Risen Xbox 360
Published by: Deep Silver
Developed by: Piranha Bytes
Given that Risen, a third-person RPG, has been developed by the team behind the Gothic series you'd think it would be safe to assume that you're in for a quality RPG. For a variety of reasons this isn't the case. That's not to say it isn't an interesting RPG or that it's not enjoyable but there are numerous aspects of the game that just aren't good enough for an RPG released in 2009 on a system that's as powerful as the Xbox 360. It feels like an old PC RPG that's been shoddily ported to the 360 with very little being done to make the game feel at home on the system and that's a real shame because on a basic level, it's a solid RPG. We should make it clear that this review covers the Xbox 360 version only as we didn't have access to the PC version of the game.
The game begins with your character and his female companion being washed up on an island after being shipwrecked. The island you're washed up on is a mysterious one called Faranga. The island is in turmoil. The inhabitants have all been forced out of their homes and have become a bandit group and a group of zealots known as the Inquisition appear to be running the place. Whether you side with the Inquisitors or the Bandits that you'll find on the island is up to you as you're free to side with who you please and be as noble or as villainous as you like. The game world is a depressingly familiar medieval-style environment that any PC RPG player will have seen many times before.
The setting may be familiar but Risen is an atmospheric RPG that really does make you feel as though you're in a living, breathing world. It's an RPG where your dialogue choices really do make a difference, something that is not the case in all RPG's even though it's often claimed. It's not an easy RPG and because of a lot of mistakes that have been made it's not an accessible RPG either. The problems start almost immediately as a poor tutorial manages to forget to mention that the game does allow you to assign shortcut buttons to allow you quick access to useful items such as potions etc. It also neglects to mention the lock on feature and while it tells you that you can counter parry attacks, it neglects to tell you that that you can't do this until later on in the game. These mistakes make the game seem needlessly difficult and testing to begin with and that's a pity because it's a solid RPG, albeit with a lot of problems to hamper the experience.
Out of all the problems that Risen has, by far the worst are the sloppy interface and the clumsy control scheme. Navigating the game's menus feels cumbersome. When you open up the map it takes up over half of the screen and because of its size you can't keep it open for very long. There's no mini-map so you'll have to go through the process of opening up the map, finding out where you are, closing the map, then minutes later you'll be opening the map and so forth. It's all a right pain. You can bring up various details such as your inventory and quest details by using the directional pad but navigating these various screens doesn't feel intuitive at all. You seem to make too many button presses to access the information you need.
Combat plays a big part in Risen and the combat system feels like it's been pulled from a late 1990's PC RPG. The A button attacks, the B button blocks and the Y button performs a counter parry which is far from easy to do. Whilst there's a lock on ability, it's not very useful when you're up against an extremely mobile enemy or multiple enemies. When you factor in the extremely dark environments you'll find yourself in, where enemies aren't as visible as you'd like them to be, you have a recipe for a real headache. You can fall from cliffs and other great heights and it's quite possible to do this in battle if you're disorientated of if enemies nudge you off and if the height is sufficient, your character will be killed. The combat becomes less of a chore as you spend more time in the game, level up and gain extra abilities, better weapons and stronger armour. At the beginning it can be very frustrating however. Another quirk I'm not keen on is that you cannot see what items can be picked up unless you've put your weapon away. This is a minor thing but it's an example of just how sloppy the game design is in places.
Risen is visually speaking, a big disappointment. The visuals might have been passable if this were an original Xbox game, but they just aren't up to scratch for an Xbox 360 title. Character models are just plain ugly. The game's various environments are also not pretty and far from being the standard you'd expect from an Xbox 360 title. To add insult to injury, the frame rate is certainly not what you would call consistent. With a game that looks this poor you would at least hope for the frame rate to be smooth but at times it can really chug, even when there are no enemies on the screen. There are numerous graphical glitches to be seen, animations are far from being elegant, the lighting is poor at times and it's annoying when autosaving causes the game to pause. It should also be mentioned that when it's dark in the game you can hardly see a thing and even when carrying a lit torch, the visibility is not great. There are no options for adjusting the gamma setting so you're stuck with the darkness.
Whilst Risen is subtitled, there are a few problems for deaf gamers. The game's cutscenes are not subtitled. The in-game dialogues are subtitled but the comments your character makes when looking at objects and selecting items from your inventory etc., are not. Comments made to your characters outside of the main dialogues are not subtitled. For instance if you accidentally draw your weapon someone may tell you, in a threatening fashion, to put the weapon away but there are no subtitles for this. You also won't be aware of most of the conversations that NPC's have between themselves and whilst this isn't important, it's disappointing. Objectives are shown in text and can be recalled at any time. Tutorial messages are shown in text. Like a lot of RPG's, Risen will switch to more dramatic music when enemies are nearby. Deaf gamers will not have this advantage of being forewarned of an enemy presence, however most of the time you will be able to see enemies so it's not too big a problem.
It's impossible to come to any other conclusion than the Xbox 360 version of Risen is a game that really hasn't been given much care. At its heart I do feel that the game is a solid RPG, maybe slightly dated along the lines of Arx Fatalis and the earlier Gothic games, but solid nevertheless. The real problem is that it's buried under several layers of sloppiness that will put a lot of people off. The graphics and the controls are poor and the general interface is fiddly. Those who have enjoyed Piranha Bytes' previous work will undoubtedly be able to look past the sloppiness and half-hearted approach that's been taken toward bringing the game to the Xbox 360 and they will find an RPG that certainly has its moments. Those who don't give a fig for the developer's pedigree and expect their Xbox 360 games to look like and play like an Xbox 360 game having a good control scheme and interface won't be so forgiving.