The famous proverb states that “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Take a child soldier trained to be a killing machine, give him a sword and cybernetic implants, then set him loose on a corporation that’s abducting children and turning them into mindless killers. If you ask me, revenge is par for the course. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the aptly but grammatically incorrectly named endeavor from Platinum Games and Konami, teaches us that not only can you combine two similar words to create a video game title, but if you put heavy metal to any action sequence, it’s going to be awesome. But enough jokes, because Rising is actually pretty spectacular.
Set four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the Sons of the Patriots (SOP) system has been dismantled and the need for Private Military Corporations (PMCs) has dwindled. In order to survive the changing of the times, these PMCs needed to find a new way to validate their existence on the world’s stage. The rise of cybernetic technology allowed these corporations to manufacture and mass produce partially-artificial soldiers. Raiden, the game’s protagonist and controversial hero of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, has joined up with Maverick, a PMC specialized in personal security. On a routine escort, his ward is killed by a rival corporation known as Desperado, and in the process, Raiden is severely injured, forcing him to undergo yet another cybernetic enhancement. Raiden’s quest for revenge sends him across various landmark cities in the world as he hunts down the members of Desperado one by one.
It’s not a tale that’s going to set any standards for storytelling, but it doesn’t need to. Raiden’s character growth alone is enough to warrant his quest for vengeance, regardless of the situation. The elite members of Desperado known as the Winds of Destruction are also worthy adversaries and typically outlandish Metal Gear villains. The battles against this bunch are some of the best in the game and rank up high in terms of the storied franchise’s pantheon of fantastic boss fights, each one requiring precise use of the game’s various features.
Combat in Rising shares many similarities to one of Platinum’s previous titles, Bayonetta, and as such also has a lot in common with some of the classics of the genre like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. You can perform a number of combos, stringing together light and heavy attacks in fluid continuity. The game runs at a remarkably constant 60 frames per second. There’s virtually little to no downtime in the midst of a fight, as Raiden can ping pong his way between multiple foes without missing a beat. Unique to Rising is the ability to enter Blade Mode, which allows him a few moments of pause to slice carefully and precisely.
You can control your katana a few different ways while in Blade Mode: the buttons designated for heavy and light attacks will swing the sword either vertically or horizontally, while the left analogue stick controls trajectory; on the other hand, you can use the right analogue stick to get a more precise angle of cut, most often necessary if you want to hit that sweet spot on an enemy’s body in order to perform the finishing move known as the Zandatsu, which allows you to restore your health and energy bar, the latter required to use Blade Mode. Picking up stray repair units and electrolyte packs from defeated enemies comes in handy, but the best way to stay in top form is to string together as many Zandatsu as possible, which not only keeps you fully healed and ready to perform another, but will increase your combat score, granting you more BP (the points rewarded based on performance) for customization.
Limbs can be dismembered with ease, changing the way an enemy attacks and moves altogether. Raiden’s defensive is part of his move set, replacing the standard dodge and block functions found in many similar games with Defensive Offensive and a parry system. The first is a particular skill you’ll have to unlock yourself, which will allow Raiden to evasively back-or-sidestep most enemy attacks while getting in a free swing of his own. A parry, on the other hand, is far more difficult to properly pull off, but can be one of the most rewarding feelings in the game. Successful parries will fully block most enemy attacks, but performing a perfect parry – that is, guarding right at the moment of an enemy’s attack – will leave them open for a counter, often giving you a chance to use Blade Mode and finish them off quickly.
Combining both into your repertoire will make even the harder difficulty settings that much easier, as the game’s larger enemies and bosses certainly don’t hold back. Checkpoints are placed evenly throughout most levels though, so restarting a mission or a particular area rarely has too many drawbacks. Even some boss fights have checkpoints mid-battle, softening the blow of some of those deadly multi-stage encounters. Ultimately, though, the culmination of those fights feels a little underwhelming, as you’re forced into a quick-time event to finish them off. The fights themselves are so rewarding that it doesn’t disrupt the pace too much, but it still would have been nice to claim victory of your own merit. What tends to get in the way most of all, however, is the camera, which minds its own business a good 70 to 80% of the time. But in some of the more close-quarter areas of the game, it likes to focus in on the action which leaves you open and very susceptible to attack from enemies outside your field of view. And in a game that uses blocking and evading in such a specific way, being able to see the entire battlefield would have been a huge plus.
Metal Gear Solid fans may find it rewarding to see that even some of the series’ stealth roots have made their way into Rising’s gleefully outrageous adventure. You can sneak up on enemies and perform a stylized one-hit kill, or use some of the more well-known disguises from the stealth series to avoid being spotted: a cardboard box and a barrel, for instance. Alerting enemies usually calls in the reinforcements, and in Metal Gear games of the past, this typically meant bad news. You had few means to properly defend yourself against a wave of armed soldiers. But in Rising, stealth and action work so well together that you’ll likely find yourself mixing a bit of both into your arsenal and won’t feel so overwhelmed if you’re spotted.
Rising’s politically-charged campaign shouldn’t last more than six to eight hours for most people, but like so many others of the genre, one play through is simply not enough. Unlocking the game’s Very Hard and Revengeance difficulty settings will test the mettle of the most seasoned combo masters, and acquiring enough BP to learn and fully-level up all of the game’s skills, weapons, and armor modifications will likely double that time. Not to mention more than half a dozen VR missions aimed to hone in and train specific functions, such as use of Blade Mode or sneaking abilities.
The soundtrack is backed by a collaboration of well-known hard rock and heavy metal performers, and the sound they lend to Rising’s intense action could not have fit more perfectly. The boss themes are particularly exciting and help elevate already fantastic encounters. Mr. Quinton Flynn’s reprisal as Raiden is filled with typical angst and justified anger. His growth and evolution occurs in a believable arc that lends further credence to his existence in the franchise. Raiden is a natural opposite to Snake’s stoicism, and he’s allowed to vent his frustration in the best way he knows how – through his sword. Raiden’s history as a child soldier also plays a key role in his development here, and, well, let’s just say that Jack the Ripper is back.
Your destinations, while often steeped in historical significance and political intrigue, are all fairly standard city streets and industrial buildings. There’s not a ton of creativity in the environments, and although they look nice – for the most part – you’ll certainly remember the characters more than the locales. A few of the game’s on-rails segments are more annoying than fun given the high speed at which you’re moving and whatever else is flying directly toward you, but luckily there aren’t too many and they’re spaced fairly far apart.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a bold step forward for the series. It shows that you don’t have to be a member of the Snake family to star in your own game, and even the controversial Raiden proved to be an interesting and likeable character given the circumstance. Tactical Espionage Action has been the tagline of the Solid series for more than 15 years, and has a home within the confines of a pure stealth-oriented affair. But Rising’s intense action and relentless speed set a precedent for the franchise as a whole, and offer a glimmer of a potential longtime partnership between Konami and Platinum Games.