Technical issues hamper an otherwise great experience.

After a successful debut on the PC, Piranha Bytes open ended RPG Risen has arrived on the Xbox 360. Casting the player in the shoes of a shipwrecked stowaway washed up on the shores of a mysterious island, Risen provides players with an engaging role-playing experience with hours of quests available. Unfortunately, the game squanders its considerable potential by featuring nearly as many technical issues as adventures.

As the game opens, you’re introduced to your nameless lead character through a cut-scene explaining how he came to be washed up on the island. Soon the game will open itself up to you, allowing you to choose not only your immediate path but also which of the games rival factions you’ll align yourself with. The Rebels consider themselves the islands only remaining free men, while the Order seeks to discover the truth behind the mysterious ruins popping up all over the island. This choice will determine the path the entire game will take and adds a considerable amount of replayability.

While the whole island is available to explore, you’ll want to make sure you don’t stray too far from the path that the game sets out for you at first. Wander off and you might run into a dangerous monster you are ill equipped to handle. Unfortunately this can be an all too often occurrence if you aren’t vigilant, due to the games unwillingness to give much direction when it comes to questing and navigating the world. Like its predecessor, Risen does not hold the players hand as they make their way around the island. Some players will enjoy this challenge, but more casual fans of the genre run the risk of quickly finding themselves lost in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, the games technical performance seems to have found itself lost as well between the PC and Microsoft’s machine. The interface was clearly designed for a PC, and features problems that seem to be becoming commonplace within this genre such as difficult to read menus and a somewhat clunky inventory system. The graphics are muddy and bland, and the character models would have looked dated last generation. The camera control was clearly unchanged from the PC version and swings wildly with even the slightest touch, a problem that is exacerbated when playing from the most distant of the three camera settings (on a side note this problem actually rendered the game unplayable for our esteemed EIC, for whom it caused a considerable amount of motion sickness).

The game also features very awkward animations for most activities, turning even sitting down into an apparently painful act. Perhaps the worst is the jumping animation. The only way I know to describe it visually, is that it looks as if your character is being pulled up in the air by strings and gently set back down. This makes the jump look completely disconnected from the game world, like the kind of thing a novice would include in a simple animation for a programming class. Normally I wouldn’t complain so vociferously about something as seemingly insignificant as the jumping animation, but it speaks more about the amateur technical level of this game than 4 hours of gameplay could.

In addition to these quirks, you’ll also find your character getting stuck on geometry and (unbelievably) while walking through doors. Early in the game I triggered a trap door in one of the ruins. Instead of falling through it, my character got stuck inside the floor. Luckily I was able to simply waltz my way through the ground (as we are all prone to do) and end up back where I started. On the plus side, the game features no loading while walking around the island, with the only load screens coming after death or when loading a previous save. While this would normally be considered an impressive technical feat, it is offset by a considerable amount of framerate problems and longer than normal hiccups when the game is autosaving.

Even the combat in the game, which by itself would be serviceable if uninspired, is weighed down by the aforementioned camera issues and a clear lack of effort when transferring the game from PC to 360. While the right trigger swings your weapon, and the left trigger blocks, the game requires you to press the X button to pull out your weapon before you can do either. This sounds like a minor gripe, but it’s importance is exaggerated when being attacked. Pressing either trigger when your weapon is put away should automatically pull out your equipped weapon and either block or attack depending. The same thing happens when accessing your inventory in the middle a fight. When you press up on the d-pad to open your pack, everything around you stops attacking. Unbelievably, your character also puts away his weapon. When you select the item you need and close the inventory, you have to again press the X button to equip your weapon. In the meantime, the enemies around you will have already attacked you and you will have no ability to block their initial attacks. This, coupled with the difficulty of some fights, makes combat a somewhat frustrating experience that could have been easily redeemed through some simple fixes.

Perhaps the sting of these technical issues would not be so great, if there wasn’t such a promising RPG buried underneath them. The story and questing in the game is quite deep, and the game promises hours and hours of exploration and adventure. Your character can learn several crafting skills, including smithing, allowing you to make your own jewelry and weaponry. You can also cook the raw meat that you collect from the various animals you’ll tangle with along the way by using an open flame and a frying pan. The different factions in the game feature not only different motives, but also different bonuses and playstyles. There are several different skill sets available and your character isn’t pigeonholed into a specific class, allowing you to customize his skills as you see fit. The island itself is sizable, and would provide for some great exploration opportunities were it not for the aforementioned technical issues. The game also features an abundance of cleverly designed enemies to fight, and I quickly bought into the world and the story being told within it. The level of detail and sheer volume of things to do in the game lends the world a level of credibility that is so lacking on the technical side.

On the audio front, Risen is a mixed bag. While the game features some well written dialogue, the voice acting is mostly sub-par. The music in the game suits the world quite well, but its mostly the same tired fantasy score we’ve heard in WRPG’s for the past 10 years.

A strange dichotomy exists within Risen. Somehow within one game the developer managed to get nearly all the RPG details right and nearly all the technical elements wrong, leaving behind a broken yet promising shell. Dedicated WRPG players who enjoy open world style games will find plenty of stuff to like if they can push themselves past the games numerous faults, unfortunately most of them have probably already played the unquestionably superior PC version of the game. For casual fans of the genre there are already too many solid games on the system (and a lot more on the way) for me to recommend sinking the time into Risen.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Written by
Wombat lives by the code that if you are playing a game from this year, you are doing it wrong. His backlog is the stuff of legend and he is currently enjoying Perfect Dark Zero, Skies of Arcadia and Pong.