It came out of nowhere. You’re skimming through press releases, nearly fall asleep on this typical weekday afternoon. Then BAM! – you see the headline – Jet Li is coming to PS2. I was pretty shocked. Jet Li, the man who reportedly turned down a role in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions because the studio wouldn’t pay enough, would appear in an all-new video game in 2004. A new, innovative gameplay style was promised, along with an involving story and voice-overs from Li. The developers also took the time to recreate Li’s face in polygonal form. It’s not perfect, but the early shots were convincing enough to excite the fans.

One year later and the game is on store shelves everywhere. After playing an exciting demo that ended way too quickly, the time had finally come for me to explore the final version.

If you’ve seen the commercial (you should have by now considering how frequently it airs), you should have a pretty good idea of what the game plays like. It’s a little weird and it’s a little different, but it’s also very cool.

If there’s one thing the developers did right it’s that they kept their promise. Using the analog stick to attack in place of the face buttons is not exactly a new feature. Sony’s very own Ape Escape introduced this concept back on the PSone! However, I’ve played nearly every major title released for the PSone and PS2 and I can happily say that Rise to Honor’s attack methods are more than an expansion of past concepts. The innovation isn’t overly obvious. Even after playing the game for a while you might not realize how much depth is actually inside.

Incase you’re unaware of how the control scheme works, just erase the face buttons (X, square, etc.) from your memory. Now take any of the actions you might expect the face buttons to have (like punching and kicking) and give them to the right analog stick. Jet Li can now attack his enemies from any angle.

Attacks consist of one-hitters (press the analog stick once in any direction) and combos (press the analog stick consecutively four or five times). This creates a pro/con situation. On one hand we have a simple, innovative attack system in which Li can attack from the front, sides and rear with little hassle. On the other hand we have a simple attack system that never goes beyond the complexity of pushing the analog stick in a particular direction. It’s not easy tapping the stick consecutively at first, but once you get used to it it begins to feel like button-mashing. Or in this case, stick-mashing.

Most of the battles are pretty lengthy; you either have several standard enemies to kill, or one or two powerful enemies with a huge health bar. The game doesn’t end there though. Rise to Honor is supposed to be the video game version of a Hong Kong action flick. And what action flick would be complete with bullet-dodging chase sequences? Depending on the level type, you might be running for your life as a gun-toting helicopter attempts to close in on you, or fight fire with fire by gunning down enemies on foot. During those stages you’ll have walls, boxes and other obstacles to crouch behind. R1 serves are your “action” button in the game, so in this circumstance it’s used to crouch. Release it to come out and return fire.

As fun as it is to play a game of shoot-and-sneak, I had little trouble diving right into the action. I ran towards two and even three enemies, firing as quickly as possible. Each enemy had at least one gun in their hand. In most games the third guy would get you. You’d have no problem killing the first and the second is generally not that much harder to take out. But that third guy — you couldn’t possibly take him out before he got a shot off. Not so in Rise to Honor. Just keep running and firing and your health meter will hardly suffer, if at all.

In terms of combat, level and enemy types, expect to see the same thing over and over again. Expect to see some variations, but just because an enemy has a different outfit or a slightly different fighting style does not mean the game is fresh throughout. The game begins to age after the first few stages. At that time you realize that it’s not going to go any further than it already has. And that’s a real shame.

Disappointingly, the game does not give the player nearly as much freedom as I had hoped for. You can only pick up certain things and use them as weapons, things that are common and found in many next-gen games: sticks, chairs, poultry. There’s not much more beyond that. I saw boxes that could have been used as a great way to distract the enemy, but those could only be kicked, not picked up. I saw glasses sitting on unoccupied tables – why can’t I use those as a weapon? Surely a broken glass could do some severe damage. Programming so many details would have been an arduous chore, no doubt. But if Hideo Kojima can add magazines and several dozen bottles to MGS2 just for the sake of realism (you can shoot them from any angle, causing a different animation each time), why can’t Rise to Honor have more usable and perishable objects for the sake of fun?

As much as I like parts of this game, overall it’s a bit of a snoozer. Truth be told, the excitement ends after the first 30 minutes. By that time you’ve seen the best of what this game has to offer. A surprise here and there might be enough for Jet Li fans, but most gamers will not be compelled to continue playing. The gameplay is more repetitive (and less rewarding) than some of the most repetitive titles on the PS2, including Chaos Legion. It’s sad, it really is, because Rise to Honor has so much going for it. But “so much” just isn’t enough.