Discussion Review: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Review written by Matt Litten & Tim Mack.

MetalGearRisingRevengeance

Matt: Move over, Ryu. Step aside, Dante. Watch your back, Kratos. Back that thang up, Bayonetta. There’s a new action game hero in town, and his name is Raiden.

Yes, that Raiden. The same Raiden many fans despised for surprise-stealing the main character role from Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2 and just as many gamers mocked for his effeminate appearance — and for prancing around nude with nothing but his hands to cover up his naughty bits. But after reemerging in Metal Gear Solid 4, the once-hated Nancy boy suddenly became a character players wanted to control rather than watch kick ass in cutscenes. It’s amazing what transforming into a cyborg ninja killing machine can do for a man’s rep.

Kojima Productions and Platinum Games give Raiden his shot at redemption and revenge in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, an action game spin-off to the espionage and infiltration our old pal Snake is good at. The Lightning Bolt Action to Metal Gear’s usual Tactical Espionage Action.

Revengeance picks up a few years after MGS4, with our newly respected Raiden now working for a Private Military Corporation as a means to support his family. As the story begins, Raiden and his Maverick crew have been hired to protect the Prime Minister of an African nation, when suddenly the motorcade is waylaid by a rival crew of cyborgs. Failure during this mission sends Raiden after the Desperado squad, an antagonistic PMC discovered to be trafficking in children and producing child soldiers. Given Raiden’s origins as a Liberian child soldier, this revelation ignites the fuse that eventually brings about the return of his “Jack the Ripper” persona, which fuels his quest for revenge. Except for the somewhat grating trying-way-too-hard-to-sound-tough “Batman voice,” Raiden is a total badass; a no-nonsense cat who will literally cut mofos in pieces and rip out their futuristic guts for his benefit.

You shouldn’t expect a narrative experience of the scope of a typical Metal Gear game here. Metal Gear has always had an underlying kooky sense of humor, but with Platinum Games joining forces with Kojima’s crew it seems that their powers for the over-the-top have multiplied and as a result the nutball factor has been jacked up far beyond Snake’s story arc. The story isn’t short on mature themes, such as political conspiracies, child soldiers, and the trafficking of children and their organs, but despite the serious nature of these subjects the tone of the story is presented in such a way that it’s clear Kojima doesn’t want players taking this game quite as seriously as they would a regular Metal Gear game. The narrative entertainment value is more akin to what you get out of a good bad B action movie, like something Jean-Claude Van Damme would have starred in when he was making flicks like Universal Soldier and Cyborg.

That being said, Revengeance certainly doesn’t try to hide its connection to the Metal Gear mythos, nor does it sully the franchise’s reputation with its more action, less stealth and storytelling approach. Returning fans will recognize certain characters and references, and a lot of the little Metal Gear touches common to the series can still be found. Being spotted still triggers the startling alarm sound and the red exclamation point over the guard’s head. Raiden can hide in cardboard boxes and metal barrels just like Snake, and he has a wide variety of sub-weapons like rocket launchers and various grenade types, as well as distraction devices, which are equipped via a familiar inventory UI. Mission dialogue and random banter is delivered through Codec messages like always. Certain levels have hidden pin-up posters of Japanese girls that Raiden can interact with by slicing to remove their clothes. And in many scenarios, stealth also remains a viable and very much preferred option, only Raiden’s sneaky takedowns are a lot more spectacular and vicious than those of his reptilian counterpart.

Revengeance very much is a Metal Gear game, just a different kind of Metal Gear which first and foremost emphasizes action. Platinum Games deftly fuses series tropes with the flash and sizzle of the studio’s own previous games like Bayonetta and God Hand. Raiden’s main weapon of choice is his katana, a weapon he is capable of wielding not only with his hands, but also his feet, resulting in some truly spectacular and over the top combos.

At the heart of the combat system is Blade Mode and a mechanic known as Zandatsu. With enough electrolyte energy built up, Raiden, à la Max Payne and his trusty Bullet Time move, can cause time to slow down, at which point you can either press the attack buttons or flick the analog stick to dice up enemies and objects at any angle on a 360-degree axis. As enemies wear down, their limbs will gradually become susceptible to dismemberment, and against tougher opponents it is a crucial strategy to slowly chop them down piece by piece until they are ready to be finished off. When an enemy is primed for a killing blow, entering Blade Mode causes a small red box to appear over its midsection. If you successfully slice the katana aiming arc through this box, Raiden will split the enemy in half and yank out their innards. (Even cooler is when you slice multiple enemies in twain to trigger a rapid gut-ripping combo.) This Zandatsu technique, Japanese for “cut and take,” is the key source of health and energy recovery. Health rations, known as nanopastes, can be collected and used manually, but they won’t keep you alive very long on their own.

So, how did you fare in the new Steam version of Revengeance, Tim? Were you able to get a handle on Blade Mode and Zandatsu?

Tim: Counter to your experience, Matt, I struggled with the health leeching mechanic. When I would trigger Blade Mode (after weakening an enemy) I would either never see the highlighted square target, or rarely connect to pull the precious life force. I found that the auto use of the sparse health packs definitely helped in a pinch. Maybe I was playing wrong, but when it came down to battling the larger enemies, the opportunity to effectively trigger Zandatsu came too infrequently. Even manually aiming with the right stick only produced limited success for me. I could control the blade’s direction, but rarely got a successful strike.

Now that’s not to say that I didn’t mostly enjoy the game. Once I accepted that the only way to play was to constantly spam the parry function, especially when the really big enemies came to play. Similarly to the way I struggled through the first half of Bayonetta and then finally figured out a few combos, Rising was an experience I learned to tolerate, but only because of the combat. Seeing the various attack animations unlock as the sub weapons were upgraded was a treat. I found I stuck mostly to the Polearm due to the range that allowed Raiden to attack a group without risk of getting stunned or shot.

At the same time, getting stun locked or shot by an unseen enemy makes Rising a frustrating affair, mostly because the camera is pretty worthless. Control of the camera seems to only work when Raiden is facing an enemy. More often than not, multiple enemies surround Raiden, but the camera can’t be rotated to allow a glimpse of where the furthest enemy is taking aim with a gun or RPG. Not seeing where ranged attacks were coming from cost me more health than I felt I had control of. Steering Raiden is quick and responsive, but the camera is a real pain.

The last Metal Gear game I played to completion was the original NES title. I’ve never played any of the MGS titles (at least not all the way through to completion), mostly because the stealth mechanics felt too contrived for my tastes. So admittedly my series knowledge doesn’t go very deep, but from my perspective Rising feels contrary to the Metal Gear legacy. Shoehorning limited stealth into an action brawler felt odd to me. Trying to move while inside a box did nothing for me except to put Raiden in a less than strategic location when the inevitable spotting by a guard occurred.

Overall, my biggest misgiving with Rising is the Japanese style of storytelling. Why can’t expository cut scenes be threaded into moments of action? Why do I need to sit through three or four minutes of dialog where I have no or, at best, barely functional control over Raiden, move through a room or two with no interactions or combat, and then sit through another three or four minutes of dialog?

Matt: As someone who has played through just about every single Metal Gear game, I thought the implementation of stealth fit perfectly alongside the up tempo action, not shoehorned in any way. Getting spotted only makes the game harder on you, so it’s nice to have the option in many scenarios to scout out the area using Raiden’s augmented x-ray vision and sneakily pick off enemies one by one without having to deal with the mob all at once. The only difference here is that Raiden is a lot more capable of killing his way out of trouble than Snake is when he’s detected. Things like the cardboard box are mostly provided for franchise continuity and aren’t as useful for Raiden as they are for Snake, but it’s still fun to wait for a guard to turn the other way, run up near his patrol path, slip inside a cardboard box and wait for him to come back around so you can spring your deadly katana trap.

I totally agree that the camera is the game’s gravest flaw, mainly because the parry mechanic requires tilting the analog stick in the direction of the incoming attack, and if the camera decides to wildly flip around on you like it often does parrying can be trickier than it ought to be. Locking onto targets helps a lot in boss battles when you generally have only one enemy to focus on, but in dealing with larger groups I found it better to stay in constant motion and spread the damage around rather than concentrate on one foe at a time and remain in one position to be surrounded. It’s easier to control the battle that way and avoid having those pesky rocket launcher guys cheaply blast Raiden upside the head from outside the camera’s field of view.

Having such an inconsistent camera is annoying because the battle system is very skill, timing, and reflex oriented. This is not some mindless button masher that will play itself if you sit there and spam the same attacks over and over. It’s one thing to get hit when the fault of improperly timing an action is on you, but when a poorly designed game mechanic is the cause it can make you want to go all Raiden on your controller and rip out its wire and circuit board entrails in a fit of gamer rage. Even with the janky camera, though, this game’s combat system is among the best the third-person action genre has to offer if you ask me. The attack animations are so fluid and visually spectacular, striking a clean balance between graceful and ultra-violent. A variety of cool secondary weapons further spice up the combos beyond Raiden’s trusty energy katana. The boss battles are also pretty brilliant across the board, cleverly incorporating different ways to use Blade Mode to break through their defenses. The final boss battle is particularly insane, in both good and bad ways, ending the game in a way that will leave you completely dumbstruck and possibly exhausted from multiple retries.

I didn’t have any of the issues with Blade Mode that you are citing, Tim. Aiming the slicing line is pretty accurate once you get a feel for the rotational sensitivity. Perhaps you weren’t wearing the enemies down enough to properly trigger Zandatsu. The standard grunts can typically be cut and ripped immediately, but as the game progresses you have to lay into dudes until their limbs light up with like a blue hue, indicating that they are ready to be lopped off. Many of the tougher foes require dismembering multiple limbs before their innards can be snatched out for a health and energy boost. Mastering parry is key to Zandatsu as well since a perfectly timed parry will trigger a counter attack which usually opens an instant opportunity for a slice and grab.

I think part of the problem for you may have also been the general lack of explanation the game offers for a lot of its mechanics. The basics are taught early on and a small series of tutorials are available if you seek them out in the VR Missions menu, but overall the documentation with the game isn’t very clear or informative. This is one of those games that requires you to figure out its nuances on your own, which is something I personally appreciate and crave from action games like this, but can also see being problematic for players who just want to pick up a game and have an immediate understanding of how to do everything without suffering a harsh learning curve. That being said, I found the game to be highly accessible in terms of offering a wide range of difficulty settings, from easier options that are pretty much a cakewalk to the brutal Revengeance difficulty which will absolutely kick your ass with enemies capable of crushing a full health bar in a single hit. (Remember to plug in the Konami Code, folks!)

The game itself isn’t particularly long. Six to eight hours should be all you need to finish the campaign on an easy to mid-range difficulty without taking the time to stealth, listen to the numerous optional Codec conversations, search for secrets, or do other side activities. As a total package, including mission ratings, a fairly robust equipment unlock and upgrade system, collectibles, an extensive roster of VR Missions, and the two free DLC missions–which are small add-ons at only around an hour or two apiece, but do at least bring fresh gameplay with new playable characters Jetstream Sam and Bladewolf–this game has a ton of replay value. Between multiple playthroughs on various difficulties and doing all of the aforementioned side content, I’ve clocked over 30 hours so far, and I still haven’t done everything in the campaign or completed all VR Missions. I’ve become particularly addicted to hunting for the myriad collectibles, mainly due to the way they are so cleverly linked with the game’s mechanics rather than being a bunch of meaningless bobbles and trinkets picked up in random corners throughout the game environment. For example certain enemies have data chips implanted in their left forearms and the only way to retrieve them is to surgically chop off their arms before killing them, which actually isn’t as easy as it sounds when the Blade Mode meter is running down and you have to take the time to aim the katana precisely. There are also these goofball guys hiding under cardboard boxes in certain levels who you have to find and kill to collect.

I imagine there will be a group of strict purists who will resent this game for tampering with Metal Gear tradition and disregard its place in the franchise, but I am not one of those people. Revengeance represents the franchise in a bold new way, but it doesn’t sully its name or legacy in any way as far as I’m concerned. Even if the game starred a brand new character no one had seen before and I had no prior knowledge of the game’s title or story before playing it, I would have been able to recognize it as a Metal Gear game immediately. As I said earlier, it’s just a different kind of Metal Gear game, one that I happen to get great joy out of playing. The camera sure does cause a lot of unwanted aggravation, but not enough to ruin the visceral pleasure and innovation of splitting cyborgs in twain to leech their innards or performing sword swipes like a break dancer with the blade gripped between Raiden’s toes.

Matt-BuyIt

Pros:
+ Innovative, fast paced, silky smooth combat system
+ Cutting dudes in half and ripping out their insides to a rocking soundtrack never gets old
+ All the trappings of a Metal Gear, presented in a bold new way
+ Plenty of collectibles, unlocks and DLC to keep you coming back for more
+ Awesome boss battles and overall enemy design

Cons:
– Camera is a regular nuisance
– Move list and skill descriptions could have been more clearly defined
– Hey, Raiden, lose the Christian Bale Batman voice!

Tim: I would agree that the VR Missions are helpful in mastering the mechanics, but I can’t help but think that triggering the VR Missions breaks the pacing of the main narrative. I enjoyed playing through some of the VR Missions mostly because they were short and focused on one mechanic, giving the opportunity to replay several times to master the intended goal. Similarly, bringing up the Codec to chat with the various team members for clues, further exposition or back story (all optional of course) breaks the pacing. Of course, I didn’t realize until late in the game that I could spend time chatting with the team. Again, not completely pertinent to the overall story, but at least make the main UI a little more intuitive that a new conversation tree is available.

Overall, Rising is a wild romp made bombastic and spectacular by Platinum Games’ signature over the top style. Learning how to play the game is half the battle, and once a modicum of skills are developed the game is enjoyable. From the sounds of your experience versus mine, I think I must have been playing it “wrong.” But is that my fault or the game’s for not better explaining how to play?

Tim-TryIt

Pros:
+ Fun combat once properly mastered
+ Over the top encounters

Cons:
– Stilted pacing due to cut scenes, Codec conversations and VR Missions
– Poor camera makes combat more frustrating than it should be
– Stealth felt shoehorned in to me
– Final boss battle is beyond ridiculous

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC and PS3, also available for Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Developer: PlatinumGames / Kojima Productions
Release Date: Console – 2/19/2013, Steam – 1/9/2014
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!