At a recent press event we went hands on with one of Microsoft’s key launch titles for the Xbox One, Ryse: Son of Rome. Developed by Crytek, this brawl-em-up takes you back to when Caesar was on top of the world and the Roman audiences cheered for severed limbs and gruesome fatalities. For a video game, it sounds like the perfect set-up, especially when you consider the grotesque nature of some of our cultures more popular franchises.
We spent our time exploring through the multiplayer side of Ryse: Son of Rome and were left with, let’s say, mixed impressions, to say the least.
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There was no single-player jaunt here, it was right into the meat of the action with a two-player co-op match. Our task with to disembowel and dismember as many opponents in intriguing ways to keep our audience satisfied enough. This was considered entertainment back in Roman times, fast forward to today and people complain about things you see on a TV screen – but alas, I digress.
Back on point then, and my time with Ryse: Son of Rome was memorable only for one thing, the whole experience felt kind of broken. It was in actual fact my first time playing on an Xbox One and once I had smoothed past the fact that the controller felt remarkably similar to the 360’s, the game took hold and showed me it’s ugly side.
Within moments of starting, blood that had been cut from my dumb witted opponents draped helplessly in mid-air, frozen as if by magic. But that wasn’t as off putting as some enemies who had also decided to be hit by some kind of ancient Roman flu and stood rigid, not moving, not commanding and not really doing anything other than looking like a mannequin.
Glitches like these were there and glaringly obvious. The build that I and my partner played was on was clearly not from a finished product, but with just weeks to go until the Xbox One and Ryse launches on November 22nd and I have to admit I’m slightly concerned.
But if glitches weren’t enough, then my time spent actually playing the game gave me more of a cause for concern. Moving around slashing enemies felt like it had a taste of the combat in the Batman Arkham games about it. Which isn’t a bad style to go for, hit, counter and retaliate in rhythm. But the problem was that this rhythm often felt disjointed and a lot slower then it really should’ve been. Perhaps it was due to my limited time with the game, but I remember picking up the Arkham basics a lot quicker than I did here.
At the end of an individual battle in Ryse: Son of Rome you have the option of pressing B to perform an execution. You’ll know when you can do this as a little ‘skull’ icon appears on your bloodied opponent. But the pauses in the actual execution motion made me feel like I had to press a button, so for the first few I did, despite not having any button prompts at all. But, as I still wasn’t sure, I decided to execute without pressing anything – and a perfect execution still happened. It was jarring in a way as I felt good that I had executed someone in that manner, without any knowledge, or button prompts to help me through it. Only then to discover that if I had decided to put the controller down I would’ve done pretty much the same thing. Again, I’m not sure if this is just down to pre-release material or not, but it doesn’t seem very challenging and is quite frankly insulting in a strange button-mashing way.
But it’s not all bad news for Ryse: Son of Rome, one thing it does get spot on is the look and feel of Rome and it’s marauding colosseum. Entering the arena and seeing the hordes that surround you baying for blood is quite a sight. Despite the obvious glitches it’s still a nice looking game, it seems the developers also understand that it doesn’t need to over do the brutality of the event as much as something like a God of War does. It’s balanced nicely to keep it just in touch with being in the real world rather than something mythical.
While it’s atmosphere really smells and breathes of the era it’s trying to replicate, it’s looks, gameplay and all manner of mechanics come with more than just a whiff of last gen. Chuck in the raft of glitches and bugs encountered in the footage we tested this close to launch, and it smacks so far of being a rushed product. Hopefully the finished product will prove me wrong.