Warning: While MGR:R is the start of a new saga, its position in the Metal Gear canon means that there will be a few spoilers for the previous games, particularly MGS4. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, though. If you haven’t played them yet, I’d recommend it
It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of Metal Gear – while I usually tend to shy away from any games revolving around soldiers, war and terrorists, the Metal Gear series still manages to be one of my favourite series of all time, up there with my Final Fantasies, Devil May Crys and Castlevanias. Much like Andy, Hideo Kojima holds a godlike status in my mind as one of the industry’s best storytellers, and the mastermind behind the best espionage series in the business. While others may be put off by the convoluted plot twists and the deluge of background information, I absolutely thrive on it – each time I play the games, I understand something new, or see things from a different perspective.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was always going to be a bit of a gamble as the next title in the series. Starring a post-Metal Gear Solid 4 Raiden, players would get the opportunity to take control of the suped-up, acrobatic, robot-slaying cyborg in a hack ‘n’ slash game set after the dramatic conclusion of MGS4. Stealth fans were unsurprisingly unsure what to make of this new direction – and when it was announced that Kojima had handed the project to Platinum Games, many were outraged at the game’s over-the-top style in comparison to the realistic vision in the Solid saga, and the potential repercussions it could have on the series overall timeline. But this is Rising, Kojima stressed – a new chapter in Metal Gear history, as he (as always) hopes to step away from his work to pass the series down to his apprentices, allowing them to take series reins for a while. With Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and a potential Metal Gear Solid 5 already in the works, proving that Metal Gear is not abandoning it’s roots, I was more than happy to see what Rising had to offer.
Set four years post-MGS4, Rising sees Raiden working as part of a PMC (Private Military Company) called Maverick, one focused purely on security – rather than simply an army available to the highest bidder. Leading as “normal” a life as he can, he works as VIP protection for his Prime Minister N’mani in Africa, helping the war-torn country gain stability in a post-Patriots world. However, old habits die hard - the PMC group ‘Desperado’ assassinate the Prime Minister, leaving Raiden mortally wounded – and he is thrust back into a world of violence as his body is rebuilt, and he sets on a quest for vengeance. Of course once his mission begins, he finds himself digging deeper into the true motivation for the assassination – and also finds himself confronting his own demons in the process.
Being a hack ‘n’ slash title, Metal Gear Rising plays very differently to any previous entries in the series – more in line with titles such as Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta. Combos are chained together in sequences of light and heavy attacks, with varying results depending on the particular combo. As with Bayonetta, combos chain up very smoothly and look great – although you’ve always got to be wary of incoming attacks, of course. As you do damage to enemies your fuel gauge is refilled, which allows you to use Raiden’s Blade Mode.
When battling enemies, you will see their limbs highlight blue after sustaining a certain amount of damage. By holding the Blade Mode button (assuming you have enough fuel in your gauge), time will slow, and you can use the analogue sticks to aim precise strikes. Blue limbs can be sliced off, crippling your enemy – while enemies that are completely blue can be sliced up into many pieces, each cut you do splitting them precisely in that way. Most importantly, if you strike a mortally wounded enemy across a specific spot (highlighted by a red square), you can then hit the action button to perform a Zandatsu - the “cut n’ take”, which allows you to steal the enemy’s fuel core and replenish both your fuel and health. The trick being, of course, to take your enemies down one at a time, keeping your fuel full but chaining Zandatsu kills. Blade Mode was the selling point in the original tech demos of the game – and while it’s been toned down to the point where it’s no longer game-breaking, it’s still an incredibly impressive and fun ability to behold.
In order to protect himself, Raiden has access to a parry ability, which is performed by pressing the light attack button and flicking the analogue stick toward the incoming attack as the same time – something that feels a little odd to start, but soon becomes part of the game’s natural flow. In this way, Raiden is able to chain together attacks rapidly, and change to a defensive stance at a moments notice – if you can pull it off. However – there are some attacks that cannot be parried, such as missiles. Avoiding these requires you to dodge – either by jumping, or using the Ninja Run ability that acts as a sprint, whilst also allowing Raiden to automatically deflect incoming bullets.
The game also utilizes some reaction commands/QTE’s in certain situations – many enemies have unblockable grabs, but by shaking the analogue stick from side to side, you can escape or counter the grab to turn the tables to your favour. At other times, you can tap two buttons together to activate a special attack on an enemy, often prompting you to tap the Blade Mode button at a certain point to pull off a finishing slash at an enemy’s weak point.
There are also a mixture of sub-weapons, mainly ranging from different types of grenades and rocket launchers. These are limited use items, which can be changed by accessing the equipment menu, and you’ll pick up more as you run around the stages. To be honest, I rarely used them as I much preferred sticking to the regular weapon attacks, but there are a few situations where they came in handy. There are also a few “unique weapons” to unlock, which basically replace your Heavy type attacks with a different weapon. I was a little disappointed with these weapons – I won’t spoil the details of them, but none of them really offered me any attacks I found particularly changed my play style, and I actually preferred using the default Heavy attacks as I found them to be the most satisfying.
The enemies themselves are a mix of old and new designs, with your basic opponent being melee and ranged equipped cyborgs that attack you in groups. Then we have Gekkos - medium-sized bipedal robots that fans will recognise from MGS4. Later enemies have armour plating that must be broken before they can be taken down – with special Blade Mode prompts that allow you to slice and dice sections of armour to open up weak spots. Then we have Dwarf Gekkos, also from MGS4 - consisting of a ball with three robotic arms. While easy alone, these can attack in large groups, or alongside other enemies to complicate things. While the enemies range in size and style, they mostly follow the same structure – slash, parry, Zandatsu. That’s not to say things are boring – it’s all about staying on your toes, dealing out damage and chaining your kills in impressive style.
And then we have the bosses. The team at Platinum have a bit of a reputation when it comes to action games, and Revengeance doesn’t disappoint. The first level pits you against a Metal Gear RAY, the iconic robot from Metal Gear Solid 2, and has you running around, deflecting bullets, avoiding missiles and slashing away at it, tearing off chunks of armour to weaken it. And parrying isn’t only for cyborgs – Raiden is able to parry attacks even from behemoths such as this. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself grabbing its arm, running along it’s back and tearing it’s armour to shreds. And that’s only the first boss. Later encounters pit you against the “Winds of Destruction”, an elite group of soldiers within Desperado, and Jetstream Sam – Raiden’s katana-wielding rival. All the bosses have their own unique patterns, and have an almost seamless mix of regular combos, precision Blade Mode attacks to strike or cut certain points, and QTE moments, and it all ties together into a neat package that feels great to play.
I must mention the music at this point. It’s worth noting that Metal Gear Rising’s soundtrack is very unlike that of Metal Gear Solid. While I must admit I was disappointed at the lack of remixed MGS themes, the game’s soundtrack is very good. Taking a heavy metal stance that mirrors the game’s fast-paced gameplay, the music tracks tie in perfectly, making the fights even more blood-pumping than they already are, many of them with vocals that sound great a you battle various robots and go with the flow of combat.
Plot-wise, I don’t think Revengeance is as good as the Solid series, but that’s not to say I disliked it. I think the change of genre forced the writers to make a more simplistic, straightforward story that fitted with the more linear style of the game. While the game is supposed to be a relatively fresh start – a good step-in point for new players, I was particularly disappointed with the lack of reference to previous games. While Raiden’s past as a child soldier is regularly referenced, his adoptive “father” Solidus is barely mentioned, and the events of Big Shell and Guns of the Patriots are all but gone – even his wife and child are almost missing in the game’s dialogue. Perhaps one reason for this was the lack of returning faces – Raiden’s new Codec contacts are new characters that weren’t involved in previous games, though I feel this gave them a perfect opportunity to have Raiden talk about past events. Even better, I would have loved to have seen a familiar face such as Otacon or Rose to make some reference to the original fans. I understand the need to have a clean slate in terms of plot points, but I did feel that the established history was very understated – and it would be easy to show Raiden’s upbringing with Solidus without confusing a new player. Considering the game has a new cast, few links to the previous games and no returning locations, it’s really only Raiden, Metal Gears and a few vague comments that link the game to its roots. As a fan, I’d of course loved to see a chapter set in the remnants of Big Shell, similar to how MGS4 had Snake return to Shadow Moses.
The plot has a few little twists, but left me feeling a little underwhelmed by the end – this is certainly not a plot that’s going to keep giving each time you play. While the boss fights are fantastic, I must say that the bad guys feel like some of the least developed in the series – while groups such as the Cobras and FOX-HOUND all had a lot of nuances and individual stories, the Winds of Destruction didn’t really give me much in terms of emotional investment. The game’s plot does the job of setting a background for the action, but sadly it’s not going to go up there with the older games in terms of depth.
As with all good hack ‘n’ slash titles, Revengeance offers various upgrades and unlockables to improve Raiden’s performance. Every time you defeat an enemy or beat a stage, you unlock credits with which you can purchase new equipment or skills, as well as upgrading the ones you have. In terms of weapons, your first run will be focused on Raiden’s basic HF Blade, with which you can purchase upgrades to your attack power, energy absorption and fuel efficiency, as well as unlocking a few more combos. You can also pay to extend your Health and Fuel meters. Once you have obtained the unique weapons, you may also purchase a couple of upgrades and skills for those, too.
The game also boasts a nice selection of collectibles and unlockables. Throughout the game are certain soldiers whose left hands are highlighted when you enter Raiden’s AR vision mode (which allows you to see certain markers, and see in the dark). If you are able to cut off these arms, you can collect them - stealing the data within to help unlock some extra equipment in the Customize menu. Data storage units can be found scattered around the game, unlocking bonus artwork, and as a tribute to the series you can find cardboard boxes hidden around the game, with men hidden inside that you can hunt down for some rather random unlockable in-game models.
Perhaps the game’s biggest downside is its length. With the game’s timer clocking in at around 6 hours for my first play through (not including cut scenes, and perhaps deaths), the game offers a much shorter experience than your usual Metal Gear title. Obviously, this has a lot to do with the game’s focus on rushing through areas rather than slow, steady espionage as well as less focus on narrative – but even compared to games such as Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, it’s quite short. The game’s unlockables and higher difficulties do offer some extent of replay value – and it’s good enough to warrant a second run, but don’t expect any weapons or unlockables that will vastly change your experience a second time around. The pacing is somewhat awkward as well – with eight missions in total, a few clock in at around 15 minutes long, while others can take up to an hour and a half. I couldn’t help feeling that some of these missions could have been split up into smaller segments, which would be especially helpful given the game’s Chapter Select mode, level ranking system (based on your time, kills etc), and collectible hunting.
In the end, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance did a pretty good job – though it’s experience is short and sweet. The transition from Solid to Rising is somewhat bumpy – while there are elements that link it to the original series, it feels a little flat at times, since the game is also directed at players who have no prior knowledge to the game. The gameplay is solid, though (or should I say Rising, har har) and it is insanely fun to run across a barrage of incoming missiles and hack off the tail of a Metal Gear RAY. Considering the bridge in genre, the Metal Gear series has hit the ground running in terms of gameplay, diving straight into responsive, addictive hack ‘n’ slash gameplay that manages to feel unique in a market that already has some amazing titles. I must admit though, I’ll always enjoy my Metal Gear in Solid form most of all. This just gave me that chance to experience Raiden’s awesomeness from firsthand perspective. And cut things up.
+ Top-notch hack ‘n’ slash gameplay
+ Epic boss fights
+ Good selection of collectibles and unlocks
+ Great soundtrack
- Game’s length is short, even for a hack ‘n’ slash title
- Overall story is weaker than MGS games, and feels a little cut off from its roots
- Variety of weapons could have been better
As a Metal Gear fan, I was a little underwhelmed by the plot, though it was good enough to make me what to see it through to the end – and I have to point out that Metal Gear Solid sets an incredibly high bar. I loved seeing a hack ‘n’ slash game using MGS elements however, and playing as Raiden was truly awesome. As a hack ‘n’ slash fan, I was impressed as the game’s quality easily stands up among the best, though it did leave me wanting a bit more gameplay before it came to an end. Considering this game was cancelled at one point, it’s Risen from the grave into a quality experience that can be enjoyed by both fans and new players alike.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is out now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
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