Ryse: Son of Rome – let’s face it, you’ve had worse launch day dates

By Brenna Hillier
21 November 2013 10:59 GMT

Xbox One’s cinematic, gore-splattered historical brawler isn’t as brain dead as it’s been made out to be. Brenna takes it out to dinner, but is it marriage material?

Ryse: Son of Rome

Ryse was first announced as a first-person Kinect exclusive Xbox 360 title in 2011, having been teased under the codename Kingdoms at E3 2010. The project went dark almost immediately, and resurfaced so far down the track many people forgot it had ever been anything other than a traditionally-controlled Xbox One title.

If this sets your alarm bells a-ringing, you may enjoy speculating over a social media shitstorm sparked by Crytek’s flippant admission that the project was in tight crunch as recently as mid-October. It seems to have been in prototyping for an extended period. The project kicked off at the Budapest studio before moving to Crytek Frankfurt.

I think I went out with Ryse once. Smashingly gorgeous, if you didn’t stop to look closely at particular details; utterly brainless; and reasonably good fun if you kept your expectations low. Also quite forgettable, as it turned out, when bigger and better things came along, and I can’t help thinking as soon as the Xbox One produces a slightly better brawler I shall give it a quiet talking to in a bar somewhere and run off with a doctoral student. I mean! Pop it on the shelf and never look at it again.

This is kind of what launch titles – like early relationships – are for. You try them out, maybe get a bit infatuated if you have nothing better to do with your time, and then give ’em the old heave-ho as soon as you do. Dead Rising 3 and Ryse are the only melee action adventures on the Xbox One’s launch list, so if you want to use your new console to smash things in the face and watch the red stuff spurt everywhere, you’ve basically got to choose between “really long” (Dead Rising 3) and “reportedly a bit short” (Ryse). If that’s up your alley, it’s worth checking out – purely because your other option is sit on your hands and wait.

Crytek has done a bang up job of making the game look pretty, and quite “next-gen”, so you’ll likely be impressed with the amount of detail in the streets of Rome, the huge collection of very solid combat animations, and the general shininess of everything. Disappointingly, there are places where this falls down. With other next-gen and PC titles doing marvellous things with hair, cloth, and skin, it’s frustrating to see how “last-gen” some instances of this are. Granted, you can’t blame Crytek for not wanting to spend six months modelling a character you’ll see for maybe 30 seconds in total, but when this character turns up in the second major sequence it’s a bit of a shame; I can just imagine the detractors jeering at this early section and not admiring some of the later, crowded battles which better show off what development team and hardware can do.

Much has been made of Ryse’s gameplay and whether it is or isn’t all quick-times and button mashing. It is and it isn’t. The best comparison I can make is Assassin’s Creed; you stand in a group of enemies, parry at the right time, determine what kind of strike is possible, and quickly switch back into attack when another enemy goes on the offence. Once an enemy gets low in health you can optionally execute him via a quick time combo, which results in a brutal and satisfyingly gory animation. You can get through this by mashing the buttons brainlessly, but it’s actually far easier to stick with it for a while until you master the timing, which allows you to perform more powerful moves. Is this going to win any awards for innovation or keep your grey cells fully occupied? No. Is it awful? Not really.

Combat is ornamented by totally unnecessary Kinect-powered voice commands. At some points in the game you can optionally shout orders at troops for various effects – there’s one example very early on, where Crytek has to shoehorn a turret section into classical warfare – but it doesn’t seem much faster or more convenient than using the control pad. I’m pretty fond of Xbox One’s voice commands, but in this case, they feel like a bit of a useless novelty. It’s also a little bit immersion breaking to hear one’s piping, school-child tones ordering soldiers about when one has been fancying oneself a burly centurion cloaked in impossibly bulging muscles.

Speaking of silly, Ryse certainly has a plot, full of classical mythology tinkered with just enough to upset purists who might be lured in by the Roman theme. There’s also a multiplayer mode, in case you want to duke it out against your mates, but unless the latter really floats your boat – and why would it, when there are so many deep, worthwhile versus fighters out there? – the staying power of Ryse is mostly “once through the campaign, and once again for missed achievements”. That probably isn’t enough to see you through to the next batch of releases in spring.

I can’t speak for you, but I’m older and wiser these days, and I no longer feel the need to conduct dalliances with lesser beings in between purely A-grade prospects; as such, I doubt I’ll get around to finishing Ryse, or diving into the multiplayer. But that doesn’t mean it’s not right for others; there’s someone for everyone, after all, and it’s important to have these little flings in your callow youth.

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