The story of Jason and the Argonauts has been around for thousands of years, and is one of those well known stories of Greek mythology like the story of Odysseus and Hercules. With the popularity of God of War, it seemed obvious that another game based on Greek mythology would be made. This leads us to Rise of the Argonauts developed by Liquid Entertainment. That's right, the same company that made Desperate Housewives: The Game. If that's not a bad sign on how this game is going to turn out, I don't know what is.
For those familiar with the story of Jason, you'll notice right away that this is a different story altogether. In both cases, Jason sets out to find the Golden Fleece. While in Greek mythology the journey was to find the fleece to prove that he should be king of Iolcus, in the game, Jason seeks the fleece to revive his murdered wife, Alceme. In typical fashion, there's a conspiracy around the murder of Jason's wife, and that slowly unfolds throughout the game. Jason is accompanied on this journey by a group of heroes that would be called the Argonauts. In the game, the Argonauts consist of Hercules, Atalanta, Achilles, and Pan while the myth has a few more characters but no Achilles or Pan.
When looking up info on the game, you'll see the term "role playing game" thrown around. I've played a variety of RPGs from the most linear confined JRPG to the most wide-open full of freedom Western RPG. If this game is a RPG, then so must Madden because Madden has more focus on stats and a leveling up system than this game. Let me explain the "role playing" elements. First off, there are no experience points. The way you improve Jason's abilities is through the aspect system.
Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Athena are gods that provide aspects to Jason. Aspects vary from improving your stats to giving you powers from the gods themselves (sounds a little of God of War-y don't it?) In order to get these aspects, Jason will have to give to the gods different deeds. The deeds remind me a bit of the achievement system on Xbox Live in that they're given when you accomplish a certain task. If you kill 5, 10, 25 enemies and so on will give you a deed. If you complete some of the sidequests, which I'll talk about later, will give you a deed. Hell just playing through certain parts of the games will give you a deed. Once you get these deeds, you can dedicate them to one of the four gods filling up a gauge for that god. If you fill up the gauge, you can then unlock an aspect for that god. The gods vary on their abilities with Ares focusing on more powerful attacks and use of a mace; Hermes focusing on dodging and swords; Apollo has abilities that can heal and improving Jason's blocking with a shield; and Athena has aspects that will make Jason's spear stronger and will improve his defense overall.
Deeds are not the only way to fill up the gauge of the gods. Another way to increase your standing with a god is through the speech system. Throughout the game, you'll be given a choice of talking points. In some cases, these are designed to learn more about a subject. Predominantly, these choices will be a way for you to decide how Jason interacts with the NPCs. Like some Western RPGs, your responses can range from being insightful, courteous, or just plain mean. If you know about Greek gods, you'd realize that Ares being the god of war also means that his responses are probably the least eloquent of them all. So if you pick the meanest or most direct response, a little icon will show up representing that you responded as a follower of Ares. The different responses represent what a follower of that god would say but there's really no wrong answer here. It's totally up to you whether you want to stick with one god or not, but if you use a response from a god, that gauge for that god will increase just a bit. So after you've talked to a bunch of characters in a village, check your aspects and you can see if you have a free aspect for a particular god.
A part of the game people will talk about the most is the combat. In a sense, it doesn't do much different than many games out there. There's a button for weak attack, strong attack, block and doge. One gameplay addition is the shield rush which is a quick push using Jason's shield to keep enemies away and sometimes stunning them. Another one, which is a little cooler, is the quick change of weapons. Jason will use a mace, sword, and spear throughout the game and depending on what system you play, you'll be able to press a button to go back and forth with these weapons. Each weapon will have a different combo and also finish off opponents in different ways which is done in very brutal ways. Finish off an opponent with a mace and you'll be treated to a sickening thud as the mace slams against the opponent's chest. Use a sword and watch the enemy's lower torso fly across the room as you slice them in half. This is where the fun stops in the game, so let us talk about the lameness.
Regarding combat, it's very very very tedious. The whole use of combos between weak and strong attack is so dull that your only hope for enjoyment is the satisfaction of finishing off an enemy. Enemies will not be taken down easily in this game either. Most enemies will have a shield or use their weapon to block, and they will block...A LOT. The way to overcome this is a well timed block or shield rush that can stun your opponent, depending on the aspects you have, or barraging your opponents shield or weapon with weapons strikes until it breaks leaving them defenseless and easy prey. What's funny is that the game made it so easy for enemies to block but it gave them retarded AI where they will do a triumphant pose out of nowhere. Of course this is a perfect time to attack, but these poses are so random that it's just easier to keep on attacking. In combat, the Argonauts will have your back, kind of. They'll carry on fighting enemies and will sometimes need your help. Hell in some battles, they'll go down leaving them out of the fight altogether unless you have some heals from Apollo. Speaking of healing, the developers used that new method of keeping the hero alive for long periods of time by not letting the hero be attacked once his health gets too low. The annoying thing is that there is no indicator of your health. While armor and abilities will increase your health, the only way to know that you're low on health is when the outer part of the screen goes red, but you're about one hit from dying at that point.
The crapfest doesn't stop there because guess what? There's not even a lot of combat to enjoy. The introduction level has you killing a lot of bad guys but after that, battles will be few and far between. Granted, when you're in combat, you'll have a string of several fights but then you are left with a point where you just talk to continue on with the mission. I guess this is when they consider the game to get all "RPG-y". This is also where the sidequests kick in but these sidequests are so mind-numbing that you don't even want to bother with them. The formula for these sidequests will typically be: talk to a villager -> villager is sad about someone and wants you to talk to that someone -> Jason talks to that someone and either gives them a negative response or positive -> go back to the person that gave you quest and that's it. You're essentially doing the most basic task in a RPG which is talking to people, but it's done in such a way that you just do not want to bother. Granted you'll get deeds to help you improve Jason and even get weapons/armor that will improve certain stats for Jason, but the running around is so annoying that you're more than willing to pass them up. In the beginning, especially, you'll do some ridiculous amount of running around which wouldn't be so bad except controlling Jason is so damn clunky. There are also plenty of invisible barriers keeping you from into certain spots that seem to have more than enough space for Jason.
Speaking of space and Jason, the developers spared no expense detailing Jason. Hell they even gave him a 300-like set of abs making Jason look more like Leonidas. While he and the other main characters are detailed very well, all other NPCs are poorly done. You'll see the same looking NPCs no matter where you go with only a slight difference of clothes. What's the most frustrating part of the graphics is the flickering that happens. Being that my eyes are in tuned to notice any sort of shimmer that represents a hidden item, you'll see plenty of shimmers while indoors. But they're not items, just the graphics not keeping up when moving around.
Since this is a game based on Greek mythology, you'd expect a plethora of Greek architect. Well there's some of it but it's simply not that special. Hell the God of War series has much better looking building than this game. There are some times, in certain areas, where you can get a good look at some nice graphics. But again, these are few and far between leaving you with levels that look stale and generic. The times where I get a constant graphic goodness is during combat when the particle effects are used. The effects come off like a little firework that combined with the slow effect when you finish off an enemy; it's a small treat to see the flow of the attack.
As for the audio, let's just leave that as being bleh. The voice actors are ok, but the animation of the character talking is so out of sync with the voice that it conveys no real emotion at all. None of the NPCs are special with their voices, and in some cases, they're just horrid and typical. While there's a score for the game, you'll go periods without hearing any score at all so it's easily forgettable.
In summation, we have a game with a mediocre combat, bleh graphics, forgettable audio, and an overall lack of anything new or quality. Time to beat the game is averaging 15 hours, maybe 20 if you don't pass up a lot of dialogue. Now, full disclosure, I did not beat the game. I played just enough to get the feel of the game and I could not play anymore. The game is not fun and is simply a wannabe God of War without the beautiful graphics, the fun gameplay, the great voice acting and overall epic feel to it. Competition is important in video games because it launches some great series. If there was no Medal of Honor or Street Fighter 2, we wouldn't have Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty. It's not a surprise that somebody saw the success of God of War and looked for another piece of Greek mythology to capitalize on the success of the GoW games. Sadly, this game doesn't even surpass the GoW game for the PSP, let alone not even coming close to GoW 1. Do yourself a favor, play all the GoW games over again, and save your money for GoW3.