If there was one phrase that summed up Crytek, it would be 'all show and no go'. The company's titles always look the business, but never really feel like their gameplay is anything approaching that level of ingenuity. Ryse appears to be the same.
Going hands-on with two-player, local co-op, my partner and I were thrown into a fabulously over-the-top coliseum, and first impressions are good. There's a sheer sense of scale to the place, and looking up into the cheap seats -which seemed to be a mile away - I could make out individual bits of confetti, raining down from the crowd and bathed in glaring, harsh yet natural-looking lighting. You feel that Crytek will have taken its cues from Ridley Scott, and the graphical recreation of Rome's killing fields is nearly as impressive here as it was there.
Character models, too, are impressive, taking up a huge chunk of the screen and generally conveying the fact that you are an enormous killing machine. There's a sense of weight and place to models and environments that would have been very difficult to achieve before, and as a graphical showcase for Xbox One, it's doing it's job well.
A shame, then, that the combat is rather dull. Playing as Mars, the Roman God of War (one of four gods I could choose from), I could deliver either light or heavy attacks by stabbing at or holding down the X button, as well as use my shield in much the same way with Y. A rudimentary block button provides defence, all very much like the single-player.
But there's just no rhythm to the game - not with this character, at least. There's the thrill of blunt force trauma, of course, but that fades into repetitive comboing that never goes beyond first gear. Enemies, too, provided little resistance or guile. The mode on show threw waves of harder foes at you - think Horde - as well as objectives, like, erm, turret sections or burning tents To add yet more into the mix, there's also an incredible shape-shifting arena: at one point the whole floor descends about a hundred feet - it's very impressive.
With all that, though, it's still out of the Streets of Rage/Final Fight playbook. It didn't feel like there was any escalation, in either my moves or the enemy forces. And there was very little teamwork: beyond the odd double kill, I may well have been playing on my own.
Granted, you could argue that this is mine, his, or both our faults, but then, I never felt I needed to use him.
The nearest the game comes to flow, in this demo at least, is during the QTEs. Batter your foes enough and you can hit B to kill them deader than anyone has ever been. But, as one of the reps at the stand even said, it's more about remembering when to hit one button. Grimly satisfying as they may be, it's not very involved.
So, again, Crytek has shown us it's good at making something pretty. But there's the overwhelming sense that this will be remembered as a quintessential second-tier launch game: the one you play because it looks nice and you want to show off your new powerhouse, rather than because it's really that good.