Monday, September 5, 2016

Rise to Honor

   Should I have like a specific day where I review random crap? If Throwback Thursday is a thing, can't Random Crap Monday be a thing too? In this case, Random Classic might be more apt. Despite the deceptive art above, this is not a movie. Rise to Honor is in fact a video game from 2004, exclusive to the PlayStation 2. I had this game for a hot minute when I was younger, and I really enjoyed it. I bought it again last year on a nostalgia binge when I decided to just buy a bunch of old game systems and games. It was probably one of my better buys at that point...

   For every one game that holds up well, about two or three don't. Fortunately this is that one out of three. Rise to Honor is a weird game, but a good one. It captures that cinematic quality that games have been pushing towards for at least a couple decades, and mind you guys, this was well before Uncharted hit the scene. The problem here is, Jet Li isn't playing any specific character- even though the game would have you believe otherwise, he's simply playing Jet Li. His character 'Kit' is an amalgam of just about every heroic bloodshed hero ever, pulling off everything from absurd Jackie Chan-esque stunts, to John Woo bullet ballet.

   The result is a story that's never quite engaging. If the gameplay itself wasn't fun, the game would've been dead on arrival. The story isn't unique, especially not to someone who's enough of a movie nerd to actually pick up on all the references and callbacks in the game. It so badly wants to be a Hong Kong action movie, and it pretty much is, but it's one that's lost in a sea of virtually identical movies. The game's saving grace is it's fighting mechanics. Instead of a button mashing hack-n-slash/beat-em-up, the game relegates all your fighting moves to the right analog stick. This is a double edged sword for many reasons...

   Firstly, it works well more often than not, allowing the player to execute fancy martial arts moves with only having to worry about which direction they wish to attack. This is where the game truly captures the magic of those 90's HK action flicks. When you get surrounded by no fewer than five thugs, and you're still thinking, "That's all? Bring it on." You then proceed to beat the snot out of them with your superior kung fu. Beat that. It looks cool, feels satisfying, and isn't too hard to get the hang of. The problem with it is that the whole 'combo' element is entirely absent. You don't have to learn how to fight, and you can't unlock new moves. The fight mechanic hinges entirely and solely on patience and punctuality.

   No matter how fun it is, if you're playing the game in two or three hour spurts, it eventually feels repetitive. This is when I turn it off, move on, and do something else until I get the urge to unleash my kung fu and beat up some low-poly randos again. With that play strategy in place, the game will last you, and feel fun whenever you play- but still. The lack of any sort of upgrades or unlockables hurt the game, as well as the absence of any kind of combo system. The game tries to keep things fresh, introducing little things here and there, like a set piece where you can team up with one of the female protagonists and do something kinda like this:

   It's cool, but it's not smooth or very useful. Still, I applaud the effort, and it did bring a smile to my face. The boss fights end up being an extreme practice of patience and punctuality, some becoming nigh unwinnable if you miss a half-second opening in the boss' moves, that only appears if you're holding down the block button, and not the block + counter buttons, which is what any sensible person would do up til now at this point in the game... (deep breath, let the rage fit abate...) Alas, I digress, the game does try and shake things up with inventive or nostalgic set pieces (who've thought that kicking a bad guy off a bike in slow motion would be nostalgic? Now do that fifty times!) and some shooting parts.

   Okay, unlike Sleeping Dogs where guns were almost like a disposable power-up, helping you out when your fists weren't enough, Rise to Honor has specific shooting parts. You have to run, and shoot, and jump, and dive, and the shooting mechanic is really odd to me. I can't even remember off hand how it worked. Did I have to hold... R1? R2? And then while running with the left analog stick... shoot right with the right? Or did I am with the right, and then shoot with R1. R2. Or was it L1? ...L2? One of those damn trigger buttons. If I was forced to bet, I'd think it was the latter set up, but it was so unique that it's not easy to remember. That's not to say those sequences can't be fun if you get into it.

   Still, the spectre of repetitiveness lurks over everything in the game, so it's smart that no particular sequence is all that long anyways. They mix it up with stealth, shooting, platforming, and good old fashioned (but not really old fashioned at all) beat-em-up parts. When you're chugging through this stuff at a decent pace, it can feel like a Hollywood-esque experience. Especially when you're actually good at the game. The stealth levels can feel especially satisfying if you manage to not royally screw up, and also satisfying is the melee weapon combat. You can grab nearby chairs and whip them into enemies' faces, or break a wooden crate and wield a plank of wood or two like batons. The same goes for bats, wrenches, pipes, and the like. One is fun, but dual-wielding is just sinfully fun.

   The game isn't bad by any means, and it looks fine enough when upscaled to HD, in the correct aspect ratio, and the video is output through component cables. Overall it was rather easy to slip back into the swing of things with Rise to Honor and unleash a Golden Harvest, John Woo, Shaw Bros. beat down on some thugs. The game is bold and experimental, even for it's time, and it's still a unique experience to boot. Rise to Honor is a keeper, something fun to pop in for a couple hours on a rainy Saturday afternoon when you just want a simple nostalgia trip.

   Bonus points for the Jet Li character model actually looking like... you know, Jet Li.

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