Name: Rise of the Argonauts
Genre: Action, Role-Playing Game
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on PS3)
Rise of the Argonauts is like a brilliant story written by a terrible author; filled with technical issues and poor design choices that will have you questioning why the game was rushed for a late-December release when it obviously would have been better suited to a mid-year release and the extended development time that would entail. The plot, fueled by cutscenes and dialogue trees similar to Mass Effect’s, is genuinely interesting, following King Jason after the assassination of his wife Alceme. Jason vows to find a way to bring her back to life, assembling a group of followers along the way who fight with him in battle. Hercules, Pan, Achilles and others fill the ranks of the Argonauts, fleshing out the universe and giving the game a proper Greek feel.
The issues with the game aren’t the stories, and in many ways the easiest way to describe the problems with Rise of the Argonauts is to remember the issues with Atari’s Alone in the Dark. Where Alone in the Dark failed at telling an interesting story and having functional combat, Rise of the Argonauts succeeds, and where Alone innovated and was technically sound, Rise fails horribly. Both were inches from brilliance, but stunted by design follies and dropped from contenders for game-of-the-year awards to disasters. It isn’t hard to see where many of the good ideas in Rise of the Argonauts came from, and it’s equally as easy to see where they went wrong.
Combat, when you’re actually allowed to fight, is the most polished and well-developed facet of the game. Jason is able to seamlessly switch between a sword, spear, and mace, while chaining combination attacks between them. It isn’t difficult, save for boss battles, but the fast, brutal strikes are more than enough to build a game around. They were almost able to succeed in this with other elements that tie together the narrative and combat, such as the Deed system, where different awards are given as the plot progresses that can be used as a currency of sorts to spend on different gods blessings. Killing 30 enemies, competing in the arena, and convincing a fallen soldier’s wayward child to return home all earn Deeds that can be spent on the different gods, unlocking enhancements for battle. The Deed system blends together the narrative and combat effectively, and makes them feel like more like cohesive parts of a whole product than they do in games like Fable II and Mass Effect.
Sadly, combat isn’t the only aspect of the game. Rise of the Argonauts finds itself trying to play RPG for most of the game, and it can often feel more like a JRPG than it would admit to being. Visiting a new city unlocks several quests that will have you wandering around talking to NPCs more than spilling the blood of enemies. It isn’t attempting to create a multi-path system, where the option to avoid battles is present, it just feels like the developers trying to lengthen the game.
It’s made even worse by the developer’s insistence on keeping the screen HUDless, and leaving players without any guidance save for the map located in the menu. It might be one of the worst maps in gaming history, and the game’s longer-than-normal load times make exploring cities a chore so upsettingly boring that it’s difficult to justify playing for extended periods of time.
If there were an issue with a certain aspect of a game that the developers don’t plan on fixing, it would make sense if they were covered up well, or at least distracted from. If the developers were unable to create a solid combat engine, odds are they wouldn’t force players into battles they could avoid. Strangely, while the combat isn’t faulty, everything else is, and instead of covering it up, Liquid Entertainment presents it on a golden platter.
The framerate stutters uncontrollably whenever the camera is moved even the slightest, textures seem to be popping in minutes after areas are loaded, and the worst part is that the graphics aren’t remotely impressive enough to justify it. If it looked better the barely-functional engine might be forgivable, but some characters look straight out of a PlayStation 2 games. It’s inexcusable, irresponsible, and embarrassing; Codemasters should be ashamed of themselves. Questing and talking to NPCs, whose audio often crackles with static when their voices rise, takes priority over fighting, and the reasoning behind this is will forever remain a mystery to me.
Earlier, the comparison to Alone in the Dark was made, a game broken by gameplay issues and technical problems but still worth playing because of the strides it made towards innovation in game design. While it shares several similarities with it, the largest difference is that Rise of the Argonauts isn’t worth playing, it’s simply too painful. At one point they might have had something special, but the entertaining combat and interesting leveling mechanics aren't good enough to prevent the constant, boring, grinding questing. The constant glitches are awful enough to dissuade even the strongest at heart from playing for more than a few hours, and Rise of the Argonauts might be one of the most dissapointing games of the generation.