I said that the gameplay in Advent Rising is largely about running around and shooting stuff, and that’s broadly true, but it’s not the only sort of interaction you get. There are driving sequences, of the sort you get in the likes of Halo and Half-Life 2, where you can get out of the vehicle and walk around whenever you want, but you ultimately need it to complete your mission, usually because there’s a gap or barrier you can only get past with a turbo-assisted jump. As is typical for a car in a shooting game, ramming your enemies is a much quicker and more effective way to kill them than shooting at them: some of the enemies even have shields that can stop a barrage of future-machine-gun fire but not a car, which makes me wonder what the car’s got going on that the bullets don’t. Maybe it’s made of the same stuff as all those rotating fans in various games.
There are also bits involving stationary anti-aircraft turrets, which means shooting but not running around. (You can think of the driving sequences as a form of running around without shooting, I suppose. Add in the lengthy inter-chapter cutscenes as neither running around nor shooting and you’ve got a complete set of combinations.) Like the turbo-jeeps, these are things you can mount and dismount at will, and the presence of a turret doesn’t automatically mean that there’s anything worth shooting with it. By now, I’ve even used a turret on an alien vessel. It was remarkably like the ones built by humans, just styled differently. I’m not sure why that bothers me more than the fact that their sidearms work just like ours.
But really, it’s just a specific application of something that’s generally true in this game: that all environments, regardless of what alien species built them, use the same interactive components, such as doors, elevator platforms, and control panels. You have to learn to recognize them, mind you. The friendly aliens (as opposed to the ones you spend your time shooting) seem to have evolved from something aquatic, and have technology based around control of water — the cutscene of docking at their ship shows your shuttle splashing into a pool to dock, which I suppose makes sense as a somewhat literal way to dampen your inertia. The doors on their ship are rippling mirrors that look like they’re made of quicksilver, which you simply step through instead of opening them. But in terms of functionality, they’re exactly like the doors back home. Human doors in this game have a color-coded strip at the top that’s red when a door is locked, cyan when it’s unlocked. The liquid doors have a subtler indicator showing whether they’re permeable at the moment, and it takes a little trial and error to learn to recognize it.
But then, learning is what that section of the game is about, I suppose. Once you’re onboard the ship of the friendly aliens — I can’t even remember whether we’ve been given a species name for them or not — you learn that the reason that the centaur-like unfriendly aliens — called the Seekers — are trying to exterminate the human race is that humans have this incredible unrealized psychic potential, which you then get trained to use in a noninteractive montage. Once you’ve got them, the game’s ambitions are finally clear. It’s not trying to be Star Trek. It’s not trying to be Mass Effect. (It was released a year too early for that anyway.) It’s trying to be Jedi Knight. Seriously, your special powers are the equivalent of Force Push, Force Throw, and Force Jump. Armed with these, you immediately get put into an assault mission on the surface of a Seeker battleship, where you can dispatch enemies by just plucking them up and throwing them off into space.
Not being a Star Wars title probably helps the game here. For one thing, it’s free to develop these powers — their uses, their visuals — any way it wants, rather than being tied to movie canon. Also, I remember playing Jedi Knight and being impatient with the early sections, before you get your Jedi training. I mean, it said “Jedi” right there in the title, but it was holding back on me. It was like buying a game called, say, “Tank Driver”, and then finding out that you spend the first two hours of the game crawling through trenches to reach the base where the tanks are. Sure, Advent Rising had blurbs on the box promising powers, but there was no way of telling how prominent they would be.
It turns out they’re pretty prominent. This game lets you wield two guns at a time, one in each hand, each controlled by one of the gamepad’s trigger buttons. (Yes, I’m playing this with a gamepad now. It’s really designed for it.) Powers work the same way, which is to say, in order to use them, you have to give up one of your gun slots. I’ve pretty much permanently assigned one trigger to Force Push, and I’m contemplating just going full Jedi and not using guns at all. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that the game keeps bringing in new types of gun, some of which are situationally useful.
So, there’s a good variety of action in this game, and a good amount of it, too. And it’s often tough enough to make me die repeatedly (and not always because of camera control issues). I was a little surprised about this, considering how the opening chapter seemed to be going for a more cinematic experience, with lots of cutscenes and lots of walking around just to show off the sets. The one sort of action that’s conspicuously absent is space combat. Space battles are a big part of the story, and on top of that, the player character is supposed to be primarily a pilot. He takes down a Seeker fighter squadron in a cutscene, but the only time I’ve had control of a ship so far is that shuttle in the prologue. Perhaps the script was written before they decided not to include a space combat mechanic.