A Metal Gear game launches and the PlayStation masses jump on it like the last human alive during a zombie apocalypse. Quality story-telling, high production values and absorbing gameplay have helped elevate the franchise to cult status, so the fact that it’s headed in a brand new direction with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is definitely a concern for fans. Trading in lengthy cut-scenes and plodding stealth segments for short sharp bursts of cinematic violence and hard-hitting action was indeed a huge risk, but listen…there’s some good news? Platinum Games has nailed it.
The sword-clashing action in Metal Gear Rising takes place four years after events in Guns Of The Patriots and begins with a memorable, heart-racing opening sequence that flicks between cut-scenes and sword-slashing action as main protagonist Raiden, on VIP protection duty, shields an African president from attack. It’s an impressive start, delivered with the ferocity and showmanship of an all-action Hollywood flick, that sets the tone for the game’s mostly frantic pace and showcases with style the high production values that we’ve come to expect from the series.
In this Metal Gear spin-off, Raiden works as a cyborg for private military company (PMC) Maverick Enterprises. The enemy in this case is PMC rival Desperado Enterprises, who have been the force behind numerous terrorist attacks. The battle throughout the game largely sees Raiden tackling hordes of the bad guys alone on a relentless and violent hack ‘n’ slash-style journey, with guidance given to him from his team via Codec messages.
It makes for an adequate backdrop for the massive clash between violent cyborgs to take place, but despite a few twists and some enjoyable discoveries that flesh out the story and give it some legs, it’s a tale that plays second fiddle to the action. Indeed, the most memorable moments don’t come from clever dialogue or absorbing sub-plotlines. Instead, it’s the experience of seeing Raiden become increasingly affected by his conflicting Jack The Ripper persona, as well as some brilliantly produced cinematic sequences (none of which you’ll even think about skipping), that win the day.
The over-the-top, visual style of the combat as Raiden slices and dices enemies apart, and the heavy impact of some gloriously bloody cut-scenes, has had us shaking our heads in disbelief at the sheer skill of the Platinum Games team who have managed to create such a magnificent orgy of violence. Combat is blisteringly fast-paced, hypnotically so, as precision-based sword-slashes, combos, well-timed blocks and counters flow beautifully amidst a flash of sparks from metal against metal, while satisfying slow-mo sequences provide a stark and beautiful contrast as you cut your opponent into hundreds of pieces with your blade.
Being a Cyborg Ninja – especially Raiden with his aggressive and direct fighting style- is just super cool. He animates incredibly well and looks the part as he smoothly slices off limbs with the precision of a Grade A butcher. When he first calls out the words “Jack is back” we felt empowered by his heightened state of aggression, which is just the boost you need before taking on some of the challenging big boss battles. Raiden is a powerful fighter and Metal Gear Rising throws so many intense (and sometimes long) fights at you that we felt a real sense of achievement at the end of each chapter, as well as a surge of power that funnelled through our veins and motivated us into our next bout of combat.
Gameplay in Metal Gear Rising revolves around slicing the living daylights out of a variety of mechanically-powered enemies before tackling a big boss, and occasionally a number of smaller bosses along the way. Generally you move from ‘A’ to ‘B’ across a variety of fairly generic locations that we’ve seen many times before, such as a sewer, an old town, a refinery and the roof of a train. Though level design is far from spectacular or particularly detailed and the routes through each chapter are fairly linear, it’s really what happens in these areas that grasps your attention.
At its most basic, combat plays out like a typical hack ‘n’ slash with a combination of light and heavy attacks, defensive blocks and counters making up for the bulk of metal-on-metal action. But then you also have to contend with different enemy types and their variety of attacks. There’s also plenty of times where multiple enemy types attack at the same time – we’re talking mechanical hounds with chainsaws on their back, stealth cyborgs that appear out of nowhere, giant robotic hunks with ten tonne hammers that pummel you into the ground, and alien creatures that can pick up vehicles and toss them at you.
As such, Metal Gear Rising can be a really tough game and some of the fights can be exhausting, but there’s nothing more rewarding than the feeling you get from seeing off black crocodiles and elite cyborg soldiers before coming face-to-face with the mother of all fights against the bosses. It just feels good to kill in Metal Gear Rising and we’d be very surprised if you’re not punching your fist in the air with celebration after you’ve spent 15 minutes trying to take down one of the big guys.
What makes this hack ‘n’ slash action stand out from the crowd is Raiden’s much-publicised Blade Mode. Far from being a gimmick, Blade Mode is a brilliant new multi-faceted gameplay mechanic that opens up a new dynamic. Triggering Blade Mode slows down time, uses up energy and allows you to slice at multiple angles through the body of an opponent or an object, such as a helicopter. The reward for precision cutting is points, which can be spent on upgrades. Cutting off left hands, for example, rewards more points than other parts of the body. Firstly, it’s great fun to see an enemy splinter into 400 pieces, followed by the on-screen prompt – usually the Circle button – giving you a second or two to rip a limb clean from them. Secondly, it really does pay to be precise – it’s an additional challenge beyond simply killing your opponent.
The environment doesn’t cut up and fall to pieces as much as we expected it to with Blade Mode activated, but there’s plenty of opportunity to take advantage. Slicing up an incoming projectile, for example, or using it to collapse a bridge by taking down its legs, opens up other strategic possibilities to add a new layer to the combat. Overall, combat succeeds because of a couple of things. The fluid movement of Raiden as he brings together offensive and defensive manoeuvres, then combining them with the slow-mo effect of Blade Mode, is ultra-effective, intuitive and visually impressive. Just as impressive is the variation of enemies and their design, in particular the big bosses such as Mistral who takes the arms of Dwarf Gekko (small black spheres with three arms) and attaches them to her back to give her more ammunition against Raiden.
Raiden can also boost his move-set and skills via the upgrade system. Players are graded at the end of each battle and chapter, after which they receive the option to upgrade Raiden and spend points won from battles before the next mission starts. Those points can be spent on the likes of making your weapon stronger and improving reaction speed, but the most fun to be had is with the upgrading of special skills such as ‘Falling Lightning’ which allows him to dive down from the air like a lightning bolt to kick foes flying. The action gets extremely tough so the upgrade system is vitally important, and when you’ve worked hard to cut off all those left hands you’ll be rewarded by some satisfying skill moves and the great visual effects that they produce – it definitely pays to be precise.
Outside of combat, there are also some stealth sections during the game, but because the action is so fast-paced in between these sections it feels a little out of place sneaking around avoiding infra-red cameras and shuffling about under a cardboard box to avoid guards. In fact, triggering ALERT mode is much more fun as you then have to tackle a dozen enemies, from robotic hounds with chainsaws for tails to robots that resemble gorillas and beat their chests in fury. With such a powerful sword in your hand, combat is so enjoyable that we’ve usually ended up taking this option; though it does pay sometimes to find a different route through a pack of enemies just so you can enjoy a satisfying stealth kill.
Though Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t quite going to reach the heady praise of some of the past games in the series in terms of storyline, there’s plenty to love about this new direction. The action is always exciting and absorbing while the sword-play is refreshing, innovative and dynamic. The cut-scenes are brilliantly produced and the boss battles tense and engaging. Overall, we’ve played through a large part of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance beaming from ear to ear. No doubt about it: Platinum Games is a brilliant developer and yet again we have another amazing game to thank them for.