Platinum has never made a bad title, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is no exception.
As the name suggests, Revengeance is a spin-off from Metal Gear Solid. It’s had something of an interesting development cycle to say the least, so it’s perhaps fitting that it comes with an interesting name. Originally announced at E3 in 2010 with an incredible technical demo, Kojima Productions ultimately found it difficult to design a game around the sword mechanic and had only a handful of story concepts. Consequently, the game was shelved later that same year – a fact that caused an emotional outburst from many an anguished fan.
But Kojima wasn’t done with it. Wanting a Japanese developer to handle what had become a ninja action game, he asked Platinum Games – an old hand when it comes to fast-paced action titles – to take over.
This is when the game received its somewhat odd subtitle and spell-checking software around the world went into meltdown.
Raiden – the floppy-haired protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – is the playable character here. Last seen in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Raiden had gone through a rather drastic transformation between those two titles, progressing from the slightly effeminate and annoying kid in Sons of Liberty to a sword-wielding bad-ass cyborg ninja in MGS4. In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, his transformation is complete and Raiden is now more machine than man.
First impressions are good: the game looks exquisite; stunningly beautiful from beginning to end, with plenty of small details, it immediately grabs your attention with its visuals and doesn’t let go. The soundtrack is equally gratifying, and I found myself nodding my head fervently to the sound of thrash guitars on more than one occasion. The music reflects the high octane game perfectly, culminating in one of the finest boss battle soundtracks I have ever heard.
The cutting mechanic itself never really gets old – little things like the way you can cut up a watermelon into different sized slices or cutting through a concrete pillar and exposing the support beams shows a tremendous amount of effort and it’s really paid off. It’s this cutting mechanic that makes the game so original and such incredible fun. It’s more than just the scenery that you can destroy with such finesse, though. You can cut all of your enemies in any direction you wish by using your ninja reflexes and entering into Blade Mode – a variant of the ubiquitous Bullet Time mechanic. If you want to cut off an an enemy soldier’s right arm and left leg, there is nothing to stop you from doing so.
There are certain enemies where cutting off their hand is a bonus; the game explains early on that the battle data is stored in a cyborg’s right hand, and if you get bored you should start collecting them in return for a higher mission rating at the end of each stage.
The health system is cleverly designed around this cutting mechanic too. Should your health bar start looking a little worse for wear, you can cut open an enemy cyborg, rip out their spine and absorb their nanomachines, using them to repair your body. You genuinely feel like you have the power of a cyborg ninja, and no other game comes close to that.
At the end of the the prologue mission the game’s primary antagonist, Jetstream Sam, cuts off Raiden’s left arm. Looking at the bleeding stump, Raiden simply remarks: “Shit! Not again…” before fighting onward, his sense of pain literally switched off by his built-in cybernetic implants. For most of us the loss of a limb would be a life-changing experience; for Raiden it’s just another day at the office. That’s how awesome he is.
As is now standard fare for the franchise, the story deals with plenty of different themes and the plot moves along at speed. Raiden has broken away from the army in which he previously served and now works as a sword-for-hire for a private military company. Discussions about PMCs, along with issues of child-warfare, transhumanism (and the issues of self-identity which inevitably follow) all play a major part in both the game and series as a whole. Many other games would struggle with such high concepts, but Metal Gear Rising tackles the subject with the same level of maturity previously witnessed in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
It’s somewhat inevitable that any discussion on a Metal Gear game will involve some level of discussion about its eccentric creator. Any gamer who knows the name Hideo Kojima knows that he’s a bit partial to cutscenes: Metal Gear Solid 4 was arguably more cutscene than game. For this reason more than any other, it’s with a sense of relief that Platinum has managed to wrestle the camera away from him and keep exposition-dumps to a minimum. For the record I’m not actually particularly against cut-scenes, so it’s just as well that the ones on show here are beautiful, giving a real sense of gratification after a particularly grueling section of gameplay.
Of course, Kojima is also known for his love of slapstick. That irreverent and self-referential sense of humor is on show here with about thirty or so humorous nods to previous games in the series.
Overall though and putting the comic relief and frequently hilarious dialogue to one side, this is a mature game that deals with mature themes. For all the over-the-top action, Revengeance shows that the gaming is about far more than just a childhood-fantasy of guns, glorified death and and bloody violence – despite what the tabloid newspapers would have us all believe.
After each fight you’ll earn experience points which can be spent at the end of the level you will be graded based on your time, combos, kills and how good you were in each individual fight. The grade will give bonus Battle Points (BP) which you use to upgrade your character and skills. Some of these are entirely cosmetic, like the Gray Fox skin from Metal Gear Solid, or wigs from Metal Gear Solid 2. Other upgrades are more tactical – giving you brutal new attacks for example, increased strength or a better blade; there are also defensive abilities like Aerial Parry or the ability to simply dodge better.
With all that said, no game is perfect and there are a some areas where Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance falls down slightly. The controls in Revengeance take a lot of getting used to, and I wholeheartedly recommend
playing on Easy if Normal becomes too much of an issue. The game has a fantastic level of replayability, and there is no shame in working your way up if you didn’t spend an hour on the demo, just practising the parry.
Parrying takes a while to master, but is vital to your success.
While the upgradable abilities are welcome, there’s a degree of awkwardness in finding the menu to that houses the tutorial on the skill you just bought. It’s a small complaint to make, but just irritating enough that it’s worth mentioning. If I buy a move, then show me then and there how to use it; making the player go menu-hunting for tutorials as soon as they purchase an upgrade is both off-putting and immersion breaking.
Like all previous Metal Gear games, Revengeance has a number of boss fights. A good boss fight should test everything that the player has learned so far; unfortunately here they can be annoying for the sole reason that you’re never really taught how to parry or dodge to any real degree of sufficiency. As a result some of these set-piece encounters can be immensely frustrating, requiring repeated restarts.
Here’s one example: about halfway through the game, you end up in a fight against an opponent with the ability to segment his body and attack you while being immune to damage himself. The ideal tactic is to throw electromagnetic pulse grenades at him to disable him before slowing down the passage of time with your ninja reflexes and attacking his head as quickly and as accurately as you can. Succeed in this task and your enemy’s defenses are whittled down to the point where he comes vulnerable to damage. It certainly sounds simple enough, but it can be teeth-grindingly frustrating to complete even on lower difficulties and as a result it interrupts the flow of the game and saps the enjoyment out of the experience.
In another section, Raiden gets thrown from the roof of a building, hijacks a winged security guard and hurtles into an exploding elevator shaft only to spend a good 30 seconds dodging debris. Unfortunately this section occurs at such speed that you need almost superhuman reflexes. Again, frustrating, but with perseverance you’ll get past it. Satisfied, you’ll sit back to relax and watch your hard-earned cutscene only to be assaulted by an unexpected quick-time event die because you didn’t hit the right two buttons together fast enough.
I hate QTEs. No, I loathe QTEs. Resident Evil 4 is possibly one of my favorite games of all time but that’s only because I choose to forget all the quick-time events. A word of advice to game developers: if you want an
example of how to do QTEs properly, please refer to Mass Effect. In Bioware’s seminal series, if you’re fast enough you can dodge a bullet or punch somebody unpleasant in the face. If you miss, then it’s no big deal and the failure only has a tiny impact on the game; you’re not penalized purely for having slow reactions.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance however does penalize you – harshly – and player enjoyment suffers because of it.
I’m nit-picking here, but this last complaint is very important to me. If I come across a typing error in a news article, it makes me scowl. When I pay for a game riddled with them, I feel the same way. It isn’t the most difficult thing in the world to spell-check a script, and a studio like Platinum Games has enough experience by now to know the importance of good localization, but somehow on this occasion a lot of errors have managed to slip through the cracks.
When all is said and done, despite the issues described above I can’t bring myself to lower the score. I’ve been quite negative about the game in places, so why has it left such a mark on me? It’s pretty simple. The story, however poorly typed is incredibly well written, and boss fights aside, this game never feels boring. The soundtrack, no matter how many times you repeat that boss battle, never feels old. It just pumps you with even more adrenaline, pats you on the back and screams “go get’em.”. The frustration at the boss fights just made me want to kill the boss even harder and the fact that it’s so pleasing on the eye means that even when the gameplay is annoying you at least it looks good while doing it.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is simply a bloody good action game. While it’s incredibly different to previous franchise installments – which might irk some fans – it’s precisely this fact that makes it so unique and interesting. It’s not for everyone, then. But then nothing ever is when Kojima’s involved.
[Editors’ note – while this review is of the original console release of Revengeance, we feel that the recent release on PC warrants its publication. Aside from some minor differences such as enhanced graphics and the inclusion of previously-released DLC, the versions are identical so remarks made in this review are also applicable to the PC version]