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LONG BLOG

Revisiting Crytek's Early Current-Gen Releases (Ryse, Homefront The Revolution)

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It's honestly kind of weird to think back and realize that the PS4 and Xbox One came out about 7 years ago. This console generation has been one hell of a wild ride to say the least, ripe with plenty of controversies over the years, though with no shortages of dreams that came true at the same time either. How many people thought that we'd get (part of) the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Shenmue 3, Kingdom Hearts 3, a new Half Life game, the long-awaited localization of Phantasy Star Online 2, Resident Evil 2 and 3 Remakes back to back, great reboots of Wolfenstein and Doom and so much more, all throughout the span of one console gen? Some of course will argue about the quality of those releases but hey, a lot happened and there's bound to be at least one game that made someone happy.

Of course, this console generation wasn't easy on everyone. Some studios like United Front Games and Capcom Vancouver came into this gen swinging and unfortunately didn't survive long enough to see the end of it, and Crytek themselves were very close to joining the others as yet another games studio that went belly up. But what happened is all in the past and in celebration of the start of a new console gen and 2020 finally coming to a close, I thought it'd be fun to take a quick look back and re-examine some of Crytek's releases over the years.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Crytek's first forray onto the then next-generation of consoles came in the form of Ryse: Son of Rome, which was first envisioned as an MMO before becoming a Kinect-based brawler on Xbox 360, and then finally debuting as a third-person action game and a launch title for the Xbox One. The version I played though was the PC port which came out about a year later.

 

Ryse follows a Roman soldier called Marius over his 10 years of combat, from a young rookie that wants to fight for the empire to a now older battle-scared leader, increasingly weary of his superiors and burning with revenge. It's not the most unique of storylines out there, but it's backed up by some great performances and cutscene direction, and while short at about 4-5 hours I still enjoyed experiencing the story from beginning to end.

Gameplay-wise its a fairly basic third person hack and slash, something more akin to Hellblade or No More Heroes 1/2 in terms of depth and less like DMC or Bayonetta. Marius can slash, parry, dodge, or break open enemy defenses with his shield. Holding down the X or Y buttons lets Marius perform some heavy attacks, you can aim and throw javilins at enemies by holding down the triggers, and if your energy bar is full you can tap LB to basically enter into a berserker-like state, where time slows down and you're able to freely wail on your enemies. It's designed to be simple and accessible enough so that anyone can play it, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The first two games I've mentioned shown that you don't need to have deep combat for a fun time, and there's something to be said about the charming simplicity of Ryse's combat. 

It's suitably bloody as you'd expect from a game set in this era, and great execution animations make combat feel both appropriately brutal and satisfying to pull off. Pressing RT whenever an enemy is in a downed state results in an execution-style QTE playing out, and through one of 4 options on the D-pad you can choose whether you want Marius to gain more XP, attack power, or regain health/focus energy. While you can "fail" the QTEs (animations will play out the same regardless for a "click" noise you'll hear if you fail 'em), it simply means that your character will just get less XP/health/whatever back than if you did it correctly. It makes combat flow smoothly with not much in the way of downtime and I truthfully enjoyed getting in rhythm with the game's combat. Boss fights are a rarity, but their presence is always welcome, and they can be quite fun to fight.

The main issue with Ryse though, besides its short length, is that it feels a bit too plain and safe for its genre. Its levels are linear, which isn't a sin for a hack and slash, but they feel held back by CoD style "go there and do X" objectives and shiny button prompts. It could also stand to be more gamey, as there's boss fights set across the backdrop of a burning wicker man and one set in a continously changing gladiator style colosseum which make for stunning set pieces, but these are unfortunately rare highlights scattered throughout the single player campaign. You'll mostly be fighting standard barbarian mooks in comparatively plain environments like Roman cities under siege or in aqueducts surrounded by lush forests, it could stand to be a bit more stylish and exaggerated. The Roman gods of Winter and Summer despite their appearances also don't result in anything new from a gameplay standpoint. I was personally hoping that there'd be some more supernatural elements since the story does play around with them, but there's not much here. Ryse also really needed some more variety, either with more enemy types, minibosses, weapons or fighting playstyles. There is a progression system but it's fairly basic, like "Gain more HP", "Increase your focus energy bar", "Unlock more executions", that kinda thing. 

There's also a multiplayer component, but I wasn't that invested in it compared with the story mode. Fighting with a buddy while trying to keep up with the crowd's bloodlust is fun, but in terms of combat it mostly plays out the same. Really it's mostly standard co-op fun, but at least it brings back the cool gladiator stadium level that I loved in the campaign.  

As a complete package Ryse certainly isn't the most memorable or unique game out there, but as Crytek's first crack at a hack and slash it wasn't half bad, and its definitely a better first attempt than something like Far Cry 1 was for them. It also runs great at 1440p 60-80fps on the normal settings, and it still looks gorgeous for a 2013 game. It's not something I think most people really need to play nowadays, but it goes on sale for like 5 bucks on Steam. If you want something to test out your PC or a mindless fun "turn your brain off" affair for a weekend, consider giving it a look.

Homefront: The Revolution

You may be wondering "Why include this game here? It's made by Deep Silver and Dambuster Studios". And you're right, but this game had a rough development behind it that I think warrants a discussion. The short version is that as this game was being worked on by Crytek's UK branch, their headquarters in Germany was said to be missing sending payments to their employees and not paying them in full at that. At least 30 people left the project because of that, though not long afterwards Deep Silver would go on to acquire the Homefront IP and studio working on it from Crytek. It's why I still view it as a Crytek release, technically speaking. While things were getting better from there on out, it still had delays and released in a buggy unoptimized state, possibly due to trying to make an open world game with a relatively small studio. To say that this game went through some troubles would be a bit of an understatement. 

But that's mostly water under the bridge nowadays. The game has since been patched up and while I've encountered some visual oddities, it's mostly just goofy bits and thankfully nothing gamebreaking (looking at you Half Life Source). At the time of writing, I'm currently less than halfway through my second playthrough, and while I'm mostly relying on memory right now for this blogpost, I still think Homefront The Revolution is alright. Not a masterpiece, not a trash fire, just alright. 


You might see a few bugs like this throughout your playthrough. Nothing game ruining, but it can take you out of Homefront's gorgeous world.

The settings for the Homefront games have always been ridiculous, playing around with the idea that North Korea could somehow rise up and completely take over the United States, but while the first game tried to predict current events leading up to its bleak future (it got Kim Jong-Il dying right at least), The Revolution is instead a franchise reboot, using alternate history to portray a world where North Korea was instead a technological supergiant that helped out America through its rough times, only to slowly occupy and take over the country using their Korean People's Army. You play as a young voiceless revolutionary in the middle of all this named Ethan Brady, working hard to liberate the city of Philadelphia from KPA rule while trying to rescue Benjamin Walker, the figure behind the revolution.

The story isn't that strong in the base game though, mostly due to a lack of memorable characters or interesting interactions save for a few good moments. It isn't anything terrible by any means and it brings up interesting concepts like maybe people don't want to deal with the hassle of a revolution anymore, along with a doctor named Benett arguing that the resistance may be doing more harm to the people than good. There's definitely potential for greatness here, it just never really goes somewhere special. Thankfully the same can't be said for Homefront's world, which has some great world building and level design. 

The first game was a fairly standard CoD clone that was over just as soon as it began. The setting was novel, but it rushed the player through so many setpieces that there never really was time for its world or its characters to properly develop. Going for somewhat of an open world approach was a blessing in this case since it let the player do a better job of soaking in the world and atmosphere. I say somewhat because its not a seamless open world game like something like GTA, think something more like maps separated by loading screens akin to Postal 2 or Dead Island. Still, its cool seeing each map have its own theme to it, from war-torn battlegrounds to poverty striken ghettos, and of course lavish neighbourhoods tailor-made for American defectors willing to work under the KPA for an easier life. 

Its also nice to see NPC interactions, like two American peace officers playing baseball in alleyways, or citizens beating down KPA soldiers once you've caused enough of a ruckus, it's a bit janky/low budget but the ambition is still there. Plus there's some genuinely well written journals painting a better picture of the world, like an accountant cracking under the pressure after joining the resistance and having to go out and fight. There's something about them to where I wanted to find as much as I could find, which deserves praise as I've rarely went out of my way to find or even read most journals in non-survival horror games. I haven't talked about the gameplay yet, but that's mostly because its nothing as special in comparison. 

It feels like a smaller scale version of Far Cry 3, but without the cool skill tree system and crazy fights. Your character can't take as many bullets, nor can they pull off as many cool stunts or heal themselves even if they run out of syringe kits, making them feel like less of an action movie star and more of a regular person. There's still plenty of tricks at your disposal though, from Crysis-style weapon customization, weapon kits that can turn a pistol to an SMG, and you can craft throwable items using parts scavanged throughout the environment. 

The guns feel nice and satisfying to use, and combat as a whole is enjoyable since it really does feel like you're more of a guerilla fighter. Hacking KPA drones to use their tech against them is always fun, and some enemies have their own weakpoints so you dont have to waste explosives on them or empty magazines into them. Plus while the levels are small so there's a nice degree of verticality to the level design with plenty of traps to use. So far so good, so why isn't this game talked about more?

The main issue is that the AI for both friendly and foes really isn't the brightest, and for the most part since any weapon is good enough to take out the KPA its easy to find yourself getting bored fairly quickly unless you go out of your way to experiment with different weapon combinations or even use traps at all. Plus since it's kind of like Far Cry 3 where stronghold/map clearing which gets stale quick, especially since the level layouts don't really change that much, all fortresses are more or less cleared in the same way. Side content also isn't that entertaining, it's just like clearing bounties in Destiny where you're tasked with photographing 20 NPCs or killing 10 enemies with a shotgun, and the payout isn't really worth it when story missions give you more cash than you'll know what to do with.

Its the kind of game that gets easier and less interesting as it goes along, which is a shame. And other aspects of the game like the Resistance Mode are just co-op missions which reuse maps from the campaign, which is as throwaway as Ryse's multiplayer. But The Revolution goes out with a bang at least, with 3 story DLCs which serve as a prequel, follow up, and conclusion to the game, and are genuinely fun to play through. They ditch the open world approach in favor of a more linear series of levels, and while it is disappointing at first this results in some fun combat encounters, which feel on par with something like Crysis 2/3. On top of that the story itself genuinely gets good here, since your main characters can now talk and play off of each other compared to being silent in the base game. It feels like it gets just the right amount of style and personality needed for an action game without getting too goofy, and the gameplay from the base game does a good job of translating itself over to a more linear framework. 

Its thanks to these DLCs that I felt pretty optimistic towards Dambusters' future projects, even though I'm still worried to see how Dead Island 2 pans out. With how the amount of studios that worked on that game over this console gen, I'm really not confident in that being a good game. But that's another story for another day, the bottom line is that Homefront The Revolution is a rough but enjoyable experience that improves on its predecessor. Definitely a hard sell if you're only getting the console versions as I hear they suffer from input lag, and its not really worth getting without the other DLCs. But at its sub $5 pricetag, its alright. 

I'd talk about Hunt: Showdown which is a genuinely fantastic multiplayer horror game and easily the best thing Crytek put out in ages, but this blog is getting into TL;DR territory, so I'll just wrap this up. Each of these games represent a certain stage in Crytek's history, from its high after the Crysis games to a company nearly on the brink of bankruptcy, to its gradual recovery where it currently is now. Most of these games of course don't make for the most interesting playthroughs, but they are fun to look back and re-examine. Considering their cheap pricetags on sale and how even now they stand out visually and even setting-wise, its worth adding them to your collection if you're the kind of person that loves re-exploring a notable developer's catalogue.

- One game done, now onto the next.


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About humantofuone of us since 6:22 PM on 10.22.2020

NEET in mind and spirit.