RYSE: Son of Rome is the launch title that Microsoft seems to have been leaning pretty heavily on in the lead-up to the Xbox One launch – if for no other reason than it’s the best looking.
And while it is very, very pretty, that’s one of the few thing this game has going for it, delivering some fairly shallow action entertainment.
Ryse opens on a pretty fantastic battle sequence – barbarians are attacking Rome in a spectacular fashion. Soldiers flood into the city en masse, flaming catapults tear chunks out of bridges and marble buildings and arrows rain down from the sky.
Marius Titus, Roman Centurion, is tasked with protecting the city and trying to save the Emperor from the barbarian invaders, leading him down into a cellar, where he recounts the events that lead him to this fateful day. These events, and Marius’ rise from lowly soldier to leader of the Roman army make up the story of Ryse in a perfectly satisfactory way. The story is nothing particularly memorable – a pretty standard story of Roman revenge with some pretty heavy elements of God of War and Gladiator – without any moments that will shock or amaze.
More often than not this plot seems to act as a vehicle for Crytek to show off just how friggin’ good this game looks.
Each of the Xbox One launch titles seems to be catering to a different market and showing off different things the new console can do, and Ryse does an excellent job of showing off just what a powerhouse this console is. Faces are depicted with an eerie level of detail, down to minute details and ticks, capturing every element of a performance so well that you’re often willing to overlook how bare the script can be at times.
Each different environment that Marius and his crew track through manage to be equally stunning, which is impressive given the sheer range of locales – bright, marble inner-city Rome, lush dense forests, spooky marshlands, embattled beaches. All of these look amazing and demonstrate what power this machine has.
And then there’s the gameplay itself.
I have three cardinal rules for action games. I personally find that all good action games offer you three things: the ability to unlock new combat moves, the ability to unlock at least one other weapon throughout the game, and a range of enemies that come in all different shapes in sizes. This is what made the original Devil May Cry work, this is what made God of War work, and this is what could have made Ryse a truly excellent game, worthy of the effort that has clearly been put into it.
RYSE doesn’t tick any of these boxes, sadly, so while there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, there isn’t actually all that much on offer and things get pretty tedious, fairly quickly. Combat is essentially mapped on to the X and Y buttons, X being strike and Y being stun with shield. Add to that an A button for counters and a B button for dodge, and what you have is a combat system that is remarkably similar to Batman: Arkham City, minus any of the gadgets or ability to learn new moves.
Instead, you have a simple combat system that essentially lives off it’s quick time event execution system: do enough damage and a skull logo will appear above your enemy and allow you to hit the right trigger and deliver a visually incredible, devastating execution by hitting either X or Y depending on the colours the enemy glows. These are pretty brutal looking – expect to see arms get cleaved off or throats get impaled – and there are literally dozens, and dozens of unique animations – you can be most of the way through the game and still be seeing new ones, which is pretty cool.
Unfortunately, while this is awesome, the combat doesn’t change for the 10 hour duration of the game, to the point where you’re basically playing through some very pretty interactive cut scenes. The monotony is broken up by the occasional rally with the soldiers you lead, forming a defensive perimeter with your shields a la 300 or directing your archers to the best strategic position, but this diversion unfortunately isn’t as fleshed out as it could be.
Is RYSE: Son of Rome a perfectly playable game?
Sure, it has it’s moments and manages to tick a few boxes in terms of general playability. But you’re not likely to play it more than once, and it’s certainly not a game you want to rush out and buy to go with your shiny new Xbox One. Better to go grab Assassin’s Creed 4 or Call of Duty. This rare misstep by Crytek is a bit of a disappointment really, but certainly does a huge amount to outline the possibilities of the next gen consoles.