After suffering through at least one delay, Rise of the Argonauts was suddenly released with very little warning or fanfare at the end of 2008. Partially due to this, the game flew in under most people's radars. The question then is: should it stay there, or is it one of those titles that's worth taking a look at?
Setting & Story
With a name like Rise of the Argonauts, there's no ambiguity in what one is to expect. Presented as one of its major drawing points, the foundation of the game is its setting, based on Greek mythology, in particular the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. This well-known Ancient Greek legend tells of Jason's quest to become king of Iolcus, to which purpose he must find the Golden Fleece with the help of a group of heroes referred to as the Argonauts, which included Heracles, Atalante, Orpheus, and Peleus – the father of Achilles.
Jason is the rightful king of Iolcus and his tale is heroic in that sense, but the story does contain many elements that would not sit well for many these days. Even ignoring Jason's tendency to sleep with every woman he meets, one of the legend's most evocative segments is where Jason escapes Medea's father by taking her brother on board his ship, the Argo. Jason kills Medea's brother, cuts his body into pieces and drops the pieces into the sea, obliging the father to stop to fish them up (as you need a complete corpse to perform burial rites), allowing Jason to make his escape.
I can understand Liquid Entertainment would feel little need to take on these elements of the tale, but – perhaps unsurprisingly – they change the story quite a bit more than that. Rise of the Argonauts presents us with a thoroughly American and thus sanitized version of Greek mythology, much like many recent films have done. The morality is clear-cut, the main characters are unambiguously good and dedicated to core American values – to the point where Jason, rather farcically, becomes angry when talking to an implied slave master. How much harm there is in such reimagining of ancient legends is up for debate, though you can't help but feel sorry to think that some people might only ever know this version of Jason's tales.
You see, the plot Liquid Entertainment created to replace the original is just not that good. It is a rather cheap love story in which you're expected to work hard to find the Golden Fleece to resurrect a badly setup love-interest, Alceme. This is combined with a battle against a shallow, one-dimensional evil cult of Blacktongues, dedicated to Hecate – the Goddess of Childbirth, only now she's some kind of Goddess of Evil.
Surprisingly, the characters, a good chunk of the dialogue, and quite a few set plot events (such as the end of Jason's first encounter with Achilles, or the whole segment surrounding Medusa) are really quite good. The four Argonauts – Hercules, Atalante, Pan, and Achilles – are enjoyably recognizable archetypes, and the characterization is well fleshed out in banter and dialogue. It is not of high quality throughout, but it has quite a few attractive moments. Since the characters are fairly divorced from their mythological roots, you can't help but wonder if Liquid Entertainment would not have been better off dropping the idea of calling this a version of Jason's tale, and instead building on a setting based on Greek mythology to create a whole new plot with a new set of heroes.