The history of the game once known as Metal Gear Solid: Rising is fascinating. When Kojima Productions Raiden-focused MGS spinoff ran into development troubles, it was passed along to Platinum Games to apply their over the top character action specialties. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance fuses both development house’s sensibilities into a whole that only offers hints at their respective strengths while highlighting the deficiencies of each and the inherent problems that result when you bring them together.
At its heart, Revengeance is absolutely Platinum’s brand of character action all the way from the quick and violent combat to the diverse moveset. But in trying to grant control of the super agile post-MGS4 lightning god as he fights against the Desperados PMC and its band of ‘Winds of Destruction’ cyborgs, the game has had to make some choices that have hurt itself in the long run.
This is most pronounced in Raiden’s movement which is modified by Ninja Run, a sprint that automates a host of abilities. With it, he dodges obstacles, deflects bullets and climbs up the environment without the player having to remove their finger from the right shoulder button. Ninja Run looks slick as hell, but takes away too much player agency. That’s spotty if you want to do well at the combat as one of the attack buttons doubles as a dodge/counter if you successfully time it to an enemy’s. But a slow response on the press coupled with prolonged attack animations run in opposition to the speed the game constantly strives for, requiring you to pull away from your offenses earlier than you want to so you can nail the input.
But it’s also a game that’s been able to incorporate some of Metal Gears celebrated open-ended gameplay giving players complex levels and the means to slip past guards undetected if they don’t want to take them on directly. That stealth is facilitated by a large collection of items that should be familiar to any fan of the series but will probably be ignored by diehards of the genre. Regardless, all the pieces that make up Metal Gear are present, right down to the Codec and technical jargon.
What separates Revengeance’s combat from other games of the sort is its considerable emphasis on being able to dice objects and enemies into hundreds of pieces. Though any attack from Raiden’s blade is enough, the mechanic comes into its own in Blade Mode, where a press of the right trigger slows down time and motions on the right stick slices in its corresponding direction. While there are plenty of ways to strategically dismember limbs that produce geysers of blood and meat, Blade Mode’s primary use is in Zandatsu where a surgical strike can reveal vital organs that replenish Raiden’s health and energy. In theory the mode sounds great, potentially keeping the game dynamic and varied. In execution, Blade Mode’s movements are much too imprecise and finicky for the scenarios they require, often making hitting the angle you’ve already lined up far more frustrating than it should be. This is especially true in the boss battles where mistakes are punished by rage-inducing setbacks, lost health and crushed controllers.
Let’s talk about the bosses for a second: they’re bad as characters and gameplay. As characters, they spew the same nonsense philosophy that every Metal Gear enemy has since the series beginning but their designs and views are uninspired in themselves and redundant to everything that has come before. As enemies, they are acutely aware of the games design flaws and fully exploit them, regularly staying just outside of your small field of view and moving back there faster than you can reorient yourself. The situation leaves you running blindly right into them and their attacks as you attempt to stay on the move and away from their quick rushes. There’s almost no joy to be found in fighting any of them and in the case of the detachable-limbed Monsoon, don’t even give you the satisfaction of responding to your attacks. I hope you have more fun on the last fight than I did (and complete it in twenty fewer tries).
Much of these problems could have been solved if the game was better with its instruction. It wasn’t until I had finished the game and read some forums that I even discovered that there were dodge and lock-on buttons, both of which would have made the vast majority of the encounters so much easier to handle. But if they were addressed ingame, it wasn’t in any meaningful or lasting way.
All this is even more unfortunate considering how much better the combat is than any part of the story. Since Solid was released in 1998, new Metal Gear installments have gotten further and further away from the serious but optimistic tales of valiant heroes fighting for what they believe in to become angry and cynical looks at the world around them packed with shallow and grating people. It acknowledges the brilliant metaphors the series is founded upon but regurgitates the same scripts with different names. With Revengeance, the series has viciously plunged its sword into the last remaining bit of its innocence it had left. This is a brutal, hyper-violent and dark world with giant redneck samurai’s and rooms filled with homeless children’s severed brains, the only brevity being misguided attempts at humor including Raiden trying to blend in in Mexico by wearing a sombrero and poncho and an annoying kid chanting ‘Go ninja, go ninja go’. Its equal parts disturbing and awkward.
But these choices are also equal parts Kojima Productions and Platinum Games. Look to the depressing tales of the BB Corps and Johnny Sasaki’s soiled pants in MGS4 or the blood soaked satire of Mad World if you must but this is the logical conclusion of these two companies both separately and together. I find that incredibly depressing because despite a few genuinely thrilling moments, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a game that can be frustrating to play and aggravating to listen to.
DEVELOPERS: Platinum Games, Kojima Productions
PLATFORMS: PlayStation 3, XBox 360