Through their sources, journalists knew for some time that Microsoft and Crytek were poised to resurrect their formerly Xbox 360-exclusive title Ryse: Son of Rome as an Xbox One launch title at E3.
However, what we didn't know is what form it would take. The rumour mill had it that Ryse (last seen at E3 2011 as a Kinect exclusive) would be reborn as a showcase for Kinect 2.0: a relatively generic hack and slasher made relevant by innovative motion controls. In the end, it turns out that Ryse is a generic hack and slasher but one which makes no real use of Kinect, bar a few voice commands.
The playable demo dumped us on the shores of Dover, where we - as Roman general Marius Titus -were tasked with leading a D-Day-style assault on whoever it was that had control of Britain that week. (The Celtics, perhaps? Some of the language used was definitely Anglo-Saxon in nature).
Whoever it was we were fighting, we looked good while doing it. Ryse is a handsome game, with densely-packed and richly-detailed battlefields where both sides wage war as far as the eye can see. The air's thick with debris, smoke and (more dangerously) a deluge of arrows from far-away archers; Ryse is certainly happy to show off its next gen credentials.
The combat system, though, is a throwback to the Xbox 1 (not One) era. At a glance it seems to revolve heavily around quick-time events, but this isn't the case.
ROME WITH A VIEW
When you engage the enemy, a prompt appears above their head in the manner of a QTE, but this is only a 'best choice' suggestion; meeting it rewards you with a brutal combo animation, but other attacks are just as likely to connect. While well-meaning, the prompts just give the impression of a QTE game where failure doesn't necessarily mean failure; the system needs tightening up if Ryse's battles are to have the substance to match its spectacle.
Combat is going to need tightening up if Ryse's battles are to have the substance to match its spectacle
One of Ryse's innovations is that as a general, you can bark orders to your subordinates either by pressing LB or by barking the command at the Kinect sensor. At one stage we organised our troops into a phalanx formation to get past a team of archers roosting in the ramparts above; an effective way to keep casualties to a minimum since deceased soldiers are not replaced during combat. During the demo these orders were pre-canned but it's hinted that you'll be able to decide tactics as the game opens up later in the campaign.
Is there a companion app? You bet your tin-plated ass there's a companion app! Ryse's seems more superfluous than most, even by E3's snake belly-low standards. It provides us with a timeline charting our progress through the level, hints and tips (for a linear hack and slash game!) and a video feedback option which makes it easier to upload gameplay clips.
As launch titles go, this is more Genji than Gears of War - Ryse: Son of Rome severely underwhelmed at E3. Fingers crossed that later gameplay segments show more promise, because from an artistic viewpoint, Crytek's B.C. battlegrounds make a perfect setting to show off the Xbox One's technical credentials.