30 August, 2007

Review: Advent Rising (And Scoring Rubric)

I should take notes during play if I really mean to write proper reviews. Luckily, I'm just a blogger. :P

First off, it's fair to say that I would have overlooked this game if it wasn't for going to Video Games Live and seeing the clips and hearing the orchestral soundtrack. I figured if they'd gone to that much effort, the least I could do was pick the game up for $10 from J&R (or GoGamer, or wherever I ordered it from). I played through it last night and tonight, which obviously means it's not super long, but it bears mention that I did go to bed pretty late both nights, which indicates I was actually engaged (as opposed to WoW, which makes me sleepy even before bedtime).

For those with no idea, Advent Rising was supposed to be the first part of an epic sci-fi trilogy, but got very mixed reviews and didn't really sell. I'm kind of curious to read the reviews because I'd bet I can guess what both the good and bad reviews will say.

The positive reviews will praise the production values.

Advent Rising has good production design (the overall look of the game is good and hangs together) and the graphics engine (Unreal based, according to Wikipedia) produces cool distortion effects for force fields and psychic powers. Admittedly, some of the environments (mostly the human ones) feel a bit generic, but overall, the game looks good. It also sounds good.

The audio in Advent Rising does a good job covering the bases. The orchestral score pushes the epic feel. The voice acting is well done, though you do get the feeling the actors weren't fully coached on some situations. Sometimes the clips just seem slightly out of context. Since Will Friedle (who voices the lead) never seemed to have any issues like that on Batman Beyond, I'm assuming the voice director for Advent Rising couldn't measure up to Andrea Romano. (And seriously, who could?)

The positive reviews will also praise the ambitious gameplay.

Everything in the game levels up. Your gun skills, your psychic powers, and even your dodging ability. Everything but your running (which might have been nice, come to think of it) seems to have a standard five levels of progression, with a secondary ability learned at level three. Some of the alt-fire modes and secondary psychic abilities are very useful, which makes levelling your guns and powers feel more like an exploration than a treadmill. Good stuff.

The positive reviews will also probably focus on the story.

SPOILERS (highlight to make visible)

The story of Advent Rising is definitely classic sci-fi. The heroes home is destroyed. Benevolent aliens teach him to use the force to help the underdog resistance movement take the fight to the evil aliens who did it. It's all rather cliched, and the characters aren't given much depth, but that's how space operas are, generally. In one twist, you have a choice near the beginning to save your brother or your girlfriend. The impact on the game seems purely cosmetic (I haven't played through both ways), but it's something I can see certain people finding compelling, especially at the end of the game where whoever you didn't save comes back as the end boss. I kinda saw it coming, though.


All that said, the story is serviceable, if not particularly original. Now on to the negative.

The negative reviews probably bag on the graphics.

Advent Rising came out in 2005, four years after Halo, and it's graphics are nowhere near as detailed or shiny. 'Nuff said.

The negative reviews probably call out the spotty controls.

The game has a lock-on target scheme that you must use to use certain powers, which is kind of annoying to those of us who just like to shoot stuff. Speaking of which, it also has a first person mode, but you can't dodge in it, which limits its usefulness.

While having psychic powers is great, you don't always feel like you are in control of them. At least one out of four throws with telekinesis either doesn't go where you want or just drops the enemy, letting them immediately resume their attack. Also, if you do throw them, they take your aiming reticule with them, often leaving you looking at the sky or floor or some other direction where you can't see what's going on. The vehicle controls are just okay, and the jeeps practically demand to be labeled Warthog wannabes.

Negative reviews probably call out the overpowered, underpowered, and occasionally nonsensical force powers.

SPOILERS (highlight to read)

The shield power, when levelled up, makes you immune to almost every attack in the game. I can only think of one attack by the last boss it doesn't effect. And once it is powered up, it lasts long enough for you to completely regenerate your health. Also, you can shoot your gun with your other hand while your shield is up. So basically, once you've powered up your shield, you're damn near unstoppable.

Additionally, the force push ability, while looking super cool, doesn't really do much damage unless you throw the enemy off a ledge, and if so, why didn't you just use multi-lift? Hmm. I wonder if you can force push slow moving missiles back at drop ships? That wouldn't be super useful, as you have other powers that can do the damage, but it would at least add enough coolness that I'd use force push.

Force push's secondary mode is weird, too. It lets you grab a weapon from an enemy, but not pick one off the ground or wall because you can only auto-target enemies. Not cool.


Finally, the negative reviews probably call out the largely flat characterizations and cliched plot I already mentioned above.

Have you figured out by reading where I come down on this game?

Yeah. It's pretty easy to tell. I liked it.

I don't know if I'll start giving all games scores, but for now, why not? For the record, I'm basically stealing X-Play's review system, as I find it the most functional.

One star means it's horrible.
Can only be enjoyed with drugs / head trauma.

Two stars means it's got serious problems.
Can also be enjoyed by undiscerning genre / source material freaks.

Three stars means it's good enough.
Can also be enjoyed by genre lovers (but not genre snobs).

Four stars means it's really good.
Can also be enjoyed by people who are apathetic / lukewarm / ambivalent about the genre and genre snobs.

Five stars means it's awesome.
Only mindless haters will call this game anything less than great.

Essentially, these ratings are buying advice. They're not trying to hold up any standard of quality that only educated reviewers can understand. None of these are guarantees, of course. If a game has that one cliche or that one control niggle or that one voice actor that drives you nuts, you still won't like it. But it's a good baseline.

I give Advent Rising a three.

Out of five. :)

27 August, 2007

PAX 2007: The Event

As an event, PAX 2007 was definitely well run. What follows are my impressions of the PAX events I attended.


I declare a man crush on Wil Wheaton. :) Considering every promo of his speech talked about him having no idea what he wanted to say, my expectations were low, which made the truly excellent speech that much better. It helps that I'm only two years younger than Wil, so his experiences synced up with mine a lot. He had a lot of great jokes. He mentioned a lot of great games. And he emphasized how much games bring people together. It was awesome. I only wish I'd remembered to start the "One Of Us" chant at the end. It could have been a moment.

One caveat: I couldn't endorse his "Don't be a dick" statement. Being a dick is awesome, as long as the recipient deserves it and / or it's hilarious.

Penny Arcade Q&A
Gabe and Tycho came out to "Every Day I'm Hustlin". I'm not familiar with the song, but I hear it in my head every time I see them now. :P My main memories from the panel were of the brain damaged guy who never actually asked a coherent question and the homosexual double entendres Gabe couldn't seem to escape. Tycho's live singing of "My Belruel" was beautiful. Reverb owns. :) Oh, and some guy from the audience was allowed to come up and make the same entrance Gabe and Tycho did (minus the fact that the house lights were still on). At the end they brought out Uwe Boll. He's officially dead to me, so I left. I heard he got a sound verbal drubbing. Good for the PAXers.

Life Cuts into Gaming
This panel was people working long hours or trying to balance work, family, and gaming. I don't really know why I went, as I'm neither of those, but it was a good panel.

1UP Yours Live
I listen to headphones at work, and 1UP Yours is a staple of my listening diet, so it was cool to see the folks in person. I got to tell a joke, say thank you for the podcast, and tried to discuss my fears about gaming getting mainstreamed, which really didn't go anywhere. Also Garnett Lee said I looked like a character out of Mall Rats. It stung to get insulted by someone I was so happy to be talking to, but that's how the 1UP guys are, and it's probably a fair cop. (I haven't seen Mall Rats.)

PA Family Feud
Apparently this was Pork's idea back during the first PAX, but didn't come to fruition until this year. The answers the survey provided were kind of lame. They may need to find a better way of getting the survey done, though, as some of the answers were kind of weak. Street Fighter was apparently never answered on the "Name a Video Game Movie" question. WTF?

Let me preface by saying I am too old to stand in one place for four and a half hours. I was so burned out on concerts I didn't even see Frontalot, so that would make me totally burned out.

One Ups
It's like what you'd get if The Dave Matthews Band covered game music with a few too many solos. Their set was a freaking hour and a half.

Optimus Rhyme
Wonderful and unintelligible as always. :)

Very fun, but lots of problems. Liz lost the pitch, the beat, and the words a few times, partially due to monitor problems. French Ghost was great, but The Duke was still missed.

Jonathan Coulton
Very nice. I hadn't heard his stuff before, but I enjoy it. I don't think it's stuff I'd listen to every day, but it did have the distinction of being the only music quiet enough that you could actually hear it. And his cover of Baby Got Back was just too good for words.


Gaby & Tycho Signing
I fucked up by actually having them sign stuff. It was all business, and that's sad. Next year I'm not going to have them sign anything and just say how glad I am to be there and make sure Gabe understands how proud I am of him for defending childhood. That (combined with the response he got) was one of the greatest things I've read in a long time.

Console Freeplay
The most fun I had at PAX was learning to play Mario Strikers Charged with three other PAXers. In the couple hours we had, we only managed to win one round (not match, just round) against the level three AI, but it didn't matter. Every goal was a victory and a very loud one, at that. My apologies to anyone we may have thrown off their game, but yes, we were having that much fun.

Everything Else
The organizers and Enforcers did a damn fine job. Things ran ridiculously smoothly. It was awesome. I need to volunteer next year.

PAX 2007: The Games

Here's the rundown of the games I played at PAX and how I felt about them. There are a number of other games I watched, but I'll keep those opinions to myself for now.

Recently Released Games

Evil Pikmin. I never got very far in Pikmin 2 (the only Pikmin I own), but the joy of watching goblins wreck stuff would probably keep me playing Overlord for longer. It certainly kept the people watching me play it entertained. The lack of a map is a significant fun killer and time waster, though. I'd look around for a good FAQ or set of maps online before trying to have fun with this one.

Mario Strikers Charged
This was my favorite game of PAX. But it's also the only co-op I played at PAX, so that stands to reason. No game is as exciting as the crazy kids (Hey Tyson!) who scream and high five after every goal, especially if you're one of them. My big ass thumbs would often hit the home button when trying to pass under duress, and jumping up to the D-pad for sliding was awkward. Perhaps I should have rested my thumb on the D-pad, but that didn't feel right. Maybe my hands are just too big. Is anyone ever going to release first party controllers in more than one size?

Unreleased Games

Castle Crashers
I was never that thrilled about Castle Crashers. Then I played it. I'm still not thrilled, but I'm pleased. It's still impossible too see what's going on when the special attacks are flying, but it's a good casual game. Online co-op would be the big draw.

Hacking off appendages is fun. Doing the special kills when you parry at just the right time is cool (although I don't play enough Xbox to remember where the buttons are to pull them off regularly). The health jugs that Conan chugalugs to regain health are a nice touch. You do feel like your fighting the exact same guys over and over though.

De Blob
I played it twice. It's reminds me a little of Jet Grind Radio without the actual grinding. I didn't see much variety in the tasks you undertake, but then it was just a few minutes with a demo.

I couldn't get into the controls at all. There didn't seem to be any reason to not fly with the left thumbstick as it's only function (letting you look around) caused so much motion blur it was more harm than help. Also, constantly kicking your dragon for speed got old almost instantly. Maybe I just need more practice to get the feel of the game, but it's looking like Lair may well deserve that 6.5 from EGM.


I'd heard this game had a troubled development. It looked like one of the better FPS at the show to me, so it looks like they went back and did the right thing. At the end of the day, I predict fail for it though. It feels rather like Project: Snowblind, a competent effort without enough setting it apart to draw a big audience.

Killing stuff with a knife is fun. I'm hoping for a PC version. I'm rubbish at aiming with thumbsticks.

Metroid Prime 3
I was really worried after playing with the menus and reading the reviews of Red Steel that the Wiimote couldn't do shooters. The Prime 3 demo made me a believer. Sure, it's still a tich laggy, but it was good enough, and yanking robots out of the air with the grapple was cool. A lot of people take issue with it's linear design as opposed to the old exploration based Metroid games, but I got bored searching and quit every Metroid game I've played thus far, so it's all good for me.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Some people (mostly Shane Bettenhausen) are raving about this game. Why is that? Aiming is meh. The cover mechanics aren't anything new. The slo-mo during melee felt forced and out of place. Everything's so green it's easy to get turned around. (Did I miss some sort of goal indicator?) And your movement abilities aren't new or interesting. It looked nice, but not nearly nice enough to justify the hype.

Wrap Up

Despite the number of games I played at PAX, I don't feel like I played much of anything that was actually new. Even BioShock, the game everybody was talking about, is an evolutionary branch on the Looking Glass tree which goes all the way back to Ultima Underworld. That said, there were a lot of solid, fun titles I'll be happy to pick out of the bargain bin by the time the new console or PC I'll need to play them on is at a decent price point.