Rise of the Argonauts (PC)
Here are some things you don’t want to happen on your wedding day: (1) Creepy cousin gets drunk and feels up all the female guests, (2) “Betcha Bottom Dollar” by neo-burlesque travesties the Puppini Sisters left on permanent repeat because the DJ forgot to bring anything else (3) Bride-to-be takes a poisoned arrow through the heart, shot by a member of a mysterious witch-goddess worshipping cult in the name of prophecy. As this is a game rooted in Greek mythology, you can probably figure out which one of those gives unhappy groom Jason a reason to get out of the house and do some questing.
Before we get to that though, a few words about this being a console port. I’m not somebody who feels there’s any substance to the ever-popular ‘dumbing down for the hated consoles has affected our beloved games’ theory, beyond a few bored PC owners feeling oddly threatened by excellent games involving Mario. However, there’s no getting around the fact that whoever ported Rise of the Argonauts over to the PC did a spectacularly lazy job.
The graphics options are especially sparse, offering the multitude of PC owners with completely different gaming set-ups the ability to change their screen resolutions, and … err … no, that’s it. So any PC owners who find themselves with a few frame-rate stutters have the options ‘do nothing’ and ‘cry about it’ at their disposal. No chance to change the textures. No ability to turn off or tone down HDR effects. Nothing.
Not content with robbing people of even the most basic ability to tweak performance, the game also dictates what controls you can use. That’s right – whether you’re using the mouse-keyboard combo or a gamepad of some sort, the controls cannot be altered from a pre-set selection of default set-ups. It’s kind of a shame that nobody involved with this production knew that the ability to redefine keys has been a standard feature of every single home computer game since about 1983, but there we go.
So once you’ve settled on the least crippling wasd control option and crossed your fingers that the PC you own will be able to run the game at a reasonable pace, you can actually begin. Although you’ll probably come to a halt again fairly rapidly if you’re one of the many people experiencing random crashes during dialogue sequences. I was one of those lucky not-so-few and battled through a myriad of crashes back to the desktop before stumbling across this handy fix. The .ini file alteration seemed to do the trick, in combination with switching subtitles on and reading ahead so I could click through to the next line of speech before it had a chance to think about crashing. Not an ideal solution, as you can imagine.
Ok, but after dealing with all of THAT, you can play the game. Phew. Rise of the Argonauts is a third-person action-RPG with a fairly novel way of levelling up. Rather than displaying Jason’s abilities as a bunch of bare stats, he can earn upgrades to his basic skills with sword, spear and mace, as well as handy special abilities, by showing affinity with one of four Greek deities. He does this by either acting in a way they approve of (ie; through dialogue choices) or by dedicating ‘deeds’ to them (essentially selecting from various achievements like ‘slew 50 enemies’ and gradually filling up a bar towards a tasty reward.) Favours range from the ability to do more damage with a simple sword swipe, to opening up magical gates to hell and sucking enemies into oblivion.
Early on in the proceedings though I was instructed to ‘left click to jump the balcony.’ This wasn’t a great sign, because aside from left and right clicking a few times to bash the forces who’d messed up the wedding it seemed I was barely interacting with the game at all and just easing the story along. This proved to be quite a premonition.
There are multiple dialogue choices to most encounters in the game, which (as mentioned) influence which particular god Jason is gaining favour with. The problem here is that there is often the option to choose multiple answers and please many of the gods at once anyway, allowing players to level up all over the place to their hearts content. Indeed, the game can’t really disguise that the only reason you’re wanting to find favour with any given god is the bonuses and powers they may bring in combat. Yet combat itself is rather sporadic. I was genuinely surprised to get an achievement for killing 250 foes at one point because it really didn’t feel like I’d seen that much action at all. Although it’s possible this statistic included the hundreds of glassy-eyed NPCs Jason seems to give Last Rites to during the course of the game.
As the dialogue choices are rendered largely irrelevant other than for advancing the plot there really isn’t much to do besides trundling through the story, running from A to B on a succession of Greek islands, watching what amounts to a series of extended cutscenes that require you to steer the conversation every now and again. For this to be successful, the plot needs to be pretty damn spectacular.
In truth, it’s ok. It’s not even close to the original story of Jason and the Argonauts (indeed, if you’re hoping for this, you’ll probably be quite insulted by this ‘reimagining’), but something about it had enough of a soap opera style hook to keep me interested. That deserves some credit, considering most locations in the game push Jason down a single, linear path (almost literally – there are often a series of invisible walls forcing you to stay within certain boundaries) and every single ‘quest’ is a case of moving between a small series of locations and chatting to people until you get a NEW series of locations popping up on your map. A map which, incidentally, is only accessible by diving into the pause menu.
As previously touched upon, the combat is relatively infrequent. It does increase in intensity, however, and by the time Jason reaches the final couple of areas he’s pretty much fighting all the time. Our hero is usually accompanied in battle by a couple of willing companions, be they steroid-abusing hulks (Hercules), fursuit fanatics with a love of Game Theory (Pan), preening Christano Ronaldo types (Achilles) or a pair of b***** (Atalanta), who wander around helping out in an AI-controlled fashion. The initial spacing of combat is quite nice in the sense that it avoids too much repetition and keeps the God Powers novel and fun to try out – as you’ll no doubt have acquired some new ones before each encounter. Gameplay and fighting mechanics are rather simple though. It’s possible to win in style by beheading people with a shield in slow motion, but it’s also possible to triumph by clicking away at your mouse almost at random. None of this is helped by a camera which seems fixated on Jason’s manly behind.
Through reading around, it seems as though sizeable chunks of this title were cut before release. This probably didn’t help, and goes some way to explaining why it’s possible to complete in two or three days. Frankly though, if the additional gameplay was more wandering down narrow paths and easy combat then not a great deal has been lost. The curious way the storytelling gets its hooks into you saves the game from complete failure, although it’s sometimes frustrating to see rich source material like the Minotaur treated as a generic fantasy beast to be thrown at the player. Some praise too for the music, which stays on the side of subtle ambience and makes some of the trekking around on errands more bearable. Overall, Rise of the Argonauts is probably just about worth renting (on a console of choice, rather than PC), but if you’re hoping for a nuanced reimagining of Greek mythology, you’d be better off sticking with Borges.