My name is Marius
It’s tradition we get one console launch game that, above all others, oozes graphical fidelity that couldn’t be achieved on the outgoing hardware.Crytek’s Ryse fills that position for the Xbox One. It’s a gloriously good-looking, utterly brainless romp through a heavily fictionalised version of Rome, showcasing the talents of Marius Titus - a grizzled and determined Centurion out for revenge. In true God of War fashion, Marius goes about that task by systematically dismembering practically every human and animal that crosses his path, leading his chase to Britain and Scotland, then back to the very heart of Rome and the Coliseum itself.
Quite unlike God of War however, there’s little in the way of flair within Ryse’s combat systems. This is painfully simplistic stuff. Each procession of enemies is dispatched in the same manner as the last with few token variations, so monotony quickly sets in during the course of its roughly 4-5 hour campaign. Ryse is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s exactly the type of visually striking and mechanically underwhelming project you might expect at the dawn of new hardware.
I shall have my vengeanceWe first join our protagonist at the end of his storyline, with Ryse portraying each of its subsequent chapters in flashback. Marius hasn’t had things easy as a legionary at war; Rome has pushed too far and too fast, and its relationship with outlying British territories has dwindled to the brink of all-out hostility. Those basic plot threads intertwine with Rome’s penchant for maniacal leadership, creating a colourful cast of villains that criss-cross the storyline with an eye on the dramatic. There’s a healthy dose of improbable treachery here, and even a smattering of the supernatural whenever Crytek needs to crank the silly all the way to 11.
It’s thunderingly stupid stuff, after an enjoyable fashion. Ryse’s 4-5 hour campaign is history rewritten by way of Call of Duty cutscenes, and regardless of what Marius manages to accomplish, things will set on fire, objects will explode, and limbs will sever until you drown in the spectacle.
The visuals are bolstered by a suite of surprisingly detailed character performances
The reason for all that bombast is simple: Ryse is a showcase for the capabilities of its host platform, and home to a surprising visual sheen that’s unmatched in some areas by even the latest PC titles.
Environments are awash with detail whether they’re made of stone, marble, wood, cloth, grass or earth; excellent lighting effects cast everything in realistic tones; shadows are soft and free of the sort of low-resolution dithering that found its home on previous-generation hardware, texturing and character models are sharp and detailed. It’s a game that belies its native 900p resolution to produce a clean, sharp, consistent image with a steady 30-ish framerate, and it looks glorious in doing so.
Bolstering those visuals are a suite of surprisingly detailed and occasionally subtle character performances, with Crytek at great pains to showcase their convincing facial animation with more than just the usual raft of rage-filled shouting cinematics. The technology carries from cutscene to gameplay as well, as Marius and his enemies emote their way through brutal, blood-soaked combat with a convincing array of fearful grimaces and painful winces.
In this life or the nextRyse is beautiful to look at then, but as is the case with so many launch games of this ilk, the appeal is very much skin deep. Combat is the main problem here, and even though Ryse isn’t a game that plays badly in any meaningful fashion, it’s just far too repetitive for its own good.
The main gameplay loop is not dissimilar to either Batman or Assassin’s Creed, with Marius able to strike with light or heavy attacks, perform blocks or parries to whittle down his opponents and then trigger any one of a huge swathe of execution QTE attacks, rending flesh from limb in a flurry of beautifully choreographed and ridiculously gory sword strikes. Progression is measured in a few token stat boosts and extensions of the ‘focus’ slow-motion meter, but the XP-based currency primarily exists to unlock further death-blow animations, doled out in lengthier QTE sequences that ramp up Marius’ ability to brutally separate heads from shoulders.
The combat is deliberately counter-heavy, much like Batman: AA or Assassin's Creed.
To be honest I have no problem with that, and the OTT violence suits the world and the storyline Crytek have chosen to portray. The larger problem is one that takes root with the base combat itself, which boils down to the same rhythm and patterns throughout the entire game, with the only moments of diversity arising in a few sequences in which Marius is asked to advance his legion in shield-formation or take control of an automatic crossbow turret.
The flow is deliberately counter-heavy, after the games that form its inspiration. However, after the first few levels it’s just not that fun to wait for an attack and tap out a Y-X-Y-X-RT or Y-Y-Y-X combo (practically the entire game can be completed with those two sequences and a few dodges here and there), and even though there are XP bonuses for completing the QTE executions with specific timing, the actual animations play out exactly the same no matter what you do, turning them into pure spectacle rather than anything with a sliver of agency.
There are collectibles and various trinkets that allow for a bit of exploration here and there, but for the most part the campaign is a one-shot ride that nobody is likely to return to in a hurry. For those that fancy a continued challenge Crytek are offering a re-working of the single-player Gladiator levels for two player co-op online play, with a selection of equipment and stat upgrades that can either be purchased with in-game currency or the now-ubiquitous micro-transactions that crop up everywhere on the Microsoft console.
Much like the campaign however, Ryse’s multiplayer is a monotonous affair backed up by some hugely impressive visuals. The changing traps and themes of the coliseum are a sight to behold through its heavy use of smoke and fire, but once you scratch that surface you’re left with the same repetitive combat system and wave-based gameplay that quickly strips any hopes of long-lasting appeal. It’s nice to be able to play with another person (for some reason all the players I encountered online were Spanish, hola!), but none of the gameplay actually works that factor into the mix; you’re just two nappy-wearing dudes wandering around the arena separately for the most part.
- Beautiful visuals
- Excellent performance capture
- Dumb storyline
- Repetitive combat
- Dull multiplayer
- Not enough variety throughout
Ryse: Son of Rome Xbox One ReviewIt’s not that Ryse is impossible to enjoy, and it’s far, far away from being anything remotely close to the disastrous game many predicted. Four or five hours spent with the campaign should be enough to convince you that the Xbox One has a bright future ahead in terms of visual polish at the very least, and it’s good to see a developer like Crytek branching out and finding something new with which to demonstrate their technical prowess.
The problem was always going to lie with that QTE-based combat however, and thus it has come to pass. Ryse plays well enough in small chunks, but the repetitive nature of its hacking and slashing ultimately fails to elevate it above anything but the genre average, whilst the array of unlockable execution animations and damage modifiers never really break up the pattern of gameplay in any meaningful fashion. Its multiplayer elements are a welcome diversion, but not something that many will likely return to.
Despite those reservations though, Ryse is an undoubtedly fun spectacle for a launch game, and Marius’ tale is a beguiling mix of the utterly ridiculous played with an almost-convincing straight face via Crytek’s superb character animation. It’s a weird mix, but if you can look past its occasionally tedious gameplay and take joy in the production value alone, there’s a decent guilty-pleasure popcorn videogame to be uncovered here.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.