For a series that has ruminated at length on the significance of legacies, Metal Gear Solid has quite the legacy of its own nowadays. With the original regarded by many as one of the greatest games of the PlayStation 1 era, each successive title in the series has been met with great fanfare and, more often than not, critical acclaim.
But it seems that for every diehard fan that loves the stealthy action, well-choreographed boss battles and completely nutso story, there is a dissenting voice complaining about neverending cutscenes, unintuitive controls and, well, the completely nutso story. As a spinoff, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance does its best to distance itself from these weighty expectations by striking out in a totally new direction – all-out action.
Developed in a partnership between Kojima Productions, the creators of all four of the previous MGS games, and Platinum Games, the ADD masterminds behind Bayonetta, Revengeance really does combine the best of both developers’ in-house styles. Revengeance stays true to the Metal Gear series’ penchant for ridiculous political conspiracies and memorable boss fights, but does so with a new, hyper-kinetic, slash-‘em-up gameplay style that actually suits the series’ over-the-top tone better than Solid Snake’s semi-realistic “tactical espionage action” ever did. It’s loud and bloody, and it doesn’t waste time getting to the point.
Starring Raiden, the once-maligned bait-and-switch hero of MGS2 turned scene-stealing badass cyborg ninja of MGS4, and taking place four years after the events of the latter game, Revengeance shrugs off most of the convoluted backstory that had begun to bog down the franchise. Instead, the plot focuses mainly on Raiden’s personal vendetta against a mercenary unit that produces child soldiers, and his coming to terms with his own role as a killer trying to do good. Being a Kojima game, there are frequent lapses into melodrama and self-serious philosophising, but mercifully the cut scenes are kept brief in order to keep the focus squarely on the intense hack and slash action.
Raiden’s weapon of choice is the high frequency blade, an electronically enhanced samurai sword that cuts through cars, rocks and bodies like butter. Using combinations of light and heavy attacks, players build up combos to weaken enemies and remove their armour, at which point entering “blade mode” slows the action to a crawl, allowing Raiden to brutally carve his foes into two, three, or indeed dozens of tiny, meaty chunks. Successfully hitting an enemy’s weak point during blade mode allows a “zandatsu” (it means “cut and take” in Japanese), which sees Raiden reach into his foe’s still-falling carcass and rip out their cyborg organs before they hit the ground, replenishing his own health and stamina. It’s stylish, kind of ridiculous, and extremely gory, but also a satisfying payoff for the skill required to pull the whole sequence off.
Revengeance is very much built around its intense cybernetic swordplay, but Metal Gear’s stealthy roots have not been abandoned. Sneaking is still an important part of Raiden’s skill set, and frequently fights can be avoided entirely if players are careful and judicious with “ninja strikes”, the game’s blood-gushingly brutal instant-kills. Compared to the Solid series, stealth has been simplified and streamlined significantly, which means the finicky controls of those games – which often sabotaged players’ best-laid plans in the heat of the moment – are long gone. Fans of the series will be happy to know that cardboard boxes are still abundant, however, and of course still make great hiding places. Another holdover is the codec system, and players will have access to hours of conversation with their backup team, with dialogue ranging from the inane to the comedic to the philosophical – of course nearly always delivered as longwindedly as possible.
Running at a super smooth 60fps, the game is fast and furious, as the action requires. Character models look great, detailed with glowing cyborg enhancements and shiny armour plates, and the animations could have come straight out of a samurai anime. The sound effects are also spot-on, all sword clashes, explosions, and extravagant blood splatters, with the music a hard, crunchy mix of rock and techno that escalates during fights to really get the adrenaline pumping. Some of the environment textures do feel a little sterile, and it’s disappointing that surrounding objects don’t fall apart more realistically after being sliced into pieces, but these are little more than minor distractions when everything else is so engaging.
The game is a serious challenge, too. Very early on it becomes obvious that relying on button-mashing will send Raiden on a fast track to being smeared into a mushy, cyborg paste by the unforgiving enemy AI. Players will need to concentrate hard on properly timing and directing parries, as well as making precise slashes in blade mode to complete those all-important zandatsu strikes. The learning curve is steep, leading to the potential for frustration in the early stages, and things definitely aren’t helped by the fairly inadequate tutorial system that fails to mention several key gameplay aspects and button commands. However, after the initial hurdles are overcome, it’s easy to get the basics of the game down – though it will certainly take hours of practice to master them.
While playing through story mode is difficult, even on the normal setting (there’s hard, very hard, and the extremely intimidating revengeance mode above that), it is also, as a result, extremely satisfying. This is a game that really rewards players’ skill and dexterity, and although the action clocks in at only seven or so hours first-time through, Revengeance provides ample reason to want to come back. On top of the piles of unlockables, including new weapons, attacks, and outfits, there are 20 very tough VR missions that must first be located in-game before they can be attempted, as well as hidden objectives to complete, combat grades to improve, and severed hands to collect (yes, really). Players can even search for a number of clearly impressionable cyborgs that can be found crouching under boxes around the game’s various environments.
With the weight of the Metal Gear legacy sitting heavily on its shoulders, Revengeance shows all those other reboots, spinoffs and endless sequels exactly how it should be done. This game is frenetic, challenging, stylish and rewarding, and it pays perfect tribute to the ghosts of the past while forging a bold and exciting new path for the franchise. Its premise may not be as revolutionary as Metal Gear Solid’s was all those years ago, but in terms of action games today it’s absolutely at the top of its field.