‘Ryse’ is visually decadent, but soulless

Jon Mercer
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Ryse: Son of Rome, Xbox One

“Ryse: Son of Rome,” the Xbox One launch exclusive from Crytek, makers of the vaunted “Crysis” franchise, is, for lack of a better word, a disappointment.

 A screenshot from the game “Ryse: Son of Rome.” — Submitted image

For the entire presentation spectacle — involving massive armies of Barbarians crashing against the unbreakable Roman phalanx as the hellish chaos of war erupts on all sides, all the way to the inevitable sacking of Rome itself — there’s a saddening dearth of actual game.

I liken it to recent (i.e. PS3, Xbox 360 era) brawlers such as “Splatterhouse”: flashy and visceral, but lacking the depth of combos, or sense of wonder of the “Ninja Gaiden II”s and “Devil May Cry”s of the world.

Combat initially casts an illusion of complexity with carefully measured timing cues, and slow-motion that echoes back to the crackling opening of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator.” But as the levels drone on, and endless waves of enemy fodder waltz towards protagonist Marius only to meet a gory end, “Ryse” is quickly exposed.

In the matter of an hour, maybe less, players will have seen just about everything enemies can throw at them — and, worse still, they’ll have already experienced all of “Ryse’s” hyper-bloody finishing moves.

As with the aforementioned “Splatterhouse,” blood erupts with such regularity that it quickly becomes boring. It’s initially thrilling to slice an attacker’s limbs (though the gruesome stabs are robbed of most of their effect by the lack of wound textures, it looks like the blades are clipping through enemy models), but as these juicy finishers are linked to health regeneration and bonus experience points, players will be seeing them with alarming staccato.

Thinly greasing the wheels are intermittent sequences that have players raining down fire with catapults, or using a Roman phalanx to take down an archer’s tower. Like combat, the first time, and maybe the second time raising shields in rhythm to deflect a volley of fiery projectiles is fun, but barking orders at the insipid Kinect to fire arrows or move legions occasionally does very little to cut down on the tedium.

Now, as a player who pounded his way through at least four “God of War” games, I can argue that with an interesting story, one can power through long bouts of button mashing.

“Ryse” is mildly intriguing, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s very much the Roman Empire by way of Roland Emmerich.

You’ll see feared Celtic queen Boudicca ride into battle atop a War Elephant; Roman Emperor Nero’s two historically nonexistent sons bringing about the fall of the Empire through a combination of decadence and cartoonish super villainy.

There’s even mention of the Greek tale of Damocles, only in “Ryse” it has nothing to do with the famous Greek tale of Damocles. The dialogue is stilted and humourless, which clashes with the ridiculous take on the setting.

One thing that doesn’t clash in “Ryse” is the staggering graphics. I thought that “Killer Instinct” looked good; that game is amateurish before the jaw-dropping textures on display here.

Stone, steel, bronze, water — they all look marvellous. Character models are lifelike to the point that their animations start looking weird in comparison.

This is easily the best looking bit of software I’ve seen on the Xbox One, and serves as a good indicator of how closely it can compete with the PS4.

There’s no doubting that “Ryse” is a gorgeous game. However, as a workable action title, it leaves quite a bit to be desired. Combat is disappointingly mechanical, there are buckets of gore and viscera thrown around in the fights, but without the deep combo approach of “God of War” or “Ninja Gaiden II,” it plays painfully basic. Even when enemies manage to encircle Marius, they attack in single file; all using the same set of tactics.

There are probably less than eight variances on the same combat situation. This is worse than brainless — it’s boring. It’s the last sort of thing you want to be playing on your shiny new $500 gaming console. The multiplayer doesn’t fare any better, as the Coliseum games just force more than one gamer to suffer the monotonous combat together.

“Ryse” is a visually decadent, but ultimately soulless experience. It lacks the narrative to push through the tiresome gameplay, which itself is missing the punch to drive us through the cheerless story.

There are needless micro transactions, abundances of repetitive quick-time events that lead to equally repetitive gore — all without any sense of impact.

“Ryse” could be the most beautiful game in the world, but outside of its looks, there is nothing to make up for the collective of the worst gameplay foibles for the last two console generations.

“Are you not entertained?” No … no, we’re not.


Platform: Xbox One

Developer: Crytek

Publisher: Microsoft

Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013

Rated: M for Mature.


Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué

via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Roman Empire

Geographic location: Rome

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