Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Though the saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, there could be an argument made for judging Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance from its title. Revengeance is a ridiculous word, befitting a game that seems to wallow in the deep pools of craziness that Platinum Games have made their wheelhouse. The Metal Gear series has never exactly made a great deal of sense, and while Hideo Kojima was always wise enough to see the funny side at times, there was also a certain po-faced seriousness with which its narrative was approached, a seriousness that is only ever vaguely hinted at here.
Spinning off the character of Raiden (who has done quite well for himself considering the negative reaction to his inclusion in MGS2 back in the day) Revengeance follows his exploits working for a private security firm four years after the end of MGS4, the game starting with an assassination attempt on an African president and escalating from there. Subtle it isn’t, but aside from a few awkwardly shoehorned in mechanics, this isn’t your Metal Gear Solid either.
Eschewing the series’ focus on stealth for the most part, Metal Gear Rising is instead an action game, very much in the mould of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. The gimmick here being Raiden’s high tech katana, his weapon of choice that allows you to, quite literally, slice through your enemies in any way you see fit. The gameplay is typically centred around small bursts of combat against waves of enemies with each encounter being graded and scored. Those with a penchant for score chases and S ranks will have a lot to return to and practice at and the relatively short campaign seems designed for multiple play-throughs for those interested in bettering themselves or upping the challenge.
Raiden comes equipped with a light and heavy attack which can be used in tandem for combos and special moves. There is also a ‘blade mode’ that you activate by holding down L1, which locks your character and slows down time allowing you to freely swipe away with your sword. Here you can use buttons for standard vertical and horizontal moves, but also use the analogue sticks for full movement. It’s something of a clunky mechanic at first, and performing slices in the desired directions can be a challenge at first, but over time it becomes an enjoyably over the top way of finishing off enemies.
The trick to the combat however really lies in the counter system. The game offers no defensive options so in order to avoid enemy attacks you will have to master timed counters against enemy moves. Enemies signal their attacks but you still need to perform the counter at the right time, and in the right direction to be successful. It’s a mechanic that can be rewarding, but also runs the risk of frustration, especially for those not used to timing based combat and the pace of gameplay here, and the frequently obstructive camera doesn’t help either. Make no mistake this is not an easy game, with even early encounters on Normal difficulty proving a challenge.
Some of the game’s initial difficultly however comes from a lack of clear explanation of the game’s mechanics, instead tucking a lot of the instruction away in VR Tutorial missions held separately from the main game. As some of these techniques are key to progressing in the game it seems strange to bury these as they do. One of the key moves is the Zandatsu, whereby you stun an enemy then, using Blade Mode, slice them open to grab their power core from inside before it hits the ground. It’s a gloriously over the top move that is immensely satisfying whilst also being useful in later battles as it helps restore your health. In fact the combat is by far the strongest element of the game; it feels sharp, responsive and fluid, allowing you to string moves together and take out multiple enemies while feeling like a super soldier, whilst retaining the depth that will challenge more seasoned players.
However, the two button system can lead to a certain amount of repetition as the game progresses and some later small tweaks to the system don’t really do enough to shake the feeling that you are essentially using the same moves throughout the game. The combos available, whilst they look cool, are not as useful in the heat of battle as relying on a standard mix of attacks – you’re just not afforded the time to pull off anything too convoluted. The game also mixes in secondary weapons such as rocket launchers and grenades that you can use with L2, but aside from a few scenarios against helicopters which sit outside of your reach, there is rarely much requirement for these to be used and they seem something of an afterthought brought in to satisfy those familiar with the series’ history.
In a similar vein Revengeance also introduces some basic stealth mechanics in certain situations, where the option exists to sneak past patrolling guards and avoid combat. In theory this is fine, but it quickly becomes clear that the game is not really built for such endeavours, and with the combat being the focus of the gameplay it seems counter-intuitive to seek to avoid it. This does mean that once you are spotted you don’t really mind, but on nearly every occasion I didn’t even bother with the stealthy approach at all. It remains an incongruous inclusion, another awkward callback to the game’s origins that is not required and evidence of the game’s turbulent development history.
For the most part though Revengeance is very much its own thing, which generally is for the better, and after a relatively slow start it quickly amps up the action into some inventive and enjoyable set pieces and boss fights. Past the half-way point things take a bit of a turn and aside from the very end of the game, which reaches a whole new level of weirdness (that doesn’t necessarily work in the game’s favour), it suddenly starts to feel somewhat rushed and half-hearted with some repeated boss encounters and surprisingly short and seemingly incomplete chapters which is not a good sign given the game is only about 5-6 hours long. It also suffers from some rather insipid design.
On the whole the game looks fairly nice, with the character models in particular receiving a lot of attention, but the overly bland and sterile environments are compounded by the frequently unimaginative settings. Who needs another sewer level, or faceless office complex? Despite the game’s shortcomings, the core gameplay remains very enjoyable throughout, it constantly feels rewarding and empowering, and the smattering of VR missions you can unlock throughout give it an extra dimension for those who really want to challenge themselves and focus on combat encounters.
Revengeance can be supremely entertaining, but little of that actually has to do with the game’s Metal Gear connection. In fact, as an overall experience it doesn’t feel bolstered by the Metal Gear name, perhaps even being constrained by it. Like the central hero, this is a game suffering from something of an identity crisis, with unnecessary stealth sequences and geo-political discussions to weigh down the madness that beats at the game’s heart, just begging to get out. But in the heat of battle, in full flow between slicing up cyborgs and dismantling robots a lot of these flaws melt away. For better and for worse Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a game as crazy and nonsensical as its title, but because of that strong core, it’s one that just about makes the cut.
Reviewed on PlayStation 3; game provided by Konami.
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