If there is a case to be made that video game storylines should be looked at with the same equality and integrity as their celluloid cousins, then the Metal Gear saga would be exhibit A. Inspired by tales of Cold War espionage, smoke-and-mirror conspiracy theories and the post 9-11 war economy, the series married creator Hideo Kojima’s love of Eastern anime culture with his fascination with Western politics together to become one of the best loved collections of video games in history. So when Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was announced back in 2009, this time focusing on “lightning bolt action” as opposed to “tactical espionage action,” it came as no surprise that the news was met with worrying caution and apprehension by long-time fans. Given the change in gameplay style, Kojima sought the help of Platinum Games, already proven masters of fast-paced third person action games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish, to take the reigns of a title that needed to satisfy both Metal Gear addicts and fans of hack’n’slash combat games.
Set four years after Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots this spin-off from the main series focuses on Solid Snake’s platinum haired cybernetic ally Raiden, now working for private military company Maverick Enterprises. The once child soldier now cyborg ninja works to deter the threat of war by installing a military policing presence in politically unstable nations. However the void left by the Patriots’ death has now been filled by rival PMC Desperado Enterprises, who believe in kick-starting the war economy once again by creating an army of cyborg ninjas and UGs (Unmanned Gears) to aid extremists, warmongers and terrorists across the globe, in a fast-paced storyline that certainly resonates with today’s preoccupation with the war on terror.
It’s not just the storyline that’s fast-paced either. The gameplay boldly moves away from the stealth genre into realms more akin to hack‘n’slash games such as DmC: Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Raiden comes equipped with a high-frequency blade (a favourite amongst Metal Gear Solid elitists) that can cut through enemies like butter. Don’t expect your typical dozy genome soldier however, as these enemy cyborgs can block and parry Raiden’s attacks meaning that countering attacks is essential for mustering combos, and button bashing is ill-advised. Getting to grips with the swordplay can be difficult at first but once mastered; getting to see Raiden in full swing is simply a joy to watch and even better to control. For those who yearned to play as the Cyborg Ninja Grey Fox from the first Metal Gear Solid, this is the closest experience you will get to date.
The selling point behind Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the all new Blade mode. This allows players to use their analogues to cut enemies into fish food with key precision, monitored by a tally counter keeping track of how many pieces you have in fact sliced off during your attack. It can also be used to parry enemy strikes in a slow motion, bullet time experience akin to that of Max Payne and Enter the Matrix. As the game progresses, Blade mode becomes crucial in defeating larger and stronger enemies, and can also be used to perform zan-datsu, a counter attack move that sees Raiden rip the glowing spines and fuel cells from his opponent in order to replenish his health.
Ninja Dash is a concept completely new to Metal Gear. Gone are the days of sticking against walls, crawling through air-vents and avoiding spotlights as Raiden can quite literally run rings around his opponents while making his attack. Ninja Dash can also be used to scale obstacles and climb up some of the larger UGs in the game, or even make a quick escape should it all get a bit too much. It’s a far cry from what Metal Gear is all about but helps keep the game’s momentum going at breakneck speed. The only downside to Ninja Dash is that it becomes more difficult to avoid or counter enemy attacks, and doesn’t quite work as a “dodge” button that is usually present in games of this genre. Timing counter attacks becomes increasingly difficult as the game progresses and the enemies become more deadly, so keeping your stick movements in check becomes a crucial part of the gameplay.
There are still some elements of stealth that come into play during Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, so as not to completely alienate fans from the series. Raiden can use his visor to gather intel on the area and strategize accordingly. He can also sneak up on enemy soldiers and perform a quick kill so as not to alert others. Confrontation in heavily guarded levels can be avoided almost completely using the classic cardboard box trick, but this serves as more of a homage to the Solid Snake-era than a viable method of approach. As Raiden makes mincemeat out of his enemies, he collects points that can be spent between levels on upgrades, new combos, even special armour and weapons, so it makes sense to tackle foes head-on rather than lurking in the shadows.
Of course, no Metal Gear game is complete without memorable boss battles and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance doesn’t let the side down. The Desperado cyborgs have a tough act to follow, with previous games featuring distinguished and memorable alumni such as Foxhound and the Beauty and the Beast unit. Thankfully these fights are imaginative, deadly and down-right difficult enough to make their predecessors proud. One small criticism would be the lack of trademark self-reflexive ingenuity behind each fight, especially when you think back to the unforgettable controller-port-exchange trick during the PlayStation One’s Metal Gear Solid Psycho Mantis fight, or the quick-thinking “cheat” method to dispatch The End in the early stages of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Still, whether it is the separating body parts of Monsoon or the Explosive Shield wielded by Sundowner you’ll be both cursing and reminiscing about these boss battles for quite some time.
It’s not just the boss characters that are inspired either. Raiden’s transformation since his lukewarm reception in Metal Gear Solid 2 has come full circle, going from bland androgynous being to full-blown cybernetic bad-ass with all the trimmings. Much of the game’s palette has been borrowed from Metal Gear Solid 4, with level designs subdued in their colour tone allowing the smatterings of blood to vividly spill out onto the surface. There are a number of frame-rate glitches, particularly during moments of intense action, but it’s one of the very few technical problems within the game.
Metal Gear games have often been both criticised and applauded by gamers for their complex movie-length cut scenes. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has done its very best to keep its cinematics as short as possible without allowing the plot to dip in quality. However, there are times when the inclusion of a cut-scene will happen at a pivotal moment of the game, perhaps interfering with the fast pacing that the rest of the game strives to maintain. Some of the Codec conversations happen in-game so as not to completely remove the player from the action and usually Raiden can still move towards his next destination, albeit at walking speed.
The game can be completed in approximately six to eight hours, depending on how quickly you master the combat and if you choose to watch the cutscenes. It may not sound like a lot but after giving your thumbs a serious work out, it’s actually just the right amount of time needed to tell Raiden’s story. However in typical Metal Gear fashion there are plenty of reasons to give the game another play through. Much like dog-tag collecting side quest in Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden can use a combination of his infra-red vision and Blade mode to suss out which enemy cyborgs have “vital information” stored in their right arms. If successful in severing this limb without causing it any other damage, these can be collected in order to unlock some bonus content such as artwork and files on the Metal Gear universe.
Scattered around each level are a number of enemy Intel laptops that if located, will unlock further VR missions. These VR missions play out like time-trials, giving players instructions on how they should defeat their enemies and in a specific time limit. If that wasn’t enough, the game ranks you after each level with a rating, meaning that truly mastering this game will take several playthroughs in order to score an S ranking all the way through. On top of all this, the traditional Metal Gear game completion unlockables and the promise of downloadable content could potentially mean that there is still more to come from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance over the next few months.
Given the games industry’s current trend to reboot and reinvent popular gaming series’, long-time Metal Gear fans can rest assured that this spin-off is very much worthy of its namesake. After a rocky reception in Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden has at long last established himself as just an equally intriguing hero as the infamous Solid Snake. It may take some time for gamers to get their head around such a radical departure from the stealth genre, but given that the Metal Gear universe has such a rich mythology full of intriguing characters, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance certainly proves that this franchise is still very much Solid as a rock, no matter what direction it decides to go in.