Rise to Honor
Genre: third-person fighting/shooting
Rated T for violence and language
Version reviewed: Playstation 2
Available at Amazon.com
Hong Kong superstar Jet Li teams up with his long-time collaborator, director Corey Yuen, for Rise to Honor, an action game for the Playstation 2. Jet's inclusion alone makes this worth checking out for Hong Kong film fans. But is Rise to Honor just a novelty act, or is there an actual good game contained beneath the star power?
Jet virtually "stars" as Kit Yuen, a police officer who is forced to work undercover due to his father being one of Hong Kong's top Triads. Kit is assigned to protect Chiang, a Triad boss who wants to go straight and is willing to testify against his comrades. Of course, this does not make the other Triads happy, and so they send a sniper to take out Chiang. As Chiang is dying, he asks Kit to travel to San Francisco to protect his daughter, Michelle.
So, yeah, not exactly a weighty plot here. But in an action video game, like a lot of Jet's movies, the plot is simply a device to connect the action scenes. And in that sense, the story works. The cinematics are well done for what they are, and, in a nice touch, the Chinese characters in Hong Kong actually speak Cantonese instead of broken English.
For a five-year-old Playstation 2 game, Rise to Honor has held up surprisingly well. For those of you with HDTVs, Rise to Honor is one of the few PS2 games that supports widescreen and HD output, though only to 480p. The character models (especially the one for Jet) look nice, and there is a decent variety of backgrounds with their own little effects and lots of items to destroy. Probably the best aspect of the graphics is the animation, which looks fantastic for the most part, since Jet himself did the motion capture while being under the direction of Corey Yuen.
The soundtrack doesn't hold any surprises -- it's the usual orchestral/cinematic stuff these sorts of games usually favor. However, it's all done compentently enough, bolstered by some solid sound effects that nicely bring forth all of the bone-crunching hits. The voice acting won't win any awards, but it gets the job done. At least it's not terribly annoying as some games can be, and it is fun hearing Jet supplying his own lines in both Chinese and English.
The majority of Rise to Honor, as you might suspect, is a beat-em-up. The game takes a different path to control than most of its' type, using a dual-stick approach that is more often seen in shooters. The left stick controls Jet's movement, while the right directs his attacks. If you can land enough attacks in a row, you'll be able to enter "adrenaline mode", where you can unleash your fists of fury via some very flashy attacks delivered while the action dramatically slows down.
For most of the game, the control scheme works, even though it seems at many points that you're really on auto-pilot, with little actual determination as to exactly what Jet is doing on-screen. Still, it does manage to deliver a satisfying feeling of whooping multiple people's asses. Where the gameplay falters is during the boss battles. They require precise memorization and movement, which the somewhat sloppy dual-stick controls do not allow. You'll be able to get past the bosses, but they are way harder then they should be.
The game does switch things up a bit, veering from the beat-em-up formula in a few levels. The most successful variant are the shooter levels, where Jet blasts away at the bad guys with dual .45s. These levels are totally derivative of Max Payne, right down to being able to slow down the action, but for the most part, they're a fun change of pace from the brawling bits. The other two gameplay modes, some clunky and boring stealth entries, and quick time event filled "stunt" levels, are much less successful and frankly kind of annoying, but thankfully short-lived.
The Bottom Line
Overall, despite its' problems, Rise to Honor is a fun little action game. Is it a classic? No. Would you play it if Jet Li wasn't involved with it? Probably not. But considering that you can pick it up for literally a couple of bucks at your local used game shop, it's definitely worth at least checking out, especially if you're a fan of Jet Li.