It's the distant future, and guess what? Yup, mankind is in trouble. He's on his last legs, in fact, being chased hither and thither by jumping alien types with drippy mandibles. That sort of thing. Of course, you've seen it all before. Mankind is always getting into these kinds of situations in the future, but we've a distinct feeling with Advent Rising that it's more than just another 'one of those'. For a start, it borrows more stuff from Halo than any other game we've seen. Then it adds a few mystical superpowers and makes it a third-person shooter - you know, just to avoid the lawyers and that.
Advent Rising's a strange little game - all the bits may have been ham-fistedly put together, but they've also been crafted with obvious love. For starters, it's intensely cinematic. The story, score, voice talent, and level design are all phenomenal, especially during the action sequences. Trying to navigate around is impossible - you'll be staring out the windows in awe as great chunks of space station tear away from the main section during one particular battle in the early levels.
It's a great shame, then, that such an ambitious game is also so flawed. Glitches galore pull you straight out of the experience at every turn, and the combat controls are just baffling. Gideon Wyeth (that's you that is) auto-targets each arm independently. Which might look good on paper, but for most of the game his arms just swing about like he's a windmill. Are you actually controlling him? It's hard to tell sometimes. The vehicles are also horrible to drive, bouncing and trundling and tumbling about like the tyres have been pumped with helium. Although maybe that's what they fill tyres with in the future.
Yet, in spite of all the mess, Advent Rising is an intelligent game told with compassion, and one that's certainly been made with it. It's clearly trying to emulate the grandeur and feel of Halo, it's just that most of the time it falls apart under the slightest pressure. When you're battling dropships and large enemies, the game slows to a crawl. You can almost hear the cogs grinding. When waves of bad guys run at you, the game seems confused, animating an unsightly gangle of limbs and weapons rather than solid, believable enemies.
The weapons themselves are also baffling. Reload sequences take so long half the time you wonder whether you've actually got any ammo left. And once you do get firing, it's all a shower of squibs and bright lights, not the skin-shredding badda-badda of badass futuristic firepower.
Once Gideon begins his ascension to a higher realm and realises his destiny, though, things do get slightly more interesting. He can chuck all kinds of psychic attacks and mind-control jiggery-pokery at the enemy, but this too feels like you're doing little other than watching an interactive movie. And that's precisely the feeling you get from Advent Rising. It feels like the developers wanted to make something more than just another game, but we bet that given half the chance to up sticks and work for WETA or ILM, they'd be out of there like a shot.
Advent Rising, if you take it as an 'interactive story', is perfectly entertaining. But taken as a proper videogame it's all just a bit naff. It feels broken, clumsy and amateurish, although it certainly has enough potential to chew over until the hopefully-much-improved second and third parts are released. Fingers crossed...
A brave attempt at making an epic experience, but it was never going to be the game it so desperately wanted to be.