Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an action-oriented sequel to Metal Gear Solid 4, developed by Platinum Games in collaboration with Kojima Productions. As such, it deviates from the stealth/action gameplay of previous titles, focusing instead on Raiden’s superhuman abilities and swordplay to create a frantic and stylish arcade-like brawler. With rock-solid action titles like Bayonetta, Vanquish and the upcoming Anarchy Reigns under Platinum Games’ belt, players can expect a demanding and creative twitch-based action game from MGR:R. Considering how engaging the combat is in the demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I think it’s safe to say that the game will not disappoint when it’s released on February 19th. Mind you, the demo this preview is analyzing was packaged alongside the Zone of the Enders HD Collection, and the more recent build of the game is even more polished, both visually and mechanically.
The demo this article studies is a version revealed during the Tokyo Game Show back in September, which improves greatly on the gameplay that we demoed during E3 earlier this summer.
Those who have read the original hands-on preview, or have been following the development of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, will know about the game’s free cutting mechanic. This is essentially MGR:R’s most defining gameplay feature, and what sets the title apart from most games in the genre. When holding L2 (or the left trigger, on Xbox 360 controllers) Raiden enters what is called “Blade Mode.” In this mode, time slows down and Raiden can aim his slashes in precise and clearly defined arcs by utilizing the right analog stick. These slashes will cut clean through most enemies and materials, allowing him to cripple, disarm or dispatch an enemy very quickly.
While extremely powerful, entering blade mode depletes Raiden’s fuel cells. When his fuel cells are low Raiden will not be able to enter blade mode and perform his dismembering slashes. In order to restore these cells, Raiden must either build up energy by performing combos, or steal cells from his enemies. Specific reticles appear on enemies when Raiden enters blade mode, signifying a weak point. If Raiden cleaves through this reticle, he will instantly defeat that enemy and expose their fuel cells at the same time. By tearing out and crushing these cells, Raiden will replenish his own cells and health to full. The process of exposing and tearing away these fuel cells is called “Zandatsu” and it is extremely useful for keeping Raiden’s health and energy topped off.
It should be noted that players can enter generic quick slashes during blade mode by pressing the light and heavy attack buttons, rather than aiming each slash manually with the right analog stick. Light attacks perform horizontal slashes, while heavy attacks perform vertical slashes. The flipside to this though, is that quick slashes are less precise than manually aimed cuts. This feature was also present in the E3 2012 demo build.
The first notable deviation from the E3 build is that the parry ability has been moved from the heavy attack to light attack button. In order to deflect an incoming attack in MGR:R’s current form, players must tap the analog stick in the direction an attack is coming from, in conjunction with the light attack button. In order to parry an attack from Raiden’s front, for example, players would input a forward + light attack command. With that said, the parry mechanic still works the same way that it did during E3 2012 – you can parry virtually any melee attack directed at Raiden, with good timing. Grabs are the most obvious exception to the parry’s defense that can be witnessed in the demo. Both the basic grunts and Gekko UGs have a grab ability that ignores Raiden’s defense and leaves him vulnerable to attack. In both of these cases, furiously shaking the left analog stick will allow Raiden to break free from his assailant’s clutches.
Looking back at the E3 2012 demo, it is interesting to note that there is still no dedicated evasive ability. As a result, combat in MGR:R is ground-based and weighty when compared to Platinum Game’s previous action games. Raiden feels less like a ninja and more like a samurai in many respects, as all of his defensive and offensive abilities revolve around his swordplay. This is by no means bad – Raiden’s parry is a refreshing and interesting spin on defense when compared to dodge-focused or turtle-block action games. Rather then hold down a dodge or block button, players must accurately input a parry command to deflect damage, giving defense in MGR:R a precise and technical feel. Yet at the same time, the parry input can be entered at virtually any point during gameplay, allowing Raiden to cancel special moves, jumps and combos with his steely defense. This allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility during combat, as players can throw out a guard reflexively, much like a well-timed dodge in Bayonetta. And on a more personal note, the metallic clanging sound that a successful parry makes feels so much more rewarding than any dodge or block ever has.
With that said, there is an evasive attack in MGR:R, which Raiden can exploit to avoid taking damage while sneaking in a slash of his own. By pressing the jump and light attack button simultaneously, Raiden will execute a dodging slash, back-stepping from his enemy while swiping with his sword at the same time. This maneuver has invincibility frames, so proper timing will allow him to avoid taking any damage from an attack. A directional input (left, right, or forward) entered alongside the dodging slash input will allow Raiden to sidestep in those directions while attacking. Because parrying doesn’t always create an opening (tougher enemies will try and back-step from Raiden when their attacks are parried) the dodging slash allows Raiden to retaliate as the enemy whiffs its attack. Most importantly, Raiden can cancel his combo with a dodging slash at virtually any time, allowing players to use this ability as a defensive option, much like the parry, whenever the situation demands.
While that covers Raiden’s defense in the demo, his offense is another very robust matter entirely. Away from the bustle and rush of a crowded and hurried E3 booth, this demo allowed me to experiment with the combos and skills properly. I’m pleased to report that the combat mechanics that MGR:R operates under are both familiar, yet surprisingly technical and unique.
MGR:R uses a two-button combo system, with light attacks mapped to square and heavy attacks mapped to triangle (or X and Y respectively, on the Xbox 360 controller). Differing combinations of light and heavy attacks will result in different combos. There are also delay inputs, where pausing in between certain attacks in a combo string will result in a different combo branch or extension. This should sound familiar to Bayonetta players, as it also used a two-button combo system and delay combo extensions. Many combos in MGR:R have unique properties and effects in addition to their aesthetic flair – some will launch, sweep or knock away the enemy they strike.
On top of this combo system, there are plenty of unique abilities that Raiden has access to, much like Bayonetta does in her respective game. These special attacks require a specific directional input entered alongside an attack to initiate.
- Double-tapping forward on the analog stick in conjunction with a light attack input will result in a launcher, which will lift lighter enemies into the air. Once airborne, pressing the jump button allows Raiden to follow the enemy into the air to continue his assault.
- Double-tapping forward in conjunction with a heavy attack will result in a stinger-esque dashing thrust. This attack is particularly useful for keeping pressure on a mid-ranged foe.
- Tapping back, then forward on the analog stick in conjunction with a light attack will result in a powerful palm-smash, which will knock back any light enemy it strikes. It is useful for giving Raiden a bit of breathing room when he’s surrounded by enemies.
- Tapping back, then forward along with a heavy attack input will result in a sweeping kick that knocks light enemies off their feet.
- A 360º input on the analog stick in conjunction with a heavy attack results in a stylish breakdance-esque leg sweep that knocks any enemy it strikes onto the ground. This attack strikes multiple times and juggles enemies caught in the whirling kicks for a few moments, but it suffers from a lengthy recovery animation, making it difficult to parry or evade out of.
All of these special attacks can be input during a combo, with good timing, allowing for plenty of free-form combo possibilities.
Many special attacks and combo finishers share a subtle trait as well, which isn’t immediately clear. Attacks that sweep or knock back a weakened target will cause a slow-motion effect and tinge the edges of the screen blue. Stealth kills, which will be discussed later, also have this effect. What this means is that Raiden can enter blade mode immediately after the attack connects. By doing so, Raiden can freely cut the enemy as they suffer from the effects of the attack. These attacks generally leave the target enemy optimally exposed, making locating and striking their weak point quick and easy. Taking advantage of this effect isn’t particularly useful for general demo play, but knowing Platinum Games and their background with action titles, I suspect that this feature will become much more important later in the game and on higher difficulties.
Finally, Raiden possesses a dash ability called the “Ninja Run.” By holding down R2 (the right trigger on the Xbox 360 controller), Raiden will run at high speeds and automatically vault over obstacles, gaps and small walls. Raiden will auto-deflect gunfire while ninja running as well, making it useful for pulling away from hectic combat situations. He also has two unique attacks available to him when ninja running. Raiden can take swipes at enemies while dashing with the light attack button, allowing him to run into a fray and quickly open with an attack. A heavy attack input while ninja running will initiate a sweeping slide that knocks enemies off their feet, making it easy to set up quick blade mode free cuts.
That about covers Raiden’s offensive and defensive abilities available to him in the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo. So let’s get into what sort of gameplay the demo offers up.
There are several different combat situations in the demo which highlight MGR:R’s potential. Players can opt to start off with a VR tutorial stage, where they can familiarize themselves with blade mode cutting and Raiden’s many combo inputs without the pressure of direct combat. Once players have finished the VR tutorial, they are taken to Abkhazia for a short mission to test their swordplay and stealth skills.
There are two enemy types in the demo, not including the boss – Desperado contractors and unmanned Gekko gears employed by the Desperado PMC. Contractors come armed with short swords and automatic firearms, and either hand grenades or RPGs. They will swipe at Raiden with their swords at close range in a variety of attacks and combos, pepper him with gunfire from a distance, drop grenades at his feet, or grab him in a nelson hold so that other enemies can take a stab at him. While well rounded, they are also very easily dispatched – a single well-aimed blade mode slice to the head or torso will kill them. While they can block and evade, they do so sparingly and are easy to catch in a combo.
The second common enemy in the demo is the Gekko, a bipedal AI controlled walking tank. Far more resilient and significantly heavier than the Desperado contractors, Gekkos can take a thorough beating before going down, soaking up damage from Raiden’s attacks while retaliating with kicks and gunfire. They are also hyper-aggressive, relentlessly pursuing Raiden once they are alerted to his presence. Despite the Gekko’s size and weight, they are annoyingly agile, easily hopping away from Raiden’s attacks and blade mode slashes, or leaping great distances to smash down onto him. They can also shoot their manipulator arm at Raiden to throw him around, though vigorously shaking the left analog stick allows Raiden to break free and reverse the grab.
The Gekkos also stand apart from the common cyborg enemies in that they cannot be dismembered through blade mode initially. Gekkos are comprised of three parts – two legs and a box-like head. Each section takes damage independently, and it is only when a particular section is weakened sufficiently that Raiden can cut through it with a blade mode attack. Weakened body parts will take on a blueish hue, allowing players to clearly see when it is vulnerable to dismemberment. When the Gekko takes enough damage as a whole, it will enter a stunned state, allowing Raiden to perform a cinematic attack that weakens all sections and puts him in an optimal position for a blade mode finisher and Zandatsu.
The final enemy in the demo is the boss, called IF Prototype LQ-84i or Bladewolf. It is the most powerful enemy in the demo, possessing a large arsenal of ranged and melee attacks. The Bladewolf has a manipulator arm for a tail, which allows it to throw molten daggers at Raiden, or whip its mounted chainsaw in whirling combos. It also has lunging attacks and a nasty grab attack, the latter of which does large amounts of damage when not parried in time. Much like the Gekko, Bladewolf can hop away from Raiden’s attacks and blade mode slashes, and it can retaliate with one of several counterattacks when overwhelmed. However, the Bladewolf is fairly light, allowing Raiden to launch, knock away or juggle the cyborg when it is not committed to an attack. It summons help twice during the fight – three Desperado contractors and a Gekko – when it loses over 30% and 60% of its health, respectively.
What Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance makes clear is that, while very obviously action oriented, it is still being designed with the series’ iconic stealth gameplay in mind. The Alert icon on the top right corner of the screen indicates the enemy’s awareness to Raiden’s presence. When at least one enemy unit has direct visual contact with Raiden, the Alert icon will jump to 99.99 and all enemies in the area will actively seek him out. When visual contact is broken (by running around and hiding), the Alert numerals drop rapidly. At zero, enemies will abandon their search and return to their patrols.
The demo throws both forced and optional combat scenarios at players. Forced combat scenarios require that players utilize the combat system to the best of their ability. The Alert icon will be locked at 99.99, and Raiden is will be enclosed within a forcefield, requiring that he eliminate all enemies before being allowed to proceed. Optional combat scenarios allow players to run in and fight as they please or study enemy patrols and sneak past or silently kill the enemies in the area. During such scenarios enemies are not immediately alerted to Raiden’s presence, and go about specific patrols or stand guard over particular areas. Walking up behind the these oblivious enemies allows Raiden to perform a stealth kill, which instantly defeats them and allows him to pull off an easy Zandatsu without alerting other enemies in the area. Both the Desperado contractors and Gekko UGs can be stealth killed in the demo, opening up some interesting possibilities in respect to level progression.
If I could voice any complaint about the demo, it would be its length. With only five major encounters and the VR practice area, my time with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance feels tragically short. Granted, I can always replay the demo (and I have, again and again) but I’m genuinely eager to see more of the game. Nonetheless, there is enough content within the demo to get a solid feel for what the full game has to offer. If you haven’t already bought a copy of the Zone of the Enders HD Collection, the demo will be made available for download during January. Be sure to download it – I highly recommend it.