Advent Falls Down, Can't Get Up
Over the past few years, some video games have made great strides blending cinematic narrative with engaging action. Unfortunately, for all its bluster, the science fiction adventure Advent Rising is not one of them.
You'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise, considering that Advent's story was written in part by best-selling science fiction writer Orson Scott Card. But it would seem as if the Ender's Game author phoned this one in -- the story is hardly gripping.
Gideon Wyeth is one of the last surviving humans in the universe, after a large-scale assault by an alien race hellbent on the destruction of the species. He ends up in the care of a more benevolent race of aliens, who tell him most humans are dead because the evil Seekers are afraid of Homo sapiens' latent powers. It's a premise with potential, but the cinematic scenes and dialogue in this Xbox and PC game are dull.
Magic powers should be cool, though, right? Not really. Gideon doesn't even know they exist at first, so he uses a less mystical human power -- guns. He can dual-wield the weaponry that dead aliens tend to leave lying around. Occasionally, during scripted events, he's forced to jump into a vehicle. But whether it's a human tank or an alien hovercraft, the transportation physics and control scheme are almost comically poor, resulting more often than not in a bouncing, floating, upside-down vehicle.
But guns and fast cars are nothing compared to the latent powers Gideon soon begins to unlock. The first one he learns is the ability to levitate and move enemies and objects. This has the effect of turning the action from duck-and-cover shooting into a ridiculous exercise of "throw the aliens into the bottomless pit." And once Gideon unlocks the ability to fire pulses of energy from his hands, you never need to pick up a gun again.
Whether you're shooting them or lifting them, locking onto enemies is accomplished by means of a novel, if not especially smooth, system called "flick targeting." Tapping the Xbox controller's right analog stick toward an enemy will cause Gideon to lock onto it; changing targets is done by simply tapping the stick in the direction of another enemy. The system starts by working well, but becomes annoying -- many times, when you're simply trying to move the camera, the game will automatically lock your view onto the many inanimate objects that can be levitated.
While most games ramp up in difficulty as they go on, Advent Rising begins as a moderately difficult game and quickly becomes absurdly easy as Gideon unlocks more powers.
This allows you to blow through most of the game's challenges without breaking a sweat, because progressing through the alien strongholds requires very little thought or strategy.
Advent's story moves fast, but it's not an impressive ride. The graphics are low on detail, the characters low-poly and the designs bland. The frame rate chugs along, struggling at times to keep up with the action. The orchestral soundtrack, recorded by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, is pretty but barely heightens the drama. Sometimes the music just shuts off in the middle of a level.
But it's not the bugs that cause Advent Rising to plummet. It's the uninteresting story and the boring, repetitive gameplay that make it mediocre. The rampant bugs just make it worse.