If you took a story based game with several branching decisions like Mass Effect and stripped out all of the graphics and non-story related gameplay, it would look something like Choice of Games’ Heroes Rise: The Hero Project. It plays a lot like a choose-your-own-adventure novel but without the bothersome page number searching required in a paper copy. It’s a fantastic idea, and I would really like to see this “Text Adventure” genre flourish, because I could easily see this kind of game be like books are to movies. It’s a genre that the talented storytellers with a desire to make a game can enter in with very few resources, and if one title comes shining forth above the rest a wise AAA company could pick it up as the story-pathway skeleton it is and give it flesh. But with all that said is Heroes Rise: The Hero Project the kind of story that would rise above the dregs?
I don’t want that answer to be taken harshly though. The Hero Project isn’t bad; it just doesn’t do anything spectacular.
The Hero Project is the second entry in the series. The game begins after the events of The Prodigy, and gives a recap while setting the stage of a hero fallen so low, he has been reduced to collecting welfare checks to pay his rent. During this melancholic period, you, the protagonist, stumble upon a new and exciting reality show called The Hero Project, which was designed by the United States Government to create the American Protectorate—an exclusive team of six super powered heroes assigned to protect the nation.
Within this reality show the you have to make difficult decisions, like whether to ally with the popular heroes or the underdogs, do what’s right or to do what will advance you further in the show, and even be forced to betray new friends by voting them off the series. These choices are complicated by your character’s obsession with popularity driven by your own financial need. Of course, this wouldn’t be a modern story without rumors of conspiracy, and you are given the option to investigate the shadowy scheme.
To diverge from the topic slightly, for the record, I’m using the male pronoun for this review because that was the first character I started as. It actually turns out that you can customize anything regarding your character’s gender and sexual orientation including picking the newly discovered third gender described as “complicated” at the beginning of the game. This is important because the game includes two romantic options that conveniently change their sex to match your own preference; you are even given the choice to tailor their appearance to your favorite movie star. But like most of the game, the lack of substance makes the romances feel more like shallow trysts than anything.
A major problem I have with the game is that if you were to diagram the divergence caused by your decisions, the chart would resemble a double-helix. While your decisions do affect how events play out, they ultimately converge back to specific plot points that you have no control over. In many cases, the game only pauses for introspective decisions, which were presumably thrown in there simply to check if you were still paying attention. I will admit, the questions concerning what I thought about the events did help keep me engaged, even if my response meant nothing.
Not that the writing itself isn't engaging on its own. I won’t say that it’s “well written” but I will say the writing is well directed. There were several moments where I did feel as if the fate of the world rested on my next choice. In this aspect, the game captures the illusion quite nicely. On the other hand, I could easily nitpick on grammar mistakes and the fact that one of the pronouns apparently was lost in the variable switch so my girlfriend was referred to as a “he” or “him” a couple of times, but for the most part the game is competent.
However, that’s all I can really say. The game doesn’t have any revolutionary message that has not been already addressed by the super hero genre. The story is basically X-Men where some people are born “powered” and some are not, and like X-Men there is a huge political controversy about whether these powers are “fair”, and whether they should be controlled.
Because of these similarities to other entries in the super hero universe, the plot fails to be surprising at any time. My comparison to the choose-your-own-adventure novel actually makes the game seem kind of disappointing. I’m not even sure you can trigger a fail-state, which from my memory was one of the fun features of many such novels. And as previously mentioned, the game ends ready to start the sequel from the same point regardless of what choices you made, and although your save file that you will end up importing does effect certain characters, it would be nice to have seen a little more agency regarding the outcome of the overarching plot.
Probably my biggest critique is with the game’s scoring system. While you can make any decision you want (based on the presented options), the game rewards you with points only when you stick to a specific strategy, which is extremely disappointing.
One of the fun things of having a choice based system like this, especially when a sequel is involved, is seeing how your decisions add up to changes in the future. However, because of the scoring system, you feel like any pragmatic decision making is complete failure just because you don’t fit into a specific stereotype, which stereotyping the game’s narrative ironically condemns. For an extra dollar (if you bought the $3 copy of this game instead of the bundle) you can buy a “warning system” that will help you make the “right” decisions and for another dollar you can buy an in-game strategy guide, but I think needing a guide in a game like this completely misses the point.
I really like the idea of Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, nevertheless, I don’t feel like the game sets the bar at a level that couldn’t easily be surpassed. The game is engaging—it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time and I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see an example of this genre, but I can’t help but feel like the potential is ultimately wasted.