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Rise of the Argonauts
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 12/16/08



Scorecard
Graphics: 70%
Sound: 70%
Gameplay: 70%
Control: 68%
Story: 70%
Overall: 68%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Look exciting? It isn't.
 
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Meet Jason and his favorite facial expression.
 
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The combat is fun sometimes.
 
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This is one of the better NPC models. Others were borrowed from Aidyn Chronicles.
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Kyle Miller
Rise of the Argonauts
02/17/09
Kyle Miller

Classic mythology is popular in RPGs and video games in general, so much so that one might say it's overused. Norse mythology comes to mind immediately, but Greek is close behind as the most common source of inspiration to developers, from enemy types to location and item names. These once-rich wells of inspiration grow barren. Nevertheless, some developers insist upon not only stealing ideas from mythology, but creating entire RPGs based on popular myths as well. Rise of the Argonauts is one such example. Argonauts is an attempt at a cinematic action RPG that tells a timeless and romantic tale, but it is a failed attempt. Rise of the Argonauts is a soulless adventure about as pointless and uninspired as excessive mythology references.

Rise of the Argonauts tells the tale of King Jason and the search for the Golden Fleece. The game begins with the assassination of his queen and lover, Alceme. After clearing the palace of the threat, Jason decides that he will not perform Alceme's last rights, for he is determined to bring her back from the dead. Jason sets off on a journey to find the Golden Fleece, defeat the assassins, and return Alceme to his side.

While the theme of the tale - determination and human endurance in the face of divine resistance - never loses its relevance or appeal, it is not enough to save Rise of the Argonauts from sliding into hackneyed trends. The theme isn't original either; Argonauts is an adaptation of the classic Greek myth. From the very beginning, Argonauts fails to engage with its unwaveringly evil villains, mysterious sect of assassins, and a prophecy. The writers can't compare to the bards of ancient Greece.

The game's slim cast of characters fails to flesh out the hollow plot. There may be a significant amount of dialogue in Rise of the Argonauts, compared to its length, but the majority of it does little to develop Jason and his Argonauts. Jason's companions are archetypal and severely uninspired. Their development is often reduced to out-of-place one-liners, such as hulking Hercules and his "is anyone else hungry?" The transparency of the characters' motives further damns the game to Tartarus. Every evil character Jason encounters is clearly marked as such, with tattoos, eyeliner, black clothing, and a voice seething with evil. If a player happens to enjoy the company of Jason or one of the Argonauts, he won't even have enough time to develop a bond over the course of the ten hour fetch quest that is Rise of the Argonauts.

Rise of the Argonauts barely contains enough content to be considered a full RPG. What is there consists of one part wandering, one part conversing with NPCs, and one part combat. Jason must make frequent trips around the game's few locales, which range from cities to jungles. Along the way, he meets a fair number of NPCs and a few enemies to test his abilities. In battle, Jason employs one of three weapons (sword, mace, or spear) along with special abilities called god powers.

Whether in combat or out, the player is unlikely to have much fun. Wandering around the sparse, linear environments is dull and confusing due to the lack of landmarks. Speaking with NPCs is slow and often awkward, characterized by generic dialogue. Combat offers more excitement, but there is too little of it to make a difference, and it presents as many problems as the other segments of the game.

The lack of numbers makes Rise of the Argonauts' combat unsatisfying. In an RPG the lack of all numbers, including hit points, magic points, stats, and experience, comes as an unpleasant surprise. Jason's progress is extremely difficult to measure and by the end of the game, there is little difference in his capabilities. The inclusion of RPG-like skill trees provides some relief, however.

Jason obtains skills through relatively generic trees based on four major Greek gods and goddesses. Instead of earning experience points, Jason completes deeds throughout his adventure, such as killing twelve soldiers or convincing someone to join his party. The deeds may then be dedicated to one of the four deities. Dialogue choices aligned with the desires of one of the four gods also contributes to Jason's skill progress. The skill system is an adequate replacement for experience, especially given the dialogue mechanic. Unfortunately, the skills Jason obtains are weak and unnecessary. Passive skills are ineffectual and god powers can only be used sparingly. Ares would be furious if he saw what had been done to his domain, although his disappointment would not stop there.

Rise of the Argonauts is made brief not only by its lack of content, but also by its lack of difficulty. The bosses provide slight challenges, but they fall after a combination of mundane attacks and one or two god powers. This is only one of the imperfections in combat, however. Equipment is limited, Jason moves poorly, the Argonauts are underpowered and even impede movement, and there just isn't enough of it to distract the player from the monotonous and stale exploration and dialogue. Thankfully, combat is the Mount Olympus of Rise of the Argonauts' graphical component.

The violent and dynamic combat makes for an entertaining sight, but the graphics fall apart elsewhere. Clearly Athena, the goddess of beauty, did not bless Rise of the Argonauts. Most NPC models have a PS2 look, with muddy faces and flat features. Environments are sometimes blurry, textures are amateur, and a few locations have lighting so ugly as to anger peaceful Apollo. The main characters and enemies are the exceptions, as well as parts of one of the final areas. Unfortunately, there aren't many enemy types (about ten), facial expressions are nonexistent, and framerate issues and texture pop-ins occur throughout. If only the developers had put in as much effort as Jason on his quest.

Rise of the Argonauts doesn't prompt players to turn up the volume either. There are forgettable location themes and even less memorable combat tunes. The only songs a player is likely to remember are the exotic vocal arias so stereotypical for the setting. While far from irritating, the music is, not surprisingly, just as hollow as the bulk of the game. One might consider raising the volume to better hear the sometimes-subliminal tracks until Jason opens his mouth.

The voice acting ranges from overdone to completely flat. Jason's voice in particular couldn't inspire the most impressionable youth with its striking apathy. This furthers the image of Jason as a statuesque black hole of personality, who makes for a pathetic hero. Some voice actors clearly strained their voices during recording to squeeze out as much menace from their voice boxes as possible. Still others are simply odd, such as the Jamaican-sounding centaur high on "healing" mushrooms. The NPC conversations, which occupy a third of the game, are just painful, made even more so by ten-second pauses between lines. Players quickly learn to skip through dialogue faster than the time it takes Hermes to fly to Athens and back.

Rise of the Argonauts is not unplayable. It's just mediocre and marred by countless careless mistakes born out of a lack of inspiration and passion for the product. The number of scenes worth watching in this brief and insignificant quest can be counted on the tines of Poseidon's trident; Rise of the Argonauts simply shouldn't exist. It is ironic that a game about such an inspired individual should be so thoughtlessly thrown together. Surely if Jason had known his exploits would spawn such drivel, he would have thought twice before setting out for the Golden Fleece.



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© 2008 Liquid Entertainment, Codemasters. All rights reserved.


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