Escort missions, fetch quests, wave after wave of enemies – at some point or another, these tired and uninspired gameplay devices have crept into our action-adventure experiences, suffocating both the action and adventure underneath artificial padding and game-lengthening fat. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance—child of Kojima Productions and PlatinumGames—promptly slices the fat off, leaving behind high-octane, hack and slash action that only the wizards behind Bayonetta and Vanquish could conjure up.
But short isn't necessarily sweet (despite what your partner tells you). Metal Gear Rising can feel like a caged animal at times, scratching at the iron bars of a rocky development cycle, giving you a glimpse of its fire and determination between every satisfying slow-motion kill, breakneck speed battle, and over-the-top action piece. Individually, these moments demonstrate a triple A Japanese studio at its best. String them together, and the package is reminiscent of a fine-dining experience; everything you tasted was great, but your stomach could do with a few more portions.
Despite the plates getting empty far too rapidly, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance's modest serving possesses an incredible presentation, rich combat and memorable set-pieces.
Raiden's transformation from a whiney and confuzzled puppy to the Mountain Dew-infused ninja is consistent in Rising. But his speed, strength and gravitas rival anything we've seen from him before.
By the first mission's conclusion, you have thinly sliced a handful of highly trained soldiers into a neat pile, hopped from missile to missile, and brought down the mighty Metal Gear RAY armed with only your blade and distinct anime acrobatics. To the untrained eye, these insane action sequences are the result of chaotic button presses and enthusiastic presentation, but Raiden's immense skill is harnessed fully within the game's deep combat.
The show-stopping cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid 4 can be re-enacted with a combination of light attacks, heavy attacks and precision parrying. Mixing up any of these actions flips the switch and an explosion of blade swipes and somersaults litter the screen. Throwing your sword to your foot and sweeping across the floor like some cyborg ballerina can happen by sheer accident if you choose to switch off. But players who opt to explore every facet of Raiden's abilities will find the kind of depth that doesn't reveal itself until the difficulty has been whacked up.
The poetry in motion amidst all the violence is a recurring theme into Raiden's battle with himself. Now an employee to a private security provider, Maverick, Raiden and his team are contracted to protect everyone from political figures to vulnerable groups. As peace slowly finds a home in a world free from Patriot hands, a group known as Desperado are unhappy with the absence of a steady war economy, and intend to spark the flames of battle once more.
Raiden initially sees himself as a kind of white knight, cutting down all evil and protecting those who cannot protect themselves. But whether his need for bloodshed is born of thirst or justice is a necessary question when every perfectly placed camera captures him relishing in the death of his enemies.
His past as a child soldier is heavily referenced throughout the game's cutscenes, optional codec conversations, and more actively observed when transforming into "Jack the Ripper". But no mechanic demonstrates his penchant for murder more than Blade Mode.
This is Metal Gear Rising's signature and, with less effort, could have become an empty gimmick to satisfy the many "Cut at will" promos. Fortunately, the mechanic is imbued with significant relevance to the core gameplay and becomes something to be relied upon in the more challenging stages.
By activating Blade Mode, you are able to slow time and carefully aim exactly where your high-frequency blade will pass. Other than giving you an overwhelming sense of power and control over the fate of your enemies, cutting open the abdomen will reveal a shiny grub for Raiden to squeeze and harvest as a kind of portable health pack. With this system, any player can find reason to make their battles as cinematic and entertaining as possible. The need for a stomach-dwelling health boost or the data-filled left arms of your enemies, funnels players into using Blade Mode (or "zandatsu") as a means to overcome the challenge—it just so happens that it looks absolutely incredible.
Sadly, there is a part of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance that is too aware of how good it looks. If Raiden's haircut and his ability to chop down bridges and cyborgs aren't enough to convince you of the game's Japanese origins, the problematic camera should do the trick.
Too often is the game excited to show you Raiden's badass pose that it forgets an enemy is telegraphing an attack off-screen, or that a missile is heading your way. You can give direct orders to your virtual cameraman via the right analog stick, but the poor guy can hardly keep up with the intense speed of what's happening on the battlefield. Additionally, any time you're required to stop and orientate yourself mid-battle is time you could have spent breakdancing with your sword.
Despite the addictive nature of Rising's superb combat system, the game is constantly at war with itself regarding the Metal Gear name. It almost comes off as apologetic for its robust combat system, and feels the need to constantly remind you that you can and should use stealth tactics to succeed. Solid Snake classics such as the cardboard box, barrel and girly magazines act as useful sub-weapons (along with rocket launchers and homing missiles) to conceal yourself and silently eliminate everyone in your way, but no matter how much Metal Gear memorabilia you throw in, the difference in quality between the two play styles is clear.
While it can be useful to take a stealth approach here and there (particularly on the harder difficulties), you will eventually come to the realisation that you have been mislead via a bait-and-switch—the kind that Raiden should be very familiar with. Your teammates are quick to congratulate you on clearing a room covertly; pulling the wool over your eyes and slapping you on the wrist should you get spotted. But there are situations where stealth is impossible and you'll need to refer to the much more rewarding combat system for any chance of succeeding.
If the stealth segments grab you, however, Metal Gear Rising's VR missions offer a decent selection that includes some exclusive to sneaking. Unlocking every VR mission will require a bit of exploration, and both the finding and completion of these challenges will extend the playtime for people disappointed with a roughly four-five hour single-player experience.
A one-off stealth mission that sees you controlling a scarab, and two randomly placed side-objectives within the campaign, strengthen the idea that Rising had a much larger vision throughout its turbulent development. Nevertheless, the bouts of identity crisis are quickly offset by one of the best combat systems in the hack and slash genre, and the lightning speed pace.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an action game with its own voice, and we've yet to hear the best of it.
- A rich, deep and addictive combat system
- Fluid, over-the-top presentation
- Higher difficulty levels affect enemy numbers, not just damage
- Metal Gear fan service
- Short playtime
- Stealth discrepancies
- Never fully realizes the potential found in the opening chapters