Glyphx's offices reside in Orem, Utah, just over from a typically American suburban stretch of road; arrow-straight and lined with whitewashed houses, each one perched on a lawn of perfect green that looks as if it was delivered fresh that morning. Cars occasionally float by, pedestrians are unheard of and litter is nowhere to be seen. It could almost be described as idyllic, were it not for the fact that inside, away from the 100-plus degree heat, a small team of developers is plotting to drop a bomb on the gaming world.
The incendiary device in question is Advent Rising, the first of an audaciously conceived trilogy of action games that promises to up the ante in terms of storyline, emotion and player involvement. GlyphX at least, with an infectious air of enthusiasm, earnestly believe that their debut release will cause a stir. "Valve made Half-Life out of passion," says animated lead designer Donald Mustard. "Innovative big changes always seem to come from smaller no-name developers because they have something to prove -and that's us."
It might seem to be jumping the gun slightly to make such vaulting proclamations, seeing as Advent Rising has been in full production for less than a year, but the lads at GlyphX appear ambitious to the point of embarrassment. Having been labouring for the best part of a decade on other people's games, they're keen to strike out and make a bold transformation from anonymous subcontractor to major league game studio.
"What we're interested in is creating a cinematic experience," declares Donald. "You hear a lot of people talking about so-called cinematic games and then hold cut-scene? Yeah, the up Metal Gear Solid 2 as a kind of example for all to fellow. Like, what's so cinematic about a top-down isometric game you play for t jn minutes and then watch a ten-minute little movies are be utiful, but that doesn't make the game cirr jmatic..
"To me a cinemi itic experience would mean that I am play ing within that cinematic experierce. We want to put the player in the midd blockbuster movie and technology is at the point where w scan do that." He pauses for a moment and smiles. "We're going to put you in of a summer the middle of a good Roland Emmerich film.
All The Right Movies
Were you to see Advent Rising in action without jmmentary from its creators you would perhaps assess it as a third-person, Halo-nspired space opera hat blends the vibrancy and colour of a Disney movie with the balletic combat of The Matrix. The game's reluctant hero Gideon Wyeth appears every bit how one would imagine Neo if he were to defect to Disney, even down to the tight black tee and wet-look barnet.
Advent Rising borrows heavily and unashamedly from other influences too: the young hero with dormant powers and a destiny to challenge the galactic order smacks of Star Wars, yet the background history that colours Advent Trilogy could have easily been conceived as an antidote to the smugness of Star Trek. "The thrust of the story," explains Donald, "is that as advanced alien races gained interstellar travel, they found that they had these similar pervasive legends of these super-powered beings known as Humans. No-one had ever seen a human, no-one really believed that they even existed - they just had these legends of these mythical creatures."
"But the real reason why no one has ever seen a human is that a race called the Seekers are methodically going throughout the galaxy destroying human worlds under the guise of benevolent explorers - so they arrive in orbit around your planet and start to do bad stuff." Having worked with Epic in the past, it seemed only right and natural for the team to acquire a license to the latest Unreal technology, and the results are impressive. The look and feel of the game is vibrant and cartoonish, but not overly so, and certainly different from any other Unreal-based game out there.
As for the gameplay, the emphasis is set squarely on action. Think Jedi Knight's third-person Force-wielding action, Half-Life's first person weaponry, Halo's vehicles, Metroid Prime's pace and variety and Max Payne's special effects - not all kneaded and compressed into one messy ball, but cunningly intertwined to offer a range of experiences.
"In Half-Life you began with a crowbar and by the end you had rocket launchers and Snarks," remembers Donald. "In Advent you'll begin with all the weapons that you'd only get by the end of a typical game. Instead of new weapons, it's through the gameplay that you evolve how you approach the game, in the sense that you will eventually become the weapon. You will evolve into, essentially, a superhero, which will allow you to run on walls, run up people's bodies, punch them and send them flying 50 feet through a wall."
"In giving the players a broad palette I want them to be able to play the game however they want. To encourage that, we have a system in place where the more you do something, the better you get at it. So the more you jump, the higher and longer you'll be able to jump. The more you try to levitate objects, the bigger the objects you'll eventually be able to pick up and the further you'll be able to throw them."
By way of example, Donald loads up a level, summons a buggy and after driving around gets out and selects the ability to lift and move objects. He picks the car up by one wheel, spins it around and hurls it impressively into a wall.
In the distance is another vehicle, a huge four-wheeled behemoth the size of a football pitch. "That's called the Warhammer," says Donald. "It has a full interior of corridors, can carry two smaller buggies and has a number of turrets you can climb in and fire from... and yes, by the end of the game you'll be able to drop it on people's heads."
When you listen to him talk and watch his wild gesturing, it's difficult not to get caught up in the boyish excitement Donald exudes as he explains his ambition for GlyphX's first full game. As he enthuses about Al routines, he leaps across the room, almost sending a box of doughnuts to the floor, arms flailing and cheeks ballooning with beatbox gunfire. And in an office that lacks even the basic raw materials to make a cup of coffee -we're in Mormon country, remember - this makes a particularly profound impression.
Then Donald remembers he's at work, thanks to his colleagues hanging out office doors to see what all the kerfuffle is about, and he retreats back into a few seconds of mild embarrassment... Until the subject of weaponry comes up, at which point he springs back into action and death animations are acted out with similar gusto.
The Crying Game
"We want this game to look cool. We want a killer control system and incredible animations. But most of all we want to have an incredible story that conveys emotion and offers choices that have consequences," explains Donald. "In a movie or a cut-scene you are completely limited in the choices the director makes. In gameplay we have the ability to allow the player to write their own story to a degree. We'll put you in situations where the choices you make will directly influence the outcome and flow of the game and the events that transpire. Ultimately the story that you experience will be dictated largely in part by the way you play the game - therefore creating a different emotional experience for each player - that's what I am primarily interested in."
"John Carmack said about Doom 3 that his primary goal is to scare people again and again for the whole game - and that's fine. But we want to evoke an entire range of emotions within the game - not just fear, but joy, pain and grief. I want people to be laughing and crying, swelling with emotion, scared and full of adrenalin, while all these things are happening around them."
It's a tall order, and if they can pull it off, Advent Rising will mark a new highpoint for storytelling in games. Of course I was a tad dubious at the time, and it was only later, when we were discussing what games had influenced Advent' design, that it became clear how they planned to create and sustain an emotional fix with the player. At this point, for me at least, it all clicked: "I feel that the death of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII was the definitive moment in the hist Dry of games. That was for many the best moment in the game - in any game - and we moment, Limber of definitely have that in fact we have a n those moments that we hope will rock the way people look at ganies." There's no doubt that GlyphX is working on one of the most ambitit us titles we've ever sc en. So far, in terms of animation and action it looks to be spectacular and fully realised. In other areas, like pacing, narrative, interface and Al there's still much to prove. But, we have to say, we're just about convinced they can pull it off.
It's A Grand Sci-Fi Trilogy In The Tradition Of Grand Sci-Fi Trilogies
Advent was originally conceived as three games and for the sequels the developers have some rather ambitious ideas, not least of which is the option to take your characters from one episode to the next. There will also of course be new weapons, vehicles and special powers.
"You definitely develop a lot of new powers in the sequels," announces Donald, "and the powers you've already developed will continue to evolve. Things happen in the story that change the way your powers work. In the second game, as you get more powerful you'll have the struggle of evolving too quickly. By the third game we want to have Gideon ripping mountains apart."
Download Advent Rising
This Was To be the first game in an epic science-fiction trilogy, that got attention because it was by big-name sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card.
Yet this was a piece of spin, as Card just scripted dialogue and cutscenes based on a story by the game's creators. There were to a series of novels penned by Card as well, but after this game's lackluster sales, Majesco turned their backs on continuing the story.
Advent Rising is about Gideon Wyeth: a rookie pilot who's part of humanity's first encounter with aliens. (Because that's who you want on a job like that - the new kid.) These aliens (sycophantic humanoid fish) warn you of the Seekers -12ft lizards intent on saving the galaxy by killing every human in existence.
After this Wyeth starts fighting Seekers, is worshipped by the fishy aliens, and develops superpowers that are apparently innate in all homo sapiens. This evolution goes a long way to explain why Seekers hate humans, as to develop his powers Wyeth has to kill Seekers and collect power-ups.
That's the game: kill bad aliens, collect power-ups, run for a bit, kill aliens, collect power-ups, ad infinitum and nauseam. This wouldn't be too bad, if the camera wasn't so disorientating. Each time you select an enemy, the camera spins to lock onto them. Not so bad in open areas, but in corridors it's bloody irritating.
If you get used to Advent Rising's camera the game can be fun. But it's tough to recommend this, especially as Mass Effect is available for a few quid more.
Given The Choice between a foppish race of flap-gobbed fish who call you "exalted one" and "divine creature", and a bunch of 12ft bastards who want to scan your brain then wipe it on the walls, what would you choose? Sure, the reverence option seems attractive, but after ten minutes of a sycophantic carp saying "excuse me, super-face" and "you've got smooth hands", you'd probably be smashing your brain out yourself.
Advent Rising, with a storyline penned by space guru Orson Scott Card, is 'sci-fi epic action'. As such, planets get blown up, families get killed and after a few fist and gun battles, you're trained to realise your hidden human godliness in a training movie so gloriously cliclied that it's only missing Mr Miyagi nodding at the end.
Advent Rising looks and plays like a slightly dated arcade game. That's not too damning a criticism - it's enjoyable with it. Action is sectioned by plot and 'Hello Gideon let's go north now' cut-scenes, and the power-up method is simple and effective. Your current skills improve as quickly as you get more to play with, and there's no real exploring; just find the way forwards, keep killing, get stronger, acquire new powers, eliminate occasional bosses.
It's a rare third-person action game that doesn't have some camera issues, but when the action takes place in confined areas, Advent Rising suffers badly. This is mainly thanks to the combat system, which works by locking on - you cycle through the targets with the mouse wheel - up for left, down for right. It works well enough after you've got used to it, but in corridors you'll end up spinning around like Kylie Minogue and Wonder Woman playing BeyBlades in a centrifuge. As for the driving levels, whoever decided to steer with the mouse deserves severed nipples - coupled with the camera issues, this can make driving horrific.
Advent Rising feels like it's trying to be something incredibly worthy; in reality, it's just a fairly enjoyable but uninvolving power-up bonanza with enough niggles to make you wince, but enough fun to keep you going.
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.
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.