Entertainment and published in 2008. The game is a retelling of the Greek myth surrounding King Jason and the Argonauts, and their search for the mythical Golden Fleece. In the original myth, Jason’s father is overthrown by Pelias, his half uncle. His infant son Jason is secretly taken from Iolcus (an ancient city north of Athens) so he will not be killed by Pelias. He returns a grown man, and is told by Pelias that he must retrieve the Golden Fleece to obtain his rightful throne. The game takes a modern twist: Jason’s wife is assassinated in a vicious attack by a cult known as the Blacktongues, thought to have been exterminated, and he sets out to find the Golden Fleece, an artifact rumored to bring the dead back to life.
Rise of the Argonauts is a buggy, buggy game. Characters and textures pop and twitch, the game loads improperly, and your character will get stuck at inopportune times on unseen obstacles. There is no onscreen mini-map, which means you’ll be frequently retreated to the pause screen to get a bearing on your position. But the game shines when it needs to. In combat, Jason an awesome fighter. You have a shield, a sword, a spear, and a mace. Button mashing will get you quickly killed in Rise of the Argonauts, you need to juke, strike, dodge, block, and seek out those openings in your foe’s guard whenever they arise.
Jason’s physicality is believable, and so is his frailty. There are no onscreen bars to display health, or damage, so grievous injury is translated to the player by a shock of white light on the screen, a sound like blood rushing through veins, a momentary slowdown, and a change in music to a haunting lament. You’ll quickly understand that when that happens, Jason is nearing death. Think of it as Greek shellshock. Attacks can be strung together, between weapons, so a mace swing can, with the proper button press (either RB or LB at the right moment) shift quickly to Jason drawing his sword for a viscous strike, or twisting back and delivering a stab from his spear. The camera is generally decent but occasionally stays in a fixed position, in one notable example ruining what could have been a much better fight with the iconic Medusa. But when it all comes together properly, the combat in this game performs like no other title in recent history.
More time is spent in dialogue than in combat, and sadly, Rise of the Argonauts is worse off for it. Conversations proceed through “dialogue trees,” a term familiar to those who have played Mass Effect. Essentially, you choose responses based on a number of different choices given. They only allude to your actual response, which can lead to entertaining results. A choice of “Defend Iolcus” during a heated conversation with a mercenary resulted in Jason delivering a haymaker to the offending pirate. It was probably the best moment I’ve had playing a game all year.
But the problem is the lack of body language during conversations. Mass Effect kept the camera tight on the head of each speaker during dialogue scenes, with plenty of body language to keep the player’s attention. Rise of the Argonauts is so severely lacking in it that you’ll find yourself speeding through scenes due to awkward boredom. Its s shame too, since the dialogue is generally competent, and frequently pokes fun at Greek mythology (though not to the degree or severity of God of War). Poor editing, in terms of extraneous lines (there are many), and awkward pauses and breaks between statements and responses also put a damper on things, which is a big issue when 70% of the game is spent talking. This is an urgent story being told. Jason needs to find the Fleece, and soon, or his wife may never be resurrected. I just don’t have the time to chit-chat!
So, there you have it, in a nutshell. Rise of the Argonauts is relatively short, even shorter if you speed through all the dialogue to get to the fights. But do yourself a favor, take your time. I don’t blame if you if the urge to skip takes hold, it will on occasion. But you’ll appreciate it during the game’s great moments, staring down a rushing minotaur in the arena, fighting off fiends in the depths of Tartarus, taking in the grandeur of Iolcus and Mycenae. It’s a testament to what this game could have been, with more work, more paring down, more honing. It’s a testament to the story of Jason and the Argonauts, whose story lives on in mythology, and now in Rise, and it’s a testament, in those glorious moments, blood rushing, death nearing, as you crush the X button with all your might to deliver one last, desperate strike, to video games.
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