Editor's note: Knock at least one point off the score if you don't think burly men hitting each other is really, really cool…
A lot of people will insult Ryse: Son of Rome. Serving as visual showpiece to hint at what the Xbox One is capable of, its sole focus is just that. Much like the 'prettiest girl at the dance' it wants everyone to stand up and take notice. Players are meant to leave with one thought in mind: 'There's no way they could've achieved this on the 360*.'
What people forget, though, is that during the launch of a console, such games do have a certain weight to them. While graphics or the way a game is presented should never be the be all and end all, we'd be lying if we said a new generation without such visual statements wouldn't be missed. Aside from the instant satisfaction you get from staring at a level of sheen that hasn't been possible (console-wise) in the past, it adds a huge amount to a title's impact. Without even touching a pad, you know you've entered the next era. It's certainly not a bad thing.
And that's why Ryse has to be taken with the appropriate amount of salt. In a year's time, as developers get better acquainted with the hardware and start to push limits that we never thought possible, Son of Rome's USP will fade. As it is you'll still completely forget about it as soon as it's finished, so as technological power increases its star will fade even more so. I wouldn't be surprised if we all look back one day and laugh at Ryse as we forget what its purpose was at the time.
With that said, there's still more to Crytek's first next-generation title than just being pretty – it simply needed to be a little more thought out and developed to truly shine.
Combat is at the heart of Ryse, and it's all you'll do as you progress. Marius Titus loves his sword and the only thing he loves more than that is shoving it into someone's neck. Or back. Or just chopping a dude's limb off. It's horrendously gory – which, in turn, will make you feel even more badass – but that's Ryse to a tee. You walk around Rome killing people, take a small break, and then kill some more.
Thankfully, the way in which you do this is entertaining. It's incredibly basic, yes, but the ideas put in place do show flashes of potential. Looking at what Rocksteady did with its combat for Batman, Crytek borrows heavily from it, introducing a rhyme and pace to its fighting system where you continually switch between basic attacks, infiltrate someone's guard, or counter an incoming strike. When posed with the right enemies it is wonderfully satisfying, allowing you to slowly wear down multiple attackers in intelligent ways. When posed with the wrong enemies, though – those who are nothing more than grunts – it's not as interesting.
There's no denying that Ryse, in many ways, is very silly. But the problem is that it's not silly/outlandish enough. Tactical, paced combat is fine when the opponents around you respond to it, but individuals that wouldn't last five minutes in a Bond movie don't deserve the same respect. In these instances, Crytek would've been much better served to look at the likes God of War and enabled our hero to utterly eviscerate such faceless creatures. As well as serving to empower you further, it would have turned these more important brawls into mini-boss fights, increasing both their importance and enjoyment.
I would guess these are all thoughts Crytek may have planned for the seemingly inevitable sequel, but that still doesn't mean what's here should be knocked entirely. Launch games of recent times have often fallen into a set pattern, and Ryse does it far better than a lot of the nonsense that's been thrown our way over the last few generations.
You just have to be completely accepting and understanding of what it is you're going to receive. Should you be hoping for an in-depth, well thought out, varied masterpiece, then Ryse was always going to disappoint you. Even the trailers are enough to tell you that. If, however, you want something ridiculous to hold your hand as you arrive at Microsoft's new party then I can't imagine you wouldn't have an entertaining time with it.
Big, brash and beautiful, with concepts designed for instant satisfaction, Son of Rome is the classic launch game. Just remember, enjoying manly men throwing weapons at each other is also rather crucial. Sometimes, it's the simple things…
*Although, if you've ever thought that after seeing an attractive women at a social function, you may have serious problems.