Real Men Wear Cybernetic High Heels
Hideo Kojima just won’t give up on Raiden. After a somewhat dubious debut as an effeminate, angsty product of child soldier training in Metal Gear Solid 2, the fans cried out in dismay as Raiden took centre stage over Snake. Things took a turn for the surprising when Raiden returned in Metal Gear Solid 4 as a bad ass cybernetic ninja who easily tore through the kind of mechanized foes that gave Solid Snake a run for his money. Now he’s back in his own game, but with Kojima taking on more of a supervisory role. The game was handed off to Platinum Games, best known for Bayonetta and more recently, Anarchy Reigns. As to be expected, heads roll. And arms, legs, cybernetic spinal cords and the occasional torso.
PMCs Are Causing Trouble Again
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance takes place a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. The Patriots have been defeated, Snake makes no appearance whatsoever—though is obliquely referenced from time to time—and Raiden is now working with a “good” private military corporation, Maverick Security, which only does protection work, and NGO assistance, never taking on the role of invader or aggressor. Things go disastrously wrong when an African leader under Raiden’s protection gets killed by some top class cyborg mercs, one of whom is good enough to cut off Raiden’s arm and take out his left eye. Raiden, of course, recovers from this, and with a sense of burning humiliation and failed duty, he goes off to uncover the cyborg conspiracy and find out who’s trying to snuff out the peaceful development of various nations and fan the flames of war once again. All the Kojima obsessions that you’d expect are here, from intensely researched future technology to musings about memes and the war economy. There’s also the occasional bit of typical Japanese oddness, like robot wolves riding in cars and cyborgs in sombreros, but hey, it wouldn’t be a Kojima game without the random blip of silliness here and there. It also wouldn’t be a Kojima game without the pontificating, and although it’s not taken to monolithic depths of something like MGS4, there’s a lot of food for thought here, including a very surprising attack on the modern American value system and the first world in general. Staunch Republicans in America are likely to find themselves offended by some of the game’s aggressive, liberal commentary, particularly in the final confrontation.
When we get to the visuals, we see a crisp, clean, good looking game that generally performs well. Unfortunately, Platinum’s past difficulties with the PS3 rear their head here from time to time, so while the 360 version—which was used for review—maintains a steady framerate with little to no screen tearing, the PS3 version occasionally lags behind. We’re not taking Bayonetta levels of lagging, but if you’re a pure performance hound, the 360 version is the way to go. On the other hand, the cut scenes get much more breathing space on the Blu-Ray disc of the PS3 version, and so have higher detail and generally look sharper and better, whereas the 360 version can occasionally look a bit more muddled and jaggy. If you own both consoles, pick your poison, but single console owners can rest easy knowing that neither version is catastrophically crippled compared to the other.
The audio is generally strong, although there are a few eyebrow raising moments here and there. Quinton Flynn returns once again to voice Raiden, but his performance gets occasionally schizophrenic half-way through the game; sometimes he sounds like Raiden and other times he sounds like Mark Hamill as the Joker trying to do an impression of Kevin Conroy as Batman. This is most evident during the numerous CODEC conversations that are de rigeur for a Metal Gear game. The music is also a bit of a departure from what MGS fans might expect. Instead of a barrage of orchestral arrangements mixed in with some cool synth compositions, the music fares more towards Nu Metal or even Emo on occasion. It’s also dynamic, with wailing, Dragonforce-esque guitars fading into the periphery when a fight is over, only to blare to life again when Raiden gets ambushed by more cyborgs. The actual audio effects are good, but not spectacular, never really taking full advantage of surround sound or working the subwoofer particularly hard. This isn’t an FPS, so perhaps it’s unfair to expect that kind of immersive aural soundscape, but with the number of explosions and sword clangs assaulting speakers, it feels like the audio could use a little bit more “oomph.”
It’s Basically Bayo-Raiden
MGRR uses arena-based combat, similar to Bayonetta and DmC, with an area being locked off, while a group of enemies attacks. Once they’re cleared it’s time to move to the next area. Platinum Games made Bayonetta and Vanquish, so you can pretty much expect how this game will play out based on those two titles. Just throw in a high frequency katana and we can call it a day. What this means, on a practical gameplay level, is that the controls are tight and precise, while the combat and combo system is fluid, vicious and very, very fast. This is the complete opposite of Devil May Cry. This is a game that is meant to be struggled through, practiced with and eventually mastered, rather than an immediate gratification power fantasy. That’s not to say Raiden is a pushover when fighting enemies, but where it was actually hard to die in DmC, it’s something that will occur with alarming regularity if you’re not paying attention and staying focused in MGRR.
This is a 3rd person action game in the fast, furious Japanese tradition. Not as hard as something like Ninja Gaiden, but it makes demands of the player, and when it comes time to confront a boss, the game gets harder, not easier. The combat here is more focused, centering on the use of a primary weapon—usually the sword—and subweapons like EMP grenades and rocket launchers. As Raiden defeats bosses, their weapons become his to use opening up the possibilities for new battle styles. This isn’t, however Devil May Cry, so the combo system here isn’t based on weapon switching. Instead, the emphasis is on parrying attacks—with a slightly more generous than usual timing window to facilitate this—and the “Zandatsu,” which is a holdover from the earlier, Konami developed version of the game that was ultimately scrapped. Zandatsu is Raiden’s ability to slow time and enter a “rapid slashing” mode with his katana. When used under ordinary circumstances, this merely allows Raiden to get more hits in while an electrolyte meter ticks down the available slashing time that is left. In order to recharge this meter, Raiden needs to either attack normally, building up the meter with each hit, or find dropped vials of electrolytes as loot from foes. However, if Raiden should sufficiently beat up or parry an enemy enough, weak points appear—like limbs—that can be slashed off. More critically, the “heart” of Raiden’s cyborg enemies contain the plasma he requires to heal himself. So combat is an ebb and flow of attacking or parrying opponents enough to reveal the weak point, then going in for the kill with Zandatsu to carve out the heart, rip it from the body and crush it in a brief cut scene.
As is usual with a Japanese action game, players are evaluated for their performance, going up to S Rank, and while some battles in certain levels are relatively reasonable in their demands for an S Rank, other areas will call for much more skill. Only very good players are going to attain an S Rank for an entire level, of which there are a total of only seven. This is something that players will definitely want to keep in mind if value for money is an issue. It’s a short game, with an average play time of six to eight hours for less experienced players while veterans of the genre will complete it in considerably less. My final playtime according to my game save was only about five and half hours, and that was without skipping cut scenes and taking the time to listen to all the CODEC conversations. The flipside of this is that the game doesn’t overstay its welcome and the pacing of combat and introduction of new enemies is very effective. Just when it seems like you’ve figured out the tactics for one foe, a new one comes up that demands learning even more about the combat system and upping your skill. There are no flat areas of the game where it feels like the pace starts to drag because it’s throwing new things at you at a rapid pace and the short nature of the game prevents enemy repetition from overstaying its welcome.
The only real downsides to this game are the occasional wicked difficulty spike, especially when confronting bosses, and the secondary controls for Zandatsu which can put the player in a tight spot towards the end. The Zandatsu or “blade mode” has two means of control, either use the face buttons to slash horizontally and vertically, or use the left stick to move the camera, while using the right stick to control the angle of slashing. Keep in mind you’re pulling the left trigger at the same time, so this becomes unwieldy and most players will ignore the manual mode in favour of the face buttons. Unfortunately, this manual mode becomes critical to surviving the final boss battle, which can throw players for a loop, being forced to learn a control style that they may have ignored thus far.
These criticisms aside, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an interesting, alternative take on the MGS world. The combat is fast and fun, the pacing is excellent, and there are enough nods to MGS that veterans of the series will feel right at home. Some difficulty spikes and a short campaign may mar the overall value of the game, but it’s worth owning for action fans disappointed by Devil May Cry’s style over substance.