Rise to Honour
Jet Li lends his likeness and considerable martial arts talent to a game that is more flash than substance. The final verdict inside.
By Kikizo Staff
Rise to Honour could, for all intents and purposes, be a Jet Li movie. It features his likeness, his voice and his martial arts abilities in all their motion-captured glory. Choreography is provided by Cory Yuen and the script, without spoiling anything, comprises the expected agglomeration of plot elements found in most of Jet Li's western portfolio: a murdered father; an aging, repentant crime boss; a power-hungry underling and everything else in between. What this does of course, is set the stage for a series of increasingly outlandish set pieces in which Jet Li's (or more accurately, the character played by him, Kit Yun) fate is controlled by the player. In effect, Rise to Honour is an interactive Hong Kong action movie -- and no doubt the game was pitched using similar terminology.
The interactive elements, as it were, are comprised of two primary mechanics: fighting and shooting. And in true kung-fu movie tradition, these sequences pit Jet against seemingly insurmountable odds. In order to effectively deal with the swarm of enemies encountered in such situations, the right-analog stick is employed to allow players to execute attacks in whichever direction the stick is pressed; deftly timed flicks will see Jet perform a sequence of attacks. Holding a combination of shoulder buttons in conjunction with the right-analog stick facilitates the use of grabs, throws, blocks and counters and even allows for the invocation of an 'adrenaline meter' during which time players are able to unleash a flurry of devastating attacks. A particularly effective string of attacks is often accompanied by a slow-motion cutscene depicting the final blow, before then returning to the action. Initially, these are rather impressive, but because they are interjected liberally throughout the action their effect is considerably lessened (almost to the point of irritation) during the course of play.
Having acquired the weapons in a precursory cutscene, the shooting sections see Jet taking on armed villains in Max Payne-esque feats of gunplay. Here, the right-analog stick is used to aim independently of Jet's movement, allowing players to target enemies while maneuvering or running for cover. Engaging the 'adrenaline meter' in these sequences enables Jet to perform a slow-motion dive, the use of which allows him to target and eliminate characters in short order. The momentary invulnerability provided during these dives is also helpful when attempting to find cover, as staying out in the open will more than likely see Jet Li's character cut down by automatic gunfire. Ammunition is unlimited, which naturally results in suitably chaotic firefights.
Augmenting these set pieces are a variety of sequences, such as Shenmue QTE-style events in which players must press the R1 button at the right moment in order to jump over/under/between obstacles, usually while avoiding gunfire; rudimentary stealth missions that charge players with avoiding detection; one-on-one firefights; sliding through a hospital on a gurney while armed to the teeth; and a game of cat-and-mouse with a trigger-happy sniper. It's a pity that many of these were not fleshed out more -- the QTE events, for instance, utilize only one button, making them somewhat more mundane than would have otherwise been the case. In all, Rise to Honour provides a moderate selection of disparate challenges but these do get overly repetitive, and are hampered by the fact that some, often based on an exceedingly simple premise, drag on far too long. The Biker Encounter is one such sequence that springs immediately to mind.
At their best, the fighting sequences in Rise to Honour mimic Jet Li's on-screen antics almost perfectly. Players will parry, counter and dodge attacks while also sneaking in a rapid series of blows against upwards of six and seven characters at a time. At their worst, these fight sequences are awkward and frustrating. Players are constantly mobbed by enemies and the deficiencies of a zombie-like AI system are compensated for through sheer numbers. Some characters require players to employ a modicum of restraint in that one must first parry a number of blows, or throw a number of unsuccessful blows to entice the enemy to retaliate before attempting to find an opening in their defenses. Combat is not as satisfying an experience as it could or should've been, but it has its appeal in short play sessions.
Clearly, a great deal of effort, and emphasis, was placed on the motion-captured animation of Jet Li. And perhaps rightfully so, because these are by far and away the highlight of the game's visuals. And as is often the case with motion-captured animation, Jet Li's moves look best when chained into a sequence of flowing, near mesmerizing attacks. Transitional animations, however, fare significantly worse, making characters appear stiff and robotic. And therein lies the problem with much of the game: it's inconsistency. At times the animation is truly beautiful to behold, and yet at others characters are falling, landing, and jumping in almost comical fashion. At times the high-energy gameplay is entertaining, and at others it is overly repetitive and needlessly frustrating.
Visually, the game is a solid, if unremarkable achievement. Jet Li's likeness is reasonably accurate: his movement is, for the most part, dead-on but his bloated facial features ensure a far from exacting facsimile. The environments, a diverse panoply of arenas that span half the world from Hong Kong to San Francisco, offer an interesting and ever-changing backdrop to proceedings but provide only minimal interaction, allowing players to pick up and hurl chairs and garbage bins at enemies or kick them (or be kicked yourself) into crates, benches and the like.
The soundtrack is suitably appropriate, though it is often drowned out by the wails, screams and taunts of characters or the, at times, incessant gunfire. Dialogue is performed in both, Cantonese and English (the former augmented with subtitles) depending on whether players find themselves in Hong Kong or America -- alternatively, players can elect to listen to English dialogue throughout. As an aside, one can't help but laugh at some of the intentionally (at least, we assume the writers were aping classic HK movies of years gone by) funny dialogue. In one particular encounter, an enemy yells, 'Guns are everywhere.' Given the situation and the actor's delivery, it comes across as typical of the poor translation so prevalent in the early years of the genre.
Among the requisite unlockable items are artwork, and music tracks from the title as well as additional Jet Li character models and rendered martial arts demonstrations. One of the more interesting special features included on the disc is a behind-the-scenes look at the motion-capture process that includes interviews with Jet Li and Cory Yuen. In all, a modest collection of extras. Perhaps more interviews or time spent detailing the development process would have made this a must-have item for collectors.
Like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan before him, Jet Li's foray into the world of videogames pales in comparison to his on-screen antics. Still, despite a number of problems (mostly related to the scope of the title) Rise to Honour is recommended as a rental and perhaps even a purchase from the more rabid sect of Jet Li fans. If nothing else, it certainly tells a decent story... relatively speaking of course.
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Rise to Honor Video 1:
Jet Li's first videogame looks cool - see this direct-feed footage for evidence.
Rise to Honor Video 2:
The trailer as shown at Sony's conference, with comments from Sony and Jet Li himself.