Way back in 2001, “Metal Gear Solid” protagonist Solid Snake was replaced a short way into MGS2 by a whiny, unlikable lady-man code-named “Raiden”. He summarised and simplified everything everyone else said just after they said it, had long, generally inconsequential conversations/arguments with his girlfriend and generally did a bad job of taking over protagonist duty. He was wisely scrapped as a player character, but did make a come back in MGS4 as a cyborg ninja with awesome katana skills for whom losing both his arms was a mere setback. It’s that Raiden we follow during this game; a hack and slasher of sorts set in the same universe, collaborated on by original creators Konami and Kojima Productions and action game veterans Platinum games. Does the new direction pay off? Or is this just a failed off-shoot?
Set four years after MGS4, PMCs (Private military companies) are wide-spread in both security and combat situations, and Raiden works for one called “Maverick”. While attempting to protect an African Prime minister he is ambushed by the PMC “Desperado” who, after setting a modified Metal Gear Ray on him (the main Metal Gear model from MGS2. Raiden destroys it in spectacular, bombastic fashion as part of the tutorial) murder the prime minister and one member (named “Jetstream Sam”, which sounds like a lost “Cowboy Bebop” character) destroys Raiden’s left eye and cuts off his arm. That’s where the…ahem…”Revengeance” comes in. He gets a new body and a burning desire to kill the man who beat him, and the story goes to various places from there, focusing particularly on Raiden struggling with his demons, and the harvesting of children’s brains. Clearly the game has no intention of pulling punches. The story is generally quite strong, but has some problems. Raiden gets a robot wolf side kick early in the game who serves as both awkward comic relief and as Raiden’s scout, and he just seems slightly needless and out of place. He doesn’t add anything to the gameplay, he occasionally talks to Raiden about problems that have arisen with objectives or nearby enemies; something you can easily find out about yourself. Similarly out of place is “George”- a young Guyanese boy saved from a potential brain-harvest with an accent that sounds like a cross between Jamaican and Indian, who talks in slang that is subtitled along with an English translation that hardly matches what he’s actually saying. He’s irritating, strange and completely ruins the tone of the game whenever he’s around, which fortunately isn’t often. These two things aside, the game’s last mission also doesn’t seem to fit the established tone. Without wishing to spoil it, what was initially a dark look at one man’s ethics with regard to slicing cyborgs into hundreds of pieces and re-awakening a destructive part of his personality that has lied dormant since his days as a child soldier ends with some political jargon and everything is nicely wrapped up after the final boss fight. Raiden’s character development and interactions with the members of “Desperado” are great. Everything else not so much.
The gameplay is challenging to the point of feeling rewarding when done well, but can feel frustrating at times. Enemies are worn down with light and heavy attacks and finished off with the most unique (and indeed the best) part of the game- “Blade mode”; fill the bar and time slows down, allowing you to spin a translucent arc through 360°– cutting enemies at various angles and slicing them into hundreds of pieces. Cut them in a certain spot and you can tear their cyborg spines out and crush them (called a “Zandatsu”) which refills your health and blade mode energy. This is often used during boss fights to accurately slice parts of them off, or to finish them by cutting them to ribbons, and whether it’s been used to cut one specific part or to wildly slice and dice, blade mode is a great addition. There are no block or dodge buttons: the game instead uses a parry system based around pushing the left stick in the direction of the enemy and pressing the light attack button. I complained about this in the impressions piece for the demo, and it still has problems in the full game. Due to it using the attack button if you’re mid-combo and the enemy decides they want to start attacking you, you won’t be able to parry- Raiden will keep attacking instead. If the enemy does a combo against you, often times Raiden won’t manage to parry every move, and it’s generally hard to successfully parry unless you’re standing still, waiting for the enemy to attack you. Having said that, if you are just standing there waiting for an attack, the parry isn’t too hard to pull off, although the timing can seem to vary, which can be frustrating. The bosses in particular require a good grasp of defensive techniques, especially the final boss, who acts as a test for everything you’ve learned throughout the game. Can’t parry? Haven’t grasped using the ninja run sprint function effectively in one-on-one fight? Aren’t very good at interrupting your moves to jump out of the way of an attack to counter the aforementioned problems with the parry? Can’t accurately line up a string of small targets in blade mode? That final boss will murder you. Repeatedly. The combat in “Metal Gear Rising” really starts to be more fun when you get to grips with it and start to implement all of Raiden’s techniques, and for not letting you fall into too much of a pattern it’s to be commended.
Overall “Metal Gear Rising” is a success. The combat is interesting and fun- it’s challenging to the point of feeling rewarding, but problems with the parry mechanic can sometimes make it feel frustrating. Blade mode is an awesome inclusion, and it’s really what makes the game stand out as something worth checking out. The story is, for the most part enjoyable; particularly when focusing on Raiden as a character. The side characters can ruin the tone, but every boss character is interesting and Raiden’s supporting cast are likable enough. It’s a rather short game, particularly once you get to grips with it, so it’s best picked up at a reduced price (I got mine for £28). If you can find it reduced, I definitely recommend taking a look. If you can only find it full price then I’d say try the demo first- play it a few times to get used to it, and then go from there. I want to see more from this new chapter in the “Metal Gear” series, and I’m interested to see where Kojima and Platinum Games take it.
Side note: what the hell does “Revengeance” mean anyway? Is he getting revenge twice? Getting revenge on/for an act of vengeance? Getting revenge and vengeance? “Tv Tropes” say that it means “Revenge with a vegeance”, but that doesn’t make any more sense than any other suggestion I’ve heard.
By James Lambert