Let’s get it right out of the way. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t your standard Metal Gear title.
With Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Vanquish) picking up the developmental reins, it was never going to be and as much as we love the stealth subgenre’s favourite son, it isn’t a bad thing. There are some cunning nods to previous titles – hiding in cardboard boxes, the codec device, and the caution and alert system being the most prevalent – but even when the game suggests that you take things slowly and try not to alert anyone, you always have a fighting chance – however small that chance really is - if you decide to play things your own way.
But that’s really where the similarities start and end. Playing as Raiden (of earlier Metal Gear titles) – a man who much prefers a sword to a gun, and who wears a cybernetic exoskeleton - you are tasked with taking on a terrorist group by the name of Desperado Enterprises. Your colleagues from your new employer – the private military company, Maverick Security – appear via codec to you at various points throughout the game, pushing the story along nicely without interrupting the hacking and slashing all that much.
And there’s a heck of a lot of hacking and slashing. Enemies can be done away with by using lightning quick third-person attack combinations that give the gameplay a distinctly Bayonetta feel. But, the magic comes when you pull on the left trigger and switch into “Blade Mode.” Here, you can aim your sword in any way that you choose with the right stick. An option to actually attack by quickly flicking the same stick in the direction that you wish to slash your foe is available, but it’s unwieldy in the heat of combat. You’ll more than likely default to pressing the left trigger to head into blade mode, and use the X and Y buttons to attack – generally because unless you have absolutely outstanding dexterity, mashing those two buttons will fire in more attacks than you could ever manage with the stick. Another benefit of blade mode, is that it slows the game world down to a crawl for a limited period of time. This means that inventive attack sequences such as running at an opponent, sliding underneath him, heading into blade mode and cutting the hell out of his underbelly are available.
These aren’t the only weapons available, of course. Beating boss opponents unlocks the ability to purchase and equip their weapons too, and the staple battery of explosive devices such as missiles and grenades exist to further boost your arsenal. The way in which these weapons are used is key to preventing players from getting bored with just hacking and slashing their way through the game, too. Some bosses will require use of smoke grenades in order for you to even stand a chance against them for example, while others prove to be absolutely untouchable until you’ve lobbed in an EMP to temporarily fry their circuits and prevent them from dodging any attack you can throw their way.
Unfortunately, that leads us to one of the game’s few problems – the checkpoint system. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a very tough game at the best of times – this is a good thing. However, there are occasions where you’ll reach a particularly tough enemy and find that you’ve got no health packs, barely any weapons, and only have 20% of your health bar filled. Taking a cheap death and heading for the last checkpoint would usually be the best course of action, but that'll be of no use here. During pretty much every encounter, the game locks the playing area so that there’s nowhere for you to run, and saves your progress right before the battle begins. This means that if you’re up against one of the very tough bosses and you find yourself low on health and fresh out of explosive devices, the best you’ll get is a full health bar when you restart. You’ll probably think that you can still win for the first five or six attempts, but it’ll finally dawn on you that you have to restart the hour-long chapter, and play through again whilst conserving weapons and energy packs in order to stand any chance of winning.
This situation is generally avoided outside of the boss levels, as if an opponent is weak enough, Raiden can switch into blade mode and from there, is ingeniously able to rip out his foe’s spinal cord in order to absorb their energy and restore his health bar to full. Even the way in which this is done is beautiful. If a target dies in the air for example, hitting the command to take that spinal cord and absorb it causes Raiden to flip into the air, over the flying body of the expired enemy, grabbing the required tissues. You imagine that other developers would have either prevented you from performing the action if the target was airborne, or they’d have thrown in some clumsy animation that didn’t look correct. Indeed, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance does a really good job of making other games – even high-profile ones – look somewhat lazy and lacklustre. A breathtaking high-speed run through a building that’s being shelled by waves of airborne enemies would usually be spoiled by shoddy collision detection or from your character being killed unfairly is the proof in the pudding – as after playing that particular section six times, the only thing that let us down was our skill.
And skill is what you’ll need, as weaponry and health packs are spread very, very sparsely around Revengeance’s levels, and you can only carry five of each item anyway. At times, you’ll happen upon a cache of firearms that could tool up an entire army, but this is usually a precursor to you having no option but to use them within the next minute or two. In general, you should stock up while you can, and you’d best not fire off that test shot with the rocket launcher just yet, since the chances are that you’ll need it later on. Some will complain that combat is unfair due to a weak camera, but learning when to lock on to opponents with the right bumper button is the key to getting around those difficulties. The issue comes from the fact that you only find this out by heading into the controller map. In a game this fast and furious, it might have been nice to mention it during the short VR Mission-style tutorial.
In all fairness, even the issue with checkpoints is not really a major cause for concern, and the reason for that is that as a package, Revengeance provides such an awesome rush of thrills and spills that you’ll probably be glad to go back and play through again anyway. Everything is done so artfully that you’ll relish every slice of the blade, and pick your jaw up off the floor as Raiden uses his Ninja Run to reach an attack helicopter by running up the wave of missiles that it’s firing your way. And all while a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack that sounds like Metallica decided to play J-Pop builds to a delightful crescendo in the background. The first section of a boss battle puts the rhythm in play while the second section adds more drums and guitar solo or two, before you reach the final section and have Jamie Christopherson bellowing lyrics at you as you edge closer and closer to getting that final strike in that’ll take your opponent down. That’s if you’ve taken on the pseudo-puzzle of the battle and worked out the key to defeating this particular enemy, of course.
Given the troubles that Revengeance had during its early development, with Kojima Productions all but giving up after finding it tough to work the swordplay in as the basis for a Metal Gear game, it’s surprising to see how well Platinum Games have actually done here. There’s very little wrong with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and the amount of times that the game will surprise you, amaze you, and make you smile a wry, corner-of-the-mouth style grin is a testament to the continued high quality of the titles that this developer keeps coming up with.