Wot I Think: Ryse – Son Of Rome

They're all raising their one remaining arm

Having debuted as an Xbox One exclusive, Ryse has now decided to be an ex-exclusive and is out on PC today. My memories of its reception on Xbox were fairly dim – shiny in that Crytek way but with a short campaign and repetitive combat – and I went in having never even seen the classical carnage running outside of a trailer. Here’s wot I think.

Ryse does one thing and it does it just about well enough to make the six or seven hours of the campaign tolerable. That thing is combat, which is almost exactly like the biffing and kapowing in the Arkham games, except lead character Marius doesn’t just snap his opponent’s bones to put them out of action – he lops their legs off, leaving stumps of bone exposed, pirouettes and slashes their throat into rosy red ribbons, and then stabs them through the gut, leaving a gaping mouth-wound with a drooling instestinal tongue.

That description is actually more grotesque than anything you’ll see in the game, but it’s a close thing. Marius has a grand total of five combat moves and it’s the ‘execution’, activated by a button press or joypad trigger when an enemy is sufficiently weakened, that unleashes the gore. Executions play out automatically but a simple QTE sequence guides you through the dismemberment. Time the button presses just right, and hit the right sequence, and you’re rewarded with a boost to health, experience, damage or focus. The latter allows you to slow the action down so that the next bout of limb-lopping will be a little more manageable.

A few hours of that and you’re done. Vengeance achieved, barbarians and traitors left in bits. Job’s a good ‘un.

Both of these men only have one arm

There’s nothing wrong with that. Double Dragon and Renegade didn’t need an open world or parkour sections to keep the coins flowing, and Ryse has a decent combat system, but I didn’t find the experience particularly satisfying. There are several disconnects in the way that combat is communicated and occurs that left me feeling as if I were floating somewhere above, pulling the strings of a puppet peditatus rather than directly engaging in the desperate clash of arms.

Marius himself is part of the problem. As a character, he ticks sufficient boxes to make me glad to join him on his murder-spree, even though the story is best when the writers and actors acknowledge that it’s an excuse to get from one fight to the next. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s how Liam Neeson resignedly performs dialogue and interviews these days, and he’s an OBE – but it’s when the talking stops that Marius seems somewhat out of place.

Quite why that is may not be entirely the fault of the game. Come to Ryse without Arkham, Assassin’s Creed or Shadow Of Mordor in mind, and the combat may seem more than tolerable. With Batman’s whirling cape and acrobatic movement from thug to thug lurking behind him in the shadows, Marius feels too cumbersome and weighty to convince in his role.

The Roman is stabbing a man using his one remaining arm

As well as executing, he can stab, push, dodge and block. Sometimes the stab is a slash, to be fair, but the conclusion is always the same. The basic rhythm of combat is to alternate between stabbing and pushing, while nudging in the direction of the enemies that are the target for a particular stab or push. Say there are three barbarians approaching – one at 12 o’clock, one ready to knock off work at 5 o’clock and one settled in the recliner with a shandy at 7 o’clock – you might go for the closest one first, with a stab, then whirl around and push the next with your shield. By that point, the third is in position to strike so you roll aside, block a blow and then repeat until everyone is in bits.

That’s the entire game… aside from turret sections – in which you’ll be shooting exploding barrels (really!) – unremarkable boss battles, and brief affairs where you’ll join a squad of soldiers and turtle up with them. There might be more than three enemies and there are a handful of different types, but there’s no attempt to play with the formula of the combat. Despite it’s technically impressive graphics, Ryse doesn’t have the spectacle and variety of a God of War game, and it doesn’t have the gadgets and inventive world of an Arkham game. Nor does it have a combat system as complex or satisfying as either of the above. Next to DMC, it’s like a one-man performance of Stomp being compared to Cirque du Soleil at its best.

This man does not have any arms at all

Marius never felt appropriate for the role, sluggish as he is. Rocksteady’s Batman lines up with enemies smoothly and it becomes second nature to judge distances and timings. As Marius, despite the comparitive simplicity, I never felt convinced by my actions. Whether I’d be able to string a succession of blows together relied on an understanding of the animations and weight of the character, which I didn’t feel secure about even by the end of the story. Perhaps that’s because I spent around a quarter of the time I was playing watching execution animations that suspend all involvement with other entities in the world. They’re effectively cutscenes, with other assailants politely standing by as their chums are turned into chum.

There’s a multiplayer mode, which seems to involve grinding for experience and new equipment with marginal stat changes. I haven’t tried it. The story was enough and despite all of my complaining, I didn’t mind the six or so hours I spent with Ryse. It’s almost admirably single-minded. A game about killing people in brutal ways, with a combat system simple enough to ensure that nothing much will get in the way of that.

Count the arms. A bit of bone doesn't count.

And, yes, it’s a looker, although you’ll mostly be looking at things like the screenshot just above. I found myself admiring the work that had gone into it rather than the results. Man hits other men and those men fall down, and apart. It’s a tale as old as time and there’s nothing new to see except the “realtime physical dangling pieces“.

Ryse: Son of Rome is out tomorrow.

44 Comments

  1. Freud says:

    Waiter, I’ve got some gameplay bits in my techdemo soup.

  2. derbefrier says:

    The console exclusive no pc gamer ever asked for.
    It released on the xbone to pretty mediocre reviews. No reason to expect any difference with the port. This is one of those games you in a couple years for 5 bucks just to look at the pretty graphics.. So pretty much its like every crytech game.

    • Distec says:

      I’m sometimes tempted to say the same. But the first Far Cry and Crysis games were pretty gud, mang. They seem to have lost it as of late, though. I can’t figure out what they’re trying to achieve with their products now. The hooks of those games just made more sense at their times; gorgeous, expansive, shooty games for the PC Master Race.

      Now we have multiple failed attempts to gain entry into the console bloodstream and forgettable F2P army wank. Like, holy shit, who thought this was the way to go?

      GOD DAMN IT, YURI.

      • Premium User Badge

        Neurotic says:

        Meanwhile, back at the ranch: link to pcgamer.com

        I just saw this today, and it’s quite interesting.

        • GiantPotato says:

          I liked Crysis too, but it didn’t make a lot of money. EA was actually making a big PC-centric push before 2007, and as I recall that they were disappointed by how much these games cost and how little they made. So they made a push into console territory and the casual market, pretty much like every other large publisher. In that context, it’s not really surprising that the Crysis sequels weren’t good PC games. I don’t think they were really intended to be.

          And the only large publisher to stay in the PC-exclusive market longer than EA was 2K Games.

    • Baines says:

      It’s the console exclusive that most console gamers didn’t ask for, either.

    • 2late2die says:

      Oh come on, Far Cry 3 was the best in the series as far as I’m concerned, and just all around awesome game. But even if you don’t agree with that don’t tell me it’s just a glorified tech demo w/ pretty graphics.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        … But Far Cry 2 and 3 weren’t developed by Crytek, they were made by Ubisoft Montreal.

        The only games Crytek did were the Crysis series, Far Cry 1, WARFACE and now Ryse.

    • epeternally says:

      5 bucks for a crappy game? You must be new to PC gaming. $5 is what we pay for beloved and fantastic AAA games (it’s what I bought Arkham City GOTY and Tomb Raider GOTY for). Games like this are more like wait for it to be in a bundle with three other games for $1 and then pick it up to stare at the pretty graphics or just to increase the number of games in your Steam library.

  3. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I am feeling ennui, which is like depression except french or something.

    Would anyone like a biscuit? I have got Borders plain chocolate and ginger.

    • Samwise Gamgee says:

      Chocolate Hobnob please

    • Shiloh says:

      Ginger, please. To dip in this steaming hot cup of garum I have in front of me (desperately trying to stay adjacent to the topic in dismembered hand).

  4. Brosecutor says:

    These screenshots look mostly armless.

    Edit: Didn’t see RPS used that pun above the title already. Oh well. No arm done!

    • Trillby says:

      Seems to me it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    • ZIGS says:

      You’re really reaching for a pun there

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      “Didn’t see RPS used that pun above the title already?”
      don’t worry. No arm, no foul.
      that pun was such a bad rehash, but i can’t think of anything else. Quick, give me a hand.

    • Premium User Badge

      Skabooga says:

      Your jokes seem to have no limb its.

    • Geebs says:

      They only put those jokes in the headlines to humerus.

      • Shade399 says:

        I’m gonna go out on a limb here, but I think they do it to provoke us into a pun thread.

    • Rizlar says:

      You could have used sever-al others.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Just cut it out with the puns, everyone, cut it out!

    • Shiloh says:

      www dot ryse dot com forward slash slash! forward slash slash! back slash slash! dot html.

      As Virgil didn’t say, “Lacunae armorum virumque cano”.

  5. Rao Dao Zao says:

    You mention open worlds but seemed a bit ambigous — is there space/time to Rome around or not?

  6. mr.black says:

    I have to hand it to Adam, great mouse-over text!

  7. GameCat says:

    Buy it only when you have spear cash and time.

  8. Lexx87 says:

    Knock off work at 5pm?

    I’m lucky to get out at 7 let alone having a shandy :-(

  9. Drake Sigar says:

    We’re now in the busiest months for game releases so I don’t see this one doing too well.

  10. DanMan says:

    You know wot I think? Crytek turned towards consoles and mobile, and when that almost ruined them, they suddenly go “Hey pal! It’s us! Your buddy Crytek! Remember us? We’re the ones that made your PC melt. Remember now? Do you? Here’s one more of those, for old times sake. Can we be friends again? Please?! We totally love you guys, and stuff.”

    And I’m like: “Meh….”

  11. LTBL says:

    where are my arms?

  12. Anthile says:

    Ita, VII/X?

  13. Horg says:

    Veni, vidi, meh.

  14. Spacewalk says:

    In-game currency should be arms instead of gold.

  15. JiminyJickers says:

    I’m interested in this game, but only at a steep discount. If I had the Xbox One, it would be a renter, some mindless fun for a couple of days.

    I’m sure the inevitable Steam sale in the future will give me the opportunity.

  16. Caiman says:

    Why is everyone made out of Plasticine, with Plasticine arms?