Review · Video Games · Xbox One

Ryse: Son of Rome Review

By James Daly

Developed by Crytek and Microsoft Studios, Ryse: Son of Rome has you play as Marius, a Roman General recounting the tale of his exemplary military career to Emperor Nero.

Ryse offers an average story that is clearly meant to take a backseat to the combat. The world of Ryse: Son of Rome is centred around violence, both as a conceptual demonstration of power, and a method of achieving goals. Another theme of the game is dealing with loss, as we watch Marius suffer against the immense power of his enemies. Poignant as this is, empathising with Marius, likeable as he is, does not save this game.

The game is relatively simple, with some variety in fighting commands and a a few different mechanics to spice up the gameplay. One thing the game does particularly well is create a sense of commanding your own army. The player lines up Marius and his legionaries, and then marching on the enemy, pausing to defend in an authentic Roman tortoise shield formation. This feature also includes an option to launch an offensive volley of pilas (spears) at enemies, making quick work of enemies en masse.

Helmet and Shield
Marius’s sword, helmet and shield

For the most part, Marius marauds around slaughtering barbarians like its going out of fashion in an apparent homage to Electronic Arts’ Dante’s Inferno (side note: Marius has a striking resemblance to Dante from that game). Marius hacks and slashes through hordes of enemies with flair and precision, but the violence feels hollow because the game can’t communicate the physical sensation through the controller. As a result, Ryse: Son of Rome can be dissatisfying at times.

The game looks good with realistic graphics and vivid cinematic sequences but this is dashed at times by on-screen hints and glowing interactive items and enemies. I know Ryse needs to educate the player in how to actually play, but it could have been done better with more subtle devices. This leads me to the biggest problem with the game: it doesn’t feel like a game.

Ryse: Son of Rome feels like a tech demo made to launch the Xbox One, and that is exactly what it is. Every scene shows off the capabilities of the console, and so they should, but this reliance on showing off what the hardware can do has been employed at the expense of clever game design and a truly memorable story. Ryse is good, but it is all wrong as a video game. It can be fun to play but there are not many people who would want to complete the campaign more than once.

Marius On The Wall
Marius preparing to defend against the enemy

The game feels shallow and that really is a shame. A game set in Ancient Rome like this could have been so much more. The story isn’t actually bad, it just feels sort of cheap and unimportant for the most part, like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. The good news is that if you persist with the game then you do eventually get a decent, enjoyable section with a solid ending, but you really have to motivate yourself to play until that point.

The thing that really annoyed me about Ryse is the best part of the game involves defending a wall from an attack by an endless horde of enemies equipped with siege towers and ladders. Firstly, the siege towers never actually hit the wall, making them nothing more than a visual backdrop, and, secondly, the whole sequence is a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. To make it even worse, I played Return of the King on Nintendo Gamecube and that game looked and handled when it was released back in 2003, a whole 10 years before Ryse: Son of Rome.

Overall, Ryse: Son of Rome is a moderately fun game with a very limited appeal. This isn’t one for everybody, but it is a fairly decent beat-em-up with some nice touches and a protagonist that you will warm to, eventually. The gameplay isn’t addictive like most games of this genre, and the story falls short despite the epic-like soundtrack.

Editorial · PC · PS4 · Video Games · Xbox One

Genji is the Best Overwatch Character

By James Daly

There are many characters in Blizzard’s Overwatch to choose from. The characters range in class, either falling into attack, defence, tank or support. Each class offers a range of fun characters, but the attack class is usually the first choice for players who want to have the best Overwatch. It is in this class that you will find Genji, and Genji is the best Overwatch character.

How to Play as Genji

Genji, like the other attack class characters, is designed to strike the enemy directly, using  his basic shuriken and Swift Strike move to attack from distance. These attacks offer different advantages when playing as Genji, but his best attack is ironically his aptly names Defend move, a technique where Genji uses his wakizashi to temporarily become invulnerable and deflect almost any blow he receives toward wherever he aims, making for some heavy damage to opposition when they are least prepared for it. This move is vital for anybody playing as Genji as it is the only way to avoid certain death at the hands of physically stronger opponents, or indeed any opponent with a decent attack.

Genji Move List
Genji’s moves and abilities

Typically, Genji is seen to exist solely for the selfish players who would rather rack up eliminations than pursue the match objective, be it pushing the payload or securing a designated area. This is because Genji has a rather small amount of HP, meaning that he does not always do well when attacked directly as he becomes a sitting duck, so Genji players like to stay mobile and cover more ground to avoid being an easy target for their opponents. This is best done by using Genji’s wall-climbing and double-jump abilities, adding a slight parkour feel to the game. To successfully play as Genji you have to be prepared to abandon any point or risk certain death, so Genji often flees at the first sight of serious danger, allowing the objective to be compromised at the drop of a hat. For this reason, many Overwatch players see Genji as a hindrance more than a boon.

However, this is the big misconception behind Genji. The truth is, Genji is not meant to defend anything really, because he is an all-out attacker. His fluid combat style and ability to defend essentially anything for a few seconds is what makes him so adept at efficiently putting down opponents, so Genji simply can not stay still if he is to contribute to his team. His style may be frustrating to the unenlightened, but his destructive capability is why Genji is the best Overwatch character.

Genji Meditating
Genji meditates before a battle

Genji The Eliminator

With the release of the Elimination game mode, Genji has increased in popularity because Elimination matches are all about wiping out every member of the opposing side, instead of the usual objective mentioned above. Genji’s agility and speed make him a favourite for this game mode, as he can traverse the map with ease and usually emerge victorious from any one-on-one encounter. Genji’s selfish will to survive is actually an advantage in this mode, because in order to catch Genji and eliminate him, the opposing side must split-up to avoid losing him. This means that Genji’s team mates do not usually get outnumbered, making survival that much more likely.

Genji’s default survival style results in a default divide and conquer approach to Elimination matches, essentially making the game more even and more fun too. Naturally, this approach will not work in a 1v1 match, but Genji is still fairly strong here despite a lack of a healing ability. The trick is to constantly move and defend at key times, as the following video demonstrates:

To put it simply, if you want to play Overwatch in an attacking style, you have to pick Genji. He is the most fun attacking character to play as because he is quick and deadly, and everybody knows him but can barely do anything to resist him. Genji is designed to survive hostile situations and catch enemies off guard to deliver the final blow. All of this is why Genji is the best Overwatch character.

Video Games · Xbox One

Ori and the Blind Forest is a Lovable Platform Game

By James Daly

While there are some obvious examples to prove otherwise, it’s safe to say that the bulk of contemporary platform games don’t always win players over immediately. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the exceptions, and it really is exceptional. The game utilizes a familiar platform adventure format where the player – as the eponymous Ori, a cute, pretty, marsupial-like creature – moves through a picturesque, enemy-laden labyrinth, searching for keystones to unlock gates and progress through the world. As Ori inherits new skills and maneuvers, the enemies up their hostility with tricky new attacks and traps.

In terms of story, the video introduction shows a baby Ori leaving a glowing forest haven on a breeze before meeting a large, orangutan-type creature who takes Ori in. The two develop a heartwarming bond as they live together, build up their home, and forage for food. That sounds nice, right? Well there’s more. The game gets all Ernest Hemingway on you by shattering this image of paradise when the adopted parent tragically starves to death while keeping Ori alive, and before long Ori is left all alone. The homestead is now cold and dark, the forest is no longer full of lush greenery. Now the player takes full control of Ori and the game begins.

Blind Forest 1
Beautifully illustrated environments

In terms of game play, Ori must explore three unique areas to restore the three Elements of Light and save the world of Nibel. Ori traverses the environment to search for key items, all the while fighting enemies and acquiring power-ups that increase attack power, improve health, and generally make the game easier. It is worth noting that the elegant environment of the game is so lovingly illustrated that it is easy to forget just how much danger lurks within every passageway, especially as so many hazards blend seamlessly into the landscape. Also, the save mechanic becomes increasingly relevant, developing as part of the overall strategy to progress through each zone.

If you’re the kind of gamer that likes to move through levels quickly without thinking about each area then this game isn’t really for you. Ori and the Blind Forest rewards gamers who like to learn and adapt to each new environment and patiently overcome challenges instead of becoming easily frustrated. Being honest, I lost my cool a couple of times, but at no point did I really want a break from this game, mainly because its steady pace and hypnotic imagery creates an ‘at least one more go’ mentality. Also, every mistake feels avoidable because the game is so expertly balanced to provide clever, rhythmic solutions to all perils, and this is partly why so much time disappears when playing, especially for the stubborn gamers among us. In fact, no death ever felt cheap or unnecessary, and so I didn’t mind making Ori suffer for my incompetence from time-to-time because I didn’t feel defeated.

Blind Forest 2
Ori has a swim

Ori and the Blind Forest does a good job of motivating you to play it, and that’s largely down to the subject matter. After all, we all hate death so when a video game implements the concept with a deceased parent figure so early on we find ourselves trying to do anything we can to resist it, or even reverse it (it is a fantasy world after all). That’s why no matter how much adversity is thrown at our little protagonist, Ori continues to fight because we don’t want to lose what’s important. We want to save our friend, and we want the good times that Ori once had to return. This is what makes this game so addictive: this determination to save Ori’s parent and restore harmony to Nibel. In fact, this emotional response is the main reason I played on instead of passing the game to somebody else after the initial trauma I experienced from the interactive opening scene. Whether I saved Ori’s friend or not… You will have to play it yourself to find out.

Ori and the Blind Forest is a standout title that plays very well and offers beautiful imagery, but the true triumph for the developer Moon Studios is the emotional attachment it provokes immediately. Or and the Blind Forest has a heavy focus on emotional connection, but if feelings don’t work for you then don’t worry because there is plenty of enjoyment to be had from clever gameplay.

PC · PS4 · Review · Video Games · Xbox One

Strider is a Faithful Reimagining

By James Daly

Styled in the same vain as the original Strider that debuted throughout various video game arcades back in 1989, Capcom’s new Strider is a faithful reimagining that holds much of the nostalgic charm that keeps the appeal of traditional side-scrolling combat games alive today.

The Xbox One version of Strider is essentially a reboot of the franchise, so new gamers wont feel disadvantaged, whereas existing fans of the series will enjoy noting that this game is based on the aforementioned original arcade version of Strider. The game is also reminiscent of the NES version of the original game, as well as Strider 2. It even incorporates elements of the when the main character appeared in other games, along with some connections to the official manga.

Strider at a rave

Cheesy Story

The story unfolds in a sort of dystopian future and you assume the role of Strider Hiryu, an elite assassin sent by the radically named Strider Corporation to Kazakh City in order to kill arch-nemesis and all-round meanie Grandmaster Meio. The game takes place in a Communist Russia-esque metropolis, made more apparent by the less than subtle accent used by one of the chief villains. The whole thing smells of a cheese so fine you’d think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme star as Strider Hiryu’s sidekick, and that’s exactly what the game developers were aiming for so I have to say they’ve achieved it wonderfully.

The gameplay is simple with basic controller commands that make combat intuitive, which perfectly suits the genre that Strider happily subscribes to. As the story progresses, more functions and attacks are unlocked to deal with the increasing number, and difficulty, of hostiles that all add up to give the game a welcome depth. This game isn’t an IQ test, and it doesn’t really break any ground, but it’s not supposed to, and to look at Strider that way would detract from the aim of the game.

Strider is adept at aerial combat

Thoroughly Enjoyable

Thanks to the vibrantly coloured backdrops expertly crafted for each level, and the host of assorted enemies waiting to be fought, the gameplay in Strider doesn’t ever get boring. The levels are fun to explore and retrace, often with a maze-like feel that encourages players to utilize the environments for effective combat. Even seeking out all of the collectibles doesn’t lose its sense of enjoyment, and collectibles have never really been my thing. I tend to feel as though games should replace collectibles with small insults to the player so developers can just admit they’re trying to upset people, but Strider is one of the few exceptions where the collectibles feel genuinely obtainable.

Overall, Strider is an enjoyably addictive “Metroidvania” type of game with a great pedigree. It offers user-friendly combat, rich visuals and hours of replayability. Combining HD graphics with classic retro gaming style, Strider successfully stands out as a great contemporary example of this genre, and I recommend you play it immediately.