'Ryse: Son Of Rome' is a launch exclusive for the Xbox One, out on 22 November
- Amazing, stand-out next gen graphics
- Fun, condensed Roman Empire setting
- Impressive range of brutal executions
- Kinect voice controls for elements of gameplay
- Dynamic 'Collesium' multiplayer arenas
- In-app purchases for loot and equipment
"Embark on a journey of revenge, betrayal and divine intervention: Ryse: Son of Rome tells the story of Marius Titus, a young Roman soldier who witnesses the murder of his family at the hands of barbarian bandits, then travels with the Roman army to Britannia to seek revenge."
When the chronicles of the two great rising empires of our time -- the PS4 and the Xbox One -- are written, it's unlikely that 'Ryse: Son Of Rome' will be more than a footnote in the latter's half of the book. But not every soldier is destined to make the decisive blow in the titanic battles of our age. Some are born to live and fall in a day, charge into battle at the vanguard of history, and be cut down to die in honour, but not quite glory.
Which is all an aptly dramatic way of saying that 'Ryse' is a frantic, very violent and very silly action game set in Ancient Rome which is not a classic, but is still a worthy and beautiful launch title in these early days of the Xbox One.
The essential gameplay is quite simple, linear and even touches on the retro. You play as Marius Titus, a wronged Roman soldier tearing his own personal warpath of revenge through the backwaters of the Empire (read: Britain, somewhat a-historically) to fight for his honour, his country and his (again, chronologically mismatched) gods. In practice this means bashing the attack buttons in frenetic melees (and very frequent 'execution' quick-time events) to slice the arms, heads, legs and anything else capable of being sliced off thousands of barbarian enemies.
Amid these battles you also control various other regiments, including artillery and footsoldiers, either using the controller or barking commands at the Kinect sensor. But don't think too hard about it - most of these strategic decisions are about as deep as an on-off switch. This is not one for the thoughtful gamer.
What Ryse is, is beautiful. It looks as though its developers' main intent was to put Ryse six months ahead, visually, of the competition, and they did it with uncompromising, brutal style. The cities, forests, temples and palaces all look immaculate, with rich colours and shadows and gallons of spilled blood. The animation is smooth and subtle, while the human faces - particularly in pre-rendered cutscenes - are astonishingly lifelike. At any moment there could be dozens, seemingly hundreds of soldiers on screen, making it feel like a third-person game set in the roar of a Rome II: Total War battle, and not the linear brawler it really is.
And that, unfortunately, is the key point: this is a shallow and repetitive game. There are wrinkles - you can upgrade Marius' kit with XP or randomised in-app purchases, and there are a few new skills to master, including some ranged combat with spears and a crossbow - but most of the time you're fighting the same sorts of enemies over and over. It's also not without visual quirks and bugs, which undermine the experience a bit.
Sadly, then despite the great voice acting and surprisingly interesting characters, there isn't much under the surface. Once the 10-hour story is done, you won't feel drawn to go through the same grinding battles and executions again and again, while the multiplayer - ostensibly an interesting 'Gladiator' mode set in a 'Danger Room'-style Colosseum - wasn't available to review before launch.
All that said, the game isn't quite the overwhelming failure some have labelled it as. It's straightforward and unimaginative, but beautiful and fairly entertaining for a first play-through. Yes, it would have been nice to kick-off the Xbox One with at least one big new AAA game destined for a long-life on the machine. 'Ryse' isn't that. But it's a welcome first assault by the prettiest arrow-fodder in gaming history.