Review: Rise of the Argonauts
X X X X X X X X X X Y. Wait one hour. Repeat.
Greeks eh? For a culture with some of the most bad-ass Gods there ever were (aside from the Norse of course) it’s surprising not only that the Romans conquered them but also there aren’t more games based around them. While it certainly would be interesting to play as the likes of Zeus, throwing lightning bolts around with reckless abandon, currently we must settle for the story of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece. So does this game ensure its seat amongst the gods on Mount Olympus, or just ensure a very strong urge to kill Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts?
Rise of the Argonauts (lets say RotA shall we?) is developed by Liquid Entertainment, who previously developed the PC Desperate Housewives game (shudder) which I really do suppose is neither here nor there. The game has you commanding the titular Argonauts as Jason: King of Iolcus after his bride to be Alceme is assassinated by the eeevil Blacktongues. After dealing with the current enemy threat on Iolcus Jason refuses to accept Alceme’s death and as such vows to get revenge and save his bride. Cue four gods stepping in (Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Athena) to lend a helping hand and to start Jason on his journey. Jason sets off to recruit his band of merry men, travelling to distant lands with the help of his massiveâ€¦ boat, the Argo (built by none other than Roy Campbell). Your mission is to find a descendant of each of your four patron gods and any other willing warriors who will help in your quest (the fleece), many of which being well know mythical characters â€“ Hercules, Achilles, Daedalus, Prometheus etc.
Including the initial island of Iolcus, you have 4 different islands to explore (and then the final enemy stronghold), which while playing through I found very comparable to games like Mass Effect and KOTOR. You play through each island in pretty much the same way. On arriving you talk to the locals, and then talk to some more, and then find some useful information, and then talk to some more and then find some other big important nasty looking persons andâ€¦ talk to them. The game really does have a lot of character interaction and surprisingly little combat but I never once found myself frustrated at this. You will have a main objective on each island, but as you talk to others you can offer to help with their needs and resolve their petty squabbles. Some of these are resolved by talking other only by venturing to the more dangerous areas of the island and finally getting â€œyour combat onâ€.
The constellation screen in the pause menu has a big list of all these â€œmini achievementsâ€, some of which are more obvious what you need to do than others – â€œHelp the orphan boyâ€ or â€œKill 25 enemies with the maceâ€ or â€œFight in the Mycenae arenaâ€. You can either make an effort to complete them or unlock some of them naturally as you progress through the story. Its fun to get them all but your real purpose with them is to offer up these completed objectives to one of the four gods to buy new passive abilities and usable god powers. Each god focuses on several different styles. Ares offers damage boosters and increased mace strength, Apollo offers increased defence and better shield abilities, Hermes goes for speed and sword attacks and Athena works around the spear and increasing the effectiveness of your Argonauts (in a nutshell). The more you purchase with a particular god allows access to more advanced abilities so you will have to decide if you want to focus on one god, or spread your abilities about.
The voice acting and dialogue is good and contains much information and history on Greek mythology. Unfortunately conversations only give you the illusion of controlling the direction in which they go. Frequently you will get to choose a response in the style of your four patron gods (i.e. Kill them all [Ares] or Here Take some monies [Athena]) but you never got the feeling you are making a difference other than by getting more favour from whatever god I chose the response of.
Combat in the game is unusually simplistic and yet surprisingly rewarding. Weapons have as standard a quick and strong attack with literally only a couple of simple combos. Some variety is thrown in with special attacks (activated from RT + X/Y) which recharge quickly after each use, which provide a unique style attack from each of Jason’s three weapon types, spear, sword and mace. While attacking (or button mashing) with any of the three weapons you can switch to another weapon on the fly with LB/RB in order to mix things up a bit. In addition Jason’s indestructible shield can stop most attacks, can shove attacking enemies away and if used to perfect timing can stun enemies, leaving them wide open. Like I said, simple but I never once complained I was getting bored with it.
Let’s cut to the chase. RotA is the latest in a long line of hack and slash games on the 360 and all I really care about is whether or not it does anything new or anything better than the games that have come before.
The story is your standard 300-esque tale of war, honour, lost love and heroic deeds. Unfortunately it is bogged down by a glut of lengthy conversations, enough cutscenes to frustrate Hideo Kojima (ugly ones too) and an awful amount of backtracking (made less fun by the lack of a mini-map or compass).
For this type of game, fights are exceptionally few and far between thanks to the ridiculously intrusive plot and when they occur they lack the depth of Conan (just simple combat, uninspiring ‘god’ powers and limiting combos), the strategy of Dynasty Warriors, the fluidity of Ninja Gaiden, and the weapon choices of Kingdom Under Fire. Most battles just involve enemies standing around, AssCreed-style, taking turns fighting you whilst you press X enough times to break their shield and Y to then cut them to shreds.
It looks pretty (not in the cutscenes though) and has a lovely soundtrack and so for production values the game would score higher but it tells an oft-told tale that was better presented by Ray Harryhausen over forty years ago and if anything is going to put a game the wrong side of five, it’s boredom.
If your favourite part of Mass Effect was running around in Citadel, this might be right up your street but personally I’m bored to tears even writing about Rise of the Argonauts.
Secondary Score: 4/10
Superpowers also appear in the form of god powers which are activated by killing enemies to fill the meter (this doesn’t take long) and activating by pressing on the d-pad (U,D,L,R). Depending on the god powers you purchase you can end up with the ability to create decoys of yourself, enter a bezerker state, revive and boost the health of allies, hurl lightning spears for a limited time and many more. Your two AI warriors which you choose for each island can more than hold their own and can use their own special attacks in combat. They also follow you around when exploring non combat areas and only occasionally get in your way.
The game is not for everyone especially if you are only interested in a mindless hackumslashums but at the same time the game is not without its flaws. Minor niggles such as framerate issues between areas, dodgy looking FMV, load times and a lack of mini-map can irritate. Many will say how there is not a good balance between talking/exploring sections and combat but the alternative would be to shoe in â€œrandom enemy encountersâ€ every five minutes which would quite frankly just feel wrong. I would have liked an area with re-spawning enemies so that when I did have the desire to crush some skulls I could do so or at the least to revisit the islands I’ve completed in order to complete any more of the side quests and fight any left over enemies and I was really surprised to find it wasn’t an option. With a little more effort and varied I do feel this could be a much more widely accepted game but as it is just now I certainly have not much bad to say about it.
Rise of the Argonauts is a most enjoyable breath of fresh air for those that are open minded enough. It doesn’t do anything radical, just things that aren’t greatly focused on other games. If you are after an adventure game and can live with the fairly slow pacing then I would certainly recommend that you give this a look. Oh, and for the next game, how’s about we get at least a couple of Skeletal warriors to fight, hmmm?