The (Roman) Empire Strikes Back.
Ryse: Son of Rome by Crytek is a title that has been sitting on the back burner for quite some time now. Originally announced at E3 2011 as a Kinect-only title for the Xbox 360, this at the time looked like a disaster waiting to happen. Skip forward two years to the announcement of the Xbox One, Ryse finally re-appears as a launch title, and one with a ton of potential to boot. Crytek has done a spectacular job here visually and looks every bit next-gen, however as we dig in here, all is not quite perfect in Rome.
Once you marvel your way through the opening video, introducing us to our Centurion Marius Titus, the game opens on a harrowing defense of Rome as you protect Emperor Nero as the city is being sacked by barbarians. The story is easy to follow; it’s very enjoyable as moves along at a good pace, even though it does seem very much in the vein of the film Gladiator. Marius is very exciting to play as and you will feel powerful plowing your way through a barbarian horde while calling out commands to your legion via the Kinect.
For the most part this game is a hack n’ slash, with some special gameplay sections thrown in to break it up. For example, in the first campaign you have to defend your Centurions by using a giant crossbow or by arranging your troops to march on the enemy. There is a lot of upgrades possible but it does not dramatically change the way you play, merely makes your health larger or gives you a new execution, which are quite the gory spectacle. The main drawback to the gameplay though is the repetition: lather, rinse, repeat. Most noticeably, this can be found in the variety of enemies: basic soldier, guy with shield, guy with axe that can break a block, archers, and the bosses typically seem to be also very simplistic. Most of the levels are the same concept; hack and slash your way through with one or two spots to catch your breath at one of the special section pit stops. It’s still a fun ride, just a little repetitive.
Graphically, this game is dynamite. Cut scenes look great, in-game action looks realistic and the levels can be absolutely jaw dropping. This game is absolute eye candy. If you can manage it between hacking someone’s arm off, try and take in the surrounding cities or beaches and just look at the detail; it’s incredible. This is not the small step forward launch game of generations past. The cities feel immense, city lines stretching far off into the distance with the stains of battle visible with action all over the place. Even out of the cities in the beaches and coliseums it is fantastic to see how good it looks. If you want to show off your new Xbox One to friends on the fence about buying it, show them Ryse and Forza Motorsport 5 to show off your new toy.
Now, even as great as everything looks, there is one minor drawback to those oh so sweet visuals: the enemy character models. Once you are, say, about a half hour or so into the campaign, you will start to notice that the enemies all look the same. As great as they look, I’m not sure that 2000 years ago all the barbarians went to the barber and wanted the same as the last guy. Beyond that though, this is potentially the best looking of all the launch titles of the new generation.
Not to be outdone by the graphics, the in-game audio is another great reason to show this game off. The voice acting is fantastic; Marius is very well done and I enjoyed hearing the characters talk to one another, almost as much as I did with The Last of Us. It feels almost like a Gladiator 2.0 with the quality of the voice actors. The sounds of combat definitely adds to the game as you can hear every sword clang, shields bang and the larger the battlefield you are on, you definitely feel the size and scope of the battle instead of just hearing what you are doing and some of the surrounding melee. It really does seem like a lot of attention was paid to how the battles should sound as well as look. Ryse certainly creates the full spectrum of sight and sound.
The only real downfall (if you can call it one) of this hack n’ slash adventure may be the controls. They are easy and simplistic but as you travel along nothing really gets added to them to break the game up. The repetition continues here, as it seems that more focus was put on creating spectacle and stunning situations. The first hour you play it’s more like, ‘wow this looks great’ or ‘I can’t believe that just happened’. After that though it’s more like, ‘okay block, block, attack, attack, block, crap I died, alright attack, block, attack, block, block, attack’. It just turns into a button mash fest with the switch to the hyper active focus mode to break things up a little bit.
The closest thing I can think of control-wise and combat-wise to Ryse is the Batman: Arkham Asylum series. Most of the time I would say that’s a great series to model after, but Marius doesn’t have Batman’s full bag of tricks, the moves or the gadgets. All he has are his sword, shield and spear. But to be honest though, it doesn’t detract from the game all that much. A month after purchase I am still coming back to it.
The real upside here is the Kinect integration, which you can use to organize troops and have your archers fire arrows; it makes you really feel like you are commanding Marius’ Legion. Even though it does have a ‘been there, done that, didn’t love it’ feel to the control scheme, it still does manage to do something new with Kinect.
All in all though this game can be great fun, and is definitely a sign post on the road of what is to come in the future, and it has a lot of potential. If you have an Xbox One, or if you are still sitting on your Xbox 360, definitely give this a try to see just what the horsepower under the hood can do and to see the first of a beautiful new generation.
This review was written for publication on the GCE by Michael Macpherson.
+ Cool executions
+ Great voice acting and combat audio
+ Solid story
+ Useful Kinect integration
- Combat can be very repetitive