Risen 2: Dark Waters review
Risen 2 has the best jumping animation in all of gaming. Press space and your plumvoiced pirate raises one leg and skips forward. Not only is it the cutest thing I’ve ever seen done by a hairy man in shorts (and I’ve seen Graham play badminton), but it moves Risen 2’s nameless hero around faster than walking.
I spent most of the game cheerfully skipping between proclamations of doom, this being an RPG set on a group of islands on the frontline in the battle against sea-dwelling godmonstrosities called the Titans.
Risen 2 assumes more than a passing familiarity with the events of the middling-quality first game. The supporting cast don’t do a lot to assist the bewildered, dropping names before you’ve met the character in question, and assuming perfect recollection of a mess of mythology that was barely explained the first time around.
That mythology is pirate cliché, all bottles of grog and pilfering parrots, but viewed through the weird, distorting lens of Risen’s Germanic origins. Five hours in, I came across pirates loyal to the antagonistic captain Crow. We traded words, the conversation dominated by my party member captain Steelbeard. After a short fight, companion Patty admonished me for starting the ruckus. I protested my innocence; she responded with the baffling “sure, if you were five years old!”
Risen 2 is also anachronistic – bordering on racist and sexist – in its portrayal of women and the island’s indigenous tribes. Patty is forced to work in a kitchen early on in the story, because – as your nameless hero asserts – she is a woman, after all. Attempts to protest and present the section as social commentary are undercut when you’re made to pressgang her into service in order to advance the story. Local tribes, too, are treated like characters from an early Tintin adventure. They spout nonsense words, practice voodoo, wear very few clothes, and are most commonly referred to as ‘savages.’ It doesn’t feel like the game sets out to be malicious, but the tone sat uneasily with me at a few junctures.
At other times, Risen 2 is downright endearing. The voice actors are trying so hard to deliver accurate intonations and inflections that the result succeeds despite the grammatical insanity of the script. If nothing else, I spent most of my time distracted by the exuberant animation: lines are accompanied by over-gesticulation that would make a Power Ranger wince.
The frequency with which voice actors are reused can also be hilarious, when it isn’t just incredibly grating. Speak to the lone guard of a storeroom in the first port you visit, and he’ll give you a fetch quest in the Queen’s English. Complete it, and he’ll hand over your reward in the same cut-glass tones. But speak to him once more, his role as questgiver over, and he’ll cough out “NO, NOT RIGHT NOW” with the voice of an anthropomorphised frog.
Fetch quests are endemic to Risen 2. The store-guarding frog man of that example asked me to collect six smashed boxes washed up on a beach from a wreck, to recover the most important parts of the ship. I stepped over perfectly useful anchors and oars in order to collect all six boxes, each as arbitrary and seemingly useless as the last. Filler quests don’t get much more thrilling as the game goes on, either. Mooching around a tribal village, I was asked by a woman stirring a pot to collect offerings for a festival from four people. Three of those people stood no less than ten paces away from her. The fourth was 30 seconds up the road. Whatever was in that pot, it must have been incredibly important.
A number of quests demand you follow someone to somewhere. But their AI is idiotic: the computer sprints its charges into contact with streams of enemies. Half of your part-time companions have the decency to fight back, making the battle into a team fight, but the other half cower in a corner as you’re called in to protect them from tribal warriors, jaguars, or particularly miffed pigs. Your cowardly friends are rarely in serious danger of death, but they will attract the attention of the fauna of these lush islands, before directing it straight onto you.