E3 2013: Ryse Is Not Impressive, Thief Is Meh

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Hello Dear Reader,

There’s so much to talk about, I apologize that I haven’t written sooner. Over the past two days, I was shown private demos of two games (among others) for which I had very high hopes: “Ryse” and “Thief.” My feelings coming out of both were somewhere between ambivalence and full-on dread. Let me explain.

RYSE

Rating: D

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As a longtime admirer of Crytek, I went into this one with high hopes. I should state before I continue that Crytek is stubbornly refusing to show anything but that one very Normandy-looking level we’ve all seen, and it’s hard to judge a whole game based on that. These are just my reactions to a brief demo. Still…

I have concerns.

The developers really talk up the intimacy of the combat, but from my perspective, it just looks/feels like QTE-dependent battle. They mentioned the Arkham franchise repeatedly, but this has none of that series’ beautiful fluidity of combat. Swinging and hitting targets seems a little fractured and wooden, like the engine has to constantly scooch you around to help you hit the target you’re aiming for. The range of basic movements seemed limited, and transitioning from target to target was clunky.

And, as mentioned before, it keeps on boiling down to Quicktime Events. Sure, the ways in which our hero dispatches enemies during these “Executions” (as they’re called) are cool, but as long as my involvement in them never goes past pressing “X” when told, I really don’t give a damn. They kept on talking up these Executions over and over, which makes me think they’ll be a foundational element of the combat. If that’s the case, you just lost me.

On the other hand, the ability to marshall together one’s troops into formations is awesome. You have to order your men to put up their shields, then order them to fire, at the right moments, or you’ll lose them to your enemy’s attacks. While that was going on, “Ryse” had me. And yet when I pressed on this subject, the developers were quick to caution that this is “not Total War: Rome, although we love that game.” I didn’t get the impression that this feature would be expanded far beyond what was shown. Sigh.

“Ryse” is a handsome beast, to be sure, but so far it’s shaping up like “God of War’s” scaled down little brother. It’s not gritty enough to really set my teeth on edge, nor is it massive and fantastic enough to produce the awe that made Kratos’ adventures epic. They do have some sharp writing and an interesting story going for them, though, and I love the notion of setting an action game in the Roman era. I want to get excited for this one, and I’m not giving up yet, but the demo just isn’t doing it for me.

THIEF

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Rating: C+

“Thief: The Dark Project” is one of the three or four games responsible for making me a gamer, so I’m very precious about how you approach this franchise. To be sure, the fine folks behind “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” are as good a team as any to tackle it, but the gameplay I saw still leaves with me with concerns.

On the plus side, the classic tropes mostly return: water/fire/rope arrows, the unique setting, etc. The new Focus system is exactly like every other Focus system in every other game: it grants temporary time-slow for better aiming, heightened awareness of enemy movement, expedited lock picking, and others. However, by making this a limited resource that does not regenerate (although it can be replenished with an item), the folks at Eidos Montreal create a nice tactical wrinkle; how one budgets and disperses their Focus determines how prepared they are for emergencies and mistakes. Garrett can also “swoop” mostly invisibly between the shadows, a welcome and necessary feature whose omission in other stealth games is always felt. Credit is also due for the stylish and simple radial menus and UI.

My problem kicked in at the half-way point of the demo, after Garrett had stolen what he came to steal and was now tasked with escaping. The building began to burn and for the next twenty minutes eternity we were treated to scene after scene of our hero running through burning scenery. If this feels familiar to you, perhaps that’s because you’ve seen the exact same thing in “Tomb Raider,” every “Uncharted” game, every recent “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” game, the list keeps going. “Escape from Burning Building” is now officially cliche, it’s just a cheap way for developers to dollop scripted spectacle into an E3 demo without empowering the player to do anything but run. And this particular “Escape from Burning Building” went on forever; it was easily as long as the stealth section, maybe longer.

Which feeds into my concern about the new “Thief”: is it going to have the original’s unique feel, or will it be homogenized in with the likes of “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” and “Dishonored”? What I’ve seen so far isn’t bad per se, but neither is it arresting. It plays pretty much exactly like you’d think a “Thief” reboot would. That’s not a compliment.

_AA

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