Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a hard game to review. How you find this game, and what your thoughts are on it, will depend almost exclusively on how you choose to approach it in the first place. Fans of Kojima’s celebrated Metal Gear Solid series will see the Metal Gear moniker in the game’s name, and immediately have expectations of a new entry in a long running cerebral story, told with plenty of aplomb.
Fans of Platinum Games will enter the game with an entirely different set of expectations. As anyone who has played the premier developer’s past games- MadWorld, Bayonetta, Vanquish- can attest, Platinum has an unrivaled sense of style. It also gleefully revels in making all of its games as over the top, and consciously Japanese, as possible.
There is a third group whose interest will probably be piqued by Metal Gear Rising, and that is fans of action games. Those who find the depth and intricacy of games like Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, and God of War to their liking will probably approach this game with expectations of satisfying combat, and the appropriate difficulty.
These are three very different groups, and there isn’t a whole lot of overlap, especially between the first one and the latter two. Rising takes a shot at trying to appeal to all three, and it largely succeeds. But fans of Platinum’s games and fans of action games will probably find this a more satisfying experience overall than fans of the Metal Gear series. Whereas Rising is canonical, and in fact its story and scenario was developed by Kojima Productions, on the whole, it comes off as largely contrived and inconsequential, and fans aren’t likely to appreciate its contribution to the canon a whole lot. Many fans of the series’ lore might also find themselves outraged at the liberties Rising takes with the implied aftermath of Metal Gear Solid 4’s ending.
If said fans decide to not go ahead and play Rising, then they will end up depriving themselves of what might just be the most quintessential Platinum game yet, and a hell of an action game.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance takes place after Metal Gear Solid 4. Raiden now finds himself on duty, protecting the Prime Minister of an African nation. Peace and stability have begun to return to the region, and reconstruction has been largely smooth. However, there are those who profited from a war driven economy, and who now find themselves significantly worse off. Needless to say, there is a crazy (and completely over the top) plan to disrupt the newly established status quo, which sets Raiden off to track down people who plan on plunging the world into chaos and anarchy, riven by war, yet again.
It’s not exactly a substantial narrative framework. Although I’ve omitted anything too revealing to avoid spoilers, the actual story itself is barely serviceable, and so ridiculous that after a time, you’d probably be best served by ignoring it altogether, and treating it just as an excuse to move from one action fueled arena to the next. It’s a bit shocking, considering that it is supposed to come from KojiPro proper, but you wouldn’t know it at all. It doesn’t help that Platinum chooses to tell the story with their trademark over the topness, which again will probably not jive well with the Metal Gear fanbase. And while there are some times when it pauses for a rare moment of reflection and introspection (a particularly great section involves Raiden questioning his own morality, and what he has become), on the whole, it remains a light, breezy affair.
Like I said, however, the story ceases to matter in this game. As long as you view it exactly what it is meant to be viewed as- a vehicle to justify the high octane action, and the epic set-pieces that you will encounter- you should be good. Focus on the gameplay itself, and you’re in for a ride.
Because few action games accomplish all the finesse, style, and intricacy that Platinum has achieved in Metal Gear Rising. The combat is predictably fast paced (the ‘Lightning Bolt Action’ tagline does not lie), and it has you stringing together combo after combo, as you slice away all manner of cyborgs that stand in your way. It becomes even more furiously fast paced if you activate Raiden’s Ninja Run, which almost automatically gets rid of all obstacles in your way, aligns you to always be facing your opponent, and rushes you from one opponent to the next one so that your combo string does not break.
If that sounds like it’s too automated, or too button mashy for you, rest assured that it isn’t. In fact, unlike games like God of War, and even Devil May Cry at times, where it is possible to button mash your way through the game at least on the lower difficulties, Rising does not make any concessions to trying to brainlessly muscle your way through the game at all. You need to actually string combos properly, and plan your attacks, or you will be met with a swift and painful death. And while the fact that you have only two buttons for attacks- a light attack button, and a heavy attack button- might lead to some concern that the combat is dumbed down, and that combos are easy to pull off, the system is surprisingly deep. There are all manner of combos that can be achieved, but are so difficult to pull off because of how fast the game really moves.
The depth of the combat is further supplemented by two additional mechanics unique to Rising: Blade Mode, and parrying.
Blade Mode involves you slowing down time, and then slicing away furiously at whatever you’re attacking. Unlike the Heavy and Light attacks, where the direction of your swipes is predetermined, in Blade Mode, you can decide the angle and direction of your swipe using the right analog stick. This theoretically lets you dispatch enemies faster (and in more inventive ways) because it lets you reach their weak points that might otherwise have been inaccessible. It also lets you attack environmental obstacles that you otherwise would have been unable to attack. It’s not overpowered or unbalanced either, because it is controlled by a meter that runs out pretty fast as soon as you activate Blade Mode, which can be refilled by normally attacking enemies.
What is perhaps the biggest equalizer to Blade Mode, however, is not the in built checks and balances, but rather the inadvertent control issues. As you can perhaps very well imagine, trying to control the angle and direction of a fast paced swipe in the heat of the moment when you are being assuaged by enemies on all sides is not exactly optimal. And while you can still approximate swipes in Blade Mode by using your regular attack buttons, or by just trying to use the analog stick repeatedly, it often just doesn’t work, and can be very frustrating.
It’s a bit of a pity, because when it works, it almost literally adds infinite possibilities to combat, allowing you to approach it as it does from any direction and angle that you want. It comes closest to realizing the promise of the free form watermelon cutting that this game was debuted with at E3 2009, and while it’s still not there fully, and is hamstrung by the controls, it works just well enough that it adds almost unprecedented depth to the combat.
The second addition to the game’s combat comes with the parrying. Like Blade Mode, parrying adds a whole lot of depth to the combat- it lets you completely block enemy attacks, but if pulled off correctly, it also lets you counterattack them simultaneously, stunning them, which lets you land more blows without any fear of a counterattack.
Parrying is tricky. In theory, it is sound, but there is no special button assigned to parrying. To parry, you press the Light Attack button, along with gently pushing the analog stick in the direction of the attack you want to parry. It works perfectly, but there are times when you need to alternate between parrying and attacking pretty fast, and the game ends up misinterpreting your commands, leading you to parry when you wanted to attack, and vice versa.
The combat of Metal Gear Rising, then, is wonderful. It’s deep, it’s intricate, and it’s almost deceptively accessible. And it needs to be as free flowing and good as it is, because this game will definitely kick your ass. The difficulty curve of the game is almost brutal, and even on Normal mode, you will die. A lot. The higher difficulty levels are almost masochistic, and are certainly not advised for newcomers to the genre.
Not dying, however, is imperative, as is pulling off all combos and attack moves immaculately, because the S rank otherwise remains completely elusive. Players will often find themselves playing through the same level multiple times, trying to achieve better combat ranks, because that C looks like such a blemish on their otherwise flawless string of S’s. It adds a lot of replay value to the game.
Not that the game really needs said replay value. Whereas genre veterans can probably blaze through the game in around 5-6 hours, most people will find themselves clocking in closer to a much more reasonable 8-10 hours by the end (the in game clock is not indicative of the total time spent playing MGR, as it only records your best time in each arena). Considering the fact that after you are done, you’ll probably want to go back to claim an S rank on every level, and perhaps customize Raiden more to your liking, or if you’re particularly self loathing, to play on the higher difficulty levels, you’re probably going to get your money’s worth from this title by the time all is said and done.
If there are any knocks against Revenegance, they are perhaps with its storytelling. The story Revengeance wants to tell isn’t worth a whole lot to begin with, but the game, in true Platinum style, treats it so completely irreverently that it becomes really hard to take it seriously. And while that’s good considering the game is what it is, it also has the potential to completely turn you off.
The voice acting is almost hilariously bad, and the dialog inexcusably punny. Like I said, it’s perhaps best to take the game’s story and its storytelling as a self aware parody, and not to put much stock in any of it, because otherwise it can and will detract from the experience.
Where the voice acting and dialog fail, though, the game’s soundtrack succeeds. It’s fast paced, racy, and absolutely great, and adds to the game’s general sense of style immensely. The boss battles, especially, get some especially memorable riffs, and you’ll probably want to pause the game just to listen to the music every now and then.
The great soundtrack is complemented by graphics that are largely top notch. Rising looks great, and is swift, fluid, and smooth, as it needs to be. Every now and then, there is minor screen tearing, and once in my playthrough, I encountered a frame rate drop, which might have been disastrous, but happened right as I was dispatching all my enemies.
In the end, whether or not you like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, or the extent to which you like it, will be determined entirely by how you approach the game. Go into it looking for a great action game, or the typical Platinum style and mechanical substance, and you will not be disappointed. Expect a great story, or accomplished storytelling, on par with the Metal Gear Solid games, and you will come away sorely disappointed.
But if you’re doing that, you’re doing it wrong anyway. Don’t you see? This is Metal Gear Rising, not Metal Gear Solid. It’s not supposed to meet your expectations of the average Metal Gear Solid game, simply because it isn’t one. What it is, is Metal Gear Rising. And what Metal Gear Rising is, is one of the best action games on the market that anyone with even a passing interest in the genre owes to themselves to pick up.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.