Rise to Honor

Rise to Honor

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 2/26/2004 for PS2  

I was there when Sony unveiled Rise to Honor to the rest of the world at San Francisco in the fall of 2002. To me and the rest of the gaming press it seemed like a very monumental event as it was one of the first marquee titles to feature a big-time actor that had so much direct input on the game. Forget about watching Jet Li act in the movies, in Rise to Honor you would be Jet Li and you’d experience firsthand just how lethal his craft was. As I watched some of the guys from Sony’s Foster City-based studio demonstrate some of the game’s more cinematic elements I began to drool and salivate over the title. This was a year and a half ago, the gaming world has changed and it seems like Rise to Honor has been left behind. Seeing the game in action is one thing but actually playing it is an entirely different story.

You’re cast as Kit Yun, a character who embellishes every single kung fu movie cliché that you can possibly imagine. He’s an undercover cop who’s taken a role in the Hong Kong underworld to bring down the lifestyle that led to his father’s death. Since Yun has ties to Hong Kong he’s a master of the martial arts who has the ability to take on multiple foes at once while looking like a perpetually worried Jet Li. I’ll concede that the idea of stepping into Jet Li’s shoes is a pretty appetizing invitation and the fact that he’s brought along Corey Yung, his fight choreographer, only helps matters. Then I forgot that all of Li’s Americanized movies have been absolute filth and that he hasn’t shined since his old Hong Kong action days. It’s funny because that’s something that really typifies what Rise to Honor is about, feeling dated and looking way past its prime.

If you’ve seen any Hong Kong action flick in the past decade or so you pretty much have a good idea of how Rise to Honor’s story pans out. Every character is pretty much an archetype that fits into one extreme stereotype. For instance you’ve got the do-good hero in Yun, the ass-kicking heroine in Michelle, the bumbling buddy in Chi and the mysterious superior figure in Lau. From the moment you meet the characters you can pretty much dictate their fate on the account of the unwritten rules of the HK action flicks. So when you see one of the supporting characters take a bullet or see a key character turn on you it’s not too much a surprise because you’ve been sitting around patiently, waiting for it to happen. In fact, you’ll do a lot of sitting around in Rise to Honor because most of the game’s real action takes place during the cutscenes. Most of the cool stuff that happens in the game, including the bad guy’s ultimate comeuppance, takes place via PS2 controlled cutscenes.

In addition to assuming Li’s likeness you’re also assuming his persona. This means that his whole arsenal of jabs, kicks and back fist elbows are at the tips of your fingers. In order to unleash your fury you’ll be utilizing the much touted 360 degree fighting system that Sony’s Foster City studios were proudly touting a year and a half ago. Basically the system calls for a complete deviation from the face buttons and maps out all of the attacks to the right analog stick. All of your attacks are relative to your position on the screen so tapping the right analog stick will cause Kit to attack away from the screen while tapping it to the left will force him to attack to his left. By using rhythmic presses you can unleash combinations that will deal out damage to your foes. This sounds all good in practice but actually getting the damn system to function is a whole ‘nether story.We all know just how unstable the analog sticks can be, hell I have a difficult time utilizing it properly to operate the swing mechanism in Tiger Woods 2004 at times. Now imagine consistently tapping in the same direction with tact and precision on a consistent basis. As anyone who has played Blade II can attest, it’s much harder than it actually sounds. In fact the game doesn’t even refer to the movements are precise maneuvers, the tutorial tells you to “slap” the sticks in the desired direction which gives me a sense that it lacks control and precision. To make things worse the combat system was basically designed with black ninja style combat in mind. This means that you essentially just stand there and wait for the enemy to bring the fight to you instead of taking it to them. So you’ll find yourself entering a room, waiting for enemies to surround you and only then will you be able to make your move. To make things even more frustrating your character has a very short reach for his attacks. This is compounded by the fact that you need to remain stationary in order to execute any of the game’s more effective maneuvers. It should be noted that the system works exceptionally well when you’re dealing with multiple foes but the one-on-one combat, namely the boss battles, are just horribly awkward and unintuitive.

What makes this even worse is that the game utilizes a formula that hearkens back to the 8-bit days. Your basic levels goes like this: enter a contained area, beat up six guys, beat up six more guys who magically appear from off-screen, move to next area and repeat. Some of these battles are just horribly annoying, especially one that takes place in a church later on in the game and one that takes place in a sewer system towards the end of the game. I don’t know if the guys at Foster City realized this yet but getting hit with 20 combo after 20 hit combo is annoying as hell and really tends to grate on the nerves. We get the point already, just have him do a couple of hits and yield the same amount of damage, no one wants to be subjected to Killer Instinct-like combos for 5 minutes straight.

Things fare a little better when you’re forced into firearm combat situations. Since this game has roots in Hong Kong glitz and glamour your character has an infinite amount of ammo. Like every other shooter to come out in the past three years you can perform a shoot dive that allows you to jump at enemies with your guns ablazing. You can also utilize cover although for some strange reason but there’s no effective way to fire upon foes and return to your position a la kill.switch. The actual gunfight system works rather well and reminds me of a 3rd person variant of Midway’s Smash TV. Move with the left analog stick, direct your guns with the right analog stick and then fire away. When combined with the cover and shoot dive systems you’d expect a frantic and exciting gameplay element but the ineptitude of your enemies kills whatever momentum it was hoping to surmount. You can literally just stand in the middle of the level and mow down all of your enemies while their bullets whiz right past your head. Again, the challenge is beefed up in the later level but not on the part of the enemy’s AI but because of the absurd number of enemies that the designers toss at you.Although you assume Li’s likeness throughout the entirety of the game you probably wouldn’t realize it if his image weren’t plastered all over the packaging. Your character looks like a deformed version of Li who happens to be in a perpetual state of worry. His face is too bulbous and you don’t really get much else from the character that distinguishes him from the dozens of other beat’em’up protagonists out there. Most of the other characters don’t fare all that well either, especially the female lead who is just downright ugly. When I talked to some of the developers of the game at Gamer’s Day 2002 I was informed that the animation was a crucial part of the game’s design. Well apparently the project veered off course because the animations are just atrocious. This is basic bush-league animation here and it’s apparent to anyone with a pair of eyes, not just hardcore gamers.

Some of the locales fare a little better but some generic texture work and pedestrian design lead to a pretty mundane look. Every now and then you’ll see bits and sprinkles of the PS2’s more appealing technology, such as reflective floors, but those are pretty rare in this game. Most of the textures are pretty awful and the architecture, with the exception of the Metreon level, is pretty blocky and uninspired. There are some neat blur filters that come into play when you use the adrenalin functions but I wouldn’t say that it’s anything to get excited about. Pretty much everything looks standard and won’t really make you feel like you’re playing a next generation PS2 title.

Rise to Honor supports surround sound setups but your rear speakers really don’t get too much of a workout. Most of the audio is relegated to the front and center channels, in fact I didn’t really notice too much of a difference when I decided to test out the Stereo setting. At least most of the sound samples are clear and the voice acting, which features Li as Yun, is pretty well done. Regarded there are some annoying voices like that of Chi, the goofy sidekick, but everything is pretty well put together. As a nice touch Yun speaks Cantonese when he’s in Hong Kong and English when he’s in San Francisco. If subtitles aren’t your bag you can opt for English dubbing in Hong Kong.

If you manage to trudge through the game you’ll unlock a few DVD-like extras that give you a look at the making of the game. There’s an interesting motion-capture vignette which has Li in one of those odd-looking mo-cap costumes performing a number of the game’s moves. Most of the moves actually look pretty fluid and you can get an idea of all of the hard work that went into setting the game in motion. It’s still a mystery as to how such technology could yield such amateurish animation. The other extras are just martial arts demonstrations performed by younger versions of the game’s two main leads. They’re pretty interesting to watch the first time through as they showcase some of the game’s more intricate motion capture work. These sequences are pretty short and run probably about 20 seconds each which makes them small filler material. Also upon completion you’ll unlock two new costumes to use in the game; one where Kit is your generic Shaolin monk with the waist-length queue and another where he looks like a prison inmate.

Basically, Rise to Honor is Sony’s answer to Hong Kong action flicks just in the same way that The Getaway was its answer to British gangster flicks. The two have much in common, especially in the way that they tell a compelling story that’s true to their genres but end up falling flat in the gameplay. Still, the series has plenty of potential and if Sony can clean up some of the nagging issues I wouldn’t mind sitting down with the sequel.
It's fun for the first few hours but it gets tedious and annoying far too quickly. Jet Li fans might want to check it out but I can't really recommend it to casual or hardcore gamers.

Rating: 6.1 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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