There was a superb game idea pitched when Ryse was first envisioned. A brutal, violent, bloody quest through a historically malleable version of ancient Rome that attempts to humanise the inner conflict of our hero, Marius. His mother and sister cut down on his triumphant return home, his proud Father congratulating him on his career so far in the Roman infantry – before being forced to face his maker while defending his people. But somewhere along the line, something went very wrong.
Marius is an angry man. He’s not Kratos-angry, but the similarities cannot be ignored here. Hack and slash combat mixed with quick-time finishing moves and upgradeable combat are not new, and a shiny coat of next-gen lacquer can’t hide that.
But it is shiny, there’s no doubt about that. Ryse is definitely new-console showcase material, offering motion-captured lead characters and a scale and scope to the visuals that actually warrants the use of the word “epic” (for a change). The attention to detail (especially in cut-scenes) is wonderful, and it’s nice that the in-game environments aren’t bland greys, as colour breaks out throughout. It’s just a pity that sometimes it’s more fun to watch than to play.
At a base level this is a hack and slash game, so you’ve got a few ways to deal with enemies. You can simply attack the grunt-level barbarians with the X button, or you can break defence with the Y button for the slightly harder enemies. Roll is mapped to the B button to avoid heavy attacks, and the A button is used to counter when the timing is right. Whichever way you attack and defend, eventually a skull-type image will appear above the head of your enemy, offering you the opportunity to gratuitously execute them.
But I’m not coming down on a game set during brutal Roman conflict (fictional or otherwise) for being violent. It’s more a case of the executions being needlessly long and only offering so many ways of doing them. Upgrades can enable multiple new executions (seriously, there’s bloody loads of them – even some environmental ones), including some that allow you to finish two enemies at once – but even after just a few hours play, they’re just so laborious to watch.
You can ignore them if you want, and just finish your opponent off with a few more standard hits, but that’s the frustrating part. The executions tie in to a further gameplay element. Four skills are available by pushing the D-Pad: extra XP, regenerating health, damage bonus, and extra focus gain. Again, you can just forget about these, but as the game moves forward and gets more difficult, you’re going to need to upgrade your health and so on. By the end of the game you are using executions to replenish health and focus meters to make the mobs more manageable.
Worse yet, these executions sometimes cause the camera to swing around to a point where you can’t see what’s going on. You then have to move the camera, but because the executions are basically colour-coded quick time events, you’ll sometimes miss out – meaning you will lose your combo meter, because you can’t actually fail these QTEs. It’s inexplicable, unexplained, and bizarre. Speaking of which, the fact that the enemies all look the same is strange, especially given how much of the budget has clearly been spent on the visuals in every other department. Oh and micro-transactions are on offer via buying gold, too, allowing you to speed your progression. Essentially, these feel like cheats as they allow you to upgrade before you would otherwise be able to through gaining XP. Not cool. Not cool at all.
The multiplayer (a co-op arena-based mode) allows you to upgrade your gear with gold, too. It’s not as abhorrent as allowing pay-to-win in a competitive multiplayer environment, sure, but the mode itself isn’t hugely rewarding anyway, as it’s obviously the same game but with you and a friend in the same arena.
But it’s not all hack and slash combat, as you can lead your fellow men by giving commands either by Kinect (you just say them) or via the controller. There are sections that allow you to collect and throw weapons, but they feel dull and out of place. The trouble with trying to make every section an epic set piece is that you get diminishing returns very quickly. Focus mode lets Marius slow down time and really go to town on enemies, and the fact that Ryse’s combat is timing-based as opposed to button-mashing is a definite plus, but these other facets aren’t really needed, and there are no real combos to speak of.
There’s just no room to be creative with the combat, and combined with a hilarious amount of pallet-swapped enemies (seriously, there must have been a lot of twins in Roman times), you’ll be killing a guy you just killed 10 seconds prior and will feel utterly bored while doing it. Even after introducing a new enemy, Ryse will then offer a repeat version of him right afterwards – it doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact you’re fighting the same guys over and over again.
An attempt at telling a story is present, most of which is told through cut-scenes meaning the combat feels like a mechanic to get to the next story beat, and this isn’t a new story; it’s one we’ve seen told many times before. If you want an angry-dude-taking-revenge tale, you should get Asura’s Wrath; that game is utterly crazy and doesn’t ever take itself as seriously as Ryse. The voice acting is decent, however, as is the motion capture itself – the audio matches the “epic” vibe that Crytek have gone for, with an excellent soundtrack.
VERDICT: It’s frustrating, because in patches the combat can be rewarding and fun, but there are so many missteps that it’s hard to know exactly why Ryse just isn’t fun. It could be the story, it could be the Darth Vader “No!” moment – hell, it could even be the micro-transactions, but Ryse is really only going to appeal to fans of blood and guts combat, or people who are desperate for a video game set in Rome and want to showcase their new console, because it’s one of the best looking console games available at the moment – it’s just rather boring and too lacking variety to actually play.
If you can disengage your brain and just plough through the endless array of same-faced enemies, you’ll enjoy the glorious visuals and well designed audio – but this is a game destined to be forgotten fairly quickly, even if it does help prove the Xbox One has more power than we first thought.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.
Review copy provided by publisher.