As hard as it may be to imagine, the terrifying cyborg ninja Raiden wasn’t always the effortless badass he is depicted as being in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. There was a time – not so long ago, in fact – when he was a wet-behind-the-ears punk who struggled to live up to the technical brilliance of his predecessor Solid Snake. When Metal Gear Solid 2 released in November of 2001, gamers everywhere quickly progressed from perplexity to outright annoyance when they realised that the grizzled hero of the original – a man who single-handedly took down Liquid Snake – had been replaced by a feathered haired pansy.
As understandable as the fan outrage was, it was perhaps a little harsh. Once the dust had settled, gamers began to realise that Raiden’s nice guy persona and romantic conversations with Rose over the codec didn’t stop Metal Gear Solid 2 from being a fantastic game. It is quite amusing then – or depressing if that’s your standpoint – that Raiden has once again tarnished the “Metal Gear” name with controversy in his latest outing. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is, on the surface at least, the very antithesis of Metal Gear Solid. It’s fast, ridiculous and absolutely packed to bursting point with sword slashing action – quite the departure from the measured precision of Hideo Kojima’s traditional stealth action gameplay. It is quite fitting then that Raiden has once again silenced the critics.
Yes, you can all breathe a sigh of relief. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a fantastic game, and not an entirely unjust tribute to what has come before it. There are many things thrown into the mix that fans of the series will immediately recognise. The story is the most obvious parallel, and whilst it’s not anywhere near as fleshed out or engaging as previous games, it completely fits in with the overall arc of past plots. Raiden, after being thwarted in his attempt to become a bodyguard following Guns Of The Patriots, is deployed into Abkhazia by his new private military company Maverick Security to take down a group of terrorists. These are people whom he has a legitimate grudge with, and things get even more personal when he discovers this group is using children to build a terrifying military force – a subject that haunts his own past.
In order to bring down the despicable Desperado Enterprises, Raiden will need some serious military hardware. Luckily, he comes equipped with the latest cyborg black ninja suit that can absorb the energy of his fallen foes. The “cut everything” promise that developers Platinum Games touted in the build-up to the game’s release has certainly come into fruition. Building up enough hits with Raiden’s high frequency blade supercharges the suit to allow the player to enter a slow motion “Blade Mode”. This allows them to pick and choose where they attack the bodies of their hapless foes, unceremoniously dismembering them like a knife through butter at the press of a button.
It’s incredibly gratifying – and yet slightly disquieting – to engage in combat in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Learning to balance the bullet deflecting grace of Raiden’s “ninja run” with the bone shattering heavy and light attacks of his sword can be beautiful to behold, and yet incredibly hard to master. It’s pretty difficult to miss the parallels between other hack ‘n slash third person action games like Devil May Cry and Platinum Game’s own Bayonetta when you’re hammering away at your gamepad, but there is a much bigger similarity to be found with Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. This game is easily as good a ninja simulator, and can even be as tough if you’re prepared to turn up the difficulty to “hard” or greater. You’ll definitely have to learn how to parry attacks, and you’ll certainly need to keep hold of those health packs.
It’s not all just frantic sword fighting in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance though. That only makes up a mere 90% of the gameplay. There is actually a surprising stealth element to be found as well that caught me quite off guard. Most of this is done in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, but a few sections actually make use of Snake’s trademark cardboard box and the oil can from Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s great fun to sneak up on unsuspecting cyborgs and bag a few stealthy ninja kills, but it is an ultimately superfluous element to the game. There are a myriad of other titbits and back references for fans of the series to enjoy as well though, from fully fledged codec conversations to arguments with AI’s over the idea of freedom. And, of course, there are quite a few long winded cut scenes.
The guiding hand of Hideo Kojima is apparent in the visual design of the game as well, with Raiden’s appearance and animations in particular seeming completely in-keeping with his Metal Gear Solid 4 outing. This is accentuated by a constant frame rate of 60 fps which makes the gameplay appear just as silky smooth as the cut scene in which he dispatched several Gekkos with ease in his first appearance as a robotic man-thing. This is something that the player can try themselves, with many Gekkos and other large robots – including some of the most famous ones – making appearances throughout the game. The best designs are reserved for the bosses though, who are just as ridiculous and overblown as in past games. Fighting them is both a visual and technical treat, and there are some excellent set piece attacks to learn in order to defeat each of them.
As much as I love the game and the series in general, I feel I would be remiss in not mentioning some of its shortcomings. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an incredibly short game, and significantly less value for money in terms of length compared to past Metal Gear games. My first play session clocked in at a little over six hours, and I would consider this to be a normal playtime for most people. Gamers who rarely replay titles will understandably feel short changed by this, and they should definitely consider waiting for the price to come down if this is the case. I also found some of the environment design to be a little copy and paste compared to the incredibly high standard of past entries in the series, but this isn’t so much of a problem as your eyes rarely leave the frantic action of the foreground.
It’s easy to criticise Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance as being a game that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the franchise or is too short, but I feel that this is ultimately missing the point. Not once does it attempt to be anything that it’s not, choosing to focus on ridiculously polished and well focused action gameplay over the stealth based melodrama that the series is loved for. This is a game that has been made to be replayed many times over, that pays homage to what has come before it, and ultimately carves a place out for itself amongst the controversy. You may come into this game wanting to hate it, but it will eventually win you over with its excellent gameplay and brilliant sense of humour. Mr Kojima, if you’re reading this, we would like another game in the Metal Gear Rising series please. We will allow you to finish Ground Zeroes first though, of course.