Crytek's Ryse: Son of Rome bores reviewers
Critical Consensus: Forza 5, Killer Instinct, Ryse, Crimson Dragon and Dead Rising 3 pulled apart by critics
If it's true that exclusive games are the key influencer behind console purchase decisions then Microsoft's Xbox One should be on stronger ground than Sony's PlayStation 4. This is a system launching with a few more exclusives than Sony's disappointing three titles - not least Turn 10's Forza Motorsport 5, a racing game that can sit in pole position by default now that Evolution's Driveclub has been delayed from launch.
As the embargoes lift on those launch titles ahead of the console's global release on Friday, we'll focus on the reaction from the games media and those all important scores.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Crytek's Ryse: Son of Rome started out a Kinect exclusive for the Xbox 360, before the development team at Crytek decided to add physical controls and upgrade it to an Xbox One launch title.
"Nasty, brutish and short, Ryse: Son of Rome has emerged from a seven-year development hell as a visually resplendent, preternaturally dumb action game that exhibits a galling, monotonous bloodlust," begins Eurogamer's 5/10 review.
Writer Oli Welsh isn't that bothered by Crytek's take on history - "in which the Celtic queen Boudica rides a war elephant, England looks like Middle-Earth, Scotland looks like Transylvania, the Colosseum is a kind of clockwork Holodeck and someone has invented exploding barrels" - but more so that the developer has approached the gameplay so po-faced.
"Nasty, brutish and short, Ryse: Son of Rome has emerged from a seven-year development hell as a visually resplendent, preternaturally dumb action game"
"It's just a shame the game has to take itself so seriously, adopting that air of grim cynicism that's so fashionable these days, when a little camp might have gone a long way," he writes. "Worse, it dulls the refreshing effect of its setting by reaching far too often for the video game copybook of cut-and-paste set-pieces."
Graphically, Ryse is pushing the Xbox One, according to Welsh. "For sheer in-your-face splendour, Ryse can stand toe-to-toe with Guerrilla's PS4 game, and it ought to silence a lot of sceptics of Xbox One's capabilities," but the repetitive gameplay brings up a word that's used by other publication's when reviewing Ryse - "boring".
Repetition is the heart of the problem for Polygon, where violent finishing moves rapidly lose their novelty appeal. "Ryse is determined to bore you," notes Phillip Kollar, throwing around words like "dull", "mundane" and "hollow" in his 6/10 review.
He also takes issue with the portrayal of homosexuality in the game, pointing to feminine traits being used as a sign of weakness, and worse. "Ryse hides an uncomfortable approach to demonizing its villains. The game's bad guys are consistently portrayed as feminine and, as the game progresses, sexually deviant. Worse, Ryse ties those traits in with heavily implied homosexuality, later adding bestiality into the mix as well.
"There is some historical precedent for feminine traits being seen as negative in this time period, but most sources point to homosexuality being a common and accepted extension of male sexuality - not something that the citizenry would be driven to mock. Moreover, even if there was a historical basis for it, Ryse uses those traits to frame your enemies as unlikable and worth killing. It's a cheap and frankly gross tactic."
The only real stand out for Kollar is the attention to detail in the visuals. "It's a gorgeous, dark and bloody tableau. But all that visual beauty and dramatic gravitas goes to waste with an aimless plot and a monotonous combat system. Ryse has all the guts of next-gen - often quite literally - but none of the glory."
Xav de Matos at Joystiq finds the same faults with the game as other critics - it's joyless.
"If Crytek's Xbox One action game is to be believed, the history books have it all wrong. The reason for Rome's fall wasn't decadence, economic problems or social division; it was sheer boredom," he writes in a 2.5/5 review.
For de Matos that boredom continues in the co-op and multiplayer modes, and becomes combined with a lack of polish. "Playing online with another player doesn't add much flair to the experience, unfortunately. It's still the same combat system, save for the ability to perform combo executions.
"The multiplayer is extraordinarily rough around the edges," he adds. "Perhaps because of the ever moving and changing maps, enemies get stuck on geometry. Invisible walls may neglect to deactivate and keep you from completing objectives. Artificial intelligence is dialed back to zero in some instances, like a moment where I tricked an enemy to run right toward me to his doom, through a set of spinning blades.
In summary, it's a game that has failed to capture the imagination of the reviewers, and fallen well short of the expectations of a console launch title. As de Matos states: "Ryse: Son of Rome falls into the trap of your typical launch game: it does well to show off the power of the system, but it's slim on substance. Production value aside, Ryse is short, easy and lacks the punch of other action games. For all of it's pomp and flash, Ryse: Son of Rome is a shallow bore."
Forza Motorsport 5
Could Forza 5 be the highest rated launch game for either of the two new consoles? There's a good portion of 9s and high 8s in the first batch of reviews from Destructoid, Videogamer, Polygon and GameSpot, with a handful of lower 7s from Eurogamer and CVG.
Although Arthur Gies at Polygon doesn't drive or care about cars, he gets the passion that goes into making a game like Forza. "Forza 5 isn't a dry, library-like collection of cars, observed in clinical detail with rubber gloves. Developers Turn 10 and their collaborators from the BBC's Top Gear want you to get your hands, and your car, dirty," he writes in his 9/10 review. "They seem to want you to love cars and car culture as much as they do."
"Turn 10 has charted a course for the future of the series and created the Xbox One's first must-own game"
And for Gies, the franchise has leapt forward thanks to not only the visual upgrade the new Xbox One allows, but also the advancements in AI and control technology. "It's Forza 5's AI and controls that feel like the biggest step forward from Forza's past. Microsoft's impulse triggers offer effective force feedback for the new controller. They often create the sensation that the triggers themselves are fighting you."
The painfully named 'Drivatar' system that records your driving skills and drops an AI profile into friends' games is central to this new release, leading Gies to conclude that "pretty much everyone that plays Forza drives like an asshole." It's a big change from previous Forza games, something that may not be to everyone's taste: "This was something of a double-edged sword. On the plus side, it forced me to think on my feet more than Forza has in the past," he notes. "Previous Forzas always felt oriented on driving a perfect line after getting past the initial pack, and that's not the case at all in Forza 5."
For Polygon, Forza 5 is the stand out release on Microsoft's new-gen console. "With the introduction of aggressive, convincing AI that makes every offline race feel like a multiplayer competition, Turn 10 has charted a course for the future of the series - and created the Xbox One's first must-own game."
GameSpot is similarly gushing with its review, calling Forza 5 "a game that expertly captures the bond between car and driver, improving on a world-class racing simulation with just as much human touch as technical wizardry." Reviewer Shaun McInnes also picks up on the use of feedback in the controller and the Drivatar system, and is forgiving of the lower car count, although new courses "don't remove the sting from the modest track count."
His opinion is shared with Destructoid's Dale North, who finds no fault with the content and is blown away from the visual upgrade the Xbox One brings to the series. "Forget racers. This is one of the best looking videogames I've ever laid eyes on," he says in a 9/10 review. "Both the Forza and Gran Turismo franchises have histories of bringing high quality car models to their games, but nothing we've seen before even comes close to what Forza 5 brings."
So it's left to the British sites to dish out the lukewarm reviews. Acknowledging that Forza is a beauty, CVG finds fault in the lack of "vitality, speed and exhileration."
"Forza 4 itself could be criticised for being too sterile, but it looks outright rebellious when compared to the series' next-gen debut," begins the 7/10 review, before suggesting the Drivatar system isn't quite up to scratch. "It sounds great, but in practice it's flawed," writes Justin Towell.
"These simulated drivers make believable mistakes and lunges, but they also brake in unlikely places and drive off-road onto grass for no obvious reason. They're bound to improve, but they're not quite there yet."
The game leaves a cold impression on Towell, who suggests a handful of alternative racing games on current gen systems over Turn 10's latest. "Forza 5 is not a racing game. Not really. It's a driving simulation that features races. Despite all the quality of the production, these chases aren't as thrilling as those of Forza 4, let alone GRID or F1 2013. So unless you're convinced the remarkable graphics and attention to automotive detail are absolutely worth your money, there are other racing games that play much better."
Martin Robinson at Eurogamer expresses disappointment in the title too, but he does point out one of the real highlights: "It's that controller and its implementation in Forza Motorsport 5 that sells the next-gen experience better than anything on Microsoft's new console right now," he says in a 7/10 review.
"The individual feedback in each of the Xbox One pad's triggers is something of a revelation: go too strong entering into a corner and you'll feel the front wheels locking at your fingertips, while you can feel the rears light up upon an overenthusiastic exit. Not since Gran Turismo's first dalliance with the rumbling DualShock on the PlayStation has there been such an advance in the way we play racing games on a pad."
However, he has issues with the game's tie-in with the BBC's Top Gear show, noting that "the laddish melodrama of Clarkson and company is served up in unskippable chunks before each set of events, and like the programme, the noisy style covers up a lack of substance."
But the biggest problem for Robinson appears to be the lack of content in the final package. "So much has been lost from previous iterations of Forza Motorsport," he writes, noting that tracks and the career mode are part of the underwhelming offering. "So little is spread out so thin across a career that doesn't make much of an effort to engage."
"With Forza Motorsport 5, Turn 10's created a driving experience both accessible and beautiful - but it's been stripped back to make Xbox One's launch, and augmented with a host of ugly extras that only serve Microsoft's bid to make a few dollars more."
Dead Rising 3
Capcom's latest zombie killer has a brief window to make a good impression with critics and consumers, but according to Eurogamer's 7/10 review, the game doesn't do a good job straight out the gate. "The first minutes of the game are some of its worst, as pixels crawl along the jagged edges of road signs while canned shots of the surroundings strain to set the scene against the weight of slowdown," says editor in chief Tom Bramwell. "You never escape Dead Rising 3's technical shortcomings, particularly the slowdown, but once you make it out of this freeway tunnel and into Los Perdidos proper, at least you do stop worrying about them."
"You never escape Dead Rising 3's technical shortcomings, particularly the slowdown... but at least you do stop worrying about them"
From there gameplay is "dumb fun" as in previous Dead Rising games, where players carve through the undead with increasingly outlandish weapons. As fun as that is, Bramwell finds the humour lacking and the frat house gags tiresome, but he also has bigger issues with the lack of surprises. "Dead Rising 3 isn't as funny, then, and it also feels like there's less to discover... survivors send you on rote fetch quests, there are little high-score rampages to go on, and you feel directed by duty rather than curiosity."
US site Polygon may score Dead Rising with something similar to Eurogamer, opting for 7.5 out of 10, but it seems to be seeing a different game. "Dead Rising 3 is an impressive technical achievement for the brand-new Xbox One," it begins. "Dead Rising 3's core technology is astounding - hundreds of enemy characters are onscreen at once, itching to eat your face. And the game performs well in most situations, save for the odd texture glitch. But load times were often ponderous"
Writer Danielle Riendeau acknowledges that the game is problematic as much as it is fun, stating: "Playing Dead Rising 3 can be a schizophrenic experience - I was angry at the game whenever it required precision from me - precision that the controls just wouldn't support. But I was thoroughly enjoying myself whenever it let me run amok and get creative with weapons and vehicles. It's a game with great ideas and intermittently poor execution."
There are also issues raised with stereotypes in the game - the days are long gone where reviewers will ignore the immature, crude and offensive characters poorly written by childish developers.
Destructoid was the site with the most gushing of reviews for Dead Rising 3, awarding it a 9/10 score, with writer Chris Carter claiming, "Dead Rising 3 is the first game I've seen that really harnesses the power of next-gen consoles. Oh, and it's also a phenomenal game as well."
"For a second, I thought it was a cutscene, but then the game gave me control and expected me to make my way through a giant sea of zombies to reach the first objective. It was completely unreal, and I was sold on the engine almost immediately. For the first time in a videogame, I really felt like I was in a zombie apocalypse."
Carter doesn't have a problem with the writing in the game either, "the cast is a bit more well rounded this time around, as there's a good mix of walking campy caricatures, and actual characters," and he finds a lot of fun in the co-op gameplay, before summing the whole experience up as "a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title."
You can't get much more hardcore than a one-on-one fighting game, and you won't find a subject matter that raises temperatures amongst the gaming community as quickly as micro-transactions. Killer Instinct is both, so this game really is an outlier for a new business model on a brand new games console.
"Clearly it's nothing that wouldn't have been possible on older technology. In fact, strip away the particles and there's little to Killer Instinct that feels new"
Edge goes straight in with a 7/10 score, noting that this is a fighter with a well-designed mechanic. "Yet as thoughtfully put together as the combo system is, clearly it's nothing that wouldn't have been possible on older technology. In fact, strip away the particles and there's little to Killer Instinct that feels new."
"Sure, it runs at 60fps, but so do its 360 and PS3 equivalents, and it does so only in 720p. Character models whiff of the previous generation - Jago's hairdo is supposed to be spiky, but not jaggy - and stage backgrounds similarly fail to make a compelling case for Xbox One's processing power. One mountain range backdrop looks disappointingly flat, but even the more enclosed stages are let down by drab, low-detail scenery," writes the reviewer.
Although IGN notes that the game has "only six characters - it's hard not to feel a bit limited by that," it rolls out an 8.4 score and is impressed by the attention Double Helix has heaped on the game, making a tough genre accessible to noobs.
"The sad truth about fighting games is that much of what makes playing them against others interesting is usually kept obscured," writes Vince Ingenito. "Killer Instinct succeeds enormously at exposing all of that information to players of all skill levels.
"Not only is its combat system flashy and well thought out, it's well explained too, thanks to its powerful training tools, and what is easily the most complete guide to terminology and tactics ever assembled in a fighting game. Though it lacks an arcade mode or a full-sized character roster, Killer Instinct delivers where it counts."
Joystiq's review of Killer Instinct highlights the problems with reviewing a game that isn't finished yet, let alone one where different price points get you different levels of access to content. "Right now, there's little else aside from training, survival and online modes. There isn't a story mode or an arcade mode, though the latter is promised for the future," writes David Hinkle in his ⅗ review.
"As it stands, Killer Instinct is a streamlined fighter designed as a far-reaching modular experience, which highlights one of its key problems: a dearth of content."
But like IGN's review, Hinkle points to the accessibility of the game overriding the lack of content. "This makes Killer Instinct a delight to play and a uniquely enticing proposition to fighting aficionados and genre novices alike. And even though it's mostly about big, flashy combos, Killer Instinct doesn't make you feel helpless when you're the one being pummeled," he says.
If the rest of the unreleased game is this good and the developer holds out on the delivery promise, Killer Instinct may grow to be much better received.
On-rails shooter Crimson Dragon is as close to Panzer Dragoon or Child of Eden as 2013 gets, but it has an unwelcome addition of micro-transactions that don't sit well with OXM reviewer Jon Blyth.
"In an unexpected, and entirely unwelcome move, Crimson Dragon seems to have taken a lot of design leads from free-to-play games," he writes in a 6/10 review. "You pay credits to perform tougher missions, a counter-intuitive form of employment that's crying out for a Dragon Riders Union strike ballot. It's also a little too reminiscent of F2P 'energy' mechanics for our liking."
"In an unexpected, and entirely unwelcome move, Crimson Dragon seems to have taken a lot of design leads from free-to-play games"
The game is fun when it lets the player indulge in the power fantasy, but when it feels unnessarily unfair and then dangles the ability to buy your way to end of a level, it leaves a nasty taste, says Blyth. "When you're beset, besieged, and bullied by streams of incoming missiles, you feel cheated rather than challenged, and the beckoning gem shop makes the process feel dirty."
Ben Reeves at GameInformer also has problems with Crimson Dragon, mainly because it tries to innovate in a genre that barely any developers have given any care or attention to in the past ten years, and had fudged controls that were originally designed for Kinect.
"Crimson Dragon tries to mix up the repetitive shooting with sequences where you collect gold beacons, but these moments are about as exciting as flying through a series of rings," he writes in a 6/10 review.
"Levels occasionally open up and allow you to fly around the environment, but I constantly felt like I was fighting the camera throughout these sequences, and the dragons are so sluggish that there is no thrill to flying. I was actually happy every time the game limited my controls to the rails."
Reeves says he's a fan of the original Panzer Dragoon series, but even he admits that after the nostalgia "it doesn't hold a candle to its precursors that came out decades ago."
Chris Carter of Destructoid highlights the in-game micro-transactions, but although he doesn't like the idea of them, he also doesn't have a problem with the way they're implemented in Crimson Dragon.
"Like Ryse and Powershot Golf, Crimson Dragon unfortunately employs a micro-transaction option to buy more currency. But! It's mostly inoffensive, because you can just buy everything through gameplay," he writes in an 8/10 review.
"I don't like that this system is in place in the slightest, but I never once felt like I had to pay money. Instead, I was inspired to level up my dragons through normal gameplay, and simply improve my skills."
And despite the uncomfortable micro-transactions, Carter is happy with the end gaming result. "As a massive fan of the Panzer series, I was worried that this wouldn't quite honor it, but thre's plenty here for gamers who have been longing for an entry since 2003's Orta," he says. "There are some mechanical problems, but any old-school rail shooter fan will be able to handle them."