rom their earliest days in the arcades and on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Beat'em ups have come a long way. It seems that every few years a developer comes along and promises to add a riveting story and deeper gameplay to the genre, only to see the final product achieve little of that promise. Square's The Bouncer comes to mind when this subject comes up, as it was a hugely hyped game that turned out to be nothing more than a standard brawler that could be beaten in one sitting. Sony, along with the help of action director Cory Yuen, and martial artist, Jet Li, has tried to make the ultimate martial arts flick – one where you control the hero. Rise to Honor is ambitious, and at times blurs the line between movie and game, but in the end, it's just another brawler.
Rise to Honor follows the story of Kit Yun, a young man seemingly mixed up in the mob as a bodyguard. When his boss, the man he is guarding is killed, it is revealed that Yun is in fact, an undercover officer. Soon after his identity is revealed, however, Kit turns in his badge, and leaves Hong Kong to head to San Francisco to deliver a message to Boss Chiang's daughter. As would be expected, there are many twists and turns along the way, but I'll try not to spoil any of them, as the game's story really is its strongest feature.
The fighting system in Rise to Honor focuses on fluidity and Kit Yun's ability to fight more than one opponent at the same time. In fact, three or four bad guys at once, with more coming in as you knock the others out is the norm here. Instead of mashing on the face buttons, Sony has decided to completely forgo their use. The right analog stick, in conjunction with the shoulder buttons controls ALL of Yun's moves, whether he's in a barroom brawl or shooting his way out of a hospital while on a gurney. Flicking the stick in the direction of your enemy performs a basic attack, and a quick flick in the opposite direction will take care of any enemy approaching from behind. You can block an attack by simply holding down the R1 button, and a counter is as easy as holding the R1 and L1 buttons and moving the stick towards the bad guy. There are also a bunch of chase scenes, and this is where the game feels most like a movie. Similar to the QTE's in Shenmue, you'll guide Kit through the scene, and jump or hide when prompted. It's more interactive than what was in Shenmue, and they are lots of fun.
When the system works, it works great, but most of the time there are a few flaws, the biggest of which is that the controls are unresponsive. When the action gets hectic, you'll find yourself trying to gently flick the controller towards your attacker, but then nothing happens. You then end up wildly moving the stick around hoping to connect with an enemy and get yourself a little breathing room. While the game touts an enormous variety of moves, the truth is that you will see the same few combos over and over again. Sure there are cool moves like when Yun picks up a chair leg with his feet, and then uses it as a weapon, or the time where you beat a guy with a chicken, but those scenes end up being few and far between.
Rise to Honor makes extensive use of motion capture to create the game's realistic fight scenes. Each individual move is flawless, though there are many times where the transition from one move to the next isn't very smooth. The camera is designed to be close to what you'd expect to see in a movie, and most of the time it's fine, but there are many occasions where it's an issue. Often times you'll find yourself unable to tell if a guy you knocked down is dead because you knocked him off screen, and the only way to find out is when he appears from nowhere to pummel you. Other times it's a little unclear as to where you are supposed to go, and you can't find out until a jump icon appears when you get close to where you need to be. The game also supports progressive scan and can be displayed in 4:3 or 16×9, which is a nice option for people that have the ability to utilize the features.
The audio in Rise To Honor is the proverbial mixed bag. You have the option of hearing the entire game spoken in English, or you can choose to hear Cantonese when in Hong Kong, while reading English subtitles. This is yet another of the many ways in which Rise to Honor aims to replicate a martial arts movie. Jet Li of course does all of his voice acting, which is on one hand great, cause it's the real deal, while on the other hand it's bad because he's pretty lousy with his dialogue. The game's music is very good, and while most of the time it plays quietly in the background, it crescendos when the action heats up, and decrescendos when things calm back down.
In the end, Rise to Honor fails to live up to the lofty expectations created by all the hype surrounding the game. While it is by no means a bad game, there's just not enough substance to it, and the controls, which were touted as being revolutionary, are below average. If you're a big action fan, I can highly recommend the game as a rental, but even with all the DVD extras, and there are a bunch, it's not worth paying full price.