ack in 2011 during Microsoft’s E3 Keynote, The people behind the color green were desperately pushing support for their new peripheral: Kinect. Ryse, a Roman gladiator action game was one of the promotions for that hands-free hotness Microsoft wanted to jazz everyone up about.
Flash forward to 2013, where all of Microsoft’s previous enthusiasm for the Kinect is significantly reduced, Ryse reemerges as an Xbox One launch title with Kinect support being wildly scaled back, so naturally, I found the development intriguing and decided to scope out just how well Crytek transitioned that shift in development, and finishing the nearly finished build the floor didn’t exactly project any positive prospect for the finished product come launch day.
As the loading screen finished, I was placed behind the shoulder-view of Marius Titus, a warrior that’s been tasked by the empire to murder for entertainment within the arena. Fortunately for me, I was also accompanied by another attendee so that we can check out what the co-op was all about. Admittedly, Ryse boasts some of the best eye candy the Xbox One has to hand out among the launch group. As we slashed our swords against the opposing barbarian flesh, the visuals within the graphic design jumped out in exquisitely beautiful details and remained consistently crisp with the action on-screen.
The presentation does well to deliver on those strengths, especially during the points of interest that highlight the visceral graphics like the contextual opportunities where you can execute the poor jerk who challenged you. There is a small sense of satisfaction when you jab your sword through their neck like it was Christmas turkey. However, after the glow of the sharp graphics slowly diminishes, you’re left with a very clunky action title, and one that suffers from a dearth of mechanics that makes for a very shallow and regretfully repetitive affair of button presses between button presses.
The move arsenal consists of sword strikes, shield smacks, deflections, and evasions that work in conjunction with a number of tactics that you can honestly count on one hand. The large-in-number mob encounters come at you with heavy aggression, flanking you at every turn while keeping in line with slashing what’s in front of you. The other barbarians will telegraph their attacks with the same animation that demands little or no thought to deflect. What’s concerning is that the core combat fundamentals themselves caused more grief then the actual enemy AI. Stiff controls and the ensuing response from the lag of button input were my real enemy, as enemies were able to force through my counters during the first frame of the shield deflection in motion where I was still vulnerable, regardless of the reality where my input on the controller was entered beforehand, resulting in significant timeframe of delay.
Large groups can be taken down with lightning attacks from a super meter that builds up during cool down based on your kills, and if you’re near certain points of interest, you can manipulate arena hazards to your advantage and use them against opposing waves. This, along with your play style and the various methods you choose to employ in your gladiator slaughter, will elevate the amusement of the audience around the arena, which determines your rank by the end of the round. But aside from that, no other incentive appeared, and there was little else to do other than advance the stage by cutting up more dudes. Co-op play lacked any sort of meaningful assist mechanics aside from physically slashing at barbarians in pairs. No support measures; just combat with more combat.
Ryse definitely emulated that same sort of thrill you got when you watched classic Roman combat films such as Attila or Gladiator, but the charm quickly petered into a repetitive exercise of rinsing and repeating combat mechanics that were both shallow in concept, and flawed in execution — it’s poised to end up being that definitive launch title that will be more memorable as a provisional effort than an innovational one at the genesis of the next generation.