I was hoping to have rented Lord of the Rings: Conquest this weekend, to play with Biscuits and review for this week, but... well I suppose I won't bother with my weekend story. I didn't get around to it, and that's that. Maybe next weekend, though if the XBL demo is any indication, there isn't much to look forward too.
In lieu of doing a review that's pertinent to, well, anything, I've decided to look back on a rather under appreciated game from back in '05.
The hook to Advent Rising is that the story was written by the well known sci-fi author Orson Scott Card. This didn't mean much to me, however, since I've never actually read any of his books. Really, the plot isn't anything all that special. It's well done, but the idea has been done before. In short form, the human race, living on some planet that I can't remember the name of, is visited by an alien species called the Aurelians. The Aurelians worship the humans as gods, and have been searching for the last remaining human refuge to pay homage. Unfortunately, they have been unwittingly followed by another race, called the Seekers, who are trying to wipe out the human race. I won't explain why, but it does get rather interesting by the end. There are a couple choices you have to make that will affect the ending in small ways, and a very interesting scene after the credits, so don't you dare quit when they start rolling.
The game's real greatness comes from its gameplay. Once again, it's nothing terribly new, although you can dual wield any weapon in the game, including rocket launchers. However, after a couple levels, the Aurelians help our protagonist unlock the innate potential that apparently makes humans worthy of being worshiped. Essentially, you become a Jedi, and its damn fun. Every few levels, you unlock a new ability. Each ability has two forms, and the game maintains the two hand system, so you can equip a power to either hand, or two forms of the same power, or a power and a weapon.
Powers, weapons and combat skills are leveled up through use. If you're in the mood, you could max out most of the weapons, the jump ability, and your melee skills, in the first level. Of course that's hardly efficient, but it can be fun on a second or third play through. And yes, you will play it a second and third time. It's certainly fun enough, and the simple leveling system is just enough to allow players to customize their playing style. You could play through the game using only the plasma pistol and assault rifle, or you could max out Lift and Surge by the time you reach Aurelia, and never switch powers again.
The game has very pretty, if not really realistic, graphics in the cutscenes, and otherwise they're acceptable by today's standards. The environments are varied enough to be interesting, the powers look cool, and occasional use of slow motion highlights the cooler attacks and abilities. The characters are also fairly well developed, especially compared to the cardboard cutouts that infect most big games nowadays. Unfortunately, Advent Rising had a very small budget, and it can be seen in the number of glitches there are. Most of them are easy enough to overcome. However, if you've played through a couple times and want to feel more powerful, be advised that the cheat console occasionally causes the game to crash.
The game is great fun, and easily worth the $9.99 it costs on Steam. Be warned however, it ends with a terrible cliffhanger, and it's no longer likely that a sequel is ever going to made, because of the poor critical and popular reception. I've never been one to take a critical viewpoint, or especially a popular one, as the final word. If you're looking for some inexpensive fun, and you don't mind fighting through a few bugs, you should definitely take a look at this gem. Don't expect it to change your life, but it will certainly stay with you longer than, say, Gears of War.
It's apparently really hard to find a good gameplay video of Advent Rising. Here's a trailer that gives an okay presentation of the powers and combat system. It's a little too heavy on the cutscenes, but it's better than most of the other options. Also, in case you're wondering, the contest mentioned at the end of the trailer was canceled, so don't bother.
P.S.: It occurs to me that I should mention, apparently the Xbox 360 hasn't been updated to support Advent Rising, and probably won't be. This means that if you don't have an old Xbox, you'll have to get it on PC.