One way to introduce a trilogy: Park an asteroid-sized UFO in orbit. Send the humans in to get the good news (these aliens come in peace) along with the not-so-good (they’ve accidentally alerted another evil armada to our whereabouts). Then have the tagalong ETs smash mother Earth into stardust, stranding hero Gideon Wyeth in space. If story were enough (and if ambition didn’t need ability to back it up), Advent Rising might’ve been an action-adventure masterpiece, with vehicles, psychokinetic superpowers, a character who develops according to your decisions, the works. Instead, its camera-and-control setup—a scheme that’s supposed to take the effort out of tracking enemies, freeing thumbs to tap in Afafrix-style moves while zapping space invaders—sticks on all the wrong spots. (Back off to reload, and it forces you to face baddies you’d rather run from; focus on getting from A to B, and the screen whips bewiideringly from place to place.) It’s a work in progress somehow on shelves, full of frustrating bugs; shooting for the stars, it lands well below its own lofty aspirations.
Advent Rising looks like an Xbox launch title, you say? OK, a badXbox launch title? Well, I can look past shoddy graphics. And so the camera is completely screwed up—hey, I’ve forgiven worse. The targeting system is a total nightmare? Well...uh...l can live with that...I guess. And the game has more bugs than a bait shop: disappearing characters, scripted events that don’t trigger, and other screwups that require a full reset? All right, enough is enough. The best thing I can say about Advent Rising is that during its dozen or so epic, standout moments—speeding across a futuristic city wracked by meteors, or tossing enemies into the vacuum of space with my Force-like powers—I thought about how great it might have been.
Advent Rising might be falling apart at the seams, but its enthusiasm for the sci-fi-epic subgenre is infectious. One of the game’s most compelling factors is its roller-coaster ride of a story, an arc that carries you from an end-of-the-world scenario all the way to the heart of an ancient alien civilization that will worship you and your newly acquired godlike abilities. The impeccable pacing will suck you quickly into its whirlpool. Buggy targeting camera aside, Advent's addictive gameplay is equal parts slow-motion firefights, dual-wielded firepower, and the heady rush of superhuman powers (think Jedi stuff). But in its current (rushed?) state, Advent is highly unstable and frustrating to love. You might as well wait until it’s cheap.
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Games that are short, buggy, and don't offer the smoothest, easiest to learn gameplay I've ever seen rarely make it to the top of my 'games to buy' list. That said, Advent Rising is all that, and still managed to impress me enough to make it my favorite new game. Before you continue, I want to make myself completely clear; this game is worth buying, even in light of its many flaws.
First, if you've kept up on Advent Rising, you've likely heard about the bugs, and the rumors don't lie. There are a lot of them, they're everywhere, and they have a startling ability to be deal breakers. From the game's inability to play cutscenes without losing the occasional frames, to the design flaws that should've been caught from the get go, my first experience with this game was less than satisfying. I can regularly reproduce a bug that will make an early scene in the game unplayable, requiring a restart. Definitely not a good selling point.
Advent Rising breaks out of its mold in a very simple game mechanic, and a eye towards the cinematic. With a variety of weapons and incredible powers at your disposal, Advent was designed to let you improve your character as you go. Each attack, each power, and even your jumping ability can improve the more you use it. Fist fight long enough and you'll get the ability to perform special fatalities, and soon you'll deal tremendous damage with your fists. Level up the timeshift power, and you can slow down time, fighting suspiciously like Jet Li's character Yulaw in The One.
Graphically, the game is well designed, and has some visual flair, but most of that is sidelined in order to present an extremely dense atmosphere. With simpler animations than you may be used to, you'll also get swarmed by large numbers of enemies, and regularly have fights with several different opponents at one given time.
Ultimately, all of these elements, gameplay, visual design, and even an orchestral soundtrack, are all brought together to support an ambitious narrative that starts with the opening of the game, and doesn't end even once the credits roll. In one word, the story in this game is compelling.
This is only the third Xbox game to truly impress me in this way, the other two being the Halo series, and this level of narrative detail is long over due. Sadly, the game is no longer than 8 hours long, and so, even with a good story, it is still in dire need of improvement. Still, I think this game has a bit of the magic, and the magic is good. This game gets a recommended buy, but only a weak one, because it still has lots of problems.