Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (MGR for short) is an action hack & slash game developed by Platinum Games and produced by the now defunct Kojima Productions. It was released in February 2013 for the PS3 and XBox 360, and received a PC release in January of 2014. MGR is a spin-off of the Metal Gear Solid series, and stars Raiden, the “ninja” cyborg from MGS2 and 4. Set four years after Metal Gear Solid 4, it features Raiden facing off against a new group who threatens global security, Desperado. Being a Platinum-made game, it has the usual staples of crazy action, a steep learning curve, fantastic bosses and great music. But considering the Metal Gear series has primarily always been about stealthy gameplay, how does the very action packed Metal Gear Rising hold up in comparison?
Well considering it has been a number of years, it’s not exactly a spoiler to say that MGR holds up pretty well. Before its release, many fans of the Metal Gear series were skeptical of having an action-focused game, and were even more critical of the choice to have Platinum Games be the developer (after Hideo Kojima was displeased with his own studio’s struggles to make the game). However, after release, the tone changed dramatically, with Metal Gear Rising changing the opinion of fans and critics alike, while also gaining its own fanbase. While there were a number of complaints, the overall reception was very positive, and it remains Platinum’s best selling game to date. So without further ado…
As with all games developed by Platinum, the gameplay is paramount and they certainly delivered with Metal Gear Rising. It contains all the standard gameplay elements of Platinum’s brand of hack and slash games (referred to as Character Action by some), so this means you have your light attacks, strong attacks, the ability to string those two into a large variety of combos, multiple weapons to choose from, and lastly, you get graded at the end of most battles based on how well you performed. That last bit is what makes these types of games both difficult and very rewarding to play, as you can basically watch your improvement as you get higher scores. However, it is a lot to handle at first, and the game does very little to teach you, preferring the method of tossing you into the deep end to teach you how to swim. If you put in the effort though and learn the deeper aspects of the combat, you’ll discover an incredibly satisfying game.
Of course there’s more to the combat than just attacks and combos, as Platinum Games always adds a unique mechanic to each game they make. In Metal Gear Rising’s case, this is the aptly named “Blade Mode” and the “Zandatsu” technique, which according to the game translates to “stab and grab”. When you activate Blade Mode, Raiden will be able to slice through most objects and enemies (if weakened enough) like butter. It’s extremely useful and allows you to quickly defeat enemies or slice your way through obstacles. However, being a cyborg, Raiden requires a power source called “Electrolytes”, and while he doesn’t shut down when out of power, you will be unable to use Blade Mode until you get some energy. This is where Zandatsu comes into play, as the only way to get more Electrolytes is to take them from enemies. When in Blade Mode you will be able to see a red square on the enemy, and if you slash through this square, you will be able to use Zandatsu. As the translation suggests, you then stab the enemy and rip out their Electrolyte container, which Raiden then crushes and recharges. Doing this allows you to keep using Blade Mode and also fully heals Raiden, making it very useful. Basically what you want to do, is combo an enemy until they’re weakened, go into Blade Mode, use Zandatsu, and get back all your health and energy.
Now the game explains all this, but what is barely explains at all, are the two most important mechanics (that’s not 100% unique to MGR) in the game, dodging and parrying. Dodging is exactly what it sounds, it allows you to dodge through attacks and be completely unharmed, and if you dodge forward, it also deals damage. You’d think that you would have this ability by default, but in what was a rather poor choice by Platinum, you actually have to buy it. Even worse, it has the rather confusing name of “Defensive Offence”…thankfully it’s really cheap and if you play this game, I highly recommend that you buy it. As for parrying, the game explains it in that it simply tells you how to use it. Parrying allows you to deflect and attack and take no damage (much better than simply blocking), and if done with perfect timing, results in Raiden delivering a very powerful counter attack. In order to perform it, you need to press the Block button, while also pressing the control stick in the direction the attack is coming from. Since it has a short window of opportunity, you need to time it correctly, but learning to do it properly completely changes the game and will result in you having a much easier time and getting much better scores.
Metal Gear Rising also doesn’t tell you that you can only parry attacks when the enemy is glowing red, if they’re glowing orange, you can’t parry it and need to get out of the way. Essentially, Platinum expects you to learn as you play and to experiment with the tools it gives you. This is fine, except the grading system and the difficulty of their games can be very punishing if you don’t know how to use everything. This lead to many complaints from reviewers which I can’t say are unwarrented. There’s a balance that needs to be struck between hand-holding and telling you almost nothing, many games fall into the former, while MGR falls into the latter. Adding to the difficulty is the sometimes annoying camera, which has a habit of getting stuck, or giving bad angles, which can make parrying a pain. However, once you do know what you’re doing and what you can do, the combat begins to flow. It becomes a stream of slicing, parrying, dodging and recharging, through multiple enemies without pause. Even better are the absolutely fantastic boss fights that will test all of your abilities, being incredibly fun and extremely cool as they do so. From tossing giant robots into the air and slicing them in half, to having a western style 1 on 1 showdown in the desert with your suave rival. The boss fights are some of the best in any action game and even if you don’t plan on playing the game, they are certainly worth watching, because they are something else:
As the gif above clearly shows, Metal Gear Rising does its presentation just as well as its gameplay. As usual for most modern games, the graphics look fantastic, and there’s very little difference between the cutscenes and gameplay. More impressive is how MGR seamlessly transitions between the two: one moment you will be mashing a button, which than instantly leads into something crazy happening, but then you’ll be allowed to act out said craziness, before the game delivers a flashy end to the scene. On the more technical side is how even the console versions of the games are able to handle Blade Mode quite well. As mentioned, Blade Mode allows you to cut almost anything in pieces, however, MGR takes that to an absurd level where it tells you the number of pieces an object has been cut into. It’s not uncommon to see the counter go way past 100, and yet the game won’t lag until much higher numbers. Lastly the special effects and sound effects combine to create a very visceral experience, which further adds to the fantastic presentation of Metal Gear Rising.
But where Metal Gear Rising truly stands out from almost any other game, is how it uses music. While the soundtrack is fantastic on its own (performed by a Canadian band no less!), MGR features extremely dynamic music. What this means is that the music is context-sensitive, aka it changes depending on what is currently happening in the game. To clarify, I don’t mean it simply changes at the start of a battle or cutscene, rather, it constantly changes in battle depending on what you’re currently doing. For example, you have an instrumental track playing that’s somewhat drowned out by the action and sound effects. However, whenever the player enters Blade Mode after scoring a major hit on the boss, the music becomes louder and more instruments come. And then it instantly fades out to the original track when you exit Blade Mode.
Finally when you go for the big finishing move, the music builds to a crescendo, timed perfectly with the action on screen, and then the vocals come in as Raiden finishes the boss off in spectacular fashion, before fading back out into the victory music. Metal Gear Rising has this dynamic music throughout the entire game, with regular battles having pure instrumental tracks that change, while all the bosses have multiple instrumentals and a vocal track that serves as a way to hype the player up for the final leg of the fight. Many games try to create the movie feel in a variety of mediocre ways, but MGR’s use of music makes it feel like you’re actually playing an action movie at points, with how it all flows together so well.
Don’t watch too far if you don’t want to be spoiled
Ah yes, as mentioned in my “The Wonderful 101” review, Platinum tends to have trouble in the story department. Metal Gear Rising is a more classic case of this then Wonderful 101 however, with the plot lacking in development, whereas the characters stand out and are well done. The main problem of MGR’s story is its constantly shifting focus. The prologue starts in Africa where a mission goes badly due to Desperado wanting to upset peace in the region. It then moves to a new mission in Abkhazia where Desperado is supporting a rebellion for similar reasons, then just jumps to a Mexican sewer so that Raiden can locate a Desperado hideout. After finding out that they’re experimenting on children, Raiden takes the fight to Denver where Desperado’s benefactor company, World Marshal resides. This “revenge for the children” arc lasts for two chapters, before Raiden learns of yet another plot that involves assassinating the President of the USA. Talk about escalation!
And would you believe after that twist gets revealed, the game completely drops the destabilization and children experimentation arcs to deal with the new evil scheme. The game then takes a brief aside so Raiden can have a wild west duel with his rival, before heading to Afghanistan to stop
Desperado, World Marshal, the true villain. Except the assassination plot was just a hoax to get Raiden to attack a US Army base and start a diplomatic nightmare. The villain than gives his big speech about what he wants…but after you defeat him, he proceeds to tell you all of that was just a cover for his true plan! And I’m not even going to get into the sheer level that plan jumps to. Let’s just say, Kenshiro would like a few words with him…
So yeah, the story is a hard to follow mess, with people who have completed the game still unsure of what the villain’s goal was. Luckily for Metal Gear Rising, its cast of characters are much more solid and developed then the story. Although this would be hard to tell at first, due to the overall quick interactions Raiden has with most of the cast. If you just follow the story, only Raiden, Sam and the final boss have any character development, and Raiden’s is about as all over the place as the story. In fact, if it wasn’t for a certain mechanic, the characterization would be horrible, with Raiden taking the cake for turning into a homicidal lunatic for 5 minutes, and then snapping back to normal without anyone making much of it. Thankfully MGR includes a staple of the Metal Gear franchise, the Codecs, which are a bunch of two-way audio (and now video) conversations between the protagonist and his support team about a ton of different things.
These Codec calls serve as both the primary characterization tool, as well as a way to establish the backstory of every event and character in the game. Essentially, to really understand what’s going on and what the results were, along with who each character is, you need to spend some time talking to Raiden’s co-workers, boss, ally, and close friend. All of them have a lot to say, so much so there’s an achievement for hearing most of them, not even all. A lot of it feels like it would’ve been worked into the story in a more traditional, slower paced Metal Gear Solid game, but the fast paced nature of the action genre required a lot of the talking to be put off to the side. Regardless, while the game makes you work for it, there’s a seemingly endless amount of characterization to be had. If it wasn’t a long established part of the Metal Gear series, I would probably dock points for having all of this on the side. But as it is, the Codecs work and are
In the end, Metal Gear Rising is a tough, but extremely fun game. Like all of Platinum’s games, it has tons of replay value and rewards the player for taking the time to learn the ins and outs of the combat. Just remember to buy that dodge move and that parrying is a thing. Meanwhile the presentation is some of the best you will ever see and certainly hear. The story is convoluted and nonsensical…which is honestly not surprising considering it’s a Metal Gear game. Likewise the game places most of the character development inside the Codecs which are interesting enough, but still tedious to go through. However, if you’re looking for an action game that is tough but fair, and is a completely wild ride from start to finish (it’s also very short at about 10 hours tops), then look no further. For better and for worst, Metal Gear Rising manages to feel like a part of the Metal Gear series, while still making a name for itself.