Rise of the Argonauts
The classical Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts begins with Jason returning to Iolcus after being raised in exile to claim the throne from his uncle Pelias. Thinking quickly Pelias says that he will surrender the throne to Jason if he can bring him the legendary Golden Fleece. Jason agrees and sets about getting the great ship Argo built before crewing it with some of the greatest heroes of the time and setting off on his quest.
The videogame Rise of the Argonauts begins with Jason already King of Iolcus getting married to Alceme (who appears nowhere in the Argonaut myth). They are attacked by a cult called The Blacktongues (who also appear nowhere in the myth) and Alceme is killed. Swearing revenge and hoping to restore Alceme back to life Jason sets out on his quest.
It’s somewhat baffling that having decided to use a specific Greek myth on which to base a videogame, the developers should then set about changing the premise of the myth entirely. As well as this mangling of the basics, irksome changes crop up all the way through the game. These range from the mildly irritating, such as Heracles being referred to as Hercules (Hercules is the character’s Roman name not Greek), to the vexatious inclusion of Achilles; a hero who never appeared in the Argonaut myth (he’s from the Trojan War cycle). Worst of all is the transformation of Jason from an idealistic young man on the threshold of a great destiny to just another angst ridden cliché.
Why should this matter? Well if the changes were for the better; if they were in the service of supplying a better gameplay narrative it might be forgiveable. But Rise of the Argonauts is not a good game. It relies very heavily on its narrative as conveyed via talking heads and the new storyline just isn’t as cool and exciting as its source material. The original myth is tailored made for videogaming. It’s full of spectacle and incident, interesting puzzles and big bosses, Rise of the Argonauts didn’t have to be a bad game, but it is.
Put bluntly, the game is a chore. It’s a trudge, a slog, a drag and every other word in the thesaurus that means “slow and boring”. The game seems to have the lofty ambitions of being one that combines the RPG elements of a Bioware game with the combat of God of War. In this it fails spectacularly. Most puzzles and plot points are worked out with walking and talking, and talking, and talking. Exposition, there’s reams of the bloody stuff. With the stilted nature of the poorly scripted dialogue and the relative stillness of the character models (some of which wouldn’t look out of place in a PS2 game) it all combines to a soporific effect and gives us perhaps the first videogame cure for insomnia.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the game is the ability to side with one of four Gods. Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Athena. Each one favours (and will power up) a certain weapon and by dedicating feats and dialogue to certain Gods you can earn special abilities and god powers to use in combat, such as being able to heal your fighting buddy. But when you do get a chance to fight there is nothing to match Kratos’ brutal fluidity here. Simple button mashing wins the day every time, with very little variety in enemy types spread thinly around the overly large and empty maps. Your fighting partners will often stop fighting if you move too far away from them and lack of a lock-on means fighting multiple enemies is a complete pain. Bosses are under whelming and easily defeated via simple strategies. It’s all just so disappointing.
There is a certain scrappy, unfinished quality about the game as well. From bothersome elements like an auto save function that doesn’t work properly to a lack of a mini-map and health bars to orientate yourself, to huge problems with a camera that likes to get jammed on the scenery and no amount of stick twiddling will get it unstuck and characters that disappear off the side and can’t find their way back, forcing you to reload an earlier save file.
It didn’t have to be like this. The grand sweep of the Argonaut adventure reduced to lots of wandering about spouting badly lip synced dialogue and cheesy button mashing combat. Fans of the ancient myths will want to give this blandly rewritten adventure a wide berth as will RPG fans and people waiting patiently for the next God of War. There’s no challenge here, no excitement and ultimately no game worth playing. What a wasted opportunity.