After 30 minutes of playing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, it’s quite clear that this is not your typical Metal Gear game. Sure, there are a few returning characters, and the long-winded cutscenes still manage to blend break-neck action setpieces with talk of the War Economy and the Patriots, but developer Platinum Games has replaced our favorite brand of stealth with a ridiculous, over-the-top action game that manages to outdo itself at every turn.
Turns out, that’s a good thing.
Taking place four years after the fall of the Patriots in Metal Gear Solid 4, Rising focuses on Raiden, who has joined up with Maverick; one of many private military companies that offer their security services to wealthy businessmen and important diplomats. At the outset of the game, Raiden is in charge of security for an African prime minister who is close to bringing peace to his war-torn nation. Soon enough, a rival company appears, leaving Raiden gravely wounded, and his personal tale of ‘revengeance’ is set into motion. Compared to other entries in the series, the story is light on prose, and doesn’t focus as much on the personal lives of our heroes. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but series fans who might be expecting a wide range of interesting characters and hours of monologues about the morals and ethics of war might want to curb their expectations.
Compared to previous games Platinum has produced (mainly Bayonetta), the combat in Rising is by no means complex, but it strikes a fine balance between mashing on the attack buttons like a hormone-fueled teenager and using skill and timing to vanquish your foes with some semblance of proficiency. You’ll start with a two-button system for light/heavy attacks, which you can alternate between as you see fit, or study up on a few combination moves to give you wider control over your enemies. As you rack of battle points, you can unlock additional moves, including your basic suite of sweepers, launchers, and aerial attacks. Defending is a bit tricky, which has nothing to do with the timing involved (which to be honest is more than generous), but because it isn’t tied to a dedicated button. Tapping the light attack button while moving the analog stick in a direction will initiate a block, which will save you from most attacks.
Well timed blocks will allow you to parry and take out enemies with “Blade Mode”, a slow-motion effect that lets you cut your enemies into hundreds of pieces by flicking the right analog stick in any direction. Using blade mode on a weakened or parried enemy sets up “zandatsu” kills (literally, cut and take), which draws a target over an area of your enemy. Slicing that area allows Raiden to dig around an enemy’s guts, and grab said guts in order to refill your health and energy reserves. It’s pretty awesome, not to mention gruesome.
Over the course of the game, you’ll also gain access to additional weapons salvaged from boss, which replace your heavy attack with a magnetic sai, a flexible pole, or a scissor-like pair of swords. While these extra weapons provide a bit of variety, the grenades and rocket launchers you pick up feel a bit out of place, as they never live up to the speed and precision of your trusty electric sword.
The game runs well enough on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with the minimal frame rate dips. The animation steals the show, as Raiden is not only able to reflect bullets while running and slash enemies out of his way, his high-frequency blade lets him slice and dice through most environmental objects. From fences and doors that block your path to entire columns supporting bridges, the game further encourages you to cut like a madman with an on-screen counter which tracks how many pieces you are creating. The game’s full of solid voice acting, and the heavy metal tracks that accompany boss fights are fitting. My main complaint comes in the form of Raiden, whose voice gets more gravelly and coarse as the game went on. Instead of coming off as a badass ninja, he sounds more like a wannabe Solid Snake.
Despite all the fun to be had, Metal Gear Rising is a short game. My first playthrough clocked in at just under 5 hours on normal, but there’s a few hours of cutscenes to watch. If you’re the type of person who strives to earn coveted S-ranks on each combat segment and unlocking every single VR mission, you’ll find plenty of replay value. But if you’re just here to play through the story, you might come off feeling shortchanged. The campaign manages to flesh out each mechanic without stretching them thin, and as long as you don’t come in expecting a game that is just as lengthy as previous Metal Gear games, you’ll be satisfied by the time the ending credits roll.
Regardless of your thoughts on Raiden, or the focus on lightning fast action over tactical stealth, Metal Gear Rising is both thrilling and rewarding. The swordplay is fun without being overly complex, and it’s a treat to see (and play) a game that takes the best of what Kojima Productions and Platinum Games has to offer. Those who value replayability over anything else will only come of disappointed, but if you’re itching to step into Raiden’s shoes and slice your way through a post MGS4 world, then look no further.