Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
Raiden sure has come a long way since 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2. Back then, our cyborg ninja protagonist was an amateur spy, loathed by the Metal Gear audience simply for being a far cry from series’ mainstay Solid Snake.
Fast-forward to 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4 and it’s obvious that series mastermind Hideo Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions knew the character needed a serious influx of cool. So Raiden was reintroduced as a cyborg samurai, equipped with body armour and a deadly high-speed frequency blade capable of cutting through anything.
Knowing they had a game but unsure how to approach Raiden’s slice-and-dice nature while developing Metal Gear Rising, Kojima asked the Japanese action game experts at Platinum Games (of cult favourites Bayonetta and Vanquish) to step in and take the reins. After four years in development, we have the first MGS spinoff: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Setting aside the weird, made-up subtitle, Kojima and Platinum have made a somewhat uneven game that settles for style over substance at every turn.
At its highest peaks, Platinum successfully realizes the fast, frantic and over-the-top nature of Raiden’s swordplay in Rising, but simultaneously sinks the game with some poor stealth gameplay squished between a few amazing boss fights that are the lone highlights of this embarrassingly short action game.
I won’t even bother trying to catch you up on Metal Gear’s entire convoluted backstory. In short, Metal Gear Rising takes place in 2018, with Raiden struggling to prevent a rag-tag team of powerful cyborgs from helping a private military group harvest the brains of children. The harvested brains will then be used to create a cyborg army meant to jumpstart the global war economy… or something like that.
Rising’s story lacks both the depth and intrigue of Kojima’s Metal Gear games, and you’ll grow tired of the annoying side characters constantly interrupting the game’s fast-moving pace with lengthy codec calls that force-feed you the game’s story while preventing you from exploring the environment.
While the story is forgettable, Metal Gear Rising’s strength is its fantastically fluid gameplay, which is centred on a triumphant innovation for action games: Blade Mode. With a simple press of the left trigger, you’re given full control of Raiden’s sword and can use the right stick to cut in any direction you’d like. Seriously! And it works on ANYTHING! Trees, barrels, cars… blood-filled body parts… you name it!
It’s immensely satisfying when you end an elaborate combo by violently slicing your enemy down the middle before reaching inside their remains to extract their spine. The Zan-Datsu mechanic (Japanese for cut-and-take) allows Raiden to replenish his health by crushing the power cores (spines) of his enemies. By cutting off specific parts like left hands, Raiden can also gain crucial data for unlocking new skills.
Using Blade Mode to absolutely eviscerate enemies is a joy, and it’s implemented so well that it never gets old. The slice-and-dice gameplay is more rhythmic and less improvised than other modern action games, making swordplay a satisfying skill worth mastering. A well-timed parry will open up an enemy’s defences, allowing Raiden to move in and hit ’em where it hurts. Each flurry of strikes is almost always followed by a flashy, anime-esque quick time event.
Graphically, Metal Gear Rising is stunning. The cutscenes are gorgeous and show just how much life is still in today’s aging consoles. Holding a steady 60 frames per second, the lightning-quick strikes of Raiden’s blade are always easy to follow, even if you occasionally have to babysit the game’s camera.
Rising’s boss fights are a cut above the rest and make up a majority of the game’s most amazing moments. Each member of the Desperado Enforcement squad Raiden faces offers a unique challenge, making battles feel more personal than the common giant monster battles other action games go for. And I mean “personal” in a good way. You’ll clench your jaw during a late game one-on-one sword fight with Raiden’s chief rival that feels like a spaghetti western showdown. It’s easy to see how much thought went into these intense, challenging boss fights and the resulting surge of victory is uplifting.
But even for all its worthwhile moments and mechanics, Rising doesn’t quite stick the landing.
The game is hindered by frustrating stealth sections and useless offensive items. As soon as Raiden is asked to sneak rather than slice, the game reveals how at odds with itself it is. Hiding in a cardboard box Metal Gear Solid-style just feels wrong in Rising. The game’s clunky and separate menu for switching between grenades, rocket launchers and alternate weapons makes using them a chore. The alternate weapons are cool, but it’s impossible to combo between them without stopping the gameplay to navigate an awful menu. I preferred playing most of the game with just the basic blade.
The game is also REALLY short. Sure, there’s some extra Virtual Reality (VR) missions unlocked throughout the story mode, but you’re better off simply replaying the story if you want an adrenaline fix. I clocked almost five hours of actual gameplay (not counting the numerous times I died) and all of that is padded out with lengthy, eye-rolling codec calls and cutscenes. I could handle that in Metal Gear Solid 4, but here, the narrative seems at odds with the game’s tight and fast approach. There’s simply not enough meat on Rising’s bones.
Rising is a great game that needed more time and effort to achieve perfection. Although it’s an entirely different genre than Metal Gear Solid, Rising just doesn’t live up to the quality expected of MGS games. Whether you’re a hard-core Metal Gear fan or just looking for a new action-adventure fix, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is worth a look, just don’t expect the game to hold your interest for more than a few weeks.