By Steve Wright
This year, we've already been treated to two games that are a bit different from what we'd normally expect, and both are hack-and-slash titles. When Capcom decided that Devil May Cry needed more of an American influence, they went to Ninja Theory and westernised franchise to create DmC. In Konami's case, the stealth-between-cutscene gameplay of the popular Metal Gear Solid series was cut away (pun intended) to go in a new direction with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, an action-oriented title featuring its cyborg-ninja protagonist, Raiden. While Capcom's risk with DmC seems to have paid off, were Konami as successful with this familiar-yet-not property?
If Metal Gear Solid is about stealth with a bit of combat, Metal Gear Rising is about combat with a bit of stealth. Simple as that. The game feels like a Metal Gear one right from the get-go, and it's not just because Raiden is front and centre. The game looks and sounds like Metal Gear. The all-too familiar codec noise will sound off in your ear when you receive a message from a contact. The appearance of the codec pop-up looks like the previous games. Game menus, VR mission layouts, near-death pings and a plethora of other detailed touches keeps Revengeance firmly rooted in the established world.
Where the Snakes interact with the universe as soldiers, Raiden's a super-cyborg. He can flip around with a samurai sword and co-exist in the same persistent universe as those old dudes with eye patches… and best yet, Raiden and the Snakes can all take a break by hiding under a cardboard box.
The crazy Japaneseness of both Platinum Games and Hideo Kojima are all over Revengeance. As such, you're going to encounter enemies toting weapons bigger than their bodies. You'll be fighting in gimmicky boss battles that would fit just as well in Mega Man as they do in Metal Gear (read: Wind Man! Arm Girl!). Get used to overly-long cutscenes, and expect far too much exposition to be delivered in them. As bosses expertly guide you through their complex, politically charged plans, count on having more acronyms thrown at you than you can shake a sword at. And just once in the game, you'll experience a cutscene speech in first person for some unknown reason. Oh yes, the Metal Gearness of this game is decidedly confirmed.
Combat is satisfying and easy to pick up, yet extremely hard to master. For the life of me, I still can't parry against anything but low-level cyborgs, but that's okay. Rather than try to fight with a system I wasn't excelling at, there were enough tools at my disposal to get good at something else. Instead of standing my ground, fighting and dodging (as I think the game would have rather had me play), I was able to use Raiden's Ninja Run to dodge and slash my way through grunts and bosses. Combat is fluid, and all of its elements will mean that you're going to fight in a very different manner than your friend will. A tip for those playing the game, here: On Xbox 360, RB is your target lock-on button. I wish a tutorial had taken me through that so I didn't have to stumble upon it late into the game.
Blade mode is both gory and intensely satisfying. After absorbing enough enemy electrolytes to get into the mode (and the absorption happens automatically, don't you fret), Raiden essentially slows down time to be able to plan intricate sword slashes. As mentioned in the preview, it's best to flick the right stick to slash rather than just moving your thumb around from left to right. As you excel, you'll also benefit from aiming your slashes with a combination of the left-stick (to look) and the right-stick (to slash). Precise slashing means that you'll be able to sever torsos to vampirically grab an enemy's spine -- which you'll use as a health pack -- or their left hand, which contains coded information that will help to earn you some bonus goodies.
I wasn't amazing at severing hands, but I was good enough at combat and blade mode… at least, I was, right up until the final bit of the game. Revengeance's combat difficulty amps WAY up at the end – it took me two hours to complete the last boss fight, as I kept having the floor mopped up with my dead, limp body. I understood the bosses' patterns, but one hit from the man in question put me into a dazed state which meant that single strike turned into a combo that took 80% of my health away in one go. A feeling of being challenged soon turned into frustration and then to anger very quickly, as I basically sat there playing with the feeling that I hadn't been coached enough to deal with the problem that the game had suddenly laid in front of me. On the flipside, I guess, finally besting that last boss brought with it an immense feeling of success and relief… so that was almost worth it, in the end. Almost.
For stealth enthusiasts, there are ways to sneak about levels and avoid combat – though you're not going to be able to that in every instance. Just as you'd expect from Metal Gear, you'll elevate from normal to a "Caution" alert if you're tipping yourself off to enemies, and then into full-blown "Alert" when in direct lines-of-sight. Both "Caution" and "Alert" modes have cool-down timers so you can progress down the scale if trying to stealth. The only thing that is missing if you're stealth in Revengeance with previous Metal Gear titles are vision cones that help track where an opponent is looking. Raiden does have an Augmented Reality mode which is really useful to find extras, but it just doesn’t cut it for stealth.
Revengeance also suffers from plot and pacing problems. At times, the title tries to shed light on Raiden's dualistic nature. Now a protector who wields a sword for justice, the game doesn't hesitate to remind you of Raiden's sadistic, homicidal past as "Jack the Ripper". The game toys with the idea of Raiden falling back into past habits, essentially losing himself in the process, but can't achieve anything lasting; by the end, status quo is returned. To make this even more confusing, Raiden 's voice acting is all over the shop; initially, his voice hardened up as he reverted to his Ripper persona, and his body in turn began to glow a strange red hue. Shortly afterward, cutscenes had gentle Raiden voice and Jack-Raiden voice flipping in and out of every sentence, in what I think was an unintentional move. There wasn't any red glow thrumming in and out, at any rate. Regardless, the dualism thing fell flat on its face.
As far as pacing, I refer you to previous references to overly long, exposition filled cutscenes (though you're probably expecting those). Worse, we're used to philosophical and political ideologies littered amongst cutscenes, but the final boss' message was just lost alongside its absurdity. Kojima, I love Metal Gear, but you really need to tone it down a notch or two. Moreso – and without ruining too much of the story -- two chapters of the game's total eight simply have Raiden moving to a goal destination in order to close out the game. Short games don't make bad games, but time was wasted on travel sequences that could have better been used to flesh out subplots involving the game's villains.
On the whole, Revengeance is a well-executed new direction (or is that new parallel?) for the Metal Gear franchise. Where Solid will definitely provide for one type of gamer, action and hack-and-slash junkies are going to love Rising. While challenging, those who stick at it will persevere, and fans of the genre will find enough in its weapons and combo strings to keep perfecting their style, and in turn, their level scores.
Due to a shipping delay, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance will be available in Australian and New Zealand stores from 26 February. Get on it as soon as you can.