The introduction of Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was one of the most divisive design choices in gaming. Many gamers, like Ceri, couldn’t stomach the change from the gruff veteran Solid Snake to the green, floppy haired rookie Raiden. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots went some way towards quieting the dissenting voices, turning the softie with blond locks in to a badass cyborg ninja. However his appearance was limited to cut scenes full of acrobatics impossible in game. Enter Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Despite the wilful butchering of the English language to create a brand new word, this new entry in the Metal Gear series finally hopes to fulfil those promises of graceful combat suggested in MGS4.
The ninth game in the Metal Gear series, Rising takes place 4 years after the events of Guns of the Patriots. In keeping with the series, the story is full of nanomachines, PMC’s, warmongering politicians, antagonists with silly names like Jetstream Sam and plenty more nonsense. Although the tale does take a bit of a darker turn it’s all basically silly nonsense, so fits in perfectly with the series as a whole. The supporting cast are all typical Metal Gear stereotypes. There’s the busty computer expert Courtney Collins, Russian boss Boris and the slight, glasses wearing Doktor and the villains of the piece are the usual over the top band of dysfunctional super humans.
Story was not the reason Kojima Productions passed development duties to Platinum Games however. After struggling with the ‘cut anything’ mechanic originally touted Kojima looked to Platinum Games in an attempt to try and bottle the sort of action the developers are recognised for in titles like Bayonetta and Vanquish. A decision I am sure the developer doesn’t regret. Although in terms of the complexity of combos Rising doesn’t compare to the masters of the genre like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry this isn’t really where the heart of Raiden’s swordsmanship lies.
Firstly there is Blade Mode. At a push of a button this slows time and allows you to dice up enemies with a flick of the right stick. The unique targeting reticule shows the plane of each slice which enables you to precisely choose how to dissect your foes. This way you can target specific body parts or an enemy’s weak spot to allow you to finish them of with a Zandatsu technique. This literally translates as ‘cut and take’ which is handy as that’s exactly what you do. First you slice the enemy cyborg to expose their spinal column then grab this out the air. For inexplicable reasons the blue fluid within replenishes the gauge which fuels Blade Mode and also replenishes Raiden’s health. Failure to grab this before it hits the floor reduces the amount replenished. This helps to make the already very entertaining mechanic essential to gameplay, especially on harder difficulties where your health can be decimated in a matter of seconds.
Although the promotional materials want you to believe the main aspect of the sword fighting is Blade Mode this isn’t really the case. Whilst both important to the combat and great fun the thing you really need to get to grips with as soon as possible is the parry system. By flicking the left stick in the direction of an attacking enemy and hitting the attack button at just the right moment you can parry their attack. If that’s an incoming sword strike or the stomp of a 50ft robot a successful parry will stop pretty much anything barring a few telegraphed unblockable moves. Timing is everything when it comes to successful use of the parry. You can defend as soon as you seen the glint in an enemies eye but the real skill lies in waiting until the last possible moment to raise your blade in defence. This will result in Raiden retaliating with a counter attack and an opportunity for a Zandatsu technique. Whilst for lower difficulties you can probably muddle through most battles without this, boss battles and higher difficulties are practically impossible without a good understanding of how to parry.
The boss battles themselves are great fun and escalate in scale as the game progresses. Half the fun is in experiencing them yourself so I won’t go in to details here but as an example the first mini boss you encounter is a full bipedal Metal Gear. Like everything else you encounter it ends up sliced in to many little pieces. As the battles proceed, precise use of the Blade Mode and parry are essential. Unfortunately as is often the way with the genre Platinum does repeat a couple of the same boss fights in an attempt to artificially extend the admittedly short play time. Once each of the main bosses has been dispatched you get to keep their unique weapon. These range from a quite literal ‘pole arm’ to some rather heavy duty scissors. Whilst initially fun these never feel essential and bar dealing with bosses on hard difficulty and some VR missions they are never more useful than your standard weaponry.
To further enhance his abilities Raiden is gifted with a ninja dash. This sprint ability, like Assassins Creed, allows him to free run across the environment. Hopping over and sliding under obstacles as required. In addition Raiden will automatically deflect incoming bullets while sprinting allowing you to close the distance on any pesky gun toting cyborg before you can slice them in to sushi. Later in the game you unlock ‘Ripper Mode’, a state of enhanced strength akin to God of War’s ‘Rage of the Gods’ or DMC’s ‘Devil Trigger’ but like the boss weapons on normal mode this can basically be ignored.
This is of course a Metal Gear game. Whilst it’s obviously more action focussed than the main entries in the series, stealth is not completely off the cards. Various battles are avoidable or at least can be dealt with via stealth kills rather than open combat. To aid this is an enhanced visor allows you to keep track of enemy movements and various sub-weapons such as EMP grenades and the obligatory cardboard box. In other nods to Snake’s adventures the trademark exclamation marks pop up above enemies once spotted, the sound when at low health will be familiar to fans as will the wails of you codec chums should you fail your mission. Things are just as over the top as the rest of the Metal Gear and Platinum games back catalogue. Raiden can be found using incoming missiles or even flying enemies as stepping stones to traverse areas of the level, running down the side of a building or lifting massive robots aloft before tossing them aside. Sensible and grounded in reality this game is not.
Unfortunately it’s not all effortlessly effective slicing and dicing. Several issues present themselves throughout. Like MGS4 before it there are still numerous occasions where Raiden is seen performing feats that are just not possible in game which is disappointing. There are a few technical issues such as almost guaranteed slowdown when codec conversations pop up on your HUD and getting caught up on all the chopped up debris. There are also some damn strange things going on. Now I know crazy stuff happens in MGS games but how can you continue to hold codec conversations with bosses after you have sliced them all to a bazillion bits? These are all minor issues however. The real problem with the game lies elsewhere. Controlling the camera is a nightmare. Even the lock-on doesn’t help as it picks random enemies when much greater threats are nearby and once it does settle on someone the camera decides it doesn’t want to join in and will still be pointing elsewhere. In a game where you are often surrounded by enemies and the parry system, essential to survival, demands precise directional inputs towards your foes this is pretty unforgivable.
So is it worth picking up Revengeance? Well that depends on what you’re willing to put in. The main story took me just over five hours on my first normal mode playthrough so if that’s all you’re likely to do then I can’t really recommend paying full price. If however like a great Samurai you strive for perfection in the art of the sword then this game is for you. Once you get to playing on hard or completing the VR missions things get serious. Hard mode really forces you to grasp and use the games systems fully and for those willing to learn, the enjoyment of the game sky rockets. There are hours and hours here for any trophy/achievement hunters too. Be warned though they are not easy to get. I’m no stranger to platinum trophies but just couldn’t manage this one, you have been warned.