Ryse looks amazing and sounds great, but is it any good as a game? John Walshe finds out.

A swords and sandals epic in the grand tradition of classic films like Spartacus and Gladiator, Ryse: Son Of Rome has a lot of pressure on its muscled shoulders, as it is the flagship launch release for Microsoft’s next generation console. True, there are other big name games available on the Xbox One, but they’re all familiar names, from Forza to Assassin’s Creed, so it is left to this Roman adventure to fly the flag for brand new, standalone titles.

It has to be said that Ryse looks incredible. The graphics are stunningly realistic, from the beautiful textured marble of the ancient buildings to the almost-alive water surfaces and the characters themselves, whose faces are rendered in pristine detail. The sound too is top class, from the battle hymns of the Republic to the quality voice acting. Thanks to years and years of cinematic conditioning, we have come to associate upper class British accents with Romans, in a case of ‘et tu, old chap’, and here Ryse scores admirably.

So it looks amazing and sounds great, but is Ryse any good as a game? The answer to this is more difficult, and is probably a conditional ‘yes’. The game begins as an army of brutish barbarians are intent on sacking Rome and it’s your job to grab the gladius of Marius and protect the gluttonous Emperor Nero, who doesn’t so much fiddle as fidget while the Eternal City burns. Thus, you find yourself ordering archers to protect your flanks and lambasting the finest army in the ancient world into some sort of shape, while seemingly single-handedly fending off the hairy oafs intent on civilisation’s demise.

The fact that you seem to be fighting a one-man war is the game’s inherent weakness as it means that you essentially run from one battle to the next, with only a few enemy types to fight. The key is timing your blocks and counters, before unleashing quick or heavy sword and shield attacks on said enemies. As you progress through the levels, you also gain the ability to fire a pilum (spear) at hapless barbarians, dodge or deflect arrows and perform all manner of gory executions.

The body count quickly ramps up as the action moves from Rome to Brittania, and our hero gets up close and personal with legendary Celtic warrior Queen Boudica and even tangles with some Scottish minotaurs. Unfortunately however, there isn't enough variation in the combat to really grab your attention – the few ‘marching in formation’ sequences are fun, but hardly challenging – with the result that you’ll spend most of your time engaged in hand-to-hand combat with up to six enemies at once, who generally attack in single file. It all becomes a little predictable after a while, although the occasional boss fights are a welcome diversion.

Ryse is the ideal visual calling card for the Xbox One, as the majesty and cruelty of Rome is laid out in glorious, magnificent detail, which begs to be seen. However, the linear level design and repetitive nature of the combat do let it down somewhat and the inclusion of some puzzle solving elements, or a more open-ended world to explore, would have been most welcome. If hacking and slashing are your thing, however, Ryse fits the bill perfectly and the online co-op play, which sees you and a fellow gladiator braving the horrors of the Colosseum, is bloody good fun.

Platform: Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft
Cert: 18
Score: 3.5/5

John Walshe