Raiden’s return to the spotlight almost never happened. When the team at Kojima Productions failed to move beyond the conceptual stages of Blade Mode – not knowing how to mix the right blend of stealth and action into comprehensible canon – the unhinged minds at Platinum Games stepped into the meeting rooms and agreed to save Metal Gear Rising from cancellation. They rewrote the story while keeping the art of “Zandatsu” (Japanese for “cut and take”) a key part of the experience, yet the results seem tame by Platinum standards/expectations. In the grand scheme of the Metal Gear universe, however, Raiden’s cyborg ignorance for the laws of physics leads to one of the most stylish character action games this generation.
Notice I said "stylish," not substantial. A six-hour length may seem egregious with the Metal Gear name slapped across the box art, though Platinum demonstrates their talent at almost every turn. Codec conversations mask long loading times, the frames per second never dip below a smooth 60, and the campaign seldom feels rushed. Kojima’s franchise became known for prolonged character diatribes, but in handing the controls to an outside developer, Revengeance eschews certain Metal Gear staples (30-minute cutscenes, for example) for the good of the narrative.
No Metal Gear game would be complete without cardboard boxes.
Four years after Guns of the Patriots, Raiden finds himself under the employ of Maverick Security, a private military company that would rather promote the burgeoning world peace than destroy it. Unfortunately, not all corporations share that sentiment. While escorting the African prime minister, mercenaries ambush the convoy and eliminate Raiden's charge. Codenamed “Desperado,” these PMCs believe war would be better for the recovering economy, and plan to engineer new cyborgs from abducted third-world children. As a former child soldier, these kidnappings resonate with Raiden, fueling his sense of justice he loves to speak so highly of.
The odd philosophical debate aside, the narrative remains consistent. Even when Jack the Ripper (Raiden’s dormant alter ego) resurfaces, Raiden never deviates from his rescue mission. He would die before letting another orphan of war suffer the hard-fought upbringing he survived, but I wish he would make an exception for the juvenile George. Although George idolizes Raiden’s displays of ninja acrobatics, his broken English and use of slang sound more offensive than humorous.
At least George only accounts for one of Metal Gear Rising’s secondary cast. The other supporting actors do a serviceable job of voicing their scripts, and the antagonists offer convincing arguments for their twisted ideologies. Sam, a rival cyborg and agent of Desperado, also harbors a deadly fascination for Raiden, not unlike Vamp from prior Metal Gear Solid titles. Although I would hardly call the characters memorable, as soon as Raiden body slammed a Metal Gear, jumped between homing missiles in mid-air, and ran down the side of a crumbling clock tower in a span of 15 minutes, I knew the gameplay to be Platinum’s core focus.
Metal Gear Rays are so 2008.
The soundtrack accentuates that fact. Never one to accompany their on-screen acts of bombast with soft symphonies, Platinum forgoes traditional Metal Gear themes for music a little more, let’s say, heavy. Nowhere does this shift seem more pronounced than the first boss. As I dodged Metal Gear Ray’s volley of rockets, the metalcore kicked in with wailing guitars, booming drums, and nonsense lyrics. It’s insane, it’s hilarious, and it’s my favorite album of 2013. If your eardrums beg for mercy after five minutes of Bullet for My Valentine, Killswitch Engage, Asking Alexandria, or other such artists, have the mute button at the ready.
Outside of the boss battles, both the soundtrack and set pieces are notably less manic. Players combine light and heavy attacks to juggle and sever hostile forces, and the results appear much faster, more stylish than anything seen in Metal Gear Solid 4. The quicker light attacks can be used to deflect enemy strikes, provided you time the block properly, but the parry system borders on incompetent.
Enemies glow before they strike, telegraphing a forthcoming grab or unblockable attack. While parrying these moves requires players to push the analog stick in the target’s direction and tap the X button simultaneously, that’s not the problem. The real issues arise when the game asks you to block a rapid succession of blows. The poor tutorials never suggest moving the analog stick for each strike, and the trouble is made worse when parrying supplies the only means of negating damage. When you do repel a series of attacks, the results feel empowering, but you could replay the whole campaign multiple times without learning the madness behind Platinum’s methods: they want you to face danger instead of dodging it.
The soundtrack complements Metal Gear Rising's audacious attitude, and nothing will get you more pumped for the next boss fight.
Revengeance offers a generous window of opportunity for parrying individual strikes, and the later you counter, the better your chances of dazing an enemy. Stunning hostiles opens the door for heavy attacks, which bathe Raiden in pools of his adversaries’ blood and electrolytes. Electrolytes recharge his cyborg fuel cells, and once the meter refills, Raiden may activate Blade Mode. Time slows down while holding the left trigger; players then angle Raiden’s sword using the right analog stick, with a perfect one-to-one system that executes each cut.
Blade Mode lets Raiden shred enemies into literal ribbons, and makes for one of the most exciting mechanics in modern video games. Revengeance even includes a part counter, which tallies the number of chunks cyborgs will be going home to their families in. (They made their choice, right?) Although standard soldiers fall apart in single swings, the beefier juggernauts must be dismembered strategically, like severing their hands so they cannot grab you. Still, enemies do not relent so easily. Cyborgs perform dropkicks without arms, and without legs, they crawl towards Raiden to gnaw on his metallic heels. But continue to weaken these enemies and the screen will flash briefly, meaning you may harvest their electrically charged spinal cords by way of Zandatsu. As players perform a precise cut through a designated hitbox, Raiden rips the vertebrae free and crushes the nerve cluster with a booming thunderclap to replenish lost health. These displays of ninja choreography never lose their intensity.
Certain collectibles also implore heavy use of Blade Mode, such as gathering bionic arms. Raiden’s good friend Doktor needs the data stored in the left hands of enemy cyborgs, compensating you for the trouble with additional upgrades. Although one run through Metal Gear Rising fills an afternoon, the collectibles give the game longevity. Storage disks, Easter eggs, and unlockable VR missions encourage players to revisit completed chapters, even if you have no interest in bettering your combat ratings.
Cyborgs are less spineless than your regular Metal Gear PMCs.
Whether you chase the top leaderboard times in the challenge rooms or fight an end-mission boss for the umpteenth time, however, the camera never benefits Raiden’s well-being. The game loves to reorient the player’s perspective or swap locked-on targets at random, a detrimental downside when parrying. You may want to direct your block to an enemy striking from the side, yet the camera will not cooperate, remaining glued to the limbless target shambling helplessly toward you from behind.
The camera does not round out the list of flaws. There’s too little enemy variety to encourage experimentation with your steadily expanding moveset, which the developers file away in the nondescript pause menus. You’ll often find yourself simply button mashing through sword fights, rarely calling upon unique secondary weapons. The act of equipping these tools has also been made less than intuitive. First Raiden must open his sub-weapon screen when motionless (interrupting the action's momentum), then select the telekinetic sai, scissor blades, or polearm made of, well, robot arms before resuming combat.
Raiden cannot use his high frequency blade and accessory armaments all at once, but Platinum Games still deserves credit for what they have accomplished. After Metal Gear Solid 4, fans wondered why they had been saddled into controlling an aging Snake while Raiden’s feats of ninja mastery were strictly off limits. Metal Gear Rising gives players that opportunity, keeping the action sensible given Platinum’s pedigree. (Raiden’s hair does not transform into a wolf to maul rival cyborgs, but how awesome would that be?!) With its original canon, merciless Blade Mode, rewarding parry system, and a ludicrous soundtrack, Revengeance bridges the gap for new Metal Gear spin-offs. Metal Metal Gear Rising almost never happened, and what a disappointment that would have been.
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3