Friday, December 11, 2009

Rise of the Argonauts (Xbox 360)

I'm not as much of a slave to my Gamefly queue as I am to my Netflix queue. Given the various platforms and their different economic models it's hard for rentals to be a large percentage. At any point I'll generally have a disc out from Gamefly, an MMO I'm poking around in, a handheld game for the bus, some slow burner on the console that would take too long to rent, and some downloadable game. But I'm always trying to push as much of my gaming to rental as possible, which is the smartest option for my rate of play. It has the side effect of encouraging me to try games I would never risk real permanent money on. Which means I throw stuff into my queue that is sometimes pretty borderline.

Oh, hello Rise of the Argonauts, I'm talking about you now. Not long into the first sitting I found myself wondering why the hell I threw this game into my queue. Ancient Greek mythology is up my alley, so that had to been a factor. But this game has a huge identity complex. The core gameplay mechanic is a third person action game. You know, a God of War knockoff. But Argonauts isn't nearly as good, even compared to other knockoffs. You aren't actually provided enough opportunities to swing your aggression around to succeed at being that type of game. Early on I was given an upgrade to a weapon before I had been given an opportunity to use the one before it. Instead of fighting there's lots and lots of dialogue.

For a game with so much talking the dialogue animations are awkward. Wait, they're not awkward - they're absent. Jason stands there in the same pose for every single conversation. And there's some serious recycling of the voice talent for bit parts. I think I had only talked to my fourth NPC before I hit a repeat.

I finished my first sitting and seriously considered putting the game back in the envelope right then and there. But something compelled me to stick with it. I definitely wanted to solve the mystery of why I chose to play the game in the first place. I knew where the answer was - in the GameTrailers video review. Most stuff in my queue first goes through a video review check (games are such a long time commitment that I like to see them first). But I knew that if I went back to the review at this point it'd bias my experience, so I held back and instead just flat out avoided the game for a week.

Eventually I came back, with revised expectations. This is clearly not an action game. It's something… else. I started looking for the positives. Jason may just stand there stiffly as he talks to people, but statically he looks pretty good. And his voice acting is quality. The interpretation of Greek mythology is a bit off canon, but at least they commit to their variations. I found myself honestly invested in what was going to happen next.

And then I remembered why I rented the game in the first place. It was precisely for that mix of compelling story but crappy gameplay. It's the flip of the video game cliché. I had left a little test for myself in my queue: I wanted to know if a game that failed at being a game but still had a decent story behind it could satisfy me. I've played a ton of games that strike the opposite balance and walked away content. Could I do the reverse?

The verdict? Well, I played the game to completion, but all that really means is that I'm willing to ride out a train wreck. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone else. I did continue to care about what was going to happen all the way until the end, but I was also pretty desperate to put that game controller to good use the whole time. Any time I play a game I could have easily reached for the remote instead of the controller, but there's something about my mood that decided on the interactive option.

Yes, Rise of the Argonauts has a story, but it's far from cinema quality. Nor does it muster enough quality interactivity to elevate the story to be more than it is. I'm left dreaming about how much better it would be if it had excelled more at either end. But it didn't, so I guess it's a failure. Oh well, back it goes in the envelope. We'll see what present I left for myself next.

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