Behind closed doors at Konami’s E3 2012 booth, the collaborative effort of Platinum Games and Kojima Productions – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – was available, finally, in playable form. MGR:R departs radically from other titles in the series due to its heavy focus on action, rather than stealth. There are still stealth elements to the game, but the focus of MGR:R is Raiden and his awesome cyborg-ninja swordplay and movement. To say that combat is over-the-top is an understatement – Platinum Games’ eccentric influence permeates all aspects of gameplay. Yet, despite the outrageous stunts Raiden pulls off during gameplay, the combat retains a grounded and, dare-I-say, realistic feel. There’s a method to the madness that is MGR:R, and it stands quite apart from other games in Platinum’s repertoire.
What immediately struck me about MGR:R is its lack of a dodge button. Platinum Games’ titles tend to emphasize movement and evasion to avoid taking damage. Typically, this involves an evasive maneuver – an invincible dodge – that allows players to clip under or through incoming attacks with good timing. Bayonetta, Madworld, (and Okami and God Hand when key Platinum staff worked at Capcom as Clover Studios), all made dodging the crux of a player’s defense. MGR:R gives Raiden a ninja run that he can use to out-run attackers and deflect bullet-spray, but make no mistake – he is still vulnerable to many attacks during his bursts of speed.
Rather than dashing, MGR:R gives its protagonist a parry, and only a parry, to deflect everything from bullets and sword-swipes to Gekko kicks and missile volleys. A successful parry grants Raiden invincibility frames, allowing him to avoid damage from the attack he blocked. There are two levels of parrying, which vary based on timing. A poorly timed parry will only deflect damage. A well-timed parry not only deflects damage, but throws the enemy off-balance, allowing Raiden to retaliate with an easy combo or free cutting (more on that in a bit).
Despite this deviation from Platinum Games’ usual fluid and ever-moving combat, the parrying in MGR:R feels fluid in its own way, as it blends beautifully with Raiden’s swordplay. Executed by pressing Triangle and forward on the analog stick, the timing for parrying is tight, yet the controls are responsive, allowing players to throw their defense out reflexively, as the situation demands.
Perhaps the most defining element of MGR:R‘s gameplay is the free-cutting mechanic, which has been a major part of the game since its inception. In the reveal gameplay trailer (before Platinum Games jumped onboard), Raiden’s combo slashes could dismember enemies easily, but free-cutting allowed for super-precise cutting as well. I’m sure everyone remembers the watermelon gag at the end of the Metal Gear Solid: Rising trailer.
To undoubtedly balance the gameplay, Raiden’s melee combos do not have the dismembering effect that they did in that early trailer. While his melee combos can be used to defeat enemies, successful blows build-up energy, which Raiden can then use to activate “Blade Mode” by holding the left trigger. In this mode, time slows down and Raiden can manually aim and slash in whatever direction the player choses. The right analog stick controls each slash. If players find the analog control cumbersome (I didn’t), they can also use the square and triangle buttons to execute “canned” slashes in blade mode. The square button has Raiden execute horizontal slashes, while the triangle button has him execute vertical slashes. I happened to rely on this “easy slashing” to quickly and stylishly hack enemies apart. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of the demo that I noticed that there are specific reticles on the target’s body that indicate a weak-point. Easy-slashing doesn’t usually hit these targets, encouraging players to aim their slashes manually. Hitting this weak-point allows Raiden to perform “Zandatsu.” This technique has Raiden reach into his cyborg enemy’s butchered innards and extract energy cells, which restore Raiden’s own energy and health instantly.
Entering Blade Mode rapidly drains Raiden’s energy, however, and while only a moment or two is really needed to cut an enemy into tiny, bloody chunklets, the gameplay generally revolves around comboing enemies to build energy, and burning energy to butcher more enemies.
Once a mission is completed, Raiden is rated for time, kills, successful Zandatsus, and a few other criteria, as one would expect given Platinum Games’ pedigree for arcade-style action games.
After slicing up generic foes, a Gekko unit makes its way onto the stage. Significantly tougher than the lesser foes, the Gekko will kick and charge at Raiden aggressively, or shoot a grapple into him to toss him around. It’s weak-point is on its head. Striking this point will take the Gekko out and allow Raiden to perform zandatsu, but he must either initiate blade mode in the air, or knock the machine to the ground by countering its grapple attack.
After the Gekko, the demo moves on to the helicopter boss battle.
This portion of the demo puts Raiden on a bridge, and teaches him how to properly utilize his ninja run ability. As Raiden runs across the ruined structure, a helicopter descends behind him, shooting out the bridge beneath his feet. Using ninja run, Raiden dashes just ahead of the attacks and falling debris, automatically vaulting over abandoned cars and obstacles. At a certain point, a large slab of concrete breaks off with Raiden on it, initiating a quick time event. Mashing the triangle button allows Raiden to claw into the bridge and regain his footing. He then runs up the slab and back to the end of the bridge, where the helicopter joins him for the battle.
The helicopter will pepper Raiden with gunfire or launch a volley of missiles to damage him. Ninja running or parrying work well to avoid damage from these attacks. Raiden can also stylishly slice incoming missiles in Blade Mode. The helicopter will also attempts to swoop in and crash into Raiden. This is much harder to avoid with Ninja Running alone, but the parry ability saves the day. Successfully parrying this charge leaves the chopper vulnerable just above Raiden’s head, allowing him to slash and hack at his leisure.
I will admit I fooled around a lot during this fight, attempting to slice incoming missiles (with no luck) rather than taking down the boss. Nonetheless, jumping combos and parrying worked well to weaken the machine. Eventually, the chopper fires a slew of missiles, which initiates another quick-time event. Raiden will vault from missile to missile, and eventually leaps over the helicopter, where he’s prompted to enter Blade Mode. Doing so will allow him to chop the steel bird to scrap in whatever way the player sees fit.
The demo ends after the boss fight, but not before teasing us with a giant metal gear battle. Silhouetted before a fiery background, I couldn’t tell which metal gear I was looking at (I think it was REX, but I can’t say for sure), but Raiden was ready to fight. As was I, until the credits popped up. A magnificent tease, that was.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is set for an early 2013 release.