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Ryse Review

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  1. I remember playing Heavenly Sword on the PlayStation 3 and being floored by the facial animation in it. I experienced a similar feeling with Ryse: Son of Rome; my pick of the Xbox One exclusive launch titles. I've played a fair few next-gen titles now and while Killzone: Shadowfall and Forza 5 are impressive, there's something about the facial and body animations in Ryse that consistently thrill me. That they're applied to such a cool game is jolly good luck, too. An ultraviolent third-person hack 'n' slash, Ryse: Son of Rome puts you in the shoes of Marius Titus as he carries out conquests against barbarians for the Roman Empire, driven by the vengeful rage he feels for his slain family. The story is surprisingly good for a game so hell-bent on being as military and bloodthirsty as this is. Ryse is a game so masculine and hardcore, playing it is akin to watching the battle sequences of 300, Gladiator and Spartacus edited to music by Amon Amarth and Manowar.
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  3. The voice acting is very solid, especially by the actor of Marius himself, instilling an appropriate level of gravitas and even conveying intense emotions fairly well. This is helped along by the fantastic Crytek engine-driven animations, of course, but also a wonderful scripting effort. Some pretty huge liberties are taken with historical accuracy in the game and one of the villainous characters, the truly despicable son of a Roman emperor, carries himself in a particularly modern way that I think would've been weird in a game set 20 years ago, let alone 2000. But that's OK, I'm playing it to have fun, I'll jump on Wikipedia if I want to learn about Nero and his wicked ways. Gameplay is almost entirely confined to hacking & slashing enemies with Marius' sword, and bashing them with his shield, knee and foot. You have two attack buttons, each of which can be held to perform a heavy attack, along with a roll away button and a defend button. What the combat system relies on, rather than complexity, is timing. Getting the timing right on parrying an enemy blow, then the combination in which you strike back, and the precise timing of each of those strikes, is what Ryse is all about. It's a very tight focus for gameplay, but I found it to be highly satisfying. Its simplicity is a big part of why it works. Once an enemy's health is worked down enough, an execution can be performed. That's when the real fun starts. There's well over 100 brutal kill animations in Ryse and they're a constant thrill to watch.
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  5. Stringing together perfect hits and executions yields greater XP, which can be spent on unlocking further execution moves, increasing health and other such abilities. If you're not into actually earning your XP, you can simply pay cold hard cash for it. There are a few other weapons - spears, ballistas and catapults - and some squad command tactics to mix things up a bit, but the combat in this very combat-heavy game is largely restricted to the sword and shield. The segments where you have to issue commands to other soldiers while continuing to battle enemies one-on-one yourself can be frustratingly difficult. While the graphics are generally very, very impressive and the animations often disturbingly lifelike, Ryse doesn't get everything right. Not by a long shot. For a game so obsessed with swords being thrust through human bodies, this crucial element doesn't look as good as one could hope. Yes, the animation around every stab and chop looks fantastic, as do the objects that are being animated; however, the actual blade and how it reacts to human skin, bone and flesh often doesn't look very real, if you look closely enough at the unforgiving high-definition images. They look like two different objects programmed to move independently rather than together, making it look a bit fake. It's crazy to be unhappy with these close-up details when the game is so beautiful, but next-gen is here. The bar has been raised. And if you think I'm a sicko for wanting to see realistic wounding in HD, you're reading the wrong game review, sorry. There's a few other bugs here and there. It's not too uncommon to see bodies magically moving through solid objects and I managed to get stuck behind a gate at one point, forcing me to load the last checkpoint. Occasionally it's quite difficult to see where to go, too, which can be annoying.
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  7. The score is good, but not great. A better composer would've perhaps made the gaming experience more epic, but what they've come up with is perfectly functional.
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  9. All the characters look fantastic, but I had hoped that the new processing power of the Xbox One would've meant they'd look unique and act differently too. Alas, several of the thousands of enemies I slayed before the game was through were clones of each other both in terms of appearance and actions.
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  11. In the context of the whole game, the negatives aren't too drastic. Much of the game filled me brought me loads of joy, the cutscenes had me driving a clenched fist up in the air (before stopping abruptly and looking out the window to see if anyone in the apartment building across the road had seen).
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  13. I tend to dig pure military single-player experiences more than most reviewers - most of the Call of Duty games and the Battlefield series and so on. Ryse has that same chest-beating, grunting, alpha-male feel, but applies it to gameplay that's like God of War, only based in human history rather than Greek mythology.
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  15. As such, Ryse is a great success with me, although admittedly this far up my alley didn't have to try very hard.
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  17. In addition to the single-player campaign, Ryse has co-operative multiplayer options. I haven't been able to play these very much seeing as I'm filing this review a couple of days before it's on sale, but it's basically wave-based gladiator combat in the Coliseum.
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  19. The most exciting thing about co-op is the whole truckload of kill animations it has, unique from those found in single-player. If I'm sounding a little obsessed with kill animations at this point, well that may be true, but games like Mortal Kombat are popular for a good reason. Pulling off a great kill and having it trigger a brutal animation is a just great fun.
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  21. Ryse: Son of Rome may be rough around the edges, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Taking the mighty power of the Xbox One console and focusing it all into one man's blood-drenched quest with his trusty sword and shield is commendable, and I hope dearly to see a more polished, improved sequel.
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  23. 4/5
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