Advent Rising Review

I’ll just say this up front; Advent Rising is a gem, but a flawed one.  The folks at GlyphX have worked extremely hard to elevate their first installment of their trilogy to a level above the norm by using an incredible storyline written by Orson Scott Card.  For all intents and purposes they succeeded only to be handicapped by technical elements. 

As I mentioned, this is purported to be the first game of a Trilogy, so Advent Rising serves as a ‘setup’ title to explain the origins of the story and setup the next two titles.  The story kicks off with you playing Gideon Wyeth, a pilot who has been selected to escort an ambassador to the first contact with an advanced alien race. 

The story unfolds as your alien visitors tell you that a second race called The Seekers are on a short timetable to jump to your location to eradicate all human life.  According to legends, the human race stores inside them the incredible potential to destroy The Seekers.  Before any of this legend could be explored, The Seekers close range with their fleet and siege your ship and eventually the planet.  This devastation is enough to push Gideon over the edge, realizing the very potential that The Seekers hoped to stop. 

Advent Rising suffers badly in the graphic department.  It isn’t that the game doesn’t look great – in fact, the character design is obviously very influenced by Anime with exaggerated features and great amounts of detail.  Put plainly, all of that glamour and majesty is lost on an engine that quite simply can’t handle the strain.  As soon as there is movement on the screen, be it the in-game cutscenes or the actual gameplay, the framerate drops into the low ‘teens.  It isn’t unplayable but it is very distracting and ultimately frustrates when you are faced with some of the faster-paced elements of the game.

Underneath the abysmal framerate are a host of excellent effects including some great particle explosion and spatial warping effects.  The sense of scale in the game is fantastic and some early scenes really capture what it is to be in the shadow of a powerful alien race. 

There really isn’t a rhyme or reason as to why the game chugs in spots.  The framerate can plummet while you are standing out in the open, while inside a ship, and may or may not repeat itself in the same area should you have to replay it.  I don’t know what level of tuning is required, but I can’t help but feel that this game would better be served by a powerful PC that could overcome the undercooked graphics engine.  The Xbox just isn’t cutting it.

There was a great deal of hype surrounding the soundtrack to Advent Rising. The orchestral score is absolutely fantastic and is on par with any high-dollar movie soundtrack or any game to date.  Unfortunately, it lacks polish in the same way that the graphics do.  Again, with no rhyme or reason, the musical score will simply override the dialog or start and stop without any event to trigger it.  The soundtrack is great music that just fails to deliver the aural environmental effect with any level of smoothness. 

The voice acting is a mixed bag.  It is typical sci-fi flair and is either overacted or under-reacted when it counts.  That said, it isn’t bad and does a decent enough job of giving life to the characters, but like the graphics it never really comes together.

The controls in Advent Rising is innovative.  The basic system used to select an enemy is called ‘flick targeting’.  The game will autotarget a nearby enemy and then you can simply flick the analog stick towards an enemy to shift your targeting.  You start off with a single pistol but quickly gravitate towards more advanced weaponry including alien guns, telekinesis, and martial arts. 

I know its going to sound like a skipping record here but once again, the innovative targeting controls just don’t come together.   The targeting system will lock onto everything that isn’t bolted down and some things that are.  It works sometimes, but generally degenerates into just randomly flicking the stick randomly until you’ve cleared an area.  Unfortunately this overactive targeting system will also shift your camera’s direction causing the movement speed to cut in half.  You can disengage the target but the hyper-reactive camera will often lock onto another target.  You’ll end up dead a lot more often if you fight the controls, so often you just have to go with it.

Advent Rising is a fun game at the core.  The technical aspects of the game rain on that parade and unfortunately can impact the gameplay aspects.  The game kicks off with battle against only a handful of foes, but quickly escalates to dual-weapon heavy-effects-driven combat.  The framerate issues rear their head and cause frustration to creep in as you fight through sections multiple times, not due to skill but more a direct result of dropped frames.   The storyline keeps you going but it is a grind to get through some areas and it shouldn’t be.

When you move outside the base and start to utilize vehicles against the enemy the framerate issues are not as prevalent.  There are a few vehicles that you can drive including a jeep that will remind you of the Warthog from Halo.  Overall, these areas are fairly high-pace as the enemy is never outside of view and is often chasing you down with fighters and bombers.  These areas are fairly linear but are a good break from the run-and-gun gameplay of the enclosed areas. 

The storyline to the game is compelling.  There are some fantastic twists mid-game that will change the game mechanics and also compel you through the rest of the game.  Employing Orson Scott Card to write the storyline paid off as it is engaging and fresh throughout.  The only question will be whether you can tolerate the technical issues to reveal the full depth of the game.

With a storyline penned by Orson Scott Card, you’d have to wonder what could happen that would crumble this game.  The cumulative effect of the graphic, sound, and control issues make this a hard sell to begin with, and when you finish it you probably will not want to replay it.  There is so much right with this game, bogged down with so much that is just slightly off.  Majesco and GlyphX, if you are reading…make the next two on the Xbox360 and use the extra power to tell the rest of the story the way it was meant to be told. Advent Rising is extremely ambitious.  Unfortunately, it is this ambition that hurts the game so badly.  The graphics engine never really received enough attention to smooth it out, nor did the sound system.  The control system is ambitious and unique but just doesn’t pan out either.  I can only imagine that the controls and power of a PC would be better served to deliver the great story behind Advent Rising.  This game is said to be the first in a trilogy – here is to hoping that there were enough sales behind the game to get to see where the game goes from here.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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