Ryse Son Of Rome is one of the best looking titles on the Xbox One. It’s a pity that the rest of the game isn’t up to scratch
Ryse: Son Of Rome stands as some sort of litmus test on exactly how far a video game can go on its looks alone. To say that Ryse is a great-looking game is something of an understatement; it looks positively swoon-worthy. But it’s also undercooked in the mechanics department and some of its level design is frustrating to say the least.
Ryse Son Of Rome: Plot
Ryse tells the story of a Roman soldier named Marius who recounts his life to the Emperor Nero Roshamon-style as barbarians hammer against the gates of the eternal city. Recent events weren’t kind to Marius; after his family was slaughtered by Britons who invaded Rome, he went to Britannia with the legion seeking some payback.
There, he found that the ruling nobles – Nero’s two sons – were corrupt, despicable degenerates, while the locals were put-upon noble warriors. He decided then and there that Rome needed new leaders and he set about putting the world to rights as a gladiator. Seriously.
Yes, Ryse’s plot is about as dumb as a video game can be without veering into self-parody. It’s less historically accurate than the movie 300 and the logic behind the events in its story would test the patience of even the most ardent Michael Bay fan.
There’s some worth to the theme of a commonality that exists amongst the downtrodden, but for the most part, players shouldn’t bother trying to apply logic. Just be grateful there’s at least some continuity in tone in there.
Ryse Son Of Rome: Characters
Lord knows the actors give far more than the material deserves. The voice acting is absolutely top notch; John Hopkins’s baritone conveys resolute authority as the voice of Marius, but the actor also manages to tap into the internal conflict the character comes to feel later in the game.
The actors who play the Basillius and Commodus – Nero’s two sons - are delightfully hateful. The mo-cap performances are every inch the equal to the voice work, but then everything in Ryse is presented beautifully.
Ryse Son Of Rome: Presentation
It’s been mentioned before in this review, but it’s worth mentioning again that Ryse looks stunning. It’s clear that Crytek want Ryse to feel like a sword and sandals epic, and it’s to their credit that, visually at least, it is.
As the action takes the player from the marble-struck streets of Rome, to the lush wilds of the countryside of Britannia, to the terrifying Highlands shrouded in mist, Ryse never fails to impress. Perhaps the highlight is the gladiatorial ring the palace of Rome; low-lit with burning candles and filled with cackling deviant Patricians and half- naked slaves, it give off a palpable aura of decadent sleaze.
Ryse Son Of Rome: Gameplay
It’s just a huge pity, then, that Ryse’s gameplay doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of its presentation. The lion’s share of the game is taken up by the player mashing alternate attacks at identikit enemies while watching out for an attacker attempting to hit them from behind. There’s a counter move, but attack animations are so shonky it’s initially hard to know when to deploy it.
Once one realises, however, that most opponents can be countered immediately – even if Marius is in the middle of an attack animation – the game begins to feel a little lop-sided.
The reason for this is that it’s hard to build up any sense of flow or rhythm, which players who regularly enjoy beat-‘em-ups and hack ‘n slash games know are two pretty crucial assets. Compare Ryse to God Of War or Devil May Cry or even the recent Batman Arkham Origins and it comes up woefully short.
There’s a cool feature that allows players to deliver a brutal coup-de-gras, but it’s really just a series of quick-time-events (QTEs) and it gets old rather quickly.
In order to break up the monotony of hammering the same two attacks and dodges over and over again, developers toss in the odd Scorpio (read: turret) section or a selection of opponents the player can only take down with a spear.
Some of these sections, however, are badly designed – such as a battle involving spears in which enemy AI rush the player, or a turret section in which it’s not clear initially which enemies the player should be aiming at.
Crytek also show their lack of experience in creating games of this genre with some terrible decisions – such as leaving animations or grandiose camera pans at the top of checkpoints – and some horrendous boss battles that are simply tedious wars of attrition.
They’ve even included some cheeky micro-transactions for abilities; Yes, those who don’t fancy grinding through the game and earning valor(sic) points to pay for your upgrades can buy them from the online shop with real-world cash.
Ryse Son Of Rome: Multiplayer
Ryse’s multiplayer has some decent ideas in that it tosses players into the Coliseum and pits them and a mate (or them on their own) against wave after wave of enemies. Yes, it’s a Horde Mode, but Ryse adds a couple of kinks to it, such as shifting the dynamics of the arena around and changing character objectives on the fly.
One minute you have to take and hold a certain point in the arena. Then next you’re fending off archers and axemen. Then you have to disable a series of catapults that are bombarding you. And all the while you have to keep the combo running and the bodycount high or the crowd will turn on you – the fickle so and so’s.
Ryse Son Of Rome: Verdict
Ryse Son Of Rome is a game with problems and any recommendation has to come with that caveat. If you’re a sucker for a sword-and-sandals epic and you can’t look past its hilariously bad plot and hit-and-miss mechanics then Ryse is some of the most fun you’ll have with an Xbox One. It just helps to check your expectations before you jump in.
Ryse Son Of Rome release date: 22 November 2013
Ryse Son Of Rome price: £44.99