Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Advent Rising

Post-Launch Review
Advent Rising (PC)
Developer: GlyphX Games
Released: May 2005
Played: story complete in 6h50min


For the first time, humanity meets intelligent alien life - but the Aurelians have arrived to warn of an impending attack by the Seekers, a second race dedicated to wiping out the human race. There is hope: humanity is worshipped across the galaxy, and the Aurelians believe that the human pilot Gideon Wyeth may be able to unlock his mythical power and defeat the Seekers.

At Launch

Advent Rising received somewhat mixed reviews, averaging around 70%. Critics generally praised the story and Gideon's powers, but were disappointed by poor controls and frequent bugs. The slightly-delayed PC version seems to have been cleaned up quite a bit.

Post Launch

No official patches were released as far as I can tell. There is an unofficial fan patch, Advent Revising, that fixes issues with subtitles and cutscenes and re-adds some content dropped from the PC version (though I'm not sure I'd recommend the patch - read on for some thoughts and the link).

Note the aspect ratio and black bars of this first screenshot. Oddly, Advent Rising forces a 4:3 resolution by adding black bars to the sides, and then adds more black bars to the top and bottom to create a widescreen view. I guess they wanted to give it a cinematic feel. Obviously the bars are no longer necessary when everyone's using widescreen monitors, but the game's old enough that it only supports 4:3 monitors by default. You can get proper widescreen if you tweak the config files a bit.

Advent Rising throws you into the action real quick. In the first five minutes you find out that humanity has been among the stars for quite a long time, we may or may not have had a whole planet blown up, and a massive alien ship has arrived to make contact. Shortly thereafter you find out that another alien race is here to wipe out humanity, and then they show up for a full-on assault. So yeah, you could say things move kind of fast.
A visual example of things moving kind of fast.
Combat is pretty slick and packed with a surprising number of features for a game that came out in 2005. You can play it as a straight third-person shooter using the targeting reticle as normal, which might feel more comfortable if you play a lot of shooters. But there's also a lock-on feature you can use, which will be very helpful when you unlock some powers (one requires a lock, the others can be aimed manually, but some benefit a lot from the extra help). Breaking a lock is annoying, though - I had to whip my mouse around pretty far before the lock would turn off. 

My one real complaint about combat is the relative lack of indication of whether you should fight or run. There are many doors that won't open until you've cleared the area, but there are also places with endless respawns (or close enough). So if you're in doubt, try the door; if it opens, move on.
The coolest thing is that you can dual-wield any two weapons or powers - and I do mean any. Slow time and assault rifle? Sure. Lift and rocket launcher? Why not. The dual-wielding is complemented by an experience system where you increase the power and functionality of your weapons and abilities by using them. You can game the system a bit by standing around and using powers on boxes, but the system was balanced around normal use so you definitely won't be at a disadvantage if you play normally.

These features, plus the sheer variety of weapons and powers, create a combat system that'll have you gleefully experimenting with all your options. There's a lot of fun stuff here. That said, some elements do feel clunky - melee hit detection and tank aiming, for example. I definitely remembered combat being better than it is, but the superpowers are still fun, and the visual effects make them feel distinct and interesting.
Speaking of visuals, they're clearly dated, but the art direction helps a bit. Advent Rising went for a more cartoony stylized feel instead of realism. The main issue is the cutscene quality. Seems the cutscenes were rendered in-engine at a relatively low resolution, so they look and run significantly worse than the actual gameplay - so much so that it can be downright distracting how fuzzy and artifacted the cutscenes look at higher resolutions. There's a fan patch that fixes cutscene bugs and improves quality as well as adding a bunch of scenes present in the XBox version but cut from the PC version. The dropped cutscene versions are quite a nuisance, though - lower quality, too drawn out, and adding nothing at all to the plot. I wouldn't install the patch unless you're having major problems.

I didn't notice too many technical problems. The game did crash on me a lot - once or twice an hour. After a crash the game seems to forget any checkpoints that aren't accompanied by a cutscene, which is stupid. Other than the crashes I don't remember any major issues.
The plot was one of the big advertising points for Advent Rising, with a writing credit from Orson Scott Card before it became popular to hate him, so that was kind of a big deal. I didn't play a huge variety of games ten years ago, but it's one of the first action games I can remember that allows you to make choices that actually affect the plot. It does suffer from some odd time jumps and weird cuts - for example, after leaving the human homeworld you get a "two months later" and suddenly Gideon and Marin are all flirty with each other, obviously setting up a romance subplot, despite recent tragedy and (depending on your choices) the presence of Gideon's girlfriend.
For the most part, though, the story and setting are pretty great. The middle feels more like a standard rebel story, helped by a bit of political intrigue. The opening and ending, however, are really intriguing. The idea that humans are worshipped by most intelligent races in the galaxy is kind of fun, and a different angle for a science fiction story. It's also hinted that there are tons of human worlds, but our protagonists don't seem to know about any others save for a mythical homeworld that no one really believes in. This is a great contrast: humans are the greatest species in the galaxy and are worshipped across the stars, but they don't know it. They're weaker than even the lesser races of the galactic community, they're fragmented, they don't remember where they came from. This begs the question: when is this story actually taking place? Humans with advanced tech carries the default assumption of "future", but if humanity has spread so far and forgotten so much, just how far in the future are we? If this is even the future at all; with no mention of Earth yet, it could be in the past or the present.

Anyway, back to the game's story. You're presented with an unexceptional happy ending before the credits roll, but that's not the real ending. Some major stuff goes down post-credits that severely complicates the as-yet straightforward plot and seriously throws the future into doubt, ending on a dramatic "to be continued". This is what really got me hyped up for the next two parts of the trilogy... which never materialized. Plans were cancelled the same year the game came out. That makes me sad.

Recommendation: play it if you're OK with no ending.

Advent Rising does some fun stuff. While it is a bit dated, the setting and story are very cool, the soundtrack is ridiculously good, and the combat system and powers are great. The big downside to such a cool story is that its "to be continued" just doesn't continue - it's been almost ten years since the trilogy was canned and there's no indication it'll ever go anywhere.

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