my first full xbox one title review!
First of all, let me say that this isn't the best game on the Xbox One so far, but it is easily the best looking. The vistas are incomparable to anything I've ever seen. The only thing that comes close is Assassin's Creed with its 360 degree shots used to open up new points in the map. The facial expressions are the best I've ever witnessed, including LA Noire and Mass Effect. I don't know if they used real actors as models or not, but it certainly appears so. If not, those programmers deserve a round of applause. If so, well, they still do. It's that impressive.
I won't go into details lest I incur the wrath of all the spoiler-haters out there, but let's just say this story's writing falls somewhere between HBO's Rome and Showtime's Spartacus. It also has some similarities to a certain film in that the protagonist, Marius, is "Father to a murdered daughter [sic], husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my revenge in this life or the next." As the main playable character, there are many enjoyable moments where you really get into the role and feel like a hard-edged legionnaire. Marius isn't very sympathetic, but it's difficult to be hardcore and likable at the same time. Give the guy a break!
Now, this is where the game REALLY shines. When playing Mass Effect 3, it felt like I was in control of an action figure. That's not a put-down, but rather a compliment on the level of realism they were able to achieve. It didn't appear that I was in control of a computer generated character, but rather a real piece of plastic that was running around the universe conversing with jellyfish-shaped aliens and the like.
Ryse takes it a step further. Although the faces, as good as they are, still appear to be CGI, albeit the best CGI I've ever seen, when the game reverts to the third-person view enjoyed during the majority of the campaign, Marius might as well be flesh-and-blood. His armor appears to be forged of steel. His shield could easily be made of oak or cherry wood. Even the feathers in his helmet appear to have been picked from a real, live peacock. In short, you feel as though you're in control of a human, not some gaming avatar.
where it shines
One piece of the game that was of particular notice to a fan of history like myself was the use of actual Roman tactics in battle. During certain points, when you're not busy wiping out barbarians on your own, you take command of a legion of troops and form into shielded lines. On your command, the shields go up and block incoming arrows and other projectiles. Once the volley has passed, your regimen returns to lockstep and continues to move forward. As a History Channel buff and a fan of all things Roman, this small addition made me smile. Although it took me a few deaths to figure out that I could order the legion to raise its shields, once I did, it was ever-so-pleasing!
now, the flaws
Ryse is far from perfect, as evidenced by its 60 on metacritic.com. The fighting mechanic is about as simple as it gets. It becomes fairly obvious by the third (of eight) chapters that this game was created to showcase the abilities of the system and not necessarily titillate the hardcore gamer. Arkham City it ain't. If you're looking for something that challenges your fast-twitch muscles and ability to maneuver your way around a ten-button controller, then keep on looking. That said, the campaign is short enough (you can finish it in a few days without too much effort) that the lack of a deep and challenging controller layout didn't really bother me that much, especially with all the action, sex, and gore going on around me.
Ryse is most definitely NOT a game for children (if you couldn't tell). It has all the sex and violence of an episode of Rome, which I suppose is historically accurate. I'm desensitized enough that it didn't bother me, but if you're the sensitive type and slow motion death bothers you, I'd keep looking. There's more blood and gore here than in an Eli Roth movie. I enjoyed the executions, even though they weren't exactly rocket science, but man they're violent! Arm and leg removal. Decapitation. Spinal impalement. It's all here in Blu Ray quality video! I'll just say that if the above picture makes you cringe, you might try Forza or Peggle 2 (review coming next week, btw).
summarization across the nation
As a general rule, I like to stick with games that get an 80 or above on metacritic.com. 90% of the time it ensures a quality gaming experience and I don't feel like I've blown sixty bucks. However, in this case I made an exception for several reasons. First, there just aren't that many titles out there for the Xbox One, yet. Second, I've heard from several friends that it's not as bad as the reviews might indicate. Sure, the gameplay is simplistic, but with a 10-hour campaign that's not necessarily a bad thing. Who wants to spend the entire game learning how to play, only to finish just as you've mastered the controller layout?
That said, it could have been a little more challenging. I felt like I'd come to the end of the learning curve by the end of the third hour of play. While the story is pretty good, it's no Shakespeare. Even so, I can easily and in good conscience recommend this game to anyone in search of a beautiful, yet action-packed title to showcase the capabilities of their new Xbox One to their friends. It's more than just a pretty face. There's some fun to be had here, as well.
Objective Score: 7/10
Bonuses: +1 for exceeding my expectations in both story and visual impressiveness. I started with low expectations, given, but I truly enjoyed playing through Ryse and look forward to a second playthrough on a tougher level.
Penalties: -1 for mediocre gameplay mechanics. They could have done so much more with what they have available, but this one could've been pulled off on a Sega Genesis controller if need be.
Nerd Coefficient: 7/10. An enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws.