All roads lead to Rome; even the virtual ones. “Ryse: Son of Rome” was released in 2013 and is set in ancient Rome as the soldier Marius Titus rises through the Legion’s ranks. On a mission of revenge, Marius’s story takes place on the cobbled streets of Rome, the far corners of Britannia and the deadly floor of the Colosseum.
First, the most surprising part of this review: I finished “Ryse” in under a week, smashing my previous record of four months to finish “Bioshock,” a similarly lengthed game. The game tutorial scenes introduced the story quickly, but the mechanics were slow enough for even me to understand. I learned how to fight beyond constantly pushing the same button in a panic. By the end of the first level, I was swinging, blocking and dodging in a weirdly beautiful flow. I finally understood why people liked high action scenes in video games.
However, the fighting quickly becomes repetitive, as you essentially kill the same three barbarians over and over again, with exactly the same moves and only slight costume changes. Throughout the entire gameplay, I felt like a dog on a leash, with absolutely no ability to choose where I went or make decisions that changed the storyline.
The plot is a simple revenge story, with a few twists at the perfect time to keep the game interesting. Hardly any of the storyline happens during actual gameplay, but instead unfolds in the cutscenes between levels. While some of these cut scenes are brilliant, much of their dialogue falls flat. Even the most rousing adventure music on the soundtrack couldn’t make the terrible lines feel important or impactful.
Where “Ryse” excels, though, is in its visual display. The cinematics of cut scenes were so good I sometimes felt I was watching a movie instead of playing a game. Every location, from the Colosseum to the dark moors of Scotland, is illustrated in stunning and immersive detail. “Ryse” creates a perfect version of our modern perceptions of what ancient Rome was: aqueducts, white pillared temples and villas adorned with sculptures straight out of the Roman wing of the Louvre. But, Ryse’s Rome still manages to feel like a real city and not a pristine museum, complete with graffiti mocking Emperor Nero scrawled on stone walls. Despite the constant and unnecessary amounts of blood and gore while fighting, “Ryse” is simply a beautiful game.
However, I can’t end this review without a final complaint about its historical accuracy because some of “Ryse’s” mistakes are too big to let slide. First, “Ryse” sets its story during the reign of Emperor Nero, one of Rome’s more notorious rulers. Most of the game’s problems surround his and his two son’s moral failings corrupting the Roman Empire; the only problem is, Nero didn’t have any sons. Additionally, “Ryse” makes a point of including the Colosseum in every available city scene, just in case we forgot this is Rome. But, as any tourist could tell you, the Colosseum was built by one of Nero’s successors, Emperor Titus, on the ruins of his palace, four years after the death of Nero, as an apology to the Roman people for Nero’s unbelievable opulence.
“Ryse” also features the historical figure Boudica, the game’s only female character who survives more than five minutes. In the game, Boudica rallies an army of Britons and storms into the heart of Rome. As much as I hate to criticize the game for including a strong female warrior in the plot, Boudica never left the British Isles, let alone broke the walls of Rome. Look her up; Boudica was cool enough without the exaggerations and constricting, sexist-excuse for armor given to her in Ryse.
“Ryse” might be a shallow game focused more on showing off than substance, but it’s an entertaining and stunning game that anyone (even I) can play.