Et Tu, Ryse? How Changing History Can be Good for the Game

By Xbox One on at

Do you remember the history lesson when teacher covered the time when the robotically-armoured F├╝hrer, Mecha-Hitler, took on American spy B. J. Blazkowicz, armed with quad rail guns in a last ditch effort to defend castle Wolfenstein before melting into a foul mix of blood and bones? No?

Of course not. That particular episode of the dastardly Nazi regime (surprisingly) never actually happened beyond the confines of PC shooter Wolfenstein 3D. Hitler's real-world demise was a far more dour, pathetic affair. But for gamers, the Wolfenstein showdown has become one of the most infamous and memorable encounters in video gaming history.

Over the years, game developers have made an artform out of taking significant moments from across the ages and creating captivating gameplay experiences around them. While some have played it straight, many of the best have often taken a liberal approach to historical accuracy. Xbox One exclusive Ryse: Son of Rome looks set to join a long line of games that have taken historical liberties for the good of the game.

A third person action adventure, Ryse puts you in control of fictitious Roman general Marius Titus in a tale of revenge that spans the military genius' entire life. However, rather than staying within the realms of established history, Crytek have created an alternate time-line for the historical period, letting them take the action to any location they chose, using any military techniques or weapons at the disposal of the Roman army across its entire 500 year imperial reign.

As a result, developers Crytek have been able to deliver show-stopping levels and gameplay set-pieces (like those seen in the game's E3 reveal demo) that rival Hollywood productions when it comes to onscreen action. It'll allow players to take on hordes of barbarian soldiers single-handedly, using ocean-bound galleons as amphibious beach-storming vehicles rather than mere troop transport vehicles, and experience what it was like to be at the heart of all manner of intricate Roman troop formations. All this will be delivered through a stunning next-gen visual engine, capable of life-like facial animations and full-body motion capture that easily lives up to Crytek's other graphical powerhouse, Crysis.

The multiplayer component of the game will also play fast and loose with the professorially established truth of Roman history. Developers Crytek have described it as a "greatest hits" take on the gladiatorial amphitheatre, one set in a mechanically automated coliseum far beyond the technical capabilities of Roman engineers at the time.

As well as facing off against club-wielding barbarians and fighters who would give Russell Crowe's Maximus a run for his money in the badassery stakes, multiplayer gamers will also have to contend with a gauntlet-like arena, filled with traps that emerge from the ground and transform from the structure on a grid of tiles with every step further taken. The real-world Colosseum in Rome had some tricks up its sleeve, but none as sophisticated as this death-trap. For developers Crytek, playing with the Romans' engineering capabilities of the time has allowed them to build a battleground that constantly excites and challenges the gamer, and one that can thrust unexpected dangers at them that a static arena could never manage.

Cherry picking the most exciting moments from history puts Ryse in good company. Take for instance BioShock, with its underwater city of Rapture. Hailed by many as one of the finest games of the current console generation, it charts the folly an elite group looking to create a utopian society built on genetic re-engineering fathoms deep beneath the ocean. It's a superb piece of science fiction, and the decision to set the game in the 1960s rather than the near future was a masterstroke by developers Irrational Games. We've seen plenty of glossy future worlds before, so it's a welcome escape to be asked to suspend our disbelief for the sake of finding a technologically marvelous steampunk city humming ominously beneath the waves, regardless of the fact the structure couldn't even be recreated by the greatest minds of today, let alone 50 or more years ago.

With the fictitious city of Rapture said to have been built in the 1940s, Irrational Games' art teams were also able to take architectural cues from the time period to create a truly eerie, otherworldly ghost town beneath the waves. As for the virtual city's few remaining screwed up inhabitants, they exhibit all the signs of chronic paranoia that living through the Mccarthyism witch-hunts would have brought upon the era's most progressive thinkers. You'll never look at a diving mask, or hear Bobby Darin's Beyond The Sea, the same way again.

Or take the Assassin's Creed games. From Constantinople to Rome, Jerusalem to the early days of Colonial America, developers Ubisoft have created living, breathing, near-perfect recreations of some of the most recognisable cities and locations from throughout history. But what of the notable inhabitants of those places at those times? We're all well aware of Da Vinci's artistic prowess, but did you know of his association with a league of covert assassins, building physics-defying flying machines so that his fellow operatives could reach their soon-to-be-dead marks? And were you aware of the tyrannical George Washington, who crowned himself the first King, not President, of the United States of America? Through games, these historical figures are brought to life in exciting new ways, spurring us on to find the truth behind the fiction.

And what of the magnificent turn-based Civilization series, which pits the greatest leaders of all time against each other in a battle for world domination, through either peaceful or militaristic means? Gandhi's 1,000 year war against Abraham Lincoln, culminating in a space race cut short by the devastating effects of a global thermo-nuclear war would certainly have made for a mammoth chapter in human history (should any humans have survived the fictional nuclear fallout to recount the tale, of course).

Like all good fiction, video gaming takes our preconceptions and our expectations, meets them and then flies off in whichever hedonistic direction will have us slamming away at the controller through the night and long into the early hours of the morning. Ryse, like so many historically-influenced games before it, will be giving us a lesson in how to have a good time. We'll leave the historical facts for the teachers.