Edit: expanded version for Aussie Game Geek review.
Ryse started off in an earlier guise as a Kinect game for the Xbox 360. The version for Xbox One however appears to have left those concerns behind and given us something more akin to a classic hack and slash that reminds me a lot of Spartan: Total Warrior in its attempt at scale. But here, backed by an impressive production budget, it results in a game that is one of the most visually impressive releases on either of the new generation consoles.
You play the part of Marius Titus a Roman soldier who witnessed the death of his family and swears vengeance on those responsible; the journey he takes leading him all the way to the emperor himself. Through this you will spend the next few hours thinking you are in the Roman version of 300 except you don’t have Gerard Butler in his undies yelling at everything in creation. Whether that adds or detracts from the game is of course open to debate.
Gameplay is reminiscent of the combat sections in the recent Batman (Arkham Asylum/City/Origins) games. Combat consists of a combination of visual prompts and button timings that string together a ballet of violence which makes a player feel like the unstoppable force they see on the screen. It succeeds more often than it fails and is a credit to the developers to get it working so well.
During previews, there was criticism that the combat system looked too much like Quick Time Events due to the button prompts appearing above enemies. In the final game this is replaced with colour highlighting; it’s much more subtle but can at times go unnoticed in the midst of battle. Reality is though that these prompts are incentives to achieve combinations and be rewarded with faster kills and bonus health and experience. The game wants you to be an uber cool killing machine and is trying to help you achieve it.
Occasionally the game mixes things up with turret sections but the coolest moments involve you teaming with other soldiers and advancing on the enemy with shields out; good use of camera really helps you get into the moment.
Enemy variety consists of only a few types with some being the equivalent of reskins. But this too is borrowing from the Batman playbook in that the challenge is about dealing with combinations of enemies. The only times you are ever going one on one is during boss fight and those are simply expanded versions of existing enemy attacks.
Visually the game is impressive; perhaps the most striking of the Xbox One launch games. Gameplay may not be in the same league but those visuals create a compelling world that sucks you in. The Roman architecture is a sight to behold but there are many watercooler moments throughout the entire game. The often demoed beach landing never gets old (the achievement for that section even recalls the movie that best describes the experience) but the most memorable for me has been the Wicker Man level which changes up the atmosphere in a brilliantly spooky direction.
Audio is also excellent. The beach landing has the potential to burst your surround system. This is backed up with voice actors who are really playing their parts well. Good lip syncing with the characters helps the cinematic immensely; close ups of the characters in conversation mostly look impressive.
In terms of multiplayer the game has a series of challenge rooms that is like what you’d get if you combined the Coliseum with a Holodeck. As the scenarios progress, floors sections shift and are replaced before the player’s eyes. It’s a clever concept but one that’s not core to the game; in fact I would not be surprised if most people pass this by.
Ryse is certainly not a platform defining launch title like Halo had been for the classic Xbox but its most definitely the one you’ll be showing off to friends when you tell them how awesome your new Xbox One is. And it doesn’t require you to yell at people in your undies either.
A strong game that gives a promising start to the platform.
+ Outstanding visuals
+ Atmospheric setting
+ Easy to pick up and play
– Gameplay is simplistic