Review: Rise of the Argonauts (Sony PS3)


Rise of the Argonauts (PS3)
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 12/16/2008

When I think of Jason and the Argonauts, my mind immediately goes to that Ray Harryhausen classic of the 60’s. His brilliant imagination and ability with special effects truly brought the movie to life and left it as a classic of the genre.

But stories of myth take on a life of their own after a while. Being told and retold can either help or hurt the story. So which is it here, Colossus of Rhodes, or a made-for-tv special?

1. Story/Modes

First off, if you’re a student of Greek myth (Or just a geek of the same) you may want to stop now. This is not the classic story of Jason and the Argonauts. This is like one of those movies that says it’s inspired by real life events; like how The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based on a grave-robber/murderer from Wisconsin. That being said, even though Rise of the Argonauts veers wildly from the source material, it’s a solid story.

Jason’s bride, Alceme, is murdered on their wedding day, so he makes a vow to bring her back no matter what. This leads him in search of the Golden Fleece, the one object able to undo anything, even death. His friend Hercules joins him and they board the Argos, the most powerful ship ever made (Which also happens to be a bit steam-punkish. I told you they diverted.) From there they learn they must visit three islands and gather decedents of the gods to help them on their quest. Cue the game….

It’s really a great story, and my brief description really doesn’t do it justice. The writing is amazing, not a cheesy line to be heard. The level of drama and intensity really pull you in, making the game more like a movie (in terms of story, at least) than any I’ve played in a while. Each character, even the NPCs, is fully fleshed out and represented, causing a reaction to each one. Let me put it this way, I’ve never seen a game before that can introduce a character that you only speak with once, and in that one conversation both hate and pity him. It’s truly remarkable. Even the side-quests are well written, enthralling, and satisfying to complete. And while you may be running back and forth on the occasional errand, you never hit the “get the blue key” crap so many other RPGs resort to. It’s a solid category all around; other games could learn a thing or two from this one.

Story/Modes Rating: Classic

2. Graphics

Rise of the Argonauts looks fantastic. The character designs, especially Jason, pack in a great amount of detail. The levels are detailed to a lesser degree, but maintain an atmosphere and personality all their own. And while I was disappointed with the 3D vegetation being somewhat flat, the overall design was impressive. You’ll travel through palaces, towns, slums, arenas, jungles and swamps, and each one envelopes your senses without ever stepping over the line into “Generic Jungle Level” or “Generic Dungeon Level”.

It’s not perfect, though, especially on the first level. I noticed a lot of pop-in of background items, which would render with an irritating white flash. The game also seemed to run slower for the first hour or so, chugging along when you ran from room to room. Things cleared up until the end of the game, where so much was happening it just about shut everything down. I even saw the “Loading” icon pop up a few times in the middle of battle as everything slowed to a crawl.

Also, though the characters look great, they certainly don’t do much in conversation mode. Just the usual stand-and-sway with the occasional gesture. It surprised me that for a game that puts so much into their characters looks, voices, and stories, that they’d drop the ball when it came to their “acting” ability.

When it comes to action, though, they jump back on track with some nice combos and gore. Decapitations are always a plus, and the game shows them in zoomable slow motion (which can get a little repetitive, but never tiresome). They also threw in a few dismemberments and some physics as well. It’s always nice to see your opponent get sliced in half and have his legs run out from under his torso. Like pulling a tablecloth out from under a bloodied place setting.

Finally, while the primary menu screen is a bit bland, the sub-menus are fantastic. For instance, your deeds are collected in constellation form; as you progress, a screen of the night sky fills up with different images, with each star a different accomplishment. The game could have taken this all a step farther and made these Trophies, but didn’t. Which is a shame, because many of your deeds are far more interesting than most of the Trophies I’ve seen so far.

Overall a wonderfully detailed game that just needed a little more care and effort to be something really great.

Graphics Rating: Very Good

3. Sound

The voice acting is excellent across the board. There’s a lot of characters to be represented, and there’s not a dud among them (though the Rasta centaur was a bit of a stretch). Jason particularly shines, conveying true emotion throughout the entire story, ranging from love to rage to compassion.

The music flows smoothly and effortlessly throughout the game, acting as an invisible companion, subtly underscoring every scene. In fact, the decidedly Mediterranean strains may sound familiar, as the score was written by Tyler Bates, who composed the music for 300.

Sound Rating: Incredible

4. Control/Gameplay

Most of the game consists of talking with other characters and making dialog choices. Usually a game will give you two or three things you can say, based on how snarky you want to be. Everyone has a good chuckle and things move on. Rise of the Argonauts will often give four choices, based on the four primary gods of the game.

Ares’ response will be quick and to the point, if not the conversation-ender of a fist to the face. Hermes’ choices are usually inquisitive or sarcastic, confusing or irritating the listener while still getting some good information. Apollo’s responses are more regal, soothing things over and generally being the nicest. Athena’s are based on the impartial scales of judgement, and may seem harsh and uncaring at times.

These four gods form the basis of just about everything you do in the game. Answering in their aspect honors them, and so earns you the equivalent of experience points. In fact, everything you accomplish in the game can be offered up to the gods for experience. Declaring different deeds to each god will earn you experience with them, allowing you access to abilities and powers.

The abilities and powers directly affect your combat skills. And while there’s not much combat for most of the game, by the time you reach the end, you are truly a force to be reckoned with, effortlessly cutting through swathes of enemies in seconds.

Speaking of combat, there’s precious little of it until the last two levels, but what is there is handled well. You’re equipped with a mace, spear, and sword, and during fights you can switch weapons mid-combo. While it doesn’t come across as smoothly as it should, it makes for a nice option. Every stage gives you the opportunities to earn new versions of the three weapons and each with its own bonus.

But that’s about the only thing you can get. For an Action RPG, Argonauts has none of the traditional roleplaying game trappings. There are no boxes to smash, no treasure chests to open. There’s no gold, merchants, or healing potions. There’s not even any collectibles to find, hidden around the levels. There’s just the talking, running, and occasional fighting.

There’s also no undo button for experience choices, or skipping cut-scenes. There’s no cut-scene gallery for that matter, which is a shame because some of them a really good and worth a second viewing. And lastly, the dialog that makes up so much of the game can be glitchy from time to time, repeating itself or having characters say things they shouldn’t based on choices made.

But even with these problems, Argonauts comes across as a strong, well made game. It’s not perfect, but it works.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to be said for the replayability of Rise of the Argonauts. Unless you want to play through to see different response choices, there’s really nothing here. And while I loved the story of the game, I can’t see myself sitting through it again just to see a variant quote that will lead to the same conclusion. If you’re a completist, there are probably a few Deeds you missed, but since they’re not cumulative with the last play through, you wouldn’t know if you got them all unless you personally kept track. Beating the game earns you nothing more than watching the credits scroll, something you can do from the opening menu.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance

Here’s where we really run into a bit of trouble. I thought about this section quite a lot and wanted to make sure I said the next bit as accurately as possible. This game is 50% Talking, 30% Running, and 20% Fighting. Which would be fine if it were billed as an RPG, but it’s advertised, both by word and by video, as an Action RPG. They don’t show you making philosophical decisions or aligning yourself with gods by your words, they show you decapitating Satyrs. People picking up this game will probably be expecting God of War with some clever bits breaking up the hack and slash. Instead they’ll get a Grecian hero running back and forth through a maze of streets for 10 minutes trying to find a man named The Stork. To be fair, the last two levels are completely hack and slash, but that still doesn’t make for good balance. If they’d have even evened out the running and fighting throughout the game, it’d have been a massive improvement, but as it stands, this aspect is seriously flawed.

Balance Rating: Very Bad

7. Originality

Well they certainly didn’t let the original source material hold them back, but they crafted a damn fine story nonetheless. Some characters are more out of place than others (Medusa and Perseus as siblings, Pan as an over-educated Satyr with a heart of gold), but for the most part, it works. Let’s just ignore the bit about Jason’s beloved in the game having a name very similar to his mother in the original myth though, shall we? Though we are dealing with Greek storytelling here….

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

Rise of the Argonauts brings a whole different kind of addictiveness to the table. It’s not the gameplay so much as the story that brings you back for more. Playing this game is like reading a really good book; you want to make it to the end of the chapter at least before putting it down. Argonauts will keep you playing at least through the end of the massive level that you’re on before you’ll stop. And you probably won’t even notice that almost a third of that time is spent running around….

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

In terms of actual, technical “role playing”, Argonauts excels. The ability to choose responses that are actually varied and nuanced according to the various deities makes the game an incredible role playing experience. Those looking for a traditional RPG, as I said, will be sorely disappointed, and the action fans looking for some classic Grecian ass-kicking probably won’t be able to make it through to the carnage soaked ending. All together it’s a mixed bag, depending on what you’re looking for.

Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable

10. Miscellaneous

So if it’s a mixed bag, who exactly is this game for? It’s like the game has an identity crisis of sorts, not really fitting into any traditional role. It reminds me of a review I read for Reservoir Dogs when it was first released, “too artsy for the blood crowd, too bloody for the art crowd.”

As a roleplaying experience, Argonauts soars. As an action title, it disappoints and as a traditional RPG, it doesn’t even enter into consideration. So for the masses, this adds up to something dismal. But if you’re willing to give something new a try, you may just enjoy the yourself.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story / Modes: Classic
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Incredible
Control / Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Very Bad
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Rise of the Argonauts provides a rich, enjoyable, if not mythologically accurate, story that easily ranks of there with some of the better moments of the silver screen. It’s not a traditional RPG by any stretch, and the action is rare, but the story alone will grab you and drag you along for the ride.

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