With Sony’s God of War 3 due on the PS3 soon, it’s quite timely that Codemasters’ retelling of the classic Greek legend is released, as if as a warm-up for Kratos’ bloodthirsty return to the stage, although this will, of course, be the sole pleasure of PS3 owners, unluckily for 360 gamers.
Playing around with the original legend somewhat, this retelling uses quite a bit of artistic licence to convey Jason, the king of Iolcus’ journey to find the Golden Fleece – an artefact that is believed will bring his recently assassinated wife, back to life. In his quest to find this powerful artefact, he’ll have to contend with Greek mythology’s finest, including an army of mercenary soldiers, minotaurs, Medusa and the Hydra, as well as the Blacktounges, an order of mystical assassins responsible for Jason’s loss.
It’s not all bad news for Jason, however, and as well as receiving the blessing of the gods Aries, Athena, Hermes and Apollo, he also enlists the help of some powerful friends, including the witch, Medea, the unbeatable Achilles and, the man mountain and son of Zeus, Hercules.
What we have here is best described as Mass Effect Lite. The game plays very much the same as Bioware’s outing. You explore towns and other environments, talking with NPCs to find information, and sometimes uncovering side quests. The conversation system is blatantly ripped straight from Mass Effect, with an identical interface for selecting Jason’s response. Each response is aligned with one of the aforementioned gods. For example, Aries’ responses are usually confrontational and bold, while Hermes’ options are cunning and sneaky. There’s no good or bad here, though, so choosing responses won’t change your alignment. However, your favour with the gods is something you need to consider, thanks to the game’s interesting levelling system…
As you progress through the story, and accomplish goals, such as major plot points, or even tiny side quests, you’ll gain deeds. These deeds can then be dedicated to one of the four gods, giving you ‘aspects’. These are tokens you can use to earn new powers and abilities from the gods. Each deity specialises in certain, predictable areas. Aries, God of War, for example, focuses on strength and improving your combat skill, while Hermes grants evasive and acrobatic skills, being the swift messenger of the gods and all that. You can choose to specialise in one area, or you can assign deeds to each god in a more balanced manner to gain rewards from each, but you’ll end up with no particular strength in either direction, so you need to plan your levelling wisely, and adapt it to your playing style.
Now, much of the game (eventually, after some mundane early quests) revolves around combat, as you’d expect from a title like this. Unlike Mass Effect, the combat here is obviously melee, and Jason has the use of three kinds of weapons with which to mash, chop and poke his foes – a sword, mace and spear. He also carries his trusty shield, which, rather oddly, seems welded to his arm, never leaving his side, even when he’s thrown into prison. It’s not the smallest shield in the world either, so I wonder how on earth he manages at meal times, sleeping or when taking a dump…
Combat is fairly simple, with a light and heavy attack, the latter of which is used as a killing stroke when your enemies are weak enough. This results in a bullet-time slow-mo decapitation or dismemberment, which looks pretty cool, and never seems to get boring.
Each weapon is useful against different enemies. The sword is fast and fairly powerful, and useful against unarmoured foes while the mace is best used against shield-bearing enemies, as it can shatter their defences. The spear has long range, and can be thrown (and it’ll return magically to Jason’s hand, thanks to Athena’s blessing), but it’s relatively weak. Jason’s shield can, of course, be used as such, and is effective against stopping attacks, but it can also be used as a weapon for barging into assailants and throwing them off guard if you time your blocks correctly.
When you first start to play the game, the combat will feel a little like button mashing, but as you gain new abilities and become familiar with the controls and system, you’ll find what is actually a fairly good setup underneath, especially when you start to get the hang of weapon-switch combos (attack with the sword and then switch to the mace mid-attack, as an example). The addition of god powers like doppelgangers and rage modes adds to the mix. Sadly though, as good as the combat can be, the controls are undeniably clunky at times, and collision detection glitches are everywhere. It can also be a pain to actually target specific enemies when you’re being attacked by multiple foes. Many battles also degrade into hit and run affairs, seeing you attacking, taking damage and then running away while Jason’s health regenerates a little. This takes some of the fun out of the proceedings, and a more balanced attack/defence system would have worked wonders.
These control issues also carry over into exploration, and the camera and movement controls are also clunky here, with Jason often getting stuck on invisible edges around objects and other NPCs. These exploration segments do break up the game nicely, but, while on the whole the game looks great (some environments and characters look fantastic, it has to be said), the world still feels a little sparse and lifeless. There are no shops to spend money in (hell, there’s no money, or inventory system whatsoever), and you simply acquire better weapons and armour as you progress through the story. You also earn no actual experience, so there’s no stats or levels 1, 10, 30 etc. Jason stays the same throughout the game, save his combat abilities.
A few bugs have also clung to the final release, and while I’ve not encountered any actual game-breaking bugs, I’ve witnessed tons of graphical clipping, a disturbing amount of slowdown (which as the 360 can handle games far superior to this, is simply unforgivable) and some dialog issues, such as repeating an important conversation twice, even though I’d already passed a certain part of a quest.
Rise Of The Argonauts has been given a pretty rough time by much of the press, and while I can see and agree with many of the points such critics have made, I also think some have been overly harsh. The game is far from perfect, and as far as capturing the Greek mythos goes, Mr Harryhausen still has it, in my opinion, but it’s also an enjoyable and accomplished romp. Glitches and bugs are a letdown, but are minor enough to warrant a look. If the game had deeper RPG elements, and a more fleshed out world, then I’d happily give it a higher mark, but as it is, it’s an enjoyable, yet basic action RPG. Just don’t expect it to rival the likes of Mass Effect or Fallout.