Rise of the Dragon review

Rise of the Dragon
Rise of the Dragon
The Good:
  • Stylish art holds up well even today
  • Fun premise
  • Multiple solutions to obstacles make the game deeper and replayable
The Bad:
  • Clichéd story and characters
  • Time system has frustrating flaws
  • Action sequences are painful
  • Very few puzzles
Our Verdict: If you like noir-style detective games, you'll probably have some fun with Rise of the Dragon, but those who play for challenging puzzles are better off looking elsewhere.

At first glance, it seems clear that Dynamix’s debut adventure game, Rise of the Dragon, was heavily influenced by the 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner. It sports a protagonist with the name William “Blade” Hunter, who has a suspiciously similar fashion sense to Blade Runner’s hero. It features an oppressive, not-too-distant futuristic city that looks like a pretty crappy place to live. The game even goes for the same film noir undertones that Blade Runner presented. This is the end of the similarities, however, as Dynamix took it upon themselves to create a tale that feels more like a basic pulp adventure than the thought-provoking Ridley Scott classic. The end result is a game that cares more about story than gameplay and prioritizes style over substance, as Rise of the Dragon is certainly entertaining, but has so few actual puzzles that some players may feel like they’re playing an interactive story and not an adventure game.

The story opens with a murder, of sorts. The mayor’s drug-addicted daughter uses a strange narcotic which results in her mutation into some sort of strange lizard creature, followed by death. The furious but politically cautious mayor turns to you, former policeman Blade Hunter, to discreetly track down the drug manufacturer without involving the actual police. Armed with a photo of the victim and the location she was last seen before she died, you pull on your pants and hit the streets. And I mean this quite literally. In an attempt to create a more realistic world, Dynamix has required that you do things like dress Blade and remember to grab your house keycard before leaving. Failure to do these leads to consequences like getting arrested for indecent exposure or getting locked out of your apartment.

Investigating the death of the mayor’s daughter soon leads to a much deeper, more sinister plot. The men responsible for the death aren’t simple drug traffickers. A cult of Chinese madmen plan to drug the entire population of the city in a ritual designed to bring about the rise of an ancient dragon named Bahamut. Blade must slow and eventually stop their plans completely while tracking down the man responsible for it all, making sure his girlfriend doesn’t get too mad at him in the process.

How much you enjoy this story depends on how sensitive you are to clichés. The girlfriend, while helpful at times, seems to exist mostly as the typical damsel in distress. The megalomaniacal, power-mad villain is so stereotypical that it’s surprising there isn’t a moment where he twirls his moustache. Blade himself, a rough-around-the-edges loner with a heart of gold, seems like he was intentionally made to resemble every grizzled cop/P.I. we’ve ever seen. There’s nothing particularly bad about the story, the dialogue, or any of the characters, but there’s also nothing even remotely original to be found here. From the streetwise underworld contact, “The Jake”, to the villain’s eye-patched enforcer, “Snake”, the characters all feel like people we’ve met before many, many times.

Rise of the Dragon is presented mostly in a first-person view using a fairly standard point-and-click interface. Left-clicking on the screen uses environmental items like buttons, clicking and dragging useful items will deposit them in your inventory box, and right-clicking examines. Using the inventory is sometimes frustrating, however. After selecting an item, the inventory screen is supposed to fade when you drag the object towards the edge of the screen to apply it on something in the environment. It doesn’t always do this, though, and I often had to tell Blade to drop the item in the general area so I could close my inventory, pick it up again, and only then use it to solve a puzzle.

Interactive dialogues provide you with a few choices of what to say, and saving before conversations is highly recommended. Some dialogue trees eliminate key questions, and conversations can end without the opportunity to ask the most important things. Almost all major conversations need to be played multiple times via reload to see everything someone has to say. While this definitely adds a sense of replayability to the game, it comes at the cost of realism. There’s no reason you should be barred from asking an important question, such as where a key suspect lives, just because you didn’t do so right off the bat. Especially if this information is crucial to moving forward in the game.

Despite all the objects you pick up, Rise of the Dragon has surprisingly few actual puzzles. Much of the story progression comes from choosing the right conversation paths. Your girlfriend conveniently works in the city’s hall of records, and asking her to research a clue you’ve found is as easy as dropping an object from your inventory onto her. But this can hardly be seen as a “puzzle”. Most of the challenge is in finding the objects that lead to the next location in your investigation. That’s not to say the game is devoid of puzzles entirely; it’s not, but they seem to offer more variety than challenge, as none of them are particularly clever or original. The rare code-cracking deduction, electrical exercise or Simon-type sequence represents a momentary change of pace, but usually it’s as if the designers got so distracted with the story, they forgot they were making a game.

The investigation takes place over a series of days in which Blade only has a certain amount of time to travel about the city, question suspects, and gather clues. Every action, including examination, adds a minute or two to the ever-present clock in the corner of the screen. Traveling to a nearby location via subway takes far less time than traversing the whole city. And staying out too late means Blade will curl up to sleep on the streets and possibly lose possessions to a light-fingered thief. This kind of cause-and-effect approach presents itself in other ways as well. Insult a valuable contact and they may refuse to talk to you. Get arrested by the police for a break-in and you’ll lose precious time sitting in jail waiting for the mayor to arrange your release. Blow an attempt to sweet talk your way past a receptionist and you’ll have to find another way to circumvent her watchful eye.

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