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Games that time forgot: Advent Rising

2:52 PM on 09.26.2006 // Anthony Burch

Three cheers for unfinished trilogies! Or rather, one cheer! A couple of E3's ago, Majesco's booth had something really interesting to offer. It promised an epic sci-fi trilogy, penned by Orson Scott Card with an innovative targeting system along with a deep, engrossing storyline. At that year's E3, the game they were referring to was Advent Rising. Fast forward to the most recent E3. Majesco's booth may have been the saddest thing at the entire expo -- they were only offering three games. That being said, those games were some lousy mech simulator for the DS, Jaws: Unleashed, and Cooking Mama. No offense to the game itself, but Jesus. How do you go from creating an epic sci fi adventure one year to blowing on imaginary eggs the next? Okay, first things first: this game is flawed. Very, very, flawed, and it's probably the first Forgotten Game that a lot of people just plain despise. I, however, have a special place in my heart for it, so subjectivity lies ahead. Secondly, if you've never played the game, start listening to these three songs as you read the review. Apart from making my writing seem really badass, the background music (taken directly from the game) will give you an idea as to how the game is supposed to feel, as opposed to a simple description of the gameplay mechanics. Suffice it to say, the soundtrack of Advent Rising is damn good. "Main Theme" "Koroem" (I'd argue that THIS is actually the main theme) Poeta I like the game and everything, but that is one weirdass looking gun. Story Advent's story is pretty epic right from the get-go. You are Gideon Wyeth, a pilot on a military cruiser. A new alien race has made contact with the humans in outer space to warn them of the impending destruction of their species at the hands of the Seekers, a militaristic alien race intent on wiping out every human in the universe. Why? Because, evidently, humans are the most powerful creatures in the galaxy. If given the right trigger, a human can use psychic powers, gain superhuman strength, and essentially become a god among mortals. The Seekers attack, Gideon escapes, and tries to fight his way to safety. The story isn't anything revolutionary: mostly, it's just a scenario for cool action sequences. The game was also touted as being Orson Scott Card's brainchild, but in reality, he only wrote the game's dialogue (and even then, he only wrote about 25% of it), which is, ironically, the worst part of the game. Characters take the entire destruction of their planet way too lightly ("This is it. This is the only thing I brought from Earth." "What, did you forget to pack your underwear?"), the human characters aren't particularly well-defined, and there's only one point where you can actually change the storyline, and even then, the consequences of that choice are pretty short-lived. That being said, it still felt pretty cool. When combined with the music you should be hearing, there were still some genuinely interesting moments in the plot (the game isn't afraid to kill main characters), and it really did feel epic as your character became more and more powerful as the story went on. Gameplay The controls for Advent Rising are glitchy, spastic, and inconsistent. But hell if the gameplay wasn't just plain fun. No. Not without incident. Shooting controls are handled through something Advent Rising pioneered, and that more games should use: the flick-targeting system. By simply flicking the right analog stick toward an enemy, you target them, allowing you to do any number of acrobatic manuevers while your gun stays firmly trained on your enemy. You can also use a full 360-degree analog aiming system, but the flick targeting is more than sufficient to get you through the game. While it takes a bit to get used to, you'll be flicking through targets with incredible ease while diving, rolling, and running. Often times have Gideon aiming in two different directions as you dodge: it basically ends up looking a lot like gunkata. While the shooting controls are plenty fun, what really makes Rising special are the god powers. After a certain point in the game, Gideon gains access to a few base powers, with later powers becoming available at particular moments in the plot. Each power is upgradable, infinitely reusable (once your psychic meter regenerates), and--like the guns--equipped with a more powerful secondary fire. This is exactly as fun as it looks, until you throw them out into the vacuum of space, which is even more fun. It doesn't sound like much, I know. You're thinking, "yay, you can use force push on people, or lift them up, or shoot lightning at them." And you're right. But what makes the implementation of these powers so great is how they feel. Whereas in the beginning of the game you had to shoot at a Seeker for about seven seconds straight to kill them, once you get the Surge Power, you can literally knock twenty Seekers over with one button press (it's like combining force push with a shotgun). This sudden escalation in power runs through the entire game: what was difficult before your powers becomes pleasantly, awesomely simple after you get them. Spaceship shooting at you? Without your powers, you'd have to run away and hide. With them, you can fire psychic lightning at it and blow it up in a few seconds. No cover? You'd have to dodge like crazy, without your powers. With them, you can create moveable shields out of psychic energy, essentially making your own cover. You also go from being more or less unable to engage in physical combat with a Seeker to effortlessly punching one, grabbing it, jumping onto its back, and snapping its neck. As you get more powers, and you upgrade your existing ones, you really begin to feel like your character is all-powerful. This may sound like it makes the game far too easy, but it doesn't: once the game knows it can't throw beings of individual toughness at you, it compensates by throwing way more at a time. As a result, the game remains challenging, but you, as a player, feel like God. And, yeah, there are some driving missions and stuff, but they're nothing spectacular. Self-made, movable shields ftw Why You Probably Haven't Played It It was pretty heavily hyped, and it only sort-of followed through on its claims. Majesco said that the storyline would be epic, involving, and would change depending on how the player played the game--and with the exception of "epic," this claim was entirely bull. Also, Orson Scott Card's influence was overplayed, a lot of people couldn't get used to the controls, the game was notoriously glitchy, etc. From this point, the story should be familiar. The game severely undersells, hurts the developer, and the developer drops the franchise altogether (deciding to shift their focus to handheld titles like Cooking Mama), despite the fact that the game was only part one of a projected trilogy. That's what is really irritating, is that Advent Rising is supposed to be part of a trilogy. The game ends on a cliffhanger, for Christ's sake. Not only could the story have continued into something even more epic than the first game, but all of the problems could have been ironed out: the complaints about aspects of the story and gameplay are pretty much universal to anyone who has played Advent: there's no doubt in my mind that a sequel to the game would have gotten some serious overhaul. While Advent Rising isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it's fun, epic, and its sequels would have had a lot of potential. The game is still on sale pretty much everywhere, for both Xbox and PC. At the very least, it's worth a rental.

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