Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review
Just when you thought Metal Gear couldn’t get any sillier…
137 Alerts, reads the game completion screen. That’s 137 times (if not more) that we heard that telltale digital chirp to let us know that someone had seen us. Any other Metal Gear game and we’d be embarrassed to report so pitiful a stealth record, though it probably says more about Platinum’s change of direction for this spin-off than it does about our sneaking abilities. You see, this isn’t a sneaking mission. Sure, you can silently take down guards. Sure, you can take out cameras and slink past entire fight sequences if you want. And sure, you can hide in a cardboard box if you must. But when Raiden is capable of such awesome feats of butchery, you won’t want to go undetected – you’ll want everyone to see just how badass you can be.
Which, as it turns out, is all the badass. Raiden’s showboating antics in Metal Gear Solid 4’s month-long cut-scenes offered a window onto how awesome he was, but after a couple of years training with Platinum, all his flashiest moves are now just a button press or two away. The question we were asked most while playing through Revengeance was how it stacked up again Ninja Theory’s excellent Devil May Cry reboot, but in truth there’s little comparison to be made. Dante’s relatively basic moveset means the depth to DmC’s combat lies in cancelling and chaining individual attacks into one monster combo, whereas Raiden… well, Raiden just goes nuts with a sword as you tap away on the controller. Canned combos are the order of the day, though that isn’t to say that the depth isn’t there, rather that it can be found in other aspects of the combat system.
The first of these is defence and without any kind of block button or dodge roll in Raiden’s arsenal (at least at first), the parry is easily the most important ability in the game for anything above Easy difficulty. Correctly time and direct a light attack to meet an incoming blow and it’ll contextually change from a strike into a defensive stance – it seems like poor design at first but the more you get into the game, the more you’ll come to appreciate the sense of flow, risk, weight and (most strangely of all) realism it lends to combat. Every attack is telegraphed, though it can be easy to strike your pose too early as a foe winds up for a powerful strike, so learning audio and visual cues is essential. Get it vaguely right and you’ll turn the incoming attack aside, while a perfectly executed parry will be followed by an automatic riposte, often opening enemies up to either QTE executions or the game’s second depth charge, Blade Mode.
This gimmick lies at the very heart of what makes Revengeance’s combat so very satisfying. It can be used on its own any time Raiden’s Fuel Cell gauge is full, although it’s even more empowering (and useful) when it comes into play as a reward mechanic, a blood-soaked full stop at the end of a skilful passage. Certain attacks end with brief slow-motion windows, the blue tint and slowed action your cue to reach for the left trigger and really lay on the hurt. The right analogue stick becomes your virtual sword while in Blade Mode and although this offers the supremely satisfying ability to dice foes to order or make clinical incisions, it’s not quite as accurate as it could be. It’s more than good enough to remove individual limbs or strike weak spots for the most part, though, and when you’re cubing an enemy that had the audacity to try to hit you, it’s unlikely that you’ll even care about the one that got away.
That final act of chunking is a great way to say goodbye to regular foes, but more menacing opponents will require a little more work. They often need to be weakened before Blade Mode will do anything more than minor damage, but once they’re ready for a slicing, weakened areas will glow blue. This is your cue to get your sever on, and herein lies the game’s tactical element – do you go for instant glory with an all-or-nothing parry attempt, whittle a crowd down slowly or single out individual foes and use Blade Mode to remove them as threats by hacking off arms and legs? It’s a decision best made on the fly, though missing an opportunity to lop off a blue bit is nothing short of criminal. On the verge of death, vital organs are highlighted in Blade Mode too and as luck would have it, Raiden thinks those are delicious. Make the incision, wrench out the glowing blue innards and consume them to fully regenerate both health and FC gauges – it’s a mechanic that makes keeping small-fry or near-to-death enemies around as sources of healing pretty important, though even on the higher difficulty levels, this full recharge still feels like a little too much of a reward.
Not that this’ll really matter once you reach Revengeance mode, though. Here, so much as a dirty look does an entire life bar of damage and while collectable auto-healing items and unlockable health upgrades can save you from being murdered with a glance, the practical skills and perks you amass in getting to the top end of the difficulty food chain are what will keep you alive. The rest comes down to player skill, which Platinum has previously put to the test with Bayonetta – where even the slo-mo mechanic was binned at the highest difficulty, so count yourselves lucky – and at this level, the insanely aggressive AI turns difficult fights into seemingly impossible ones. As mechanically complex as DmC may be, Revengeance is the tougher game, for sure: at the highest level, one missed parry is the difference between life and death, creating a sense of fear and pressure like nothing Capcom’s game can offer, at least beyond its end-game gimmick modes. It’s brutally tough, but you won’t hate it for it.
But so much talk of mechanics and control when there’s narrative to discuss and… wait, what even happened in the story? Well, there are PMCs which are bad and/or good and child labour which is bad and/or bad and military coups which are generally pretty bad but beyond that, it’s all a bit silly. Revengeance lives up to its Metal Gear name with cut-scenes that would struggle to make sense even to the person who scripted them. There’s a rival company that quite likes war (because of money). There are supporting characters, who rarely escape the stereotypes they are cast into. There’s a woman with as many arms as she wants, most of which will be hacked off at some point. And then there’s Raiden, the ‘good guy’ who, by the end of things, has gone quite mad. No matter which way you slice it, this is far from conventional.
But Revengeance doesn’t want to be conventional. It wants to be awesome and it succeeds in this most noble of endeavours. Though mechanically simple, it still has the ability to impress those that wish to be impressed and challenge those that wish to be challenged – a double whammy that few games can offer, at least to this degree. And all the while, crazy shit is happening all around you. It’s brilliant, frankly.
From cheeky dialogue and legacy characters to returning elements and subtle jokes, Platinum flexes its Metal Gear muscle at every single opportunity. But the greatest callout to the stealth franchise comes in the form of sneaking gameplay, with many fights entirely avoidable if you’ve the patience to slip by enemy patrols and the restraint to not just hack everything to bits on sight. The lack of any kind of vision cones or the like makes this a tricky way to play – plus you’ll be intentionally missing out on some of the best action of this generation – but it’s an option all the same. As are the secondary weapons, the selection of bazookas, grenades, distraction tools and things to hide in rarely used despite only being a button press away. You simply don’t need them when you can just slash everything into teeny tiny bits instead.
Moment on moment action is outstanding, boss battles some of the most hectic and awesome we’ve seen in years and the presentation – from the bonkers cut-scenes to the brilliantly eclectic evolving soundtrack – is top-notch. If it weren’t for the limp ending and some minor niggles (most of which involve shouting at the camera), we’d have no problem slapping a ten on Revengeance. The best parts of Platinum’s game design ethos meet the best parts of Metal Gear as a brand and if that’s not enough to get you excited… well, maybe gaming simply isn’t the right hobby for you.