The Raiden we first met in Metal Gear Solid 2 has certainly come a long way. After saving the world from collapse – and becoming the butt of effeminate jokes both within the MGS series (Major Raidenovich Raikov, much?) and among fans – the “child soldier” has evolved into an archetype for “badassery”, or in the spirit MGS themes, a “meme” most would have never initially guessed would come to define Raiden as a character within the MGS universe. The ingenuity of Kojima to propagate this memetic association with a character that was once generally looked upon critically is the kind of “reaction formation” that can be explored by Freudian enthusiasts and college psych majors for years to come. However, this is not the place nor the game for this exploration; Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is much too busy picking metal out of its teeth to care.
With developer Platinum Games of Bayonetta fame at the helm, action, not exposition, is king in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, despite the seemingly irresistible pull of Metal Gear tradition to wrap a convoluted story around a PSA about the persistence of war. While the story can be a bit of a nuisance at times, the sheer joy Revengeance’s gameplay trumps any concerns regarding the sometimes intrusive storytelling, making it a refreshingly visceral take on a series that was built on stealth-action.
It won’t take long before you realize this isn’t your father’s Metal Gear title. If you’re coming into Revengeace prepped with the expectation that you’ll be sneaking in the shadows and eliminating foes clandestinely, you’re clearly overdressed for this party. Revengeance is all about action and strays little from this formula. A hack n’ slasher at heart, it’s hard not to make comparisons to Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry as Revengeance’s greatest strength is the common denominator among these titles: tight, responsive combat that’s generally accessible but with enough depth to encourage mastery among action junkies. Despite this commonality, Revengeance stands on its own with its unique flavor and features that make it a joy play.
For dramatic flair, Platinum Games added Blade Mode, a kind of hack n’ slash bullet time, allowing you to freely slice and dice nearly anything unfortunate enough to cross your path. When activated, time slows, and you are able to pinpoint your strikes with a simple a flick of the right analog stick (Note: to avoid frustration later in the game, do not flick the analog stick up and then down to simulate the slashing motion; simply line up the slice then release the right analog); an on-screen ticker counts how many pieces you’ve sliced the object/cyborg into. Wonderfully ridiculous.
Blade mode is one of the defining features of the game, allowing players to find weak points and gaps in armor (and attack accordingly), to sever support columns and walls to injure enemies, and to pinpoint and disarm certain enemies. It also is necessary to unlock certain item boxes and comes into play during boss battles. However, blade mode comes at the cost of energy, so don’t expect to spend all your time in blade mode slicing things up. Luckily, blade mode allows you to perform “Zandatsu.” A particularly violent, Mortal Kombat-like move that depicts Raiden viciously ripping out what looks like an enemy’s spinal column, Zandatsu allows you to siphon both energy (for blade mode) and health from your foes. Timing is key to successfully pulling Zandatsu, though the opportunity presents itself often and becomes much easier to perform once you’ve learned the timing. Performing Zandatsu becomes rather important late in the game and is nearly vital in successive playthroughs on harder difficulties as effective health and energy management becomes critical to survival.
Another key element in combat is the parry and to a lesser degree, the counter parry. Master the art of the parry and Raiden can become near un-hittable, making this particular move crucial to success later in the game. The parry can stop most attacks, allowing you to counter enemy advances, leaving them open to counter attacks. While timing the parry does take some getting used to, the timing window is generally forgiving and you’ll eventually reach a point where previously difficult playthroughs become a much easier romp. The counter parry, however, requires perfect timing but if successful, will initiate a blade-mode instant kill. This provides a nice level of depth to the move – as well as the overall combat – rewarding higher levels of mastery with quicker kills and more interesting kill animations.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s easy-to-grasp controls and overall responsiveness encourages players to explore different attacks, combinations, and approaches in combat. Mixing light attacks, heavy attacks in a variety of different ground and aerial combinations is a breeze. It helps that Raiden’s arsenal of moves and abilities grow deeper as he progresses through the story. Pair that with a generous serving of enemy characters, each with their own attack patterns and abilities, and your combat expertise will surely be tested throughout Revengeance. Of course, your constant trials won’t be in vain, as defeating enemies can net you Battle Points, the in-game currency. These points can be exchanged to upgrade Raiden with additional moves, improved attributes, attack combinations, items and weapons.
The series’ iconic cardboard box makes its return and provides a decent amount of stealth in certain areas. In addition, a variety of rocket launchers and grenades are available as secondary weapons for Raiden. While they can come in handy, especially during specific scenarios, switching to them in combat is slow, clunky and feels odd when used in-between Raiden’s main attacks. Raiden can also wield other weapons unlocked after defeating certain bosses. Each have their own specific, stereotypical feel (e.g. slow, high damage; fast, low damage weapons, etc.) and work in concert with Raiden’s high frequency blade to produce a variety of different attack combinations, adding an additional layer of depth to his attack arsenal.
While things can get pretty chaotic on screen, controls are tight and responsive you always feel like you’re in full control of Raiden. Unfortunately, the camera is a little less stable, sometimes looking away from the action during the most inopportune times. While the lock-on function does help with re-orienting, the camera could be a little more cooperative. To help augment all the cyborg slicing and killing is a driving rock soundtrack that is sometimes garish but wholly appropriate. While the music won’t suit all tastes, it certainly suits the gameplay, complementing the frenetic action with driving chord progressions and a thumping backbeat.
The game can be visually arresting at times, with bright, dynamic character design and environments and animations running smooth at 60fps. However, level design has a bit of an old school feel to it (which luckily, doesn’t feel completely out of place for the genre). Invisible walls and barriers impede progress through the rest of levels until some condition is met (usually defeating a group of enemies or boss). However, thanks mostly to the solid gameplay and the tactile environments, Revengeance stirs feelings of nostalgia more so than antiquity. The decent amount of destructibility to the environments and the numerous manipulable items – from cars to crates – helps in keeping levels fresh and dynamic. The destructibility breathes a bit more life into the levels which helps in making them feel more like real environments and less like glorified arenas for combat (which, essentially, they still are). Of course, level layout becomes less relevant if you can fill it with tight, compelling gameplay, which Revengeance certainly delivers.
I’ve spent all this time talking about the gameplay and combat but haven’t really touched the story. Well, there’s a reason for that. There’s nothing particularly special about it. It has all the Kojima-like elements of your standard MGS story, but lacks the same level of substance of previous MGS titles. The story take place four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. Raiden has joined the ranks of a PMC, Maverick Securities, in a peace-keeping effort in Africa. A rival PMC, Desperado Enterprises, made up of cyborgs not unlike Raiden, plans a military coup in an effort to destabilize the region, propagating the war economy and reaping the resulting financial and technological benefits. It’s up to Raiden and his support team to stop their plans and restore stability to the region.
While not terrible or lacking in substance or appeal, or even interesting characters, the story really just serves as filler for the action. This became strikingly clear on my second playthrough, when I skipped every possible scene just so I could get back to the action. These scenes would work fine with gameplay that’s more deliberate and methodical, but here it seems to stifle the action. It doesn’t help that the story lacks the level of depth and personality found in previous Metal Gear titles, resulting in a superficial feel to the story and universe. However, striking that balance between satisfying story, characterization and effective pacing is something Platinum Games can work on in – dare I say it – future sequels.
Another thing notable about Revengeance is its brevity. The game is really short. My first playthrough took about 6 hours to complete, and that’s including most codec conversations and no cutscene unseen. In my second go around on hard (skipping all cutscenes and speeding through codecs) the game took just under 4 hours. So, yes, the story is short, but the game’s sheer replayablility – with the ability to carry over Raiden’s weapon and combat arsenal in successive playthroughs – makes this kind of a wash. Throw in a some unlockables, a variety of virtual missions, Easter eggs, five difficulty levels and, of course, combat that is simply sublime and you’ll find yourself revisiting Revengeance more often than you think.
Story and other minor issues aside, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a refreshing take on a series defined by its success in stealth-action. By flipping the series’ gameplay on its head and opting for a more action-oriented affair, Konami has invigorated the series with a new way of experiencing the Metal Gear universe. Although I had my doubts, Revengeance can stand confidently by the likes of successful action, hack n’ slashers like Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, and Bayonetta, and yet still maintain an identity and flavor all its own. Do we have a new Metal Gear franchise on our hands? I certainly hope so.