Ok, first up, there will be no blade related puns in this review, no references to cutting sense of humour, no slashing of stealth mechanics, no sharp visuals – instead I have my own extended metaphor I would like to share with you, so here goes:
Games can be like sexual partners, flings or long-lost loves. Some are naive crushes, seen through the rose-tinted lenses of youth; some are that first partner you have, exploratory and burning with blind passion; some take all, and drain all, and lock you in a self-loathing funk.
Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance is a wild, hot holiday fling, full of excitement, but laced with a sense of dirty lust and regret. It’s no looker up close, but it’s fast and loose, and you cannot take your eyes of it for a second, nor truly relax in its presence. It demands your time and attention, and you are happy to oblige, despite your misgivings. It says a lot, but you don’t really take it all in, but it does offer you something different, something you haven’t quite experienced before, and you can’t quite help yourself. You know you shouldn’t, you know it’s bad for you, but you continue regardless.
Yes, it left me dripping with sweat and hating myself, in the best possible way.
Originally conceived as a standalone title explaining the process of Raiden’s transformation into the ultimate cyborg ninja, Konami struggled to implement it’s new type of combat successfully into their Metal Gear universe and so called in the assistance of Platinum, a studio whose output is a close to perfect as any out there. Mad World, Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Anarchy Reigns: all games with varied and complex combat, it was clear that the direction for Revengeance was veering away from the standard Metal Gear fare.
Set after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, the plot is nigh on incomprehensible, but here goes: Raiden is part of Maverick, a private peacekeeping force currently tasked with ensuring the security of an African Prime Minister. An ambush by a group of warmongering militarists set in motion a series of conflicts and confrontations with an increasingly outlandish array of characters. Things get increasingly bizarre and eccentric, in true Metal Gear style, with lengthy cut scenes and codec conversations, and much lecturing on the evils of industrial warfare and the foreign policies of certain governments.
In between this, there is the meat of the game, the excellent combat, which is clearly stamped with Platinum’s imprint. Raiden has a light and a heavy attack, and both pack a considerable punch. He retains his speed and power from Metal Gear Solid 4, and flashing across the screen in a whisk of steel and light, he is a formidable presence.
This is further bolstered by Raiden’s Zen-like Zan-Dastu mode. Essentially, aside from his health bar, Raiden has a secondary energy bar that allows him to enter his blade cutting mode, where you are given control over the angle of the cut with the analogue sticks. Enemy’s limbs and sections of their bodies become tinted blue as they lose life through regular combat, and entering this mode when in this state, Raiden can lop of these body parts to hinder his adversaries. When enemy health is low enough, a small red square shows up on their body, and Raiden slashes through this box whilst in Zan-Dastu mode, his life and energy are instantly fully replenished.
This give the ebb and flow of combat a real risk-reward feel, and Platinum encourages you to be aggressive. You can’t really be too defensive because there is no block. To avoid getting hit, you must parry and timing is of the essence. It is initially unintuitive, accustomed as we are these days to standard, button held blocks, a crutch of safety that is removed from the player. This can leave the game feeling occasionally frustrating and seemingly unfair due to the unrelenting speed and variety of enemy attacks. However, it is clear that the rules laid down are more than equitable, and a little practice reaps huge rewards.
Enemies are gradually introduced, so that the standard foot soldiers soon give way to faster, ninja types, two legged, bulls hybrids, and huge gorilla analogues. Unfortunately, during the mid-game, these tend to repeat and are mixed up in variation rather than varied upon, so enemies can become monotonous.
This is alleviated somewhat by the fact that the game contains some of the best boss fights of recent times, both in their actual mechanics and the sense of occasion and drama that is invested in them. Despite a few missteps, such as one occasion where the boss battle requires you to repeat a couple of previous bosses in clone form, they are superbly designed. As characters, some of them, particularly a hulking Texan called Sundowner, and a Mexican /Spanish sword master called Jetstream Sam, are highly charismatic and intriguing, the latter in particular causing no small measure of regret once dispatched. These encounters can be infuriatingly difficult, yet endlessly compelling, and give a real sense of achievement and accomplishment once beaten.
Each section of each stage is graded, with the usual ranking from D to S. The better the rank, and the more enemies dispatched more stylishly, the more battle points (BP) you receive. These are spent on upgrading Raiden, from increasing his health and energy, unlocking moves for each of the special weapons you acquire, and even unlocking a dodge move, which is damn near essential for some encounters.
It is a short game, with reports coming in that it can be beaten in four hours. Yes it can, but if you’re like me, it may take a bit longer, and the game is endlessly replay-able. Like many game so far released this year (DMC, Dead Space 3), Revengeance is designed to be run through multiple times. Normal mode is no picnic, but does a great job of preparing you for repeated play-throughs on higher difficulties, and knowledge and familiarity of foes breeds not contempt but a sense of power and confidence.
So give in to pleasure, a rough and demanding pleasure nonetheless, but one that reaps shallow, but passionate rewards. The game is laced with the usual Metal Gear bombast and absurdity, but whilst you are in its world, hacking and slashing your way through anything in your way, the experience is sensational. Revengance is another early 2013 gem, but one that leaves less of a lasting impression.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC Release Date: 22/02/2013
Disclosure: Craig Hallam rented a copy of Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 4 days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.