Advent Rising

The name of Orson Scott Card is a familiar one to all but the most casual fans of science-fiction literature. His work, Ender’s Game received both the Hugo and Nebula awards and his involvement would certainly lend any 0title a level of credibility from the get go, even more so when one considers that Card only agreed to help out on the title because he was so confident that the game would be spectacular without his involvement. According to sources, once the concept for the story and gameplay had been fleshed out, the designers sought out the opinion of their favorite author. Card agreed to give them half an hour of his time at a book signing and ended up spending four hours discussing the game before eventually agreeing to contribute to it. Card’s terms? That he be allowed to write a book taking place in the Advent Rising universe after the game’s release, rewrite the dialogue, and direct the voice acting sessions. So essentially, these Orson Scott Card fans were not only going to have their favorite author work with them on a game, they were going to have him write a book about the universe they created…I wish I could have seen the expressions on their faces when they made that deal.

The game takes place in another universe, much older than our own, where various races of intelligent life have been interacting both peacefully and, at times, violently with their interplanetary neighbors. It is, in a sense, a world just like our own and at the same time, entirely different. Although the cultural divides between these races are understandably massive, one common thread links them together on a near-spiritual level: the legend of the race known as the humans. Believed to be ancient, god-like creatures with unfathomable power, myths of these creatures permeate through the culture of every race on record. While some see the myth as nothing more than an important unifying bond for the different races, others feel that the myth was true – that humans do, in fact, exist somewhere in the unexplored areas of the universe, and that their arrival would be the key to deliverance. Humans did, in fact, exist but only one race was aware of that – the Seekers. The Seekers relentlessly scoured the universe for any signs of humanity, and upon finding any, mercilessly exterminated it – all done under the pretense of being peaceful explorers. You take control of the game’s lead character, Gideon – a human, during the onset of an attack by the Seekers on his home planet.

Graphically the game looks simply phenomenal. Glyphx Games has clearly chosen not to concentrate on making everything look 100% realistic, but rather to focus their efforts on infusing every character and locale with so much personality and color, that one gets the impression that they are witnessing the hybrid of comic books and animation, as opposed to simply another step along the march to photorealism. While some may feel this artistic choice does not accurately reflect the serious subject matter and scientific base which the genre is steeped in, we challenge anyone to look at the concept art, screenshots, or high resolution trailers of this game and truthfully say they do not find it beautiful. That creative decision aside, the game clearly has a sophisticated graphics engine behind it – a heavily modified version of the Unreal engine, in fact. Each character model is composed of a hefty number of polygons and covered in gorgeous textures that create the aforementioned ’look’. Also contributing to that look is the game’s lighting, which is just downright beautiful; ample use of ambient colored lighting, in addition to dynamic lighting from muzzle flashes and plasma blasts add immensely to the action onscreen. While beautiful, the game was still only about half-way through development when footage for the trailer was compiled, and the lack of final polish is most evident [graphically] in terms of the animation. While individual animations, such as the main character’s running or jumping animations are fluid, the transitions from one action’s animation to another is somewhat jerky. Furthermore, enemies react awkwardly in the midst of being peppered with attacks from point blank range, looking almost as if they’re having spasms while attempting to ‘do the robot’. These animation problems will more than likely be smoothed out before the game hits shelves this fall.

From the gameplay footage we’ve seen, it seems that Gideon is more than capable of defending himself from the Seekers, so long as he is not completely outnumbered (20 to 1 odds; not good). The player has the opportunity to utilize an assortment of jumps and evasive techniques that are both spectacular to watch and useful for avoiding enemy fire, including a backwards flip that not only distances you from an enemy, but serves as a somersault kick as well. Trained as a soldier, the human savior also appears to be fully qualified with several classes of weaponry, from pistols, through assault rifles, all the way up to rocket launchers as well as various energy weapons – most of which he is capable of firing whilst flipping and dodging. Of course, why use one gun when you can use two? Gameplay footage clearly illustrates that the player will be able to dual-wield weapons, not to mention various combinations of weaponry. Whilst wielding two weapons, the player can either focus both guns on one enemy or track two different enemies. One scene shows Gideon firing upon one Seeker with a pistol-sized weapon. When another Seeker makes its presence felt, Gideon takes an assault rifle off his back and tracks the second Seeker, while keeping the pistol on the first. Awesome. Sources say that the lock-on mechanism works via the right analog stick – flicking the stick in the direction of an enemy will cause you to lock onto it.

If outnumbered or outgunned, Gideon has the ability to find cover and lean against a wall, in the vein of Solid Snake or Sam Fisher, and pivot around the corner to return fire (with both pistols if necessary) before returning to a secure position. There was also one piece of gameplay footage that took place from a first-person vantage point, in which Gideon was engaging a Seeker in a fire-fight inside the confines of a corridor. It seems unlikely that Glyphx would make the perspective a stage-specific variable; it is more likely that the player will be able to change the perspective on the fly. Finally, Gideon was shown at the helm of a variety of vehicles throughout the footage; however it could not be confirmed whether the player could take command of such vehicles at any time or if there were specific stages where they would be used. In any case, watching Gideon employ all these abilities as he battles Seekers in an assortment of combat situations is a joy to behold.

As a member of the mythical human race, you have powers beyond that of the other mortal species. Throughout the footage there are several instances where Gideon employs what appear to be telekinetic powers, the most notable of which sees our unarmed hero confronted by three Seekers on a glass covered walkway. He rears back and extends his arms as if pushing something in front of him; the telekinetic force unleashed levels the three Seekers, and shatters every inch of glass in a breathtaking display of power. The player will learn such powers, including levitation and super speed, over the course of the game as he unravels the truth of his race. This character growth will be augmented by the implementation of the ‘RPG Light’ system. In essence, the system boils down to the simple mantra of ‘practice makes perfect’. The more the player has Gideon perform a certain action, the better he will become at doing so. For example, the more the player jumps throughout the game, the higher they will be able to jump by the conclusion. The more times that he employs his ability to sneak carefully, the faster and quieter he will be able to move while in such a mode of transportation. Assuming this system extends to every facet of the gameplay, Gideon could be a remarkably different character at the end of any given play through. If your play style is that of a silent stalker who picks his spots wisely, than at the end of the game your sneaking and sniping abilities will be dramatically enhanced, while your evasive and aggressive combat abilities will be weaker by comparison. Accordingly, if you choose to use an aggressive play style, then Gideon will likely be a fast, agile warrior with impressive close-range weapons skills. This development creates new choices for how to deal with situations, while making other choices less feasible. Such a feature could make playing through the game a second time an entirely different experience, and would enhance replay value tremendously.

While the combat and RPG elements look utterly fantastic, it is the intimate connection between the story and gameplay that Glphyx Games hopes will truly set Advent Rising apart. Glyphx Games hopes to make the game such that the player will think over every decision they make throughout the game, regardless of whether the choice will obviously affect the plot or not. Big decisions will have huge immediate and long-term consequences on the game, while smaller seemingly innocuous choices will also send out waves that may alter the direction of the game only slightly. The game effectively becomes a choose-your-own-adventure novel, as every choice has consequences – both for you, and the world around you. Like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic before it, many of the choices riddled throughout the game will have a moral base. However, unlike KOTOR, in which there was almost always a clearly good and clearly evil choice, in Advent Rising, the righteous path is not always so clear. For example, one of the first decisions the player will make in the game comes when Gideon is attempting to escape an alien attack along with his brother Ethan, and his fiancée. His brother is already hurt and as they approach the pod Gideon’s fiancée is shot in the leg. Gideon is only able to carry one of his loved ones to the escape pod with him – who does he choose? Or rather, who do you choose? The decision you make here will alter the entire game from that point on, as will the next decision and the one after that. The final number of endings for the game hasn’t been released, but if Glyphx Games manage to reach the ambitious goal they have set for themselves, there will have to be quite a few. While the malleable nature of the storyline may be enough of a gameplay hook, it’s only approximately a third of the hook Glyphx Games is planning on creating. Advent Rising is only the first part of a trilogy (both of the sequels will be written by Orson Scott Card, as well), and the storyline choices that you make in the first game will permeate throughout the entire saga. At this point it is unknown if the sequel will read the save game off the hard drive, resulting in the game world changing to comply with the decisions made during the first game, or if the player will be given a code to enter at the beginning of the next title (which would be likely if the saga crosses into the next generation of consoles). The number of permutations for how the entire saga can be played through becomes immense, and the replay value increases to a ridiculous degree.

For their first entry into the gaming industry, Glyphx Games is attempting to create one of the most ambitious gameplay experiences ever conceived, and if successful, could provide the biggest creative advance in the industry since the ability to display words on a monitor. Over the last few years, developers have become skilled at infusing gaming experiences with cinematic flair, and engaging narratives. Utilizing techniques perfected over the decades on other mediums of entertainment, developers have created deeper, more enjoyable experiences for gamers – however, it has always been the gameplay alone that truly sets gaming apart. The ability to experience a narrative and interact with characters and events was the only thing that set gaming apart from its closest cousin, cinema. If Glyphx Games succeeds, they would essentially be widening the divide even further. Instead of developers delivering pre-set narratives for us to play through, they would provide templates for an experience that would change dynamically based on the actions the player takes. Such a feat would simply not be possible on any other medium, and would only serve to make the gaming experience even more immersive.

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