Stace Harman goes hands-on with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to find out what happens when two worlds collide and lengthy exposition meets lightning action.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance started life in 2009 as Metal Gear Solid: Rising. It was originally intended to sit between the events of Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4, but is now set several years after the latter title.
The game’s not out until February 2013, but developer Platinum Games has already expressed a desire to develop future Raiden-centric titles.
A demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was packed-in with the Zone of Enders HD Collection; a standalone version of that demo will be available to download for PS3 and 360 in January.
Game director Atsushi Inaba has told of the moment that he broke the news to the Platinum Games team that they would be responsible for the development of Metal Gear Rising.
The depiction of Raiden as a fusion of man and machine serves as a fitting reference for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Platinum Games and Kojima Productions have combined forces to create a hybrid title that benefits from the partnership of two companies known for their strong ideals and unique identities.
What was once envisioned as a slower-paced, Bushido-focused title created solely by Kojima Productions has turned into a slick, cyborg ninja slash-fest produced by acclaimed Bayonetta-developer, Platinum Games.
One might cynically suggest that removing it from the Metal Gear Solid canon allows Hideo Kojima to disassociate himself from Revengeance should it prove to be a disaster. However, after walking a mile in Raiden’s high-heeled titanium shoes, I’m convinced that the auteur director will be proud to be associated with the finished product.
For franchise fans, the most important result of the Platinum/Kojima fusion is that Revengeance is unmistakeably a Metal Gear title. A host of identifiable strands of the series’ DNA run through its cybernetically enhanced blood stream: aesthetics, stealth, meta-narrative, lore, existential theorising and off-beat humour.
These are combined with Platinum Games own a defining characteristics of challenging game play, a high-level of polish, and an ocean-deep, multi-faceted combat system.
It all gets off to a breathless, rip-roaring start. Within the first 20 minutes I’ve reduced low-level blade fodder to ribbons, run full pelt down the outside of a vertical tower, used incoming missiles as aerial stepping stones and destroyed a gargantuan that could easily find work elsewhere as an end-of-game boss.
Unfortunately for Raiden, shortly after this period of being made to look and feel invincible he has a run with a glib sword-master who gorily renders him entirely ineffectual and altogether impotent.
We can rebuild him. We have the technology.
Through a relatively-short-by-Metal-Gear-standards cutscene, we’re introduced to the major cast-members of Team Raiden and given our first glimpse of Raiden’s harder-edged personality after some fairly dramatic surgery.
He theorises on the black and white choice made by his enemies and goes on to display cold, dispassionate calm at the notion of harvesting his cyborg foes for upgrade components; like “vending machines full of blood” as one of his Codec-contacts eloquently describes them.
Shortly after this blunt exchange, the first of Metal Gear Rising’s more considered sections begins as Raiden makes his way through a militarised downtown area. Here, the first opportunity for some stealthy back-stabbing and head stomping is presented.
The implementation of the stealth system – complete with the familiar sound-effect denoting that the guards have discovered you – will no doubt please Metal Gear enthusiasts. However, the sudden change of pace could confuse newcomers who have come to Revengeance off the back of the action-heavy trailers and are pumped-up after the adrenaline-fuelled opening.
Fortunately, you have the choice of how to approach the patrolling guards and it is possible, though not recommended, to launch a full-frontal assault. However, if you want to play stealth to avoid having to face-off against several enemies at once, you’re going to have to stay your blade and patiently stalk your enemies to earn the right to perform one-hit stealth kills.
This is true of much of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Throughout, Platinum ensures that you feel like you’ve earned level progress, combat victories, upgrades and even health packs.
Button mashing is sufficient against the lowest-level grunts but you’ll need to do more than spam the vertical and horizontal attack buttons if you’re to retrieve the healing energy cells stored within them or effectively take down a Gecko (a 3m-tall, bipedal automaton that kicks like a mule, moos like a cow and bleeds like a stuck pig). For these situations, you’re going to need to step it up a notch to master the first of Rising’s three core principles of combat: parrying.
There are two levels to parrying: the first acts as a basic block to incoming attacks, while the second is activated only if both the timing and direction of the parry are perfect. Achieve this and Raiden repels the attack and can follow up with one of his own.
One early boss that can only be damaged after a successful parry quickly highlights the importance of mastering this technique. I was initially hopeless at identifying from which direction this particular foe’s attacks were coming from and, as Platinum is not a developer known to hand-hold, I sat stuck on the boss for an inordinate length of time until it finally clicked and I was able to put an end to it.
Once learned, effectively parrying the attack of a lower-level enemy can immediately launch Raiden into the deadly Blade Mode, which is the second of the game’s key combat tenets. This headline feature allows you to slice and dice enemies into hundreds of pieces but its tactical strength is in its precision cutting that enables Raiden to gain access to the internal energy cells.
Blade mode can act as a fascinating diversion outside of combat as you see how many pieces the level furniture can be sliced in to but it is best put to use as a technique to decimate foes and harvest their key components for Raiden’s upgrades.
The third of Metal Gear Rising’s combat pillars is the combo system. This really starts to open-up a couple of hours in, after Raiden has faced-off against the multi-limbed Mistral. With Mistral defeated, Raiden has access to his first alternate weapon: a ruddy great pole-arm that can also be used as a mechanical whip.
Raiden’s fast blade attacks can then be combined with the heavier, longer ranged attacks of the Etranger. Use of the in-game VR training can help you perfect technique and my advice to you is to make good use of it whenever you acquire a new weapon. It’s important to ensure that you fully grasp the nuances of combat system in order to avoid frustration on later levels.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance brings together Kojima’s tactical espionage and Platinum’s liquid grace. It feels at once like a Metal Gear title and a Platinum Games labour of love and looks on course to be a stunning example of what happens when one of video games’ most revered directors puts his faith in one of video games’ most uncompromising development teams.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance launches on PS3 and 360 on February 19 in North America and February 22 in Europe.