Developer: Crytek Frankfurt
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One
Release: November 2013
Download Size: 37 GB
Let’s open with a bold statement: There aren’t enough games that utilise the full extent of the Roman Empire, outside of the Coliseum. The last game I can remember was Shadow of Rome back on the PS2, and even then, you were mostly duking it out in the arena, save for some infuriating stealth sections. Ryse, however, is a little bit more adventurous with the source material, with a large proportion of the game spent fighting barbarians in that backwards society known as Britannia. Shame that the source material is the only original bone in this body…
Literally exploding right out of the gate, Rome is in flames, with the aforementioned barbarians ransacking the city. As Marius, our one man wrecking crew of a protagonist, you save the Emperor, Nero, by locking yourselves in a hidden vault. From here, things turn into Jet Li’s Hero, as Marius recounts the tale of his life which led him to that moment. This being a videogame, however, you can expect your usual mix of death, death, death, some slight betrayal sprinkled around the side, and then back to your regularly scheduled death. And oh my, it’s certainly an exquisite looking death.
The graphics, in my opinion, are some of the best in class. Dead Rising pushed the power of the Xbox One with how many zombies could fill the screen, whereas Ryse channeled it towards looking fantastic, especially with the architecture, setting and gorgeous vistas. Not to say that the characters are bad, they look great too, even if the character models tend to repeat themselves more than you’d expect for a next gen game, but the breathtaking views are the show stealers here.
From the vibrancy of Rome itself, to the lush forests and caves of Britannia, all are designed to leave your jaw on the floor. This atmosphere reaches a peak halfway through the game as you traverse the Highlands. The night time setting, the creepy, leafless branches obscuring your view of the sky, the ominous Wickerman looming in the distance, and the savage, primalistic tribesman who wear the bones of their prey; Chapter V did a great job of instilling a sense of dread. Couple this with some superb acting, and you’d swear you were watching a CGI version of Rome, or at least a Michael Bay blockbuster equivalent.
It’s a shame then, really, that the polish shown towards the presentation isn’t continued with the gameplay. To put it nicely, it takes the “fun” out of functional. X is Attack, Y is Shield Bash (guard breaker), A is to deflect attacks, and B is an evasive roll. Nothing that hasn’t already been done before, or done better. Weakened enemies can be executed, and whilst initially they are very flashy and fairly gory, they get old rather quickly. But the worst part about these executions are that they’re QTE sequences that you can’t fail. There are rewards for executing them perfectly, such as more EXP or increased health gain, but there’s no penalty for making a mistake either, making the whole thing seem somewhat pointless.
The crippling frustration continues with the linear level design. The game rewards exploration as the only places you can explore seem to be where the collectibles are. I feel like if the developers didn’t feel compelled to put collectibles into the game, the levels would basically be a straight line, with a couple of open areas for when the game decides that fighting is about to happen. Invisible walls also appear inconsistently, providing Marius with the insurmountable challenge of a 2 foot rock in a river, reminding you that next gen graphics and all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t enough when at its very core, the game is built with copy/paste PS2 corridors.
The problem I have with Ryse: Son of Rome is that it’s so mediocre and middle of the road. It does control pretty well, but the gameplay is just boring and begins to feel more like labour well before you reach the end of the campaign, which is about four hours. I’d talk about the mulitplayer but it’s just more combat, without the sweet breaks of awesome looking cutscenes.
Ultimately, Ryse finds itself in gaming purgatory. Not good enough to be in heaven, but not terrible enough for hell either. For all of its pros, namely the graphics and presentation, the monotonous gameplay and insipid linearity keeps rearing its ugly head and stifling the game’s longevity, making Ryse borrow-worthy at most. This Rome could be built in a day, and you’d have enough time left to see some other sights too.