Poor Raiden. Ever since he burst onto the video game scene with his surprise debut, he’s been the bête-noire of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Sure, he got a cybernetic upgrade in the last major title, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but he was still victimized by being unplayable and on a painful receiving end from that game’s rather portentous, overbearing story. Now, thanks to Platinum Games (developers of the phenomenal Bayonetta and Vanquish), he gets some redemption as the main protagonist in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a spin-off that relishes in the frenetic, over-the-top, third-person ultra violence which characterized the developer’s two aforementioned titles. Yet does the game ‘rise’ to the occasion and provide a ‘solid’ outing? The answer is a surprising, and relieving, yes.
Taking place four years after MGS4, Raiden now channels his expertise at one of many Private Military Contractors (PMCs) in the world. When a security detail of an African head of state goes horribly awry thanks to the machinations of a competing PMC, Desperado, Raiden finds himself overpowered and nearly killed. Having survived, and acquiring a new cybernetic body in the process, our protagonist now seeks revenge against Desperado and its cadre of technologically enhanced warriors. However, like all other games in the Metal Gear Solid mythos, that task is not without struggle, and as usual everything is not as it seems.
Eschewing “Tactical Espionage Action” for “Lightning Bolt Action” (coined by the original developer, Kojima Productions); Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s gameplay is relentlessly fast-paced. Armed with a katana and a small multitude of grenades, rocket launchers, and the occasional weapon lifted from a defeated boss, Raiden must hack his way through seven levels of mayhem. The combat is a fluid affair, where you are able to get into the game with some modicum of ease. The word ‘some’ is used because despite how one can start chaining light attacks and heavy attacks against enemies right off the bat, it reveals a much more complex combat system.
Enemies can take a brutal amount of punishment from Raiden before dying, and can easily recover from strings of attacks with a hard-hitting counterattack. Here the game compels the player to be adventurous not just in executing combos, but also in parrying. Unlike Bayonetta’s focus on split second dodging, Revengeance focuses on an easy to learn but hard to master parry system where Raiden must block at the precise moment an enemy is about to make contact. It is a tactic that feels quite natural, and requires such precision that in the sad case of failure, it comes off as a result of human error instead of the game being cheap.
This leads into the most important part of the combat system: Blade Mode. After weakening your enemy to a certain point, Raiden can enter into this mode and eviscerate his opponents. In doing so, he may have a chance to engage in Zandatsu (translated as “cut and take”), where he can seize items like brightly-colored enemy spines which replenish health and Blade Mode energy as well as enemies’ left arms, used to further increase customization options. Like the parrying system it is also easy to learn and hard to master, but in due time can be performed in a way that integrates seamlessly into regular combos with practice. As enemies get stronger, mastery of these skills will not only bring about greater in-game rewards (including after-battle rankings), but a level of personal satisfaction in dealing copious amounts of damage while sustaining very little. There is a feeling of joy to be had when, with a bit of luck and a lot of technique, a group of seemingly unstoppable enemies are summarily hacked to pieces and an S grade is rewarded for a job well done.
Sadly, the combat system is not without its flaws. The game suffers from an at-times wonky camera system which rears its ugly head in very tightly-spaced environments and when the lock-on targeting (which I find to be very awkwardly placed in the button layout) is used. This is where the game can get rather cheap, for it creates an unnecessary struggle with trying to get perspective when focus should be placed on killing enemies. This does not break the game, but it is something that could be improved upon if Konami ever decides to do a sequel.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a very short affair, lasting roughly 6 to 8 hours in gameplay. However, given the way the game overwhelms from the moment it begins, a shorter game session seems more fitting than a longer one where it can be dragged to needless extremities. Replayability can be found in the amount of extra doodads within the game’s seven levels, including access to 20 VR Missions which find more ways to challenge. There are also extra difficulty levels after the completion of Hard mode. Given the game’s rather tightly-wound campaign that flits from conflict to conflict without much of break in-between (although the game succumbs to the wanton politicking of its Solid brethren near the end, ruining the pace) and its ability to compel a player to master the combat system, it is an easy game to resume if one feels like picking it up again.
Aesthetically, the game does a serviceable job. Character and mech designs are well-detailed and memorable, even if Raiden still looks goofy in high heels; environments while hewing too much to urban and industrial themes are clean and form-fitting; and the game is able to successfully (albeit with some small hiccups) handle all the mayhem onscreen at 60 FPS. The music is a bombastic mix of cheesy rock and techno which does a fine job in fitting within the intense tone of the gameplay, and gets even better during boss fights. Voice acting is also a bit cheesy but there is a good amount of positive gregariousness from everyone involved that makes it enjoyable, especially Quinton Flynn, who sounds like he is relishing his time as Raiden in the game’s most serious and silly moments.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an exceptional third-person action game that knows how to keep the player on his or her toes. The robust and addictive combat system makes for exciting play sessions, sparking an intense thrill for challenge to the point that replays are a distinct possibility after the end credits roll. Sure, it can get a bit over-the-top in its storytelling, the camera can be a bit disagreeable, and it can be hair-tearingly frustrating, but the game has so much going for it that it is hard NOT to recommend it. Platinum Games scores another winner with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Fans of the Metal Gear franchise and those who are into this kind of third-person action game are missing out if they decide not to pick it up.
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