Within the hardcore gaming community, few series are as highly revered as Metal Gear, and for good reason. The Konami franchise, which has been in existence since the late 1980s, saw a resurgence in popularity back in 1998, when Solid Snake’s stealth-action espionage hit Sony’s PlayStation console as Metal Gear Solid. That was almost fifteen years ago, and things are still going well, as made evident by the present day release of Platinum Games’ cut-filled spin-off, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Starring lightning-infused Raiden, a character who was disliked for his role in Metal Gear Solid 2 but became a fan favourite after Metal Gear Solid 4, Rising is unlike its predecessors in just about every way. To start, it doesn’t have much to do with stealth, the dominant gameplay mechanic that directed the series’ earlier entries. Instead, action is at the forefront of things, creating a noticeable juxtapose between the past and the present. Of course, this is just a spin-off, meaning that longtime fans shouldn’t get up in arms over its starkly different and much more energetic style.
Expectedly, even the storyline, which takes place a number of years after the conclusion of Metal Gear Solid 4, is unlike what we’ve become used to receiving from Hideo Kojima and those he collaborates with. Sure, the franchise’s trademark cutscenes and com chatter are relied upon heavily, as per usual, but Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is all about mechanically enhanced soldiers, as well as a hidden scheme regarding impoverished street children from around the globe. War is still central to the theme and subject matter, but this is a more personal adventure than expected. In fact, the main character even undergoes an interesting and memorable transformation throughout his violent quest.
In an effort to avoid mentioning any spoilers, I’m going to stick to the basics. Therein lies the introduction, where Raiden, a mercenary for hire, is shown riding in a limousine with an African president who’s celebrating a political achievement. Despite being under heavy protection by a convoy of tanks and turrets, an unknown cybernetic threat ends up attacking the vehicle, leading to the political leader’s abduction. It’s that event which ends up sparking a global quest that players must undertake, while controlling Raiden and his directionally varied sword slashes, with further narrative elements falling into place shortly after the introductory occurrence.
Although Rising is, at its core, a very action-oriented game, its storyline isn’t a slouch by any means. In fact, I found myself becoming invested in the hero’s plight and actually cared, which isn’t always the norm when it comes to action experiences. Of course, it helped that the campaign never took itself too seriously, with inside jokes, posters of half-naked women and other Easter eggs. The combination of serious tones and an outlandish list of collectibles – including soldiers hidden underneath cardboard boxes, which Raiden can also use to attempt stealth with – made for an interesting and unique narrative experience, which accentuated the title’s over-the-top gameplay.
To say that Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is incredibly different in comparison its peers and predecessors would be a definite understatement. Despite featuring grenades and rockets as clumsily designed and occasionally problematic secondary weapons, its core mechanics rely upon Raiden’s trusty blade and his cybernetic enhancements. As such, those who hope to complete the game on its harder difficulty levels will want to perfect their approach to combat, by learning how to perfectly parry enemies’ directional attacks. That ability plays a major role in tougher playthroughs, but it’s not necessary on easy, the difficulty that most gamers will want to start on as a result of the game’s unforgiving challenge level.
While parrying is important, knowing how to use Raiden’s sword for offensive means is just as vital to player success. That’s because, unlike your average video game weapon, its attacks can be modified through player input. Known as Blade Mode, the user-controlled and slow-motion slice option, cannot be used at all times due to its energy requirement. It’s helpful in allowing Raiden to cut specific limbs off of his foes, and works better than the game’s more basic sword attacks, not to mention the wild slices that can be completed by pushing the right joystick in different directions. In fact, things are taken even further whenever the protagonist must recharge, as well-aimed strikes can cut enemies’ torsos into half, leaving their nano spines out for the taking. Ingesting one of those immediately restores his health and energy bars, which is ever so helpful during lengthy battles, especially when your inventory-based healers are limited.
In preview videos and promotional trailers, Platinum Games made a big stir by showing footage of the user-controlled Blade Mode and how it accentuates the game’s hack n’ slash combat model. For the most part, that is true as the mechanic is quite helpful, but it’s not perfect. Even though the action slows down substantially whenever the move is activated, the joystick-controlled aiming options aren’t as precise as they could’ve been. As a result, making perfectly aimed slices was sometimes difficult. Thankfully, the overall design is forgiving enough during regular combat, and even during the majority of the boss battles, but that isn’t the case with the final boss. He likes to throw objects that deal hefty amounts of damage if they’re not sliced away in time and, in order to do so, one must aim perfectly. The imprecise aiming, coupled with the lack of time given to players during those events, will lead to frustration for most. It’s a cheap way to lose important health during a lengthy, challenging and frustrating boss battle.
To put it simply, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance places most of its combat emphasis on Blade Mode. What I mean by that is that the special move, per se, is what drives the combat system and makes it memorable. Outside of it, the basic swordplay and necessary slide kicks leave a bit to be desired. Sure, the core combat system isn’t poorly designed, but it’s not exemplary either. It’s not hard to get hung up on environmental objects while you’re trying to evade attacks, and things don’t always work seamlessly. However, as long as one is able to overlook those deficiencies, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had in running around and hacking at different types of robots, especially when you start to upgrade Raiden’s abilities and begin equipping unique boss weapons as secondary tools.
Bettering one’s skills and abilities is important here, especially when it comes to health. Even on easy, Rising can be a challenging opponent, and that is only partially offset by its hefty amount of available battle points. Those, which are earned by defeating enemies, act as currency, allowing players to upgrade Raiden as they see fit, by choosing specific options like weapon skills, abilities, health and (purely cosmetic) costumes. It’s seemingly impossible for players to fully upgrade the hero during one playthrough, even if they pick up all of the extra bonus point items that are hidden in item chests throughout each of the eight stages. However, completing levels quickly and efficiently can lead to bonus points being awarded.
In sticking with the collectibles, it’s important to note that there are, in fact, approximately twenty additional VR missions to be found within the campaign. Unlocked by activating hidden computer consoles, they all add on to the few tutorial VR missions that are automatically made available at the start of the game. Of course, unlike the tutorials, the extra ones happen to be focused on combat efficiency, survival and other testing facets.
Like the yellow-tinged virtual reality world in which its training exercises and challenges take place, the campaign’s world feels sterile. Surely the sterile environments were the result of a conscious decision made by the development team, but I found that their predominantly lifeless nature took away from the overall experience. Still, the action is visceral, the gore is plentiful and the ever-important framerate is very stable on the Xbox 360, although camera issues do mar things on occasion. Going further, the presented sound is of impressive quality, with boisterous effects and a nu-metal soundtrack that adds to the relatively good-looking quest . The only real con comes via the voice acting, which is strange and stylized to a fault. For lack of a better term, Raiden is weird sounding, and that takes away from his character.
To conclude, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an imperfect, but very enjoyable game. It’s fast-paced, over-the-top and action-packed, as is expected from Platinum Games, but still feels like a Metal Gear game somehow. Additionally, despite being relatively short at between five to six hours long, it’s very replayable.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.