Greek Mythology is awesome. It's always packed full of deceit, violence and sex, in a world where even the Gods are complete dicks. When I heard about Rise of the Argonauts, I quickly took note and made sure to keep an eye on it.
The game is released today, and Destructoid has the official verdict. Is Rise of the Argonauts bound for the glory of Olympus, or the dark torment of Tartarus?
Rise of the Argonauts (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Developed by Liquid Entertainment
Published by Codemasters
Released on December 16, 2008 (US)
It pains me to begin this review with a damning criticism, but it is a problem so great that it overshadows anything good that Rise of the Argonauts accomplishes. Let me start then by saying that RotA is the most broken, glitchy, buggy, unfinished videogame I have played all generation. Possibly ever. This game is so badly made, I cannot even comprehend how it got past QA, let alone made it far enough to be released.
Starting with the obvious issue first, let's talk framerate. At random intervals, regardless of what is happening on screen, the game chugs and stutters as if it's struggling to process anything. At one point I even had to stop playing because it was straining my eyes.
Bad framerate, however, is a Godsend when you compare it to the real game breaking issues that plague this title. Whether it's falling straight through the floor or getting stuck in impassable areas, the opening hour of Rise of the Argonauts is so devastated that at one point, I found myself having to restart the game three times in five minutes. As the game progresses, the the truly broken elements get less frequent, but the opening chapter is a monument to shoddy development.
Then there are the just plain silly glitches. Character models deciding to swap voice actors partway through a scene, water that refuses to ripple, splash or change in any way when you walk over it, Jason turning invisible during dialog. Pretty much every clichéd glitch you can think of is found within Rise of the Argonauts. To say this game lacks polish is a compliment. Some of these issues would be unforgivable on the N64, let alone modern consoles.
The real shame of it all is, beyond the unforgivably numerous breakages, there is a genuinely decent game struggling to escape. Liquid Entertainment very obviously had a strong vision for what it wanted Rise of the Argonauts to be, and when it's not falling prey to bad design and rushed development, it succeeds in realizing its potential.
Rise of the Argonauts is very clearly an action game, despite lauding itself as an RPG. That said, there is a huge amount of dialog, to the point where almost half of the gameplay is walking and talking. Those looking for a straight up God of War style slaughterhouse will be disappointed, but I personally found something quite enjoyable in performing the game's many "go and talk to this person, then this person" quests.
What makes the dialog interesting is the "Aspects" system. Unlike your usual RPG-lite leveling mechanics, Jason improves by pleasing one of the four Gods watching his quest -- Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Athena. There are generally four responses Jason can give in any conversation, each one in the flavor of a certain God. For instance, a macho response would please Ares, while something more cunning and witty would gain the favor of Hermes. Each time you please a God, it will fill up their Aspect meter, and you gain an Aspect point each time it fills.
The other way you gain Favor is to dedicate deeds to each of the Gods. Deeds almost act like Achievements or Trophies, in that you earn them for completing tasks, killing certain enemies, or choosing enough of a particular dialog choice. These dedications often fill huge chunks of meters, and will be important in gaining Aspect points.
Each God has a tree of special gifts that can be bestowed upon Jason by spending Aspect points, some of them useful, some of them disappointing, and most of them given in the spirit of each God. For example, the powers you can gain from Ares are based around simple combat, often bestowing significant attack bonuses depending on how you fight in battle. Apollo, by contrast, is about defense, and can deliver gifts that allow Jason to summon a beacon of healing light or raise his endurance.
Although the idea of deeds and gaining favor could have been a bit more subtly woven into the game, it still provides something a little deeper and fresher than the norm.
As far as combat goes, those looking for a traditional action game will again feel let down. There are no real combos and the special moves are not only thin on the ground, but very simply mapped on the controller. RotA is more about learning to block and break the defenses of opponents rather than performing crazy special moves. Jason can switch between a spear, a sword and a mace at will, each one performing as expected. As you start the game, you'll feel somewhat challenged, especially if you rush in without blocking. As the game progresses, however, you'll soon find yourself mashing buttons and coming out on top.
The fundamentals are all in place and at several points, the average player who knows what to expect will find a lot to like in RotA. However, even beyond the bugs, a few terrible design choices keep the unrestricted fun at bay. Argonauts attempts to strip any form of HUD from the screen. While this is certainly an "in" thing to do at the moment, it makes RotA unbearable at times. You can go into the options and select a health meter (handy, because otherwise the game gives no clear clue as to how much damage you're taking until you're almost finished) but the one thing it doesn't let you select is anything that gives you a clue as to where the Hell you are.
There is no on-screen map in the game, and in a title that expects you to wander around considerably large environments full of useless space while running back-and-forth to talk to people, this is simply unbelievable. The only way you can find out where you're going is to pause the game, then select a map from the pause menu, before being greeted by one of the most useless and uninformative maps imaginable. There is no option to set your quests and get an Oblivion-like compass or Fable-esque trail. There is no minimap. The ONLY way you'll get around RotA is to pause the game every few seconds and jump through two screens to get the vaguest indication that you might be heading in the correct direction.
All that said, apart from game-breaking glitches, graphical cock-ups, no HUD and a hidden map, the game's alright. The story, while not totally enthralling, is rather interesting and there are even a few witty pieces of dialog. The villains are all hilariously obvious and certain characters such as Pan are rather likable. It's just a shame that the character animation is not, with the often over-used models twitching like something from the PS2 era.
In fact, the less-than-spectacular graphics make the atrocious framerate even more obnoxious. RotA is rarely a pretty game, and it's not as if it's densely populated or doing anything particularly taxing to the machinery. The graphics are average at best, so there truly is no excuse for any of the issues presented.
That's the true problem at the heart of Rise of the Argonauts -- there is no excuse. Liquid Entertainment had in its hands a game with real potential. Tapping into a story not often explored in videogames, with a deeper-than-average leveling system and solid combat, Rise of the Argonauts could have been a damn good game. Sadly, those at the helm allowed it to be completely ruined by poor design and utterly inconceivable schoolboy errors that should not still be occurring in the year 2008.
The developers ought to be ashamed to have their names attached to this.
Score: 3 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)
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