Metal Gear Rising is a fantastic, addictive, anime-inspired explosion of awesomeness.
Watching the strange development cycle of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has been pretty interesting. Being a huge Metal Gear Solid fan ever since Solid Snake’s 1998 adventure through Shadow Moses Island, I had mixed feelings at first. More Metal Gear is great, but this game would be starring Raiden- and only Raiden. The last time blondie got his own game was when he hijacked 2001’s MGS2 from Snake, and let’s just say that didn’t go over so well with the fans. Hideo Kojima and his team managed to pull off a miracle in Metal Gear Solid 4, making Raiden a cyborg ninja so badass that you actually wanted to play as him.
The only problem with this situation is that Kojima Productions couldn’t just throw him into the standard Metal Gear Solid framework now. A new game featuring Raiden would need a completely new engine based around fast swordplay, showcasing his new superhuman abilities. Kojima put a team together to build such a game, but without his supervision, the project wasn’t up to snuff. He secretly cancelled the game sometime in 2010, after multiple trailers and game demos had already been shown for what was then titled Metal Gear Solid: Rising. In late 2011, the game was resurrected by Platinum Games, famous for Bayonetta and Vanquish, and was changed from an interquel taking place between the events of MGS2 and MGS4 to a full-on sequel, taking place four years after the events of Guns of the Patriots.
When I learned of Platinum Games taking over, and especially after seeing the first trailer of the new Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I was once again excited. Their version felt completely different from past entries in the Metal Gear Solid series, but it’s the only way it could have worked. Now feeling more like a Metal Gear manga, the game finally had its own identity. After playing the demo that came with the Zone of the Enders HD Collection, I knew this game was on the right track.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance focuses on Raiden, four years after the collapse of the Patriots’ system which controlled the war economy and generally drove the world into chaos. Since that time, cyborgs have become commonplace, with rogue PMC groups terrorizing civilians, and even kidnapping children for their organs, to be turned into cyborg weapons. Raised as a child soldier, Raiden sympathizes with the powerless innocents of the world, and vows to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
Within moments of booting up Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, my heart was pumping, and honestly, I felt a rush throughout almost the entire game. The swordplay feels fantastic, and even before all the combat and suit upgrades, you truly feel like a superhuman. Tearing through dozens of cyborg enemies, robots and even a Metal Gear Ray feels appropriately effortless. The entirety of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance lives up to the spectacular sequence in MGS4 when Raiden takes on multiple Gekkos and Vamp.
Whenever he dismembers and destroys an opponent, Raiden will gain BP, which can be used to buy new weapon and suit upgrades. Integral to surviving in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is Blade Mode, wherein time slows and you can slice your foes to pieces. Raiden’s new suit requires electrolytes, and by slicing open a specific target in an enemy’s torso, you can rip out their spine, crushing it and absorbing its nutrients into your suit- refilling both your health and fuel cells. And yes, it’s just as awesome as what was shown in the original Metal Gear Solid: Rising trailer.
Since repair gel (the game’s health packs, in place of the series’ standard rations) is fairly uncommon in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, you need to use this technique quite often to survive. It keeps you on your toes, and forces you to master the game’s combat system, which is quite complicated once all the abilities are introduced. I didn’t fully get the hang of it until the endgame, but once I did, it just clicked, and I felt like the cyborg superhero the game had been training me to be for hours. This is certainly not a pick-up-and-play game, but practice makes perfect, and your patience is rewarded. One of the things that took me longest to grasp, which is especially true against the game’s bosses, is that knowing when not to attack is just as important as knowing when to unleash on your opponent. This is not God of War, and though the gameplay feels a bit similar at times (including multi-weapon combos and a rage mode induced by clicking in the analog sticks), you can’t run into a boss fight and try to chain together a 50-hit combo. The Desperado Elite will knock you on your ass and make you look like a fool. Go for light hits, and only go full-out when you know an enemy is dazed. I wish I knew this before I began my first playthrough. Mastering the parry and dodge are beyond integral to succeeding in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
And that’s where Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s design flaws start to show through. Parrying is way too hard to pull off. While playing the game’s demo I felt that the parry was way too unforgiving, but I figured it would be fixed by the time the game shipped. It wasn’t. It feels completely random when the parry connects or not, and I could never grasp what I was doing wrong, if anything. This technique either needed a far better tutorial, or it should have been easier to pull off. The game’s hit-or-miss camera doesn’t help matters; combined with enemies that love to quickly jump out of your view and attack from behind, it’s a recipe for disaster. I have a saintlike level of patience most of the time, and I uttered more f-bombs during the boss fights than the bosses themselves (which was a hell of a lot). Near the end of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance I discovered that by pressing the jump and light attack buttons, I could dodge moves (even the infuriating unblockable “yellow” moves), which helped immensely. But why the hell did the game never tell me about this? I literally didn’t discover this until the final boss fight, and thank god I had, or I’d be re-loading the checkpoint for the 50th time now. I got my ass handed to me (on two separate occasions) by the Desperado Elite boss, Monsoon, and once I discovered the dodge, I realized that this is what the game wanted me to use all along. I mean, the game should have notified me of this fundamental tactic on screen after 5 back-to-back deaths or so.
That said, the boss fights are incredible- they’re like playable cinematics. The metal soundtrack and manga-style action, combined with the generally fantastic swordplay in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance got my heart pumping harder than any other game in recent memory. But the frustration of not knowing how to beat a boss, and replaying lengthy battles many times depleted my excitement level pretty quickly. With Monsoon, I thought there was something clever going on, like with the Metal Gear Solid 4 Vamp fight; he was invincible until you realized you had to use a certain item from your inventory. Remembering that battle, I desperately searched through my inventory and sub-weapons, throwing EMP grenades and everything else in my possession to no avail; I still have no idea how I managed to finally beat that guy. While I’m on the subject of the inventory, I really disliked that the menu could only be opened when you were standing completely still for a full second; the game moves way too fast for this kind of system. In every other Metal Gear game, you could access your inventory instantly, even mid-animation. In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I got sucker-punched many times just trying to access repair gel or electrolyte packs, or switch my sub-weapon. Another relatively big issue is the game’s stealth sections. They definitely feel shoehorned in, and they break the flow of the game too much. The fast-paced swordplay is so fantastic that I practically ran through the stealth sections just to get back to them. Beyond unlockable titles, VR missions and upgrading weapons and abilities, there’s really not a ton of reason to replay Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, besides the fact that it’s just very addictive and fun. It should be noted that the game seems designed for replays though, as you won’t max out your upgrades until at least two times through, and Very Hard and Revengeance modes don’t unlock until you beat the hardest modes first. That said, I would have loved to see something of a documentary showcasing the game’s troubled development cycle- it would have been quite interesting. And imagine how cool it would have been to be able to unlock the original demo developed by Kojima Productions!
Graphically, Metal Gear Rising generally looks pretty good. It runs at 60 frames per second (supposedly a requirement from Kojima-san himself), and though the character models look great, the environments seem to have taken a bit of a hit to keep the frame-rate up. With the insane amount of action on screen at any given moment, however, it’s easy to overlook the generic, undetailed environments. The voice acting is quite good, with Quinton Flynn finally managing to make Raiden sound threatening, though in “Ripper” mode he seems to be aping the gravelly tone of Solid Snake. The series’ trademark Japanese humor is intact throughout, with some genuinely funny references and dialogue. The game’s music deserves special mention- it’s so great that I will definitely seek out the soundtrack. During the credits, I discovered the bulk of it was produced by Machine Head’s Logan Mader- he did a fantastic job.
I was a bit surprised how the game went to such great lengths to distance itself from the core Metal Gear Solid franchise. It may surprise you to learn that there is absolutely no mention of Snake, Colonel Campbell, or anyone else you remember, with the exception of Sunny. While I was impressed that Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance packs a cast of characters interesting enough to stand on its own, I don’t think I’m alone in wishing for a few more cameos or references. There’s still plenty of familiar MGS goodness though; girly posters, cardboard boxes, and the Codec and Soliton Radar System return. In lieu of dog tags, you can lop off an enemy’s left hand to obtain their combat data and ID, which can be viewed in the game’s Unlockables section. Even the old MGS ranking system has returned. Beyond all that, however, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance truly feels like a standalone game.
I had high hopes for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance ever since I first heard about the project, and I have to say I was not disappointed. The game has a Ninja-Gaiden level of difficulty, and a similar learning curve, but once you finally wrap your head around the minutiae of the game mechanics, you feel unstoppable. The story is well-told and surprisingly coherent, and the main characters are well-acted. The bosses have a surprising amount of personality and depth- these are some of my favorite characters in all of Metal Gear’s history. “Jetstream Sam”, in particular, is a fantastic character, and all the boss fights were amazing- they’re burned into my memory and are without question some of the best boss battles of all time. In fact, despite the game’s issues, I still feel a strong urge to pick it up and play it again- and that, to me, is the true hallmark of a great game.