(Xbox 360 Review) Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Developer: Kojima Productions / PlatinumGames
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Action
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 7.5 = Good

It can’t be easy being Raiden. First, you’re a child soldier, forced to fight and kill against your will. Then, just as it seems as if you might find redemption and recognition, everyone ends up hating you because you replace the iconic Solid Snake in what was—unbeknownst to you—ostensibly a Political Stealth-Action Thriller Starring Solid Snake. After several ridicule-filled years in the shadows, you finally get your own title, complete with your own business and support crew. At last, a second chance. And like clockwork, right when it seems as if the worst is behind you, you are struck down so thoroughly that your friends end up having to put the pieces back together, creating a sort of postmodern Frankenstein.  Snake never had to put up with this.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has more history behind it than most titles. Originally conceived as a bridge to fill in the gaps of the Raiden storyline between his debut in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and surprise return as a badass, katana-wielding cyborg in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, it proved to be a difficult project for developers Kojima Productions to nail down. Eventually, the studio decided to approach the action connoisseurs at PlatinumGames, creators of such raucous titles as Bayonetta, MadWorld, and Vanquish. The result of this is partnership is the Revengeance we have today, with Kojima Productions responsible for the story, cutscenes, and direction, and PlatinumGames for the gameplay.

The final product is a true collaboration between the two seemingly disparate studios, with the game’s over-the-top, chaotic action frequently punctuated by referential dialog and an opaque storyline tinged with bizarre interactions and socio-political commentary. The two styles play off one another in a way that will jolt those unaware of the studios’ proclivities but delight fans of either. Those who are simply seeking an action title but aren’t familiar with the Metal Gear series will be put off by the frequent and sometimes lengthy discourses between the characters, sometimes even in the middle of extended encounters.  Fans of Kojima Productions’ peculiar dialog will get a considerable kick out of the references to 2001, Spaghetti Westerns, and even Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ninja Rap’ from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II; however, those expecting more traditional fare will simply be befuddled. I imagine there will be more than a few raised eyebrows at Raiden’s decision to don a sombrero and poncho in an effort to fit in with the locals during his time in Mexico.

The interruptive nature of the many digressions disrupts the flow of combat, which goes from being fast and furious to a slow crawl as Raiden strolls around, finger to earpiece, chatting with his team. The heavy-handedness of the dialog can also be off-putting, frequently taking on the nature of a first-year student of philosophy or political science waxing prosaically about the nature of man and war. I found the game to be most effective when it smartly utilized callbacks and played it straight. A good example of this is when a passing reference to the privatization of the Denver police force comes back to the fore during a later cutscene, when while in Denver, an officer tries to shoot Raiden in the face before telling him to pull over. While the amalgam of the two styles ended up being more serviceable than elegant, they work together surprisingly well, with the Kojima Productions-handled elements in particular being spot-on.

As someone who enjoys much of PlatinumGames’ work, I went into Revengeance expecting gameplay to be a lock and assuming that the implementation of the narrative would be the primarily cause for concern. Instead, I found the story to be standard for the franchise and the gameplay to be the problem. As an experienced studio that has put out some of the best action games this generation, from melee brawlers to shooters, PlatinumGames knows how to deliver titles that provide exhilarating encounters and rewarding learning curves like few others in the industry. And while Revengeance certainly has some memorable battles and a great fighting system at its core, it is also plagued by an erratic camera and a shoddy targeting system. This will affects players to varying degrees, depending on what they want out of the game. Those who want a great-looking game with fast, flashy moves and don’t mind the occasional death between hectic encounters and cinematic quick-time events will be more than happy to tap away and reload their save file. However, there are others, like myself, who want a game to deliver a balanced experience that punishes when necessary but also reveals its more intricate nature as progress is made and skills unlocked. For instance, Vanquish did a superb job of slowly shedding its trappings of a traditional third-person cover-based shooter during its campaign, ultimately revealing itself to be an old-style arcade game made in a contemporary mold, complete with a host of tricks and skill-based moves that beg for high scores to be topped. Revengeance never reaches such heights.

It should be noted that Kojima Productions’ earlier work wasn’t completely discarded in favor of an entirely new design. Instead, PlatinumGames took the main conceit—Raiden’s increased prowess with his katana—and ran with it. A strong attack and a light attack are augmented by a free-slice attack, which has a stationary Raiden able to pivot left or right and slash vertically, horizontally, or anywhere in-between with a precision slash that is controlled by the right analog stick. If his fuel cells are maxed, Raiden will enter Blade Mode when engaging in free slicing. As long as he has fuel, he will not only be able to freely slice through enemies, but also target weak spots and perform what are known as zan-datsu kills. Colloquially dubbed the stab-and-grab, these kills involve him slicing into the targeted area and then ripping out and absorbing the cyborg’s self-repair units to replenish his health and fuel; they’re also perfect for chaining together kills. It’s all very gory, and very satisfying. Some soldiers have important data stored in units mounted on their left arms, and by skillfully removing enough of these with a free slice, crewmate Doktor can piece together special upgrades. There are also secondary weapons to pick up, such as homing missiles, rocket launchers, and various grenade types, but the most potent supplemental weapons are those unique arms scavenged from defeated bosses. Throughout the six- to seven-hour campaign, Raiden will battle not only run-of-the-mill cyborgs, but also Desperado Enterprise’s top-tier mercs, whose upgradable weapons are handy for clearing out low-level groups. Whether you’re battling an advanced mercenary with multiple arms or separable appendages, or just a squad of grunts, all combat sequences are graded. The letter grade received after a fight depends on a variety of factors, including damage taken and enemies killed. Those who prove their mettle by earning a high score also scoop up bonus points.

While achieving an A rank in combat requires some finesse, the only way to achieve the vaunted S rank is by avoiding damage through full use of the parrying system. Due to the game’s lack of a traditional block button, it is crucial for players to familiarize themselves with this mechanic as soon as possible. Actually, it’s a necessity, as there’s a boss early on who is brutal for anyone who doesn’t make use of parrying. Raiden is able to parry attacks by moving the analog stick from center to the direction of the enemy and pressing the attack button right before contact, which will leave them open for a counterattack. The parry button happens to be the same as the attack button, which means that any misstep will result in a whiff, followed by a swift and painful lesson in proper timing. There is also an unlockable side-step slash, but it’s best used during smaller encounters. Many times, a missed parry will result in a hard blow that staggers Raiden, sending him into an error mode that requires the left analog stick to be wiggled wildly to correct. However, what’s most frustrating is that the fault frequently doesn’t lie with the player, but with the game.

For those who aren’t playing on Easy or are striving to achieve an A or S combat rating, the camera and control problems are infuriating. When a game has as many swift punishments as Revengeance, the controls need to be impeccable. Otherwise, a particularly nasty imbalance arises where mere skill can’t address the problem. I found myself at the mercy of an erratic camera and flaky targeting system countless times throughout the game, with the view randomly shifting to show empty hallways and corners of rooms, regardless of whether or not I was in combat. This becomes especially troublesome whenever enemies pounce as a group within indoor environments, something which happens frequently, and the camera offers no way for players to time parries or side-steps. A solid targeting system would go a long way in making the fidgety camera more tolerable, but instead, it frequently unlocks for no apparent reason. These two issues work in conjunction to make the “error” punishment one of the game’s more maddening mechanics, given how often the left analog stick is being frantically banged about to get out of an attack that shouldn’t have landed.

Points earned throughout play are applied to a variety of upgrades, such as body, main weapon, unique weapon, and weapon skills. Aside from those rewarded through high combat grades, one significant alternate point source is from items housed in chests hidden throughout the levels, offering sizable boosts to those who take the time to look around. Exploration is fairly easy thanks to Ninja Run, a sprint that has Raiden automatically slide under and scale objects, and a special visor mode that highlights enemies and chests. Trying to find some of the more tucked-away chests is what led to most of the theatric one-hit stealth kills, which bring the only real stealth element to the game. Another perk to exploration is the discovery of portable computer terminals that unlock VR Missions. As in the previous Metal Gear titles, VR Missions are short objective-based side missions that task players with everything from achieving an all zan-datsu run to defeating enemies using only secondary weapons, and beating one of the top three records will reward you with a much-needed point windfall. I ended up having to grind during the last level, the entirety of which is the final boss battle, in order to defeat the final form, an aggressively unimaginative brute. I had to replay the VR Missions several times over so that I could upgrade Raiden’s body and main weapon until I could hold my own. To be fair, the ability to exit the story and play through the missions was appreciated, especially when I stumbled onto a new unlock, and a generous checkpoint system allowed me to jump right back where I left off.

Revengeance is a solid game, but it isn’t quite on par with PlatinumGames’ previous efforts. The camera and controls need work, and the game’s documentation is lacking, with no moves listed in the manual and in-game only through the Help menu. The tutorials are also incredibly barebones, which makes the early game rough going for newcomers. Dropping to Easy helps, but doing so takes away some of the skill requirements, while playing on Normal can often be incredibly frustrating. In fact, the game is more enjoyable after it’s been beaten because the trial and error from some of the less-well-designed sequences is no longer an issue, especially during scripted sections where the cues are either nonexistent or next to impossible to spot amongst the chaos.

There are some post-campaign modes as well, to add a bit of weight to the lean story. A New Game Plus adds to the longevity, though it isn’t called as such; instead, players must continue after beating the game (items won’t be available until after the first mission). Individual chapters can also be played on a harder difficulty level, though starting one negates the progress made in the previously played chapter—no jumping around. VR Missions also remain available for play regardless of whether you start over with a fresh game or opt to go back through each chapter individually. The ability to go back through the game adds some replayability, but those only interested in retrying a few chapters or dabbling in the VR Missions are looking at an 11- to 12-hour outing. However, unlike Vanquish, I don’t see myself putting in Revengeance months from now to top my previous best.

For dual console owners, the best choice is the PlayStation 3 version. Aside from controller preferences, the 360 version has noticeable artifacts during cutscenes that are absent from its crisp PlayStation 3 counterpart. Additionally, future PlayStation 3-exclusive DLC has also been announced. Other than the cutscenes, however, the launch versions are the exact same.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a good game with a great premise and some solid set pieces, but it is done no favors by a poor camera system and an equally poor targeting system. It would be a shame for such potential to go unrealized, so one can only hope there are plans to address the problems in a post-launch patch. As it stands now, Revengeance packs a lot of action and offers an interesting, bloody take on the Metal Gear franchise, but it doesn’t manage to hit the same high notes as PlatinumGames’ previous work.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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