about it. In fact, the only thing I found ‘unprecedented’ were the number of bugs I enountered. But more on that later. Also, contrary to the press release, all the best action and set-pieces happen in cutscenes. So you do “just watch them”.

“Built using next-generation Unreal technology, integrated with the Karma physics engine…”

If by ‘next-generation’ you mean “has ropey AI that means enemies leave you alone as soon as you go past them, can’t find cover and regularly bug and get hitched on the scenery”, then yes, this is “next-generation”. The physics engine in particular throws up some wonderful bugs and appears to be completely, utterly and spectacularly broken.

“Unprecedented collaboration with award-winning, sci-fi author Orson Scott Card on sweeping storyline…”

Supposedly, acclaimed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card was involved with the script. The question I feel compelled to ask is “where exactly”? The game takes the form of a bog-standard third-person sci-fi shooter with a few scripted set-pieces thrown in for good measure. Hackneyed and derivative in the extreme (the human race is under attack from an evil alien race and only you can stop them blah blah every other sci-fi game ever blah), the story wears its influences pretty boldly on its sleeve. Rather brazenly, at the same time it tried to present these story elements as something new. Fans of Halo, Star Wars and every other sci-fi movie or game in existence will have seen this all before. Many times. 

“Develop amazing superhuman powers including energy blasts, levitation and energy shields…”

Or “develop amazing superhuman powers that make the game far too easy”. By the time you get a little way into the game, you abilities are so powerful that they render the entire experience moot. It becomes a walkthrough. Brilliant.

advent2
I won’t to make a Van Halen ‘Jump’ gag here. But I won’t because I’m mature and sensible.

“Command a vast array of incredible vehicles including human and alien assault vehicles, hover tanks and flying vehicles…”

I’d have loved to command them. Loved to. I love vehicles. if only the control system wasn’t so fundamentally flawed that it felt like everything had a mind of its own. Which brings me neatly to my major ‘picked bone’…

“Versatile control scheme that allows for acrobatic movement and precise targeting of enemies while quickly switching between weapons and powers…”

Oh, how I laugh. Yes, the targetting was precise, but then it should be as the game utilized an auto-targetting system. The thing I particularly enjoyed about the “versatile control scheme” was the way it latched automatically onto anything I could interact with (such as ammo or health packs) when all I really wanted to do was attack the twenty enemies that had surrounded me. Then there’s the fact that the dodge and pick up actions were assigned to the same button. Yup, the same button. Picture the scenario – an enemy attacks, you go to dodge but failed to notice the ammo clip lurking at your feet. Your avatar bends to pick it up, and you die. Frustrating to say the least. More often than not, teeth-grindingly, soul-crushingly, throwing-the-controller-through-the-TV annoying.

Then there’s the fact that assigning and switching weapons and psychic powers in the middle of a firefight (surely when you need to do it the most) took just a couple of seconds too long. Just long enough, in fact, to ensure that your enemies could get a few cheap shots in. That is, if their atrocious AI picks you up, of course. On occasion I stood behind enemies that just completely ignored me, even when I started pumping bullets into their back. Brilliant.

Then there’s the frame-rate issues. Oh my word, the frame-rate issues. To say the game slowed down a little is like saying that running through brambles naked ‘might scratch a bit’. Sometimes the game dropped to single figure frame-rates, chugging along like an epileptic in a disco and making it entirely unplayable. The worst part was that this happened at completely random times, not necessarily when there was a lot going on. You could just be walking through an empty area and the game would suddenly hitch-up and limp along for a few seconds. It’s not as if the developers had the excuse that the game was visually astounding either – it was average in the extreme, bordering on bland.

advent3
Please, for the love of goodness, make it stop.

“Soundtrack performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Los Angeles Orchestra…”

Okay, the shining star in a sea of poop: the soundtrack was excellent – atmospheric and beautifully orchestrated. Unfortunately, while most games have had ‘dynamic soundtracks’ for some time, GlyphX seemed to miss the point somewhat. Sometimes, you’d be in the middle of a huge action sequence and the music would fade out or stop entirely. Other times, entering a perfectly non-descript and empty room would result in a choral fanfare of the mightiest proportions. Frankly, it was bizarre.

Added to all of these technical issues, the compromised aesthetic of the game (many enemies and areas being horribly reminiscent of Halo), the laughably over-acted cutscenes, derivative storyline, glitches, bugs and general shoddiness of the finished product make me think that GlyphX didn’t just reach a branch too far, but that they should have stayed out of the tree altogether.

There were one or two nice ideas here, and in the hands of an accomplished developer maybe it could have been a very good game – possibly even the epic trilogy it was purported to be. Nevertheless, after the complete hash that was made of this title, I doubt we’ll ever see any more ‘Advent’ games. In all honesty, that’s a sweet, blessed relief.

IN CONCLUSION

Advent Rising was a classic example of a game that over-reaches itself without ever getting the basics right. Never has the expression “all mouth and no trousers” been so apt. A technical mess that will be remembered only as a lesson in misplaced ambition.

EPILOGUE: IF IN DOUBT – OFFER FREE MONEY

In a shameless attempt to get people to buy a game they obviously knew was broken beyond repair, Majesco decided to offer gamers the chance to win $1,000,000 – in exchange for purchasing Advent Rising, naturally (I’m still not sure it would have been worth it).

Applying only to the first 500,000 copies sold, each week an ‘easter egg’ was  downloaded via LIVE that hid the letter ‘A’ somewhere in the game. Clues were published on Majesco’s website and it was then a race for gamers to find the ‘A’ and enter the unique code they were give on Majesco’s site. With rewards ranging from $10,000 in the first week to the promised $1,000,000 in week six, it was too tempting a proposition for many gamers. Although the contest was only open to residents of the US and Canada, it was a very clever marketing ploy. One that ensured many gamers bought Advent Rising despite the horrendous technical

Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Developer: GlyphX Games
Platforms / Released: Xbox (May 05), PC (June 05)

Leave a Reply