The collaboration between Hollywood and gaming is becoming more and more predominant as the days go by. In the past we have seen games based on films, but now games are starting to take Hollywood collaboration to the next level by featuring real world actors for main stars. That's exactly what Sony have done with Rise to Honour, a game starring Jet Li in more ways then one. Rise to Honour is a game that will impress you, then frustrate you and then impress you all over again through the hours of gameplay it features.
In Rise to Honour you play as Kit Yun (played by Jet Li). Sony wanted to capture the tradition of Hong Kong martial arts films and they have achieved this objective to a degree. Kit is a young Hong Kong police officer working undercover trying to bust a crime ring. After one of his friend's fathers is assassinated, Kit hands in his badge but vows revenge. It may sound cliche from many martial arts films, but its exactly what Sony were trying to produce.
Rise to Honour is a third person action game very much in the vein of titles such as Double Dragon. The gameplay featured basically tasks you to move from one area to another, defeating the enemies within but also intersperses this with some fantastic action sequences. The only problem with this style of gameplay is the repetitive nature of the title. You will finish defeating three or four enemies, only to have more confront you or appear suddenly. When this happens to excess (ie about three or four times) you start to get frustrated and just want to move further into the storyline. This frustration can also apply to the many action sequences featured throughout the game.
If there is one thing that Rise to Honour doesn't lack its action. One minute Kit will be fighting in a small restaurant, another kicking guys off motorbikes, and another moving stealthily through a factory or cinema complex. This array of sequences keeps the game fresh and moving along at a quick pace, but sometimes they are used to excess and lose their "wow" factor quite easily. Most of the time Kit will be tasked with kicking the daylights out of anything that moves, but occasionally a stealth level will appear which isn't hard to complete, but the change up in gameplay keeps you interested.
The one thing you will like or dislike significantly is the control system, and your thoughts of it will no doubt change as you play through the game. The right analogue stick is used to deal out blows, so if you 'slap' the right analogue stick towards an enemy Kit will hit them, keep doing it and a combo move may be pulled off. This gives you complete control of Kit and when it comes off it looks stunning, it's when it doesn't that frustration with the system sets in. If you try and move whilst dealing out blows, it appears the control system can't handle this and you get less blows on your enemy in. Of course standing still leaves you open to attack from others, but thankfully you can block and counter attack most enemy moves, which turns out to be the most useful option when surrounded.
The control system does give you a great level of control for the main character however. Due to the fact you can instantaneously change direction in the way your delving blows out, Kit can fake enemies out. Move towards a character, and another may approach you from behind, then you can suddenly slap the right analogue the other way and catch them unawares dealing out some major damage.
Rise to Honour isn't an easy game, and there is no difficulty setting to change until that option is unlocked. The challenge doesn't come from the AI themselves, but more the number of AI characters the game throws in each level. Sometimes you will have to avoid AI throwing objects towards you, or avoid moves which can't be blocked. The one thing we did notice is that it is almost impossible to complete some sections without doing them the way the developer apparently intended. In one section of San Francisco you have to move through an alley littered with enemies carrying guns. Choose not to use the cover, and it's likely you will be cut down quite easily but use the cover properly and the game becomes a walk in the park.
Some enemies carry weapons such as baseball bats. After defeating them, they are available to be picked up and watching Kit deal out massive damage with baseball bats hand in hand not only looks great, but is one of the most effective ways to defeat enemies. Other weapons include nail guns, pistols, crowbar and others. Using weapons can help you take down enemies more easily but for most of the time Kit relies on his martial arts ability via his arms and legs. About a quarter through the games storyline you will meet Michelle, and sometimes you will be fighting with her, giving you the opportunity to perform a combination move with the two. Also in the tradition of old school fighters, there is quite a few boss fights and even some mini-boss fights. Most have an attack pattern, and once this is discovered Kit shouldn't have to much trouble disposing of them.
Whilst Sony was trying to create a Hong Kong martial arts action game, there is also parts of the story set in San Francisco. This obviously offers a different style of architecture to Hong Kong (which looks quite authentic with neon lights and docks etc) and most of the game during this section is played out during the day time. Although the tasks don't really change between cities, other then the characters getting more daring with weapons and tougher, some people may have wanted more from the introductory Hong Kong section of the game. You do return to Hong Kong towards the end of the game so Sony haven't underused their well built city.
In terms of graphics the game shines sometimes whilst at other times is less impressive. Overall the game is one of the better looking on the PS2 system with some great draw distance, stable frame rate and decent character models but it is the animation where both the impressive side of the game and also weak side show up the most. As mentioned before when the animation sequences are used they look stunning and there is no noticeable transition between moves. Jet Li was also captured for these moves which give them an unheard of degree of authenticity. However at times this can cause problems.
Collision detection sometimes is an issue, and occasionally you will think an enemy has missed you only to look up at your health bar and discover Kit in fact was decked. Considering that most of the time the animations work well, this is not a fatal flaw but something that a player has to be aware of when playing. The camera also has issues and can not be moved by the player. During one section of the game we were taken down by an enemy not viewable to us because of the angle the camera was set at. The sound effects of the game are what you would typically expect from an action title with a great cinematic soundtrack, lots of grunts whilst the fighting occurs and realistic sounds when weapons come into contact with flesh.
There is no multiplayer associated with the game at all but some extra value comes from the ability to unlock extras such as a documentary on how the game was made, featuring interviews with Jet Li, movies about the two main characters backgrounds and concept art. Also you can replay a completed level at any time by loading up the chapter selection option which presents the different sections in a DVD style menu.
Rise to Honour is a game that has some great elements, but these great elements can also lead to a great deal of frustration when they don't work right. There is no doubt that the control system is both innovative and frustrating but overall gives great reward when used correctly. The repetitive nature of the game may turn some gamers away but it is worth at least a rental if only to see the superb animations and cinematic values Sony have placed into this virtual martial arts film.