Rise of the Argonauts

Games Reviews
Rise of the Argonauts

Publisher: Codemasters
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360

Tracking the Golden Fleece is (mostly) a pleasure cruise

The cultural obsession with superheroes is not a contemporary phenomenon. Thousands of years before Batman and Spider-Man saved Gotham and New York—and a few decades later, Hollywood—human beings were fascinated with superhuman do-gooders. Don’t forget: The Christian faith begins with an ordinary-seeming guy who reluctantly unveils miraculous powers in his crusade against injustice and an unfathomably sinister arch-nemesis. (Sounds like a Stan Lee creation, no?) The ancient Greeks had their own superheroes—some divine, some mortal. In a world filled with such wearying complexity, we yearn for tales in which good triumphs over a wholly unambiguous evil.

While most video-game developers have taken the film industry’s lead in scavenging the Marvel and DC superhero universes, Codemasters shrewdly bucks the trend by eschewing DC for B.C. The developer’s newest RPG focuses on the exploits of Jason of the Argonauts and his epic quest for the Golden Fleece. If you’ve heard the tale before, get ready for some surprises. Instead of rehashing the story as it’s been handed down, the game’s writers embrace the folk tradition by cherry-picking several of the more famous characters and weaving a fresh take on the adventure.

The game’s story opens the day Jason, king of Iolcus, is to wed his lifelong sweetheart Alceme. As they begin the private ceremony, a ghoulish assassin on a distant perch dips his arrow’s tip in some fell magic poison and sends it whizzing into the bride’s chest. She slumps over and dies in Jason’s arms. After Jason and his beefcake buddy Hercules give chase through the palace, they learn that the assassin was a member of the Blacktongues, a duplicitous race of dark sorcerers who’d long been banished from Iolcus. Instead of giving Alceme last rites so that she may complete her journey to the underworld, Jason pledges to locate the Golden Fleece in order to bring her back. If he doesn’t find it in time, he will doom his beloved’s ghost to wander the earth for eternity.

There’s plenty to love about Rise of the Argonauts. The game’s soundtrack offers a stylistic nod to Lisa Gerrard’s ethereal vocalizing in Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator. The stunning visuals and sound design offer players nothing short of blanket immersion. When you first emerge from the tree line onto the beach and get a look at your ship—the Argo—looming over Iolcus’s harbor, and you hear waves lapping up against its creaking hull, you can nearly smell the salt air and heady prospect of adventures yet to unfold. I even found myself adjusting the camera angle to admire the craftsmanship of new weapons I’d collected. The long, curving blade of my spear tip bore exquisite artisan etchings. The golden lion head adorning one shoulder pad on my armor glimmered in the afternoon sun. Most narrative-heavy games are lacking in both solid dialogue and voice acting, but even those aspects of the game are well-executed.

Regrettably, Argonauts stumbles in a few major areas. While the weapons are beyond handsome, you’ll get precious little enjoyment from wielding them. The battle system is woefully prosaic and you’ll tire of watching Jason perform the same finishing move over and over. The pacing is also problematic. After the exciting opening sequence mentioned above, the game kills its momentum by forcing you to perform a series of mind-numbing errands before you can begin your adventure in earnest. I’m still bitter about one especially tedious hike from the harbor up to the palace and back again just to ask Uncle Pelias a follow-up question about my sea map to the Oracle of Delphi. Speaking of maps, with no option for a mini one on your heads-up display—the designers don’t want you missing Greece’s beautiful vistas while fixing your eyes on the bottom corner of the screen—you’ll be forced to pause the action repeatedly just to access the menu and make sure you’re jogging in the right direction.

Even if Argonauts isn’t always smooth sailing, it’s a voyage that will capture your imagination and leave you eager to find out what happens next. Plus: if, like me, your parents just so happened to name you “Jason,” your ego will sprout superhero-like wings from being eulogized with such relentless zeal. Mere mortals need the occasional pick-me-up.

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