I’ll just come clean right now: I’ve never been particularly fond of the Metal Gear Solid series. Between the lethargic pace, stiff gameplay and convoluted pseudo-philosophical mess of a storyline, I’ve been effectively scared away from the series after giving it numerous chances over the years.
I guess the question that arises from that is “why am I reviewing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to begin with?” Well, “Konami sent me a review copy anyway” would be my first response, but my second would be “it’s a hack-and-slash spinoff made by Platinum Games.” These are the folks who brought us imaginative and fluid titles such as Bayonetta and Vanquish. If anyone can penetrate the cold corners of my heart and ease me into the world of Metal Gear, it’s them, and the incorporation of a sword-slicing dismemberment mechanic never ceases to excite. With that being said, is Revengeance a game that deserves the word Rising in its title, or will the only thing you want to cut after playing it be yourself? Read on to find out.
Firstly, it’s impossible to overstate just how much Revengeance FEELS like a Metal Gear game. Fans who worried that Platinum Games would in any way soil the great name of the franchise can rest easy. Everything from the stylish cinematography of the cutscenes to the near-future visual design of environments and characters to even the bite-sized layout of the encounters is absolutely dripping with that trademark Kojima style. The game is set four years after the events of MGS 4 and fits remarkably well into series canon by sticking to its rules (nanomachines!) and without ever resorting to ret-conning You can expect several clever nods to the MGS titles as well, which manifest themselves as equipment, cameos and enemy types.
Unfortunately, what all of this also means is you’ll be subjected to similarly heavy-handed storytelling. Expect to once again wade through geopolitical lecturing, expository-heavy writing, overly long philosophical diatribes before each and every boss fight, and the pestering nature of your allies’ codec calls. The cinematics, all of which never seamlessly transition into the action, can get incredibly long-winded, and during codec calls you’re forced to slowly walk Raiden down a hallway, which is far from engaging.
The story also suffers from some awkward pacing and superfluous characters. Without wishing to spoil, the plot feels like it blows its load about halfway through with an involving climax, complete with a sort of epiphany for Raiden. Then the game has to traipse along for several more hours, handing out smaller and smaller chapters as it goes on. It must also be said that as endearing as your support characters are, most of them, as well as many of the villains, are utterly stereotypical and few of them have anything relevant to contribute to the plot. Raiden’s past as a child soldier also isn’t explored quite as much as some fans may have hoped, being mostly relegated to the occasional mention in conversation.
With all that said, I still found myself more engaged with the story here than in the MGS titles and was also more attached to Raiden than I ever was to Snake. During his journey, our cyborg ninja, as badass as he is, still shows signs of vulnerability and moral doubt that really helps one identify with him. The story itself also manages to raise some intriguing questions regarding violence, ethics, politics, honor and whatever else the writers felt like sounding off about, and voice acting throughout is excellent despite the sometimes clumsy script. That said, be prepared for an astoundingly biting portrayal of Republican ideology, as well as a final boss fight so ridiculous that it makes the roided-up Joker fight at the end of Arkham Asylum look like it were based on a true story.
Enough of that, though! Revengeance is an action game above all else, and I’m pleased to report that once again, Platinum Games has done the genre proud. Slashing away at foes is not only bloody and satisfying but also incredibly responsive, with each tap of your button feeling like it has proper input and timing. Raiden gains a boatload of sub-weapons during his quest, as well as the signature secondary weapons of the bosses he defeats. The highly advertised cutting feature, called ‘zandatsu’ or ‘blade mode,’ essentially acts as a rage mode, allowing Raiden to build up fuel cells by slashing cyborg enemies. He can then enter slow-mo and precisely cut off specific limbs or parts, either vertically or horizontally. There’s a great risk to reward ratio here, since the meter drains quickly and the whole thing calls for precision, but slicing a torso correctly will prompt Raiden to snag the robotic spine within and squeeze it like a stress ball, completely replenishing his health and blade meter.
Revengeance is a different beast than most action games out there in that it focuses on parrying as a means of defense. Sure, there is a sidestep dodge move (press jump + slash simultaneously, and Raiden can sprint and jump around, but that will only get you so far. In order to truly succeed in this game, you’ll have to learn the proper timing and etiquette of parrying, which involves nudging the analog stick towards the direction of the strike and slashing at it. For someone raised on the dodging of God of War or the blocking of Ninja Gaiden, it can certainly be a jarring change of pace. However, those willing to cope with the learning curve and patient enough to practice, in VR missions or otherwise, will soon find a system that is efficient, compliments the fast action beautifully and, when used alongside the targeting system, makes Revenegance a totally unique action title when compared to anything else out there. The game expects players to juggle its various abilities during battles, fluidly transitioning from parries to sprints to sidesteps, but in a way that usually feels involving rather than frustrating.
Believe it or not, stealth is also a viable option throughout much of the game, and although simplistic, it allows you to one-hit-kill ANY enemy in the game in order to thin numbers, or you can simply sneak past enemies and get to objectives quickly. The absolute highlight of the game, however, is undoubtedly the duels and boss fights. In these multi-stage battles, many of which rival the God of War series in sheer scope, the game takes on a one-on-one fighting form that is a lot less hectic than standard skirmishes, where the game’s flow and responsiveness truly shine. They’re also complimented by an excellent soundtrack that gradually builds up and intensifies alongside the action to give a great sense of progression and involvement within each fight.
Unfortunately, every game has its issues, and I wouldn’t dream of talking about Revengeance without mentioning some of its more frustrating moments. Raiden has a horrible habit of getting stun-locked or knocked down by enemies and bosses alike, allowing them to get in more hits than they have any right to in one go, and this becomes doubly annoying when the ineffective stick-waggling recovery prompt comes up. A select few attacks are also just plain cheap (Monsoon and the ultimate final boss are particularly nasty offenders), such as sudden lunges, attacks that continue after you deflect them, infuriatingly small windows of opportunity for parrying and undodgable grab moves, none of which should have made it to the final product. Many of the stealth segments will throw overpowered Geckos or Cyborg Gorillas at you should you fail them, which feels like utter punishing hatefulness to the player in a game focused entirely on action. Lastly, switching sub-weapons or equipment requires that Raiden stop dead in his tracks in order for the screen to come up, which feels like utter heresy in a game built on in-the-moment efficiency and responsiveness.
Revengeance is also not a long game, one that shouldn’t take even struggling players more than 7-8 hours to complete. Hack-and-slash fanatics and/or cutscene skippers will probably be able to slice several hours off of that playtime. That said, there is a degree of replayability here, as every single combat encounter grades you upon completion, and getting S ranks is appropriately tough. An upgrade system allows you to use Battle Points you’ve acquired through defeating enemies and spend them on new combos, weapon and health upgrades, and even nifty new costumes for Raiden. It smartly allows players to commit points to abilities/upgrades that help them with whatever deficiencies they may have, such as getting hit too often or not building up fuel cells. You definitely won’t upgrade everything by the time you’re finished, which also helps replayability.
Finally, it should be said that Revengeance looks darn good. While not a Crysis 3 competitor by any means, the game’s textures, lighting and motion effects still look superb and sleek, and save for a few dips during codec sequences when the game is clearly loading, the entire adventure runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second that allows players to fully appreciate the responsiveness and lightning pace of the action. As mentioned above, the voice acting and soundtrack are expertly done, the latter of which is lively and nicely establishes personality that fits each of the boss characters it accompanies. Bonus: none of it is J-pop.
Revengeance undeniably has issues, some of which are less forgivable than others. There were moments during the game where I came dangerously close to giving my controller flying lessons, and the occasional clumsiness of the writing and pacing, combined with the short length, certainly didn’t help matters. However, shortly after leaving the game, I would always get giddy with excitement, and both my mind and thumbs wanted nothing more than to rearm themselves and dive right back into the fray to face the fast and furious action. Even during the few moments of cheap or clumsy design, I gained immense satisfaction when powering through the game’s challenges, and I felt genuinely accomplished and empowered after doing so.
I can’t recommend Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to everyone. Between the parrying, dense narrative and general demand for sharp reflexes, it’s likely that the average gamer will be put off quickly, and I sympathize with them. However, for anyone who has cut their teeth on challenging swordplay in the past and hungers for a return to the unforgiving games of old, Revengeance is the freshest and fastest action game in a long while. Platinum Games has succeeded in constructing another solid hack-and-slasher while also infusing it with a unique feel thanks to its parrying and cutting mechanics. It may frustrate, confuse and punish, but when all is said and done, it’s still a rewarding experience, no matter which way you slice it.
(Reviewed on Playstation 3. Review copy generously provided by Konami. Many thanks.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 8/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 7/10
Overall – 8/10
(not an average)
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (TBA)
Developer: Platinum Games, Kojima Productions (story, creative)
Rating: Mature (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)