The word that best describes Ryse: Son of Rome for the Xbox One is anachronistic. Even though the game is rife with hilarious historical inaccuracies, it’s the gameplay and story that feel out of time and place.
You play Marius, an ancient Roman legionary whose family is murdered by barbarians, and thus swears revenge against all barbarians everywhere. But Marius learns there may be more to his family’s murder than it seems; a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the empire.
You’d think we’d be tired of this kind of story by now.
It’s your typical “hoorah” male power fantasy that we as a society apparently still haven’t grown out of if games like Ryse and Call of Duty are any indication.
It’s a shame the story is so insipid, because the acting and motion capture is anything but. Marius may be the blandest man ever to wear a skirt, but he looks and sounds great. People actually look like people, and emotions and expressions are convincing.
Except when they smile, then they kind of remind of the clown from Stephen King’s It.
Ryse’s set pieces, from the streets of ancient Rome, to blasted battlefields, to the lush forests of Britain, look wonderful, but they’re not much more than a series of pretty hallways. You can’t explore these environments, and consequently they don’t feel real.
This is a problem a lot of old games dealt because they had to work with limited hardware. You couldn’t go backwards in Super Mario Brothers because the Nintendo could only handle what was on the screen at that moment.
But now, my phone has more processing power than the computer in the shuttle that landed on the moon. Ryse isn’t limited in scope because the Xbox One can’t handle it, but because its developers seem to think this strict, directed experience is what players want.
This mindset is further reinforced in Ryse’s combat, which is as dull as the man you’re controlling. You know the drill: Attack, attack, big attack! Attack, attack, big attack! The game tries to mix things up by throwing in some gory finishing moves, but there aren’t very many of them.
I mean, once you’ve seen one guy get his arm cut off, you’ve seen them all.
Probably the most interesting mechanic is the ability to command troops using only your voice and the Xbox One’s Kinect. You can order troops to form up, launch a catapult, or fire a volley of arrows. Voice recognition is pretty accurate as long as you speak loud enough, but they obviously think you’re going to be saying “fire volley” in a loud, authoritative manner, when you’ll probably just mumble it so your roommate doesn’t think you’re watching really weird porn.
Even this becomes pretty rote after a while. Every once in a while you’ll gather your troops and form phalanx to advance on an entrenched enemy, but once again, you only do it when the game tells you: You can do it.
Roman military life was extremely rigid and disciplined, so I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if Ryse were in any way realistic or historically accurate. About half way through the game, Marius gets a direct line to the Roman Goddess, “Summer,” who doesn’t exist, and in the climax, the rebel Celt, Boudicca lays siege to the city of Rome with Carthaginian war elephants.
Ryse, if Hannibal were here today, I’m not sure if he’d would be angry at you, or just really confused about Dumbo.
But Ryse doesn’t think you’ll know, or much less care about any of that. Because Ryse isn’t meant for you and me, it’s meant for the “general audience,” the kind of people who probably think “Booty-Ka” is a new rap song, and see
nothing wrong with the spelling of “Ryse: Son of Rome”
This is the gaming equivalent of a Michael Bay movie, lots of flashy special effects, but no soul. If you just want to beat the hell out of some anachronistic barbarians for a few hours, more power to you. But if you want something with substance, don’t look to “Ryse: Son of Rome.”