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Risen (Xbox 360) artwork

Risen (Xbox 360) review

"Thereís moments in Risen that can quite take you by surprise. Moments where you find yourself regarding the virtual world as a living, breathing entity. That alone is worth some measure of admiration."

Life in Risen starts out a lot harsher than you may hope. Stowed away upon a boat, the first thing our nameless protagonist sees is a strange robed warlock doing battle with a huge aquatic behemoth that keeps phasing in and out of reality. Things donít end well; the ship is wrecked, the mage vanishes in a puff of magical smoke and a lot of people drown. You just about cling on to life, and find yourself washed ashore on a strange beach littered with the debris of your former ship, a lot of dead bodies and flocks of angry, flesh-eating flamingos. The game asks you to check for survivors, but your first real goal is obvious: loot the dead.

Amongst such useful items as bottles of rum and the odd gold piece, you need to comb the beach in your initial search for fellow survivors, but youíll also need to arm yourself as best you can against the islandís less than hospitable wildlife. Nearby sea vultures lift themselves off the ground just enough to make clumsy dive-bomb attacks while skin-on-bone wolves desperate for a decent meal circle you warily, looking for the chance to dart in and steal a mouthful of meat from your frame. The initial exploration of the island is hazardous to your health; your weapon is probably little more than a study-looking branch, your only protection the sea-drenched rags you washed up in. Landing blows rewards little damage, and getting hit by anything hurts -- not a great happenstance to be in when, dare to explore the hive of caves peppered into a nearby cliff, and a small colony of scaly gnomes make embarrassingly short work of you. Even the bite-sized section of the island initially available to you feels huge, and when big birds and wolves arenít trying to eat you, strange rats with knee-high quills are trying to gut you and giant moths jealously guarding graves stab you with distressingly pointy legs. Just surviving long enough to drag your weary body off the beach is a trial.

Itís unfortunate that the opening stages of Risen do so little to impress. The fighting feels clumsy and often unfair. Decent explorers might find a small shield with the defensive properties of a biscuit tin lid, which helps in the stumbling battles against wildlife that, dying from hunger or no, always seems to be one step up on the food chain from you. However, what the opening does right is distill within you the feeling that youíve been dropped into a tiny world you know nothing about. You feel like a tiny speck, bewildered by unfamiliar surroundings, ganged up on by any number of beasties and with very little idea of what the hell to do or where to go.

Your fellow survivor presents the gameís one and only attempt of handholding, guiding you away from areas that would chance you with the survival rate of a chronically depressed lemming and towards a well-cut path lined with flickering touches. But she dumps you the second a dilapidated house is stumbled upon and, from here on out, you're on your own. Every footstep you take could lead you towards certain death, and Risen reserves the right to be largely smug about this.

The brave may stop off at the worldís smallest dungeon first but everyone eventually arrives at the second house. This location is unique in that it provides the gameís only limb of mercy, a hiccup of Dues Ex Machina; thereís a guard stationed here. Heís friendly enough, happy to point you in the direction of the gameís main two starting hubs and offers you a quest to explore his razed home to find a weapon far superior to the one he carries. I know this because I bludgeoned him unconscious and stole everything he had directly after we exchanged friendly greetings. He wasnít so keen to help me out after that.

Explore further and find the island itself has undergone quite the transformation. Ancient ruins have sprung up from the ground overnight, bringing with them not only countless riches to be excavated from their depths, but a myriad of vicious monsters that swarm from newly opened doors. From the mainland, it brings in a religious order headed up by the Inquisitor, a group obsessed by the ruins and a drive for the islandís occupants to share their worldly views as keenly as they. Your guide (pre head kicking, should you take the same route as I) explains how they've taken over the islandís main town and forbidden anyone from leaving its walls. He urges you to keep away, listing the invaderís crimes against his people, boasting of his groupís enlightened struggle for freedom and suggests you delve into the swamp where the islanders who oppose the cult have chosen to hide out. He makes a great case but he, like every other person in Risen is a biased information source only interested in his or her side of the picture. Every person, event, landmark and corner of the island is steeped in charcoal grey in an amazing display of sidestepping the usual cardboard silhouettes of black and white.

The swamp is filled with dangers that keep the holy forces from pestering the outlaws, but itís also filled with contradictions. Itís true that there are plenty of good men slumming in a reeking bog filled with predators just to keep the flickering light of freedom alive, but there are also self-serving jerks using the dire situation to try and fuel their own gains. The leader of the group's fighters uses his clout and oafish size to rule the camp with a merciless iron fist. The simple people working the swamp do so without his band of fighters to protect them and, as such, they die. The hunters who procure the campís food are sent on meaningless tasks, like preparing his firewood, and morale is at an all time low. The self-appointed leader, the Don, sits in his well-guarded ruined temple before a mountain of pilfered gold, forcing you to curry favour with his numerous lieutenants before heíll even give you the time of day.

Likewise, venture into town, and you'll indeed find it filled with religious zealots reminiscent of Jehovah Witnesses with soul-soliciting quotas to fill and limitless pepper spray. Should they discover you outside the city gates, theyíll pummel you unconscious without so much as a hello and drag your battered body off to the monastery. Congratulations: whether you like it or not, youíve just joined the ever-swelling ranks of their army.

But between the die-hards are those who genuinely try to help the under sword populace. A high ranking official ignores the converted guardhouse his colleagues transform into a base camp and instead lives in the slums with the downtrodden, dishing out free meals and magical aid whenever he can. Those that aid the order by choice display a new found appreciation of life, an obvious inner peace and a sense of being a part of something better. No faction is obviously corrupt or charitable: theyíre larger than that. Theyíre gatherings of individuals, each with their own opinions and ideals who magnify the standing of either group, shying away from the standard fare of typecast good and evil. It makes picking a side harder and, equally, of more revelance. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from playing the self-serving arsehole yourself and bouncing the two forces off each other.

Itís as you explore the world that the flaws the opening wallowed in evaporate in the depth presented. With a little bit of training and better equipment, fighting stops being ineffective and clumsy and settles just for clumsy. With exploration and the acquisition of maps, the island stops being paralysingly daunting and becomes slightly more manageable with each step you take. Thereís a main plot to carry you through, one that explains the hive of ruins exhuming themselves from the bowels of the earth and how the leaders of both clans fit in.

But progressing the main plot isnít the highlights Iíll take away from the experience. I remember sneaking through a cave in the middle of the night, stepping over the dead bodies of those who foolishly attempted to explore before me, and finding my fate sealed with a gaggle of midnight-black ghouls who tore through my meagre defences with mana-fuelled swipes of their talons, then tore ragged chunks of flesh from my corpse to feast upon. And I remember the smug satisfaction when I travelled back later and slew each and every one of them. I remember the irritating farmhand who made me tend his field for what turned out to be a useless scrap of information and how he died screaming after I angered a swarm of nearby Talon Moths and led them right to him. I remember killing the prize cow of an arrogant trader and leaving its bloody head in his bed because, more than anything else, I could.

But I also remember sneaking through a secured warehouse, avoiding the guards and trying to ignore the way drawing too close to the walls led to unsightly clipping and unmentionably bad camera angles. I remember quests being completed before theyíd even been offered, leading to the acquisition of incompletable missions in some cases and odd notes of random kudos and showering of experience for others. I remember teleporting up a ridge I didnít want to travel and falling off a cliff that wasnít there. Much like the Gothic games that came before Risen, the title's ambition is often much maligned by a series of glitches and bugs. This didnít fill me full of confidence when I stumbled across my first wild boar -- but, thankfully, one flaw Piranha Bite's new title didnít inherent from their last is being stunlocked and slowly gored to death by angry pigs. Thatís not to say, though, that there arenít times when a collection of issues that shouldn't exist will string together and make you wonder why youíre spending so much time with a game that feels so incomplete and lacking in polish. Youíll notice that the grimy atmosphere of the town coats everything in grime rather than the desired locations, thanks to a lazily-applied texture tile layered over the screen. Youíll notice that people who hate and distrust you will go directly to their beds and fall sleep within seconds so long as you remain out of their line of sight for the briefest of moments.

But then something else will come along.

While exploring an old dirt road that led to the rear entrance of town, I noticed a beach that Iíd neglected to explore on my last pass through. The sandy shores were infested with monsters, who I peppered from atop a rocky overhang with my bow before slicing up those that made the roundabout journey to my location with cultured sword swings. There was a nearby island and, with a little bit of careful testing, I found a corridor of shallow water that allowed me to safely travel across the usually wild sea ravaged by mysterious magical storms. The island was small, but signs of clear significance were obvious. Atop the small hilltop traversable by a winding footpath, a giant scorpion guarded the remains of what seemed to be holy ground; a split font lay forgotten, covered in moss whilst broken statues corroded by the harsh ocean air lay in piles all around. An unmarked grave hinted at the location of a hidden cave situated at the base of the hill, one that showcased the entire island as a hollowed-out building. Waist high in water, I followed the hidden path deeper into the heart of the structure, the water glowing and flashing with discharged bursts of magic that cracked across the ceiling. At last, I reached a large domed hall; dilapidated pillars held up what was left of the roof; once grand floor tiles now soggy and contaminated with seaweed and crustaceans. Spears of sunlight glinted off the rusted armour of the undead soldiers left to guard a secret that will forever go untold. We fought in the cavern, our stray sword slices kicking up disturbed waves of seawater, until there was nothing left but to loot anything of worth and wonder what used to be here.

There are moments in Risen that can quite take you by surprise. Moments where you find yourself regarding the virtual world as a living, breathing entity. That alone is worth some measure of admiration.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 06, 2009)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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A decent budget platformer if you canít Ňfjord a better one


If you enjoyed this Risen review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted October 06, 2009:

"comb the beech" = "comb the beach"

I can't help but point out errors when EmP makes them. It's like a past time of mine. But it's because I secretly love him and he has yet to return my letters.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 06, 2009:

Zipp... I've been doing this months before you even knew who EmP was.
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Suskie posted October 06, 2009:

Hahaha, I read Zipp's post and then I was like HERE WE GO.
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overdrive posted October 06, 2009:

Seems like an interesting, open-ended game. Might have to look into it eventually after the price goes down. The glitches sound annoying, but the world and people in it make it seem like a fun Oblivion-like sort of game, but with more depth in how the people act.
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zippdementia posted October 06, 2009:

The game sounds pretty terrible to me, in all honesty. It sounds like EmP had fun with the setting, though. I'm not sure I could make it around the bad things he mentions, which include:

- a terrible and lengthy beginning
- a combat system that never gets better than "clumsy"
- glitches in control, execution, command line, and graphics

He mentions a living, breathing, world and that seems to speak to a high degree of potential immersion. But immersion is a fickle thing and I can't imagine it surviving all those sour points.

I guess what I'm saying is that EmP failed to convince me, in this one. He does a good job of describing the terribleness of the opening. Maybe too good a job. Or maybe it's just so accurate that I knew I'd never be able to make it through it. That's good writing.

What's maybe not such good writing is the supposedly great things that save the game. Sure, the final paragraph about the secret room is enticing, but does it counter the overwhelming ammount of paragraphs describing terrible things?

Right next to that big ol' "8" he has this line of explanation: "Hauntingly brilliant when it's not being an aggravating broken mess."

I'm sorry, but anything that is an aggravating broken mess for any length of time does not strike me as a candidate for such praise.
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darketernal posted October 07, 2009:

I was sold with the phrase on the main page "spiritual successor to Gothic" because Gothic was awesome.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 07, 2009:

Har har. I actually don't mind at all Zipp (or anyone else) pointing mistakes in people's reviews, especially not EmP's because not only is it nice, it saves me a lot of work. =D

I was just pretending to be jealous and joking around for the lulz. Anyway, I'll have real feedback later today/this week.
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EmP posted October 07, 2009:

I prefer to think that the way I wrote it and your negative reactions weren't so much a failure to get my point across, Zipp, but rather communicates that you'll find less enjoyment with the title than I. I've always found it easy to overlook cosmetic imperfections and gaming flaws so long as the sum is greater than its parts.

Thanks for the feedback; it makes me think I need to tighten up a few things that I thought were cool (like how the start makes you feel lost and vulnerable -- I took this as a plus) but lets me know I'm on the right track.

But all this talk is moot; the US release for this game on the 360 was scaled right back to 2010. Hahahaha!
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zippdementia posted October 07, 2009:

I would agree, EmP. I think your writing on this one was pretty awesome, actually, because it created a feeling in me. But I'm not sure that you created the feeling you wanted to create. There was just so much overwhelming evidence in your review of a bad game that I wonder if you meant all of that to be there.
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EmP posted October 07, 2009:

I've played around with some of the phrasing in an attempt to make the things I wanted to sound more possitive actually sound appealing in some way. I also caught a fair number of typos, which should shut WQ up for all of seven minutes. Hopefully, it's a bit less one sided now.
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CoarseDragon posted October 07, 2009:

I hope I enjoy the game as much as I enjoyed reading your review.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 07, 2009:


Alright. I'd gone through the majority of this review... had a million typos and awkward phrasings pointed out with suggestions, and... then I clicked a link on here accidentally whereupon returning, I discover that my entire bloody post was deleted!

So no. You're going to have to wait a long while for me to go through this again. Sorry. I'm too damn angry now.

But I will say that despite the mass nitpicking I've been doing, I do really like the review, so good job there. I'll give more in-depth feedback on that regard when I don't want to wring the site's / internet's neck for being stupid.

But this is so fucking stupid. Why is it that it saves my post sometimes but deletes it others? God that makes me so mad... Should've just done this in fucking MSWord...

Two !@#$! hours... wasted...


.....I'm going to bed. I'll shoot myself in the morning.... God.
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zippdementia posted October 07, 2009:

I sympathize. I lost a paper for Grad School the other day after 6 hours of work!

But the story has a happy ending. I've gotten in the habit of ctr+a-ing and ctr+c-ing everything in order to post it on the review site.

I'd automatically done this with my grad paper and thus was able to paste it into appleworks even though the document had been lost! I'm telling you, life was so much less awesome before Honest Gamers.
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honestgamer posted October 07, 2009:

I'm telling you, life was so much less awesome before Honest Gamers.

Ain't that the truth!
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EmP posted October 10, 2009:

Thanks for that, CoarseDragon. I have to admit, Risen has become one of the very few games I remaind interested in post-review. I usually lose all drive to play a game once I've written about it (which I've always found odd, but there you go), yet I'm still sinking uncountable hours into this one.

....which has lead to a third overhaul of the review.
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Lewis posted October 10, 2009:

I thought Risen was bloody rubbish, while totally getting why a lot of people are going to think it's bloody brilliant.
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EmP posted October 10, 2009:

Yeah, but you also like Half Life. So you're clearly the minority audience.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 10, 2009:

^ Most illogical statement ever.
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darketernal posted October 10, 2009:

Don't mind him. He actually likes games like Halo.
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zigfried posted October 10, 2009:

Halo rules, Half-Life droolz

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wolfqueen001 posted October 24, 2009:

Alright. Finally got around to looking at this one again. For the record, I think this is one of your best reviews of the year; if not the best. I said this already... Still, I think it still stands now that I've read it all.

Anyway, I really like your descriptions. They're very vivid, which allows me to visualize everything very well. It's also quite balanced. THe score feels justified because while you complain a lot, the complaints don't feel overwhelming... or at least like most won't be a huge deal. And the positives far outweigh these, especially the openness and multiple paths aspects.

Still, that being said, I'm very sorry that I must overwhelm you with a list of typos, awkward sentences and grammatical mistakes. However, I don't think there are as many as would have been last time Please don't tatke all of these to mean that I hated the review, because as I said above, I didn't I'm just doing my job. =P
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EmP posted October 24, 2009:

Thanks for those catches; I don't quite agree with some of them, but I've edited away the majority.

I'm sure you'll bug me later as to which ones, so I'll be in hiding for the next few days. EmP away!
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wolfqueen001 posted October 24, 2009:

No problem. Haha. Sorry for pointing out some stuff that didn't really belong! But yeah; you've done a good job editing the majority of this, and the remainder doesn't technically need changing, anyway; I'm just picky! =D

Anyway, I still think this is a great review. I always like reading about open-ended games, especailly when you're writing about them, because you always manage to make the weight and vastness of the thing carry over.

I also think the huge nest of personal examples is very effective in reviews like these, which you do well.

I feel like I've repeated myself a lot throughout this topic, but I guess that just goes to show how impressed I am with this one. Also, I'd rather like the praise to stand alone; somehow I feel it gets missed when a mound of proofreading edits follows. xP

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