Sweet merciful Jesus. I love Greek Mythology - savage and unrelenting in its own special way, like an ancient version of Eastenders. Just with more incest and less annoying Mitchells. It is without question a rich and bountiful source of material for videogames - of heroes against gods, quests of vengeance and immortality, a time when men were men and women were completely naked.
So how, just how, did Rise of the Argonauts get it so terribly, terribly wrong?
Jason and the Argonauts is undeniably one of the most powerful and rich tales in Greek mythology, because it is deep and wide in moral, ethical and sexual material. The original tale is one of the journey of Jason to recover the fabled Golden Fleece, and how the Gods play him and the subseqent adventure as some sort of twisted little chess game. It has multiple levels, lots of strands and stands out as a powerful tale.
And here we are, with Rise of the Argonauts, proof that sometimes, certain things shouldn't be dumbed down.
The tale starts off a little differently from the original tale - Jason is already the King of Iolcus, a stark change from the source material. His childhood sweetheart, Alceme, is assassinated on the day they are due to wed. Unable to come to terms with losing his one true love, Jason looks for a way to defy the will of Zeus and as such, his quest begins to find the fabled Golden Fleece, along with his friends such as Hercules which had little to do with the original tale. If anything, it tries to do a God of War. The tale is quite condensed and instead of being a faithful retelling of a great bit of social and political mythology, is nothing more than glorified Greek Mythology fanboyism, missing out a lot of what makes the actual tale something special.
The story isn't the only thing that went wrong. The combat is rather simplistic, and despite the idea of Jason wielding a shield and one of three weapons (Sword, spear and mace) it basically boils down to this - let the game autolock onto a target, pump your "talent" points into Ares first, keep clicking your left mouse button, when they've taken a little softening up click your right mouse button for a fatality move. That really is as complex and deep as combat gets, and therefore requires no further criticism other than it sucks balls.
To balance the simple nature of the plot and combat, the game plays out the story in a linear fashion, with various side quests. Very few of these have any real impact on the game so they're basically fodder to feed into your Honour Points, but they're not without some entertainment. Very early on, an exchange between Jason and Xeno provides a nice bit of drama and the various exchanges are worth experiencing, but it all boils down in the end to a thirty second duel and that is it. It's about as complex as side quests go and that is a real pity, as they fail to distract that the game itself isn't actually very deep at all.
But for the gripes, one thing can be said - Rise of the Argonauts is, in reality, rather pretty. It's a gloriously imaginative recreation of a myth that has been bastardised for a quick Action RPG, and that alone sort of gives it a few points in its favour. It really is at times quite stunning.
But with that said, the RPG elements are also remarkably basic. On your journey, you achieve certain deeds which you can go into your menu and dedicate to one of the Gods - this could have been quite a good thing if not for the common knowledge you can pump your points into one God tree - Ares, the God of War (Oh the irony! Take it away Alanis!) and pretty much twiddle with the rest later. I know you have to make these things with a certain degree of power but when you really only focus on one thing for most of the game, it reminds you that it is remarkably basic.
Which really sums up Rise of the Argonauts. Basic. It tries to be a glorious Action RPG, but suffers from just being too damned simple in the end - and the long and pointless conversations along the way only remind you that the game is being padded out a bit too much. It's a stunningly pretty game, but beauty is only skin deep and under its pretty visage is a game that is so simple, so rudimentary, that about halfway through you just start asking yourself why they couldn't have just made a better game out of it.
The source material is there. If you like your Greek mythology, go rent the classic Jason and the Argonauts - or buy it, it's on DVD now. Watch it, then go back to Rise of the Argonauts to expose it for the dumb pretender it really is.
There's so little to be said for this game I won't bother padding out like the game does. Just be warned - this isn't God of War. It's not even close.