Most video game plots stink. For every brilliantly penned epic like Half-Life, there are dozens of True Crimes whose narratives wouldn't impress a sixth-grade English teacher. That makes the science-fiction actioner Advent Rising a particular treat - it delivers both power and plot.
Orson Scott Card (author of the sci-fi classic Ender's Game) spins humanity's survival against a race of aliens (the Seekers) hell-bent on their destruction because they believe humans to be the most powerful creatures in the universe. At its heart, Advent Rising is a third-person “save humanity” shooter (you can play in first-person, but you won't want to) with light role-playing elements, but the cutscenes advance the plot and lend a greater adventure-y feel to the campaign.
Unfortunately, things start very slowly when all you've got are your two fists and a series of tedious training exercises to complete. But, like a steam-powered locomotive, once the wheels grip the tracks, it's a thrilling ride that's nearly impossible to stop.
As you move from one epic outdoor set piece to another - somewhat reminiscent of Halo, including the occasional vehicle - you'll pick up new weapons that improve in damage and accuracy the more you use them. Eventually, as a host of friendly aliens (the Aurelians), tasked with protecting humanity, help you unlock your species' untapped potential, you'll learn to pull off Matrix-style moves like a slow-motion cartwheel strafe and gravity-defying punch-and-kick attack, and even shoot energy blasts from one hand while unloading a pistol with the other.
Several thrilling boss battles will put all your skills to the test (be sure to stick around after the credits for the playable real ending!) and Card's story will keep you hooked the whole way. If technical difficulties like a choppy framerate and a maddening enemy targeting system didn't get in the way, this would be one of the year's best games. As it stands, however, it's a darn good one.