Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review
Here’s what you need to know about Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Everyone in 2018 is a Cyborg for some reason; slicing them into megabytes is some of the best fun I’ve had this console generation; and most importantly, developer Platinum Games taking a stab at the Metal Gear franchise really isn’t deserving of any shock or trepidation. While a developer better known for eye-haemorrhaging action may not seem the logical choice for a game series founded on patience and evasion, it should also be remembered that Metal Gear Solid has given us, as a mere fraction of its cornucopia of bonkers, a malicious Cold War beekeeper as a baddie, stealth aided by wolf urine, and “I need scissors! 61!” Who better than Platinum to assume this mantle of insanity?
They haven’t fumbled the opportunity. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an epileptic frenzy of carnage from start to finish, marrying huge action set pieces with a challenging and unique combat system that sidesteps gimmickry to produce an experience that. While hardly unfamiliar to hardened hack ‘n’ slashers, it’s nevertheless relentlessly thrilling.
We join maligned pretty boy turned badass Cyborg ninja Raiden four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. He’s found work with Maverick security firm, charged when we meet them with escorting an African Prime Minister on a diplomatic mission in Montenegro. The convoy is attacked by Desperado Security, a rival Cyborg unit fighting to restore the war economy. They also have a pet Metal Gear Ray. Although sadly revealed in the deluge of pre-launch promotion, it’s best if I don’t detail this bravura opening sequence. The battle against Ray is giddy, white knuckle stuff and a clear message from Platinum – this is their game and they’re doing things their way.
Still, Rising is arguably Platinum’s most story-driven game to date. Raiden’s past as a Liberian child soldier takes centre stage as he embarks on a globe-trotting mission of gory justice to shutdown a political conspiracy involving the harvesting of children’s brains to transform them into battle-ready Cyborgs. Amid the gratuitous decapitations and spraying arteries, Rising places a surprisingly effective emphasis on the morality of Raiden’s actions. Characters frequently question his motivations, and one sequence exposes you to the terrified thoughts of your dying enemies as you relieve them of their limbs. These moments aren’t crammed down your throat. In fact it’s refreshing to play a Metal Gear title with a relatively linear, comprehensible story. Humour is decidedly broad (Raiden in a mariachi costume, anyone?), and extensive use of military acronyms feels like a parody of Rising’s origins. Most importantly, the story never disrupts the feverish pace. The real draw after all, is Raiden’s blade.
The majority of your time is spent in combat. At the heart of this is a familiar two-button affair, governing light and heavy attacks. Combos can be short and brutal or prolonged and capped off with grandiose killing flourishes. Platinum has done a remarkable job of recreating the stunning acrobatics witnessed in Raiden’s MGS4 cutscenes, while crucially ensuring that the player always feels in control, even during the QTEs that activate the most extravagant moves. Combat is challenging too with a wide range of enemies requiring different tactics. Foot soldiers might charge head-on or hang back and throw grenades. Gekkos snare you with grappling hooks. Later, hammer-wielding behemoths require sharp timing to avoid a crushed skull. Vital to your success is mastering the parry system – look out for a flash of red from an enemy eye and press the stick towards them with an attack button held. This blocks the attack and although it doesn’t gift you a free shot, good timing can allow you to dictate the rhythm of battle or leave your assailant stunned and vulnerable. Although fiddly at first and not aided by the erratic camera, it soon becomes second-nature. Button-bashing won’t get you far, especially during a number of punishing difficulty spikes that provide a stiff test of what you’ve learned.
To add variety, Raiden’s body, weapons and skills can be customised between missions. When a boss is beaten you claim their weapon which acts as a secondary to your blade. Every skirmish earns you battle points which can be redeemed for health or strength upgrades, new moves and even new outfits (did I mention the mariachi costume?).
Slicing and dicing
What truly sets Rising’s combat apart from similar action games is Blade Mode. This pulls the camera in behind Raiden and gives you 360 degree control of his High-Frequency Blade. Reducing enemies to piles of dog food is outright intoxicating thanks to a handy onscreen counter keeping track of just how many pieces you’ve reduced your enemy to. But this is more than a butcher simulator. Weaken an enemy sufficiently with standard attacks before entering Blade Mode to amputate specific limbs. Savvy surgery can really swing a tough encounter in your favour, limiting enemy attacks and leaving them vulnerable to devastating finishing moves. Considered use of the mechanic is also encouraged by Raiden’s ability to replenish health and power by tearing out enemy spines. It’s a gloriously gruesome feature that forces you to think twice about simply slicing willy-nilly.
The real strengths and weaknesses of Blade Mode are most apparent in boss fights, where it’s absolutely essential to success. Against Mistral, a multi-armed femme fatale with a staff forged of cybernetic limbs, precision cutting lets you (literally) disarm her before moving in for the kill, a strategy at once satisfying and fun. A later boss requires you to slice open explosive armour plating via a narrow seam. Blade Mode simply isn’t quite precise enough for this to work consistently well, making the challenge feel frustrating for the wrong reasons.
The limitations extend outside of combat. Initially it’s a genuine marvel to dissect a tree or car into countless pieces. You’ll likely spend your first hour of the game atomising the environments. What’s disappointing is that this ability hasn’t really been incorporated into the core gameplay. Major structural features are blade-resistant, and the destructibility has no real bearing on combat. The most you’re ever asked to do is slice through a door or fence during a chase or infiltration. Given the hit that the graphics and environments have taken to accommodate the slicing and dicing, it’s questionable whether it was worth it. Platinum has admitted in the past that it doesn’t spend much time on environments and that’s evident here. The majority of levels are a series of battle arenas passable only when everything inside is dead. Settings are mostly drab and sparsely populated, offering up empty offices and linear sewers. What window-dressing there is looks last-gen, undoubtedly a concession to their destructibility and it’s a shame to see objects simply disappear if you slice too much. While this parsimonious approach ensures a smooth frame-rate, it does lend Rising a strangely cold atmosphere. There is room for exploration using Raiden’s Ninja Run ability, essentially a smoother, even more automated incarnation of Assassin’s Creed’s free running, but there’s precious little incentive to do so. Stealth options are limited to a couple of one-button kills, and despite supporting characters endlessly preaching an evasive approach, this feels like nothing more than a needless nod to series heritage rather than a useful addition to the game. It’s always easier and more fun to go in with sword singing.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a single-minded action game with the chops to pull it off. So frenetic is the pace, so ridiculous the set-pieces and so deliriously fun the combat, that there’s rarely a moment to consider the few niggling shortcomings. Platinum is peerless in this arena, and it seems that being lent the Metal Gear franchise has led to some maturation, delivering an interesting, convincing story that complements rather than hinders what they do best. Add Blade Mode into the equation and the result is one of the most compelling, entertaining action games of recent years and a worthy spin-off of one of gaming’s most venerable franchises.