If you couldn’t already tell by its title, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a pretty absurd game. It’s a spinoff of Solid Snake’s story, but it bounces between the corny sight gags and self-serious treatises on morality that define the Metal Gear universe. The difference is that Revengeance was developed by PlatniumGames, a studio as obsessed with speed and combat as Kojima studios is with stealth. There are some things around the periphery that detract from the game’s otherwise excellent sword-based fighting system, but the core mechanics remain fittingly sharp.
For those of us actually interested in the baffling maze that is Metal Gear lore, the game fits in nicely with the broader series. Revengeance takes place after Metal Gear Solid 4 in a world struggling to re-calibrate in the absence of the Patriots and their control of the global war economy. Again, don’t worry if that last sentence didn’t make any sense; the story is by no means crucial to enjoying the game. For fans however, there is plenty of talk about memes, cybernetic soldiers, and private military corporations. As always, villains deliver soliloquies about morality and politics during fights, and there are plenty of references to the ways historical conflicts have shaped the world. References to terrorism and the impact of September 11th on the American psyche can get a little heavy handed, but the game (like most Metal Gear games) still raises some valid points. There aren’t many game stories so openly critical of U.S. militarism and politics.
Of course, what the game says and what you do in it are often two different things. While the authored narrative is about the pitfalls of imperialism, the moment to moment gameplay is about slicing things into as many things as possible. I mean that literally. The game keeps track of how many pieces enemies become, and you are awarded points for more effective fighting. Raiden’s amazing moves were mostly confined to cut scenes in MGS 4, and Platinum does an outstanding job with giving the player control in Reveangence.
Fighting is comprised of basic light, heavy, and secondary attacks that can be combined in numerous ways to launch enemies into the air and leave them open to a finishing move. The left shoulder button activates a “bullet time” mode in which enemies slow down and you use the two analog sticks to unleash a flurry of cuts from strategic angles. Depending on your timing and your aiming skill, limbs, torsos, and heads can be methodically lopped off in order to trigger health and stamina-replenishing crescendos. As was the case in Platinum’s other games like Bayonetta and Vanquish, the fighting system requires and rewards those who seek technical mastery.
Enemy groups and visual effects give every encounter a feeling of controlled chaos. Getting the best scores means thinking quickly, but also tactically, as you control the flow of battle. Unsurprisingly, the game is fast. Ironically, the only framerate hitches that I experienced were during “walk-and-talk” radio conversations meant to expound on the plot. When the action ramps up, the barriers between the screen, the controller, and your hands seem to melt away.
It’s a shame then that the game is marred by a few key deficiencies that make learning these systems cumbersome. When it comes to learning how the play the game, Revengeance doesn’t do you any favors. The tutorial quickly tells you how to do a finishing move, how to parry, and how free form blade mode works, and then dumps you into the game. Without any enforced practice or a gradual ramp up, the first boss initially seems insurmountable. I can easily imagine most people would give up then and there rather than take the time to teach themselves how to fight, and I’d have a hard time blaming them.
There are several of these harsh difficulty spikes throughout the game (including one that makes the final boss an extremely frustrating experience). It’s as if the game assumes that you’ve been improving rather than falling into stale fighting habits, but it never really checks to see if that’s the case before throwing a boss at you. It’s a crude approach to difficulty that forces improvement without really doing much to guide the player. Some might say this is simply a design philosophy, but I’d bet those would be the same types who love Demon’s Souls.
And then there are the things that are much more difficult to defend on philosophical grounds. There are several instant-fail quicktime event sequences that feel tacked on and completely out of place. The basic fighting system is about testing and improvising, whereas these sequences are about finding a single correct path and never deviating from it. The upgrade system and UI are also needlessly cumbersome. Purchasing single use, perpetual move upgrades doesn’t actually activate them. They must be equipped for some weird reason. Secondary weapons like grenades and missiles are far less useful than the normal melee weapons. Additionally, they require you to come to a complete standstill in order to use them, which seems like the exact thing you wouldn’t want to do if you were a cybernetic ninja.
All of this means that Revengeance is a blast for people looking for the next highly technical character-action based game and folks looking for another trip into the twisted world of Metal Gear, but it probably won’t win many converts. There are some bizarrely funny moments (apparently even robots have trouble figuring out which side of the USB drive is “up”) and plenty of systemic depth for action fans. Despite a few dull spots, Revengeance delivers the strange post-modernism that defines Metal Gear and the precise action that defines a PlatinumGames title.