Note: A copy of the game was provided by Mindscape Asia Pacific for the purpose of this review.
I think it’s fair to say that Kojima Productions wasn’t quite sure what the Metal Gear universe would look like between the events of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (MGS4); and to be fair, neither did I. I think it’s also pretty apt to say that they didn’t quite know how to successfully merge stealth and swordplay, as Metal Gear Rising had languished in development hell since 2009. Perhaps realising that they were in over their head, development duties were handed over to Platinum Games — of Bayonetta fame — in late 2011. Further to that, the decision was made to set what was Metal Gear Rising after MGS4 and add a subtitle: Revengeance. With a powerfully-silly new name and a fresh set of hands at the wheel, Raiden’s passage through Vapourware Limbo was assured, though I must admit some trepidation upon first catching the reveal trailer. My doubts have finally been proven unfounded, however, as Revengeance is one of the finest brawlers that I’ve ever played.
A word of warning to start, the game does its best to break you in its first hour, with a woefully-steep learning curve and some difficult boss encounters that are sure to slow your progress out of the gate. I must admit that if it weren’t for the fact that I had played the demo, the duel with Blade Wolf may have affected my overwhelmingly-positive overall impression. Still, it must be said — and it has been, well for that matter by Kotaku’s Evan Narcisse, Kirk Hamilton and Chris Person — that Platinum does a terrible job of showing you the ropes.
I found the decision to lock (as in you’ll need to “un”) the dodge attack to be a huge oversight as, for games of this ilk, the ability to dance around enemy attacks is nothing shy of essential. Considering how cheap it is, it’s almost criminal that it’s not available from the get go. The odds are stacked against you, and early, but allow me to drop this hint: equip your repair paste (press left on the d-pad to bring up the equipment menu) ASAP and unlock the dodge attack once you earn the requisite BP; your experience with Revengeance will be all the better for it.
The combat system is satisfying, and not just because you can rip the spines out of your enemies and cut them into as many as six hundred and fifty-three pieces (my record, it was a helicopter). Swordplay works because finesse is rewarded and there are obvious cues to prompt the player to the use the game’s key mechanics. That and it looks ridiculous. Via judicious use of Blade Mode — which allows Raiden to deal massive damage through precision strikes — and parries, players are able to cut through most battles with a minimum of both time and fuss. If your sword strikes are sufficiently accurate, you can then pull off the Zandatsu technique, which allows Raiden to rip the repair unit (looks suspiciously like a spinal chord) out of pretty much any enemy combatant to replenish life and blade energy. There’s a lot to take in and not every fight will go according to plan, but when it does, the feeling of exhilaration and raw power that you’ll feel is unmatched.
If you’re having trouble with timing your counters or miss cues to enter Blade Mode against vulnerable enemies, you can still grind your way through most battles by using standard attacks and combos which will have Raiden breakdancing foes to their knees, perhaps even removing them in the process. Your garden variety cyborgs can be filleted without much ceremony, but the larger foes — and believe me, they’re as numerous as they are diverse — usually require a bit of a warm up before the optimum conditions for surgery are met. There’s also unlockable melee weapons and secondary weapons — including various forms of grenades and launchers — that require just a little bit too much effort to use, but all things considered, there’s plenty of ways to cut through swaths of enemy combatants.
Boss fights and the narrative context surrounding them evoke thoughts of Old West showdowns, Might Morphin Power Rangers‘ level ceremony and Dragon Ball Z-esque speed and scale. There’s only one real disappointment, though on the whole, these encounters are a great fit as there are almost no cheap hits, plenty of forgiving quick-time events and some truly spectacular visual sequences on offer. Combat rules apply to boss fights as well, so you can parry the majority of their attacks, but, as with most other encounters, you can combo your way to a win without need of precise counters. In another nod to its developer’s progeny (Bayonetta and Devil May Cry), some fights repeat, but the fields in which they take place can vary, meaning that the tactics required are different. These large scale bouts are a real highlight and some even stand amongst the best I’ve seen in brawlers past.
Camera quirks and unresponsive context-sensitive commands do spoil the party somewhat, but with a bit of patience safe passage is all but assured. Camera position is key to successful parries as you need to meet your opponent’s strike with a directed light attack. Whenever there’s any distance between Raiden and an opponent, the player’s view of the battlefield will most often be obscured; in that you’ll either lose sight of your intended target or, perhaps more troubling, lose sight of the healing items or collectibles for which you had decided to put yourself in harm’s way. Ninja Kills (read: stealth kills) are stomach-churningly brutal, but managing to wrestle the camera and position required to perform them are often not worth your while. In the grand scheme of things, these are minor quibbles, but know that frustration is unavoidable when seeking revenge with a vengeance.
I should also note that movement is a disorienting joy thanks to the magic of the Ninja Run command. By holding the R1 (or presumably, Right Bumper) button, players can traverse obstacles and deflect gunfire. My favourite game mechanic since Dishonored‘s ”Blink” also allows for Raiden to attack on the move and proves invaluable in some of the game’s more difficult battles. Camera issues plagued most every run I went for, but an obscured view never caused me to die. Frustrating and fun in equal measure.
In terms of presentation, Revengeance is an unrelenting force, assaulting the senses with jarring contradictions in tone, generation-leading visuals and hilaribad (hilariously-bad) hair metal to score the affair. At its core, this is supposed to be the harrowing tale of a grown child soldier coming to grips with the ethical malaise of the war economy; but in terms of execution, it’s an absolute clusterfuck comprised of disturbing imagery and awkward humour. To give you an example of what’s in store: following on from a reference to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze is a disturbing revelation regarding the nature of Raiden’s enemies. Memories of Vanilla Ice tainted by the thought that I may have been battling with what are essentially child soldiers… sometimes it’s a little too much to compute.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a Metal Gear game for lovers of 3D brawlers that are synonymous with Platinum Games and its origins. A playthough will only last five hours, but multiple difficulty levels and a slew of VR Missions should serve to keep the disc spinning in your console of choice. Those looking for tense stealth action and gunplay need not apply, as these elements are a mere afterthought in this package. The camera and some control quirks provided frequent frustration, but I found myself enjoying Revegeance more than the games that it apes. It’s a gloriously-violent, brutally-difficult, fast paced and off-puttingly hilarious spin on the storied franchise that simply demands your time and money.
A cut above the rest.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is set to be released in Australia and New Zealand on February 26; although, if my shopping trip is anything to go by, you should be able to buy it now from your retailer of choice. If you want to be my best friend in the universe, feel free to buy me the Collector’s Edition which comes with a Play Arts Kai Raiden action figure.