I'll have a Kung Pow rice with a fist full of noodles please!
Q:What do you get when you cross Sony Computer Entertainment Europe with the vision of Cory Yuen and the martial arts prowess of Jet Li?
A: Rise to Honour.
Rise is Jet Li's first break into the game industry, it's not based on any of his movies nor is it a tie in to anything he's done, this is a total game project and as so it works on so many levels.
Enter Kit Yun (Jet Li) a badass undercover cop who could have been drawn out of any of Li's films, or indeed any of the Hong Kong action genre's many heroes and anti-heroes. Kit's a hard man who has infiltrated deep into a local gang, gotten close to the boss and from the moment the game opens up the story hits you like a locomotive going 200 mph.
The story, not to spoil it, is typical HKA stuff and fits perfectly for a game of this type.
Rise could be considered from this standpoint as a bit of a no-brainer, but its at least more fun than the majority of so-called fighting games out there. The gameplay is linear and leads you down a set path, but the fun is in getting there. There are several modes of play to Rise: Kicking Ass, GunFu, SneakFu and Run like Blazes. These modes are named by me, not by the designers.
The game uses an interesting control system that relies on the combination of the left stick and right stick, the left controls Li's movement and the right allows you to execute various attacks in a variety of directions. This is a must as you are often confronted by numerous enemies all out to lay the smackdown on Kit.
Block is on R1 and when held down is context sensitive depending upon a number of factors, the result is a fluid system that actually looks cinematic and works very well once you get used to it.
Counters can be performed by holding L1 and R1 and hitting the direction at the right time, with the right stick, again Kit performs some textbook HKA attacks that are the meat and bone of the martial arts cinema world.
Drag your enemy when grabbed, to a wall or likely surface and tap the right stick when the icon at the top appears and you'll perform a neat context sensitive move. Like smashing your foe off a wall, desk or other surface, to hurling them off a walkway to their death.
Grabs are performed by holding R1 and tapping the right stick in the direction of the foe, once you have the foe in your grasp. A quick tap of the right stick will cause Kit to lay down some serious martial arts on their person, again superbly done.
Combos are a simple matter of tapping the right stick several times in various directions, this results in fluid motions that chain effortlessly together and depending upon how you do, will trigger a short slow-motion camera sequence of the poor mook's demise.
Pressing and holding L1 when your adrenaline meter (red bar) is flashing causes Kit's attacks to become more powerful, drains your bar and triggers a slow motion effect, not to mention even more devastating attacks/combos that could be right out of a Li movie. Some of his trademark moves are rendered here right down to perfection.
You have a block gauge and certain moves deplete this along with your adrenaline bar, so the battles are a little more tactical than in your run-of-the-mill fighting games.
Li isn't just armed with his fists either there are a variety of weapons, each with their own special attacks and counters depending on a variety of things, such as mook position and where Kit is in relation to an object in the game world.
This mode isn't as well thought out as the Kung Fu section of the game, usually there will be a few neat surprises in store for you however as you get a pair of guns and go bullet to bullet with the baddies. The controls are a little tricky in this section to get used to, and you often find yourself wishing for the ability to pop out from hiding and shoot, then pop back in.
Sadly, I couldn't get that to happen.
You can hide and you can shoot, that's about it.
The adrenaline meter allows you to perform a bullet-dive just like in the Matrix and there's a fair few mooks to fill full of lead.
Kit auto targets the nearest goon when you hold the right stick in their direction, pressing the shoulder button unleashes a hail of bullets, there's no ammo to worry about and you get the impression that this section was rushed in the design. It works, just not as well as it should do.
You're not allowed to be seen in these sections, they involve timing and being able to solve simple puzzles to advance. Kit can chop the guards on the back of the neck, or perform a grab on them (usually unleashing a killing move to break their necks).
If you're seen, its game over. Fortunately the game uses a fairly intelligent checkpoint system that allows you to restart (very quickly) a section you failed.
Run like Blazes:
Chases are another staple of this HKA genre and in Rise they're implemented when the tables are turned on our hero, he finds himself out gunned by a helicopter and has to leg it to safety. Tap the R1 button at the right time when the icon appears and you can flip over obstructions and various traps, all the time you're dodging the gunfire and running this way and that. These sections can be quite fun and are not too hard, but timing is required, in some, almost perfect timing.
If I hit it, does it react, aka Physics?
Throwing an enemy into another enemy will cause them to fall over, smashing people with chairs and smashing people into things, will cause the environment to react nicely. There's a good amount of destructible scenery and breakable objects, in the Kung Fu and Gunfight sections of the game. Not quite up to the glories of the Havoc 2.0 engine, but still shining through as a solid physics engine in its own right, it provides enough physical destructive enjoyment to add to the gameplay.
Motion Captured Moves
Every combatant and move in Rise is beautifully and fluidly motion captured, right down to the way Li moves and fights. You can actually see Li's prowess in action in the game, where most of these types of game usually fall down and the main character looks and acts stilted, this game captures the feeling of being the Hong Kong action star down to the bone-crunching fists of fury action. I have to say the animation is gorgeous in this game.
Along with MoCap, Rise also features a decent facial capture and animation system that brings the games characters to life. The models of the various combatants are solidly created and brought to life, I have no gripes at all I can think of.
Camera Work/Level Design/Textures
Rise's level design is pretty cool throughout the game, the various levels are well put together and the camera follows through without too much trouble, using a variety of angles to facilitate the action and heighten the drama of the game, by far the coolest feature is the use of the HKA style slow-mo cameras as you fight and leap over obstacles.
Texturing is well done through the game, there are no clipping issues and the PS2 pumps out some non-washy textures, its brash and hard, just like the HKA genre. I think it's a perfect marriage with the level design.
Bone crunching and face smashing punches and kicks are reproduced along with the growl of gunfire, thanks to the help of sound designers who know the HKA genre, no complaints here from this lupine in that area.
The music is perfect and compliments the action without being intrusive.
Li and the rest of the game's cast (mostly HKA actors and voice artists) provided the game's dialogue and this lends an authentic feel to the game. You can also choose to have the subtitles and voice work in a mix of English or Cantonese depending where you are in the game.
HKA purists might want to have English subtitles and Cantonese dialogue when in Hong Kong for instance.
The AI in Rise varies depending on who you're fighting, some of the minor henchmen act differently to the many mooks, some of them you'll take down without a sweat and some will have advanced attack and defence tactics that require you to adapt your play style to suit. Some of the boss characters are really hard to beat in places and this adds an edge to the game, that may put semi-gamers off but will appeal to the hardcore 'beat-em-up' crowd.
Innovations and the last cool word
Yeah, I'd say this game has some nice innovations, from the nice counter system that works with the environment to the last feature I had to leave till now, co-operative attacks. Sometimes you'll find that you're fighting alongside a friend and you can perform a grab on them, depending what you do with the right stick after that, the duo will perform a two-person attack on their enemies.
Slow-mo isn't new and it's pretty mainstream now, but Rise is really the only game to implement HKA style camera-work and direction with any kind of success barring the excellent Max Payne 1 and 2.
So there you have it, it's not quite a star game and it could be considered the same-old same-old after a while of play, since the various battles happen frequently and there's a lot of mooks to deal with of all shapes and sizes. It is however a good mix of game styles and will keep Li's fans happy while they wait for another movie.