Review: Metal Gear Rising [Revengeance]
Bucking the tactical stealth traditions of the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance promises series fans a new kind of MG experience and everyone else an intense action thrill ride. Flaunting comparable production values to past series entries and one of – in my opinion, at least – the hottest new Japanese developers, Rising has all the makings to be an action highlight of the year. Does it execute all of its precision incisions with grace, though, or does it wind up a dull blade?
Jumping right into the fray, the first thing you’re likely to notice about Rising is its very attractive visual style. In general, this is probably the best looking Platinum Games title to date. While it may not look as impressive as Metal Gear Solid 4 (not many games do), Rising is definitely very easy on the eyes. The futuristic setting and characters all maintain a certain mechanical charm. For this reason, the game winds up looking quite similar to Vanquish, the Platinum developed third person shooter which launched in 2010.
The environments have an overarching grey tint, and the game’s motif was probably something like “gunmetal grey and chrome”. All in all the game ends up a lot less colorful than Bayonetta or the new Devil May Cry, but I think the visuals are very appealing. There is broad spectrum of enemies to observe, from the apelike Mastiffs to the flying enemies which are reminiscent of gargoyles. Although the game is quite brief, you will get to see a variety of environments. There’s a futuristic Tokyo cityscape, a hissing dessert military base, a hidden underground laboratory and much more to see.
Raiden swaggers across the battlefield, executing a big variety of beautiful and devastating techniques with an aplomb that few action heroes can match. Several little flourishes – such as the lightning that pulses from his feet when he sprints or his multipurpose visor – give him a cutting edge, almost superhero like appeal. I think the game’s futuristic setting and robotic visuals are a win. Whether it can live up to the PS3 exclusive MGS4 is another story (and studio) but by its own merits Rising looks amazing.
Narratively, I found Rising to be a bit confusing. The game is set after the events of MGS4 and acts as a sequel of sorts. Therefore, if you’re unfamiliar with that game as I am, you may be lost on a couple of points. For example, the Patriots faction (which I know of only from MGS4’s subtitle) is mentioned several times. The story deals with global and political conflicts and the implementation of cybernetic soldiers in attempts to instigate war. The rabbit hole goes much deeper though, as the motives behind these attempts are revealed.
I understand that MG series fans aren’t strangers to rather convoluted narratives, and Rising surely possesses one. Platinum Games also seems to have a penchant for crafting hard to follow or confusing stories. I’ve played through the game nearly twice now I still can’t explain the story in full detail to anyone. There’s a brutal act of terrorism in Africa, followed by an impromptu suicide bombing in Abkhaz and then a boss battle with a US presidential candidate.
Raiden himself has something of a character arc, starting out as a heroic or zealous warrior and ending up a less morally motivated killing machine. As an excuse to flashily eliminate a room full of cyborg baddies, the story does its job well. As for the game’s true narrative value, it may sustain further scrutiny but I was confused for a good portion of the game. There is a cutscene in which you can freely control the camera, a feature that I know has appeared in other proper MG games.
The cutscenes in particular were exceptional. Some of them were just so stylish and high action, like the scene where Raiden slices the aircraft in half. These cutscenes reach remarkable Devil May Cry 4 levels of coolness. They’re often so ridiculous that they’re awesome, making them ridiculously awesome. As someone who has never been particularly enamored by the MG series, I can’t say for certain that fans will be satisfied with the story. Anybody even remotely entertained by action will love the cinematics, though.
The music and sound effects are solid but the voice acting is a little questionable. The soundtrack utilizes mostly quiet, thumping ambient tracks, which match really well with the game’s setting. In a choice few moments – such as the final boss battle – hard rock tracks complete with vocalists are played. Except for a few moments, the soundtrack didn’t particularly standout to me, though I did find it appropriate for the game. Also, this placed more of a focus on the game-play.
Some of the voices in the game are a little ridiculous. I personally grew very irritated with Raiden’s voice. He sounds simply ridiculous and the contrast between his appearance and his voice is a bit shocking. Most of the characters speak with something of a Russian dialect. You rescue a young boy named George at one point in the game and he is apparently Guyanese. His dialect is absolutely terrible and hearing him speak is comparable to the screeching of nails on a chalkboard.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the accents many of the characters speak with, but I can say they seem a little extreme at some times and downright annoying at others.
I really enjoyed the sound effects in the game. All of the enemies emit mechanical whirring and electronic beeps and I really enjoyed this. The sound of Raiden’s blade colliding with the robotic foes also has cool “steel on steel” sound. I noticed that Raiden doesn’t really say much or taunt while he’s fighting, which is a refreshing change from characters like the mouthy Bayonetta or both the old and new Dantes. This too seems to highlight the sound of the actual action or the fighting. So the game’s sound is something of a mixed bag.
I love the sound of combat, I hate some of the character voices, and the music is just okay without ever being amazing or downright awful.
I’ve been told that the strongest component of the MG games are the narratives and the cinematic ways in which they’re conveyed to the player. While that may be so, the strongest component of anything developed by Platinum Games is typically the game-play. This holds true for Rising as well. As I’m sure you know by now, Rising is an action game. The game-play is very fast and very addictive, although it may not be as rich as Platinum’s own Bayonetta (but, let’s be honest, few if any action games are).
Raiden’s main weapon is a katana, and although he will have access to a number of secondary weapons throughout the game, the katana is the most functional. The immediate standouts of Rising’s combat are the absences of a basic dodge or evade button/function, and the lack of a guard button. Replacing the guard mechanic is an interesting parry mechanic. Instead of blocking attacks, you are able to parry or reverse certain attacks from your enemies, throwing them off balance. This creates an opening for you to continue rushing an enemy down.
This may sound scary at first and it takes a couple of battles to get the hang of, but once you grasp the concept it’s really very entertaining. Being unable to simply guard or turtle and flip around endlessly to avoid damage means that you must always be attacking to be effective. It’s easy to spot an oncoming attack that can be parried thanks to a distinct red colored visual flourish. The parry function makes it so that you’re really never forced to guard.
You can remain on the offensive the entire time, and this exciting forward momentum is one of the game’s most unique and compelling qualities.
Some attacks cannot be parried and thus must be avoided. There is a technique you can unlock that is essentially a dodge but it only works in sync with an attack. There are also very few instances in the game where sprinting or jumping out of the line of fire are your only options for avoiding damage. While you are sprinting you can deflect petty gunfire, and heavy projectiles such as missiles can be cut in half using the blade time function. Raiden has an answer to every trick up the enemy’s sleeve, and as a result of this the combat feels fluid and only limited by the player.
The blade time function slows enemies to a halt and allows Raiden to cut very specific parts of an enemy. Using blade time draws on a meter that is filled by attacking enemies, parrying, and so on. Blade time has a number of applications in the game, which is a relief considering how gimmicky it seems from a distance. The most present and relevant use of blade time is to remove the energy cores from enemies. By slicing a specific part of certain soldiers, Raiden can snatch their glowing spleens from their bodies and absorb them.
This is the most present way to replenish Raiden’s vitality, though there are more traditional healing items which can be used in situations where there are no energy cores. Expending the cores also fills the meter completely. Speaking of items, there is a variety of them in the game. There are healing items, an array of different kinds of grenades, and projectile weapons such as rocket launchers all waiting to be discovered and implemented.
Blade time is also needed to defeat various bosses, and to disable some of the heavier robots. Blade time can be activated at any time when you have meter available by using one of the shoulder buttons, but activating it randomly like this is less effective than activating it in the brief, opportune moments you are prompted to. As a reward for parrying certain attacks, or dealing a certain amount of damage against some enemies, you are prompted to activate blade time.
If you respond to these prompts, Raiden will perform a flashy, showstopper technique that not only looks awesome but also positions him to instantly remove the enemy’s core. The way this is played out on screen looks absolutely enthralling and it keeps the games fast pace and addictive momentum. Launching an enemy into the air, sliding beneath them and then shredding them into confetti in slow motion is simply intoxicating. It fills you with joy.
Aside from the enemy cores, you will also need the precision blade time cutting to remove the left (or right?) hands from certain soldiers. Removing these limbs will earn you bonuses after combat and add content to the game’s gallery. Completing missions will earn you skill points or SP that you can use to unlock various techniques and upgrades for Raiden. You can purchase new techniques such as the spinning kick or a new launcher. Upgrades include enhanced health, damage, and meter acquisition.
You can also purchase a number of costumes for Raiden throughout the game. I thought it was a nice touch from the developers to include at least a couple of costumes in the game and not reserve all of them for pre-order bonuses. When you’re purchasing techniques, it becomes quite clear that using a katana for the main and secondary weapon is the only way to access the height of Raiden’s potential. Using the secondary weapons is fun (except for the pincer blades, those are wretched) but they are quite limited compared to the katana.
As you make your way through the game’s stages, you’ll want to identify several laptops and retrieve data from them. This unlocks VR missions, which can be completed separately from the main game. Some of the VR missions are really challenging and completing them is completely optional. They can be fun, especially if you’re looking for a unique kind of challenge, but I didn’t find a huge incentive to complete them and the campaign seems like a lot more fun.
I was truly surprised at how much a player’s progression through the game could vary. For series fans who’ve come to love the trademark creeping and sneaking, Rising definitely offers a more stealth approach to playing the game. There are several instances where the stealth approach is actually preferred or even required. Based on everything I saw of this game before it was released, I was almost positive that you’d be perfectly fine hitting the scene loud and hard with guns blazing. This approach is there if you want it, but the game also offers an approach similar to Tenchu or even Assasin’s Creed or perhaps even the actual Metal Gear Solid games.
You can sneak up behind soldiers and kill them instantly, with no fightintg required. These kill scenes are of course flashy and exciting. The kill where he leaps down from above is especially gruesome, and I could watch it a million times and never get tired of seeing it. To aid in the stealth undertakings is an impressive infrared sight which can be used to see clean through walls and other obstacles.
What’s great is that you aren’t really forced to stick to one side of the fence or the other. If you don’t feel like fighting a room full of mastiffs then you’re free to silently eliminate the cameras and then slowly pick off the guards in stealth. If you’re in the mood to throw a tantrum, then you can get spotted by the camera and take on the lot of guards head on. Instead of forcing you to creep and crawl or forcing you to hit the set guns blazing, the game affords you the choice and I appreciated it.
There is a big variety of enemies and the same tactics will absolutely not work on all of them. You’ll need to beat on some of the heavy armored soldiers later in the game quite a bit before they fall and parrying is only useful for stopping dangerous attacks in their tracks. Parrying efficiently and executing the more effective techniques becomes rather technical here.
The gekko is a comparatively easy fight compared to the tank-transformer like enemy that appears later in the game. Like with most action games, a mix of enemy types on screen at once demands quick thinking and reflexes. It’s especially exciting in this game, where you can’t block.
Later in the game another mechanic is introduced that allows him to expend his entire meter to change into a kind of superman. He glows red, moves even faster and disables most enemies after a single strike. This mechanic could be compared to Devil May Cry’s devil trigger. This function is really cool, but it’s introduced so late into the game that I actually forgot about it a few times.
At the end of each mission you are scored based on your clear time, your combo points and other factors. Getting a good score can be difficult on the more challenging difficulty settings but isn’t too hard on normal mode. One of the highlights of the game are the boss battles. Because the game is so short, there are only about five bosses total, not including the final boss. All of these bosses were revealed well before the game launched.
Fortunately, the bosses make up what they lack in quantity with quality. Each of the battles was epic and challenging. The final boss particularly presented a very significant challenge, even on normal mode. The VR missions and gallery provide the only recesses from the main campaign. The gallery is filled with artwork of various characters and enemies in the game as well as mug shots of the soldiers you collected left hands from. I’m not sure what purpose the soldier profiles serve, but the art is nice to look at and examine.
The game-play is simply fun and addictive and the entire game is the very embodiment of the word action. Like the best action films, it is exciting and entertaining throughout, keeps you on the edge of your seat and is over just too quickly.
Despite the bright highlights of the game, Rising also has a couple of serious shortcomings. For one, the game is just very short. So short that if you blink you might miss it. I don’t have a huge gripe with short games that promote replaying, which Rising does, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. No matter how good it is, can you really justify paying $60 for a game that you can practically fully experience in less than five hours? This brevity does undeniable good for the title: it keeps every moment action packed, doesn’t require an enormous time investment to enjoy and promotes replaying.
For completionists, Rising probably has one of the most difficult platinum trophies out there. All that considered though, because it’s over in a lightning flash, this game will undoubtedly be an easier rental than purchase for many players.
My next major issue with the game is the lack of an online leaderboard function. This feature is an absolute must in this kind of game. Aside from the trophies, there is absolutely no way to compare your performance to your friends’. This omission is especially puzzling when you consider the way you are scored at the end of each mission. This system is precisely the same as it is in DMC4, DmC, Bayonetta and so on. I have no idea why the single online function expected from this kind of game is absent here. The omission hurts, as the game is just begging for a leaderboard.
Finally, I think more variety would have really boosted the game’s replay value. With the katana being so technically superior to the other weapons – and the inability to switch weapons on the fly – you never feel compelled to actually use any of the other weapons. As a result, you feel like you’ve seen all of Raiden’s tricks after you max out the katana and that’s not a good feeling. One of the main things that kept players running back to Bayonetta was the huge arsenal of weapons and near limitless combo potential they presented.
Rising’s katana makes the three other weapons in the game look inferior and the variety that a big array of weapons adds to action games is just not here. This also reconstitutes the idea that you’ll be happier renting this game than buying it, which is always unfortunate.
In spite of its significant shortcomings, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is still very much worth playing. It offers insanely addictive and satisfying combat, challenging bosses and enemies, some of the coolest cutscenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing and a superb presentation that sweeps you off into a futuristic world crawling with intriguing sci-fi characters, all conveyed with commendable visuals. The hit or miss story and at times atrocious voice acting do little to diminish this high octane adventure, which is for all intents and purposes epic.
It isn’t hard to spot where this game could have been greatly improved and the final product is far from perfect. If you can stomach its faults though, Revengeance could be the most thrilling, stylish and downright satisfying action game to come out this year.