Developed as a collaborative effort between Platinum Games and Kojima Productions, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance goes in a direction the Metal Gear series has never gone before: balls-to-the-wall, spectacular action. There are a few minor flaws with the game that detract subtly from the overall experience, which will be discussed later in this review, but overall Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a fantastic and unique action game that reworks established gameplay norms of the action genre to create a refreshing, engaging and extremely fun game.
As we’ve discussed in the past, Metal Gear Rising‘s most defining gameplay element is its “Blade Mode” mechanic, which allows players to focus protagonist Raiden’s attacks to make precise cuts on enemies. This isn’t a particularly new mechanic — it’s been used to some extent in games like Afro Samurai and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, with varying degrees of success. Players enter Blade Mode by holding down L2 (or the Left Trigger on the Xbox 360), and can then aim Raiden’s slashes manually with the left and right thumbsticks. Slashes performed in Blade Mode will cut through most non-armored materials, allowing players to cripple or outright kill weaker enemies quickly. This becomes particularly useful when playing on higher difficulties, as stronger and more demanding enemies are mixed in with weaker foes, and whittling down enemy groups quickly and effectively becomes much more important.
Entering Blade Mode depletes Raiden’s fuel cells quickly, however, and he cannot effectively use Blade Mode when his fuel cells are low. In order to restore his energy, Raiden must attack with his weapon via combos, or steal fuel cells from his enemies. Square targeting reticles appear on enemies when Raiden enters Blade Mode, marking that enemy’s weak point. Cutting through this reticle will instantly kill the enemy and expose their fuel cells, which Raiden can snatch and crush to restore his own fuel reserves and health. The process of aiming slashes to expose fuel cells and then tearing them out is called “Zan-Datsu,” and it is an integral element to the combat in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. In addition to giving players something to aim for during free-cutting shenanigans, many of the bosses demand that players precisely aim their cuts to expose a weak point or to counter an incoming attack.
The next major defining gameplay element, and perhaps the most noticeable for long-time action game fans, is how Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance handles defense. The most integral of Raiden’s defensive abilities is his parry, which is available to him right from the start. By tapping the analog stick in the direction of an incoming attack while simultaneously pressing the light attack button, Raiden will put up a temporary guard that will deflect damage from the attack. Timing a parry so that Raiden raises his guard just as an enemy connects with their attack will result in a powerful automatic counterattack. This counter has a very high chance of stunning or interrupting the attacking enemy, making parries a very useful tool in Raiden’s repertoire. As the game progress, enemies will start stringing their attacks together to combo Raiden, requiring that players repeatedly and accurately input the parry command to block attacks. In some respects, parrying reminds me of ducking/weaving in God Hand in that the maneuver requires quick reflexes and repeated and accurate inputs. It gives defense a technical and engaging feel that is wholly unique to Metal Gear Rising.
Most enemies can also utilize a grab that will circumvent Raiden’s parry and deal damage to him. Often times running around or jumping isn’t enough to avoid these unique attacks, and so players must use Raiden’s second defensive ability — a slashing dodge called “Defensive Offense.” Unlike the parry, this ability must be purchased before Raiden can use it in combat. Defensive Offense requires a unique input (the light attack and jump button pressed simultaneously) for its execution. This move grants Raiden temporary invincibility during the start-up of the attack, allowing players to weave under an attack while continuing their assault. This defensive ability is also unique in that it counts as an attack in Raiden’s combo — so players can continue their combo from wherever they left off after a successful dodge. In function, it works similarly to the advanced “Dodge Offset” technique featured in Bayonetta, allowing players to keep powerful combos going without resetting them when evasion is required. Effectively implementing Defensive Offense into Raiden’s defense can be devastating on common enemies and bosses like, and adds yet another layer of depth to the combat in Metal Gear Rising.
Raiden’s combos can be canceled into either defensive ability immediately, allowing players to defend themselves reflexively.
While on the subject, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance utilizes a two-button combo system, much like Bayonetta does. Light attacks are mapped to the square button and heavy attacks mapped to the triangle button (or the X and Y buttons, respectively, on the Xbox 360 controller). Raiden’s light attacks will always employ his primary weapon — the High-Frequency Blade. If no other weapon is equipped, Raiden will use the blade for his heavy attacks as well, and various combinations of light and heavy attacks will result in different combo strings. As players progress through the game and unlock more content, new weapons will become available for use: alternate high-frequency blades as well as custom weapons. Alternate H.F. blades all have unique properties and stats that subtly change how Raiden fights. For example, the H.F. Machete has a higher attack speed than other blades, but has significantly less range and is weaker than other blades.
Custom weapons are mapped exclusively to the heavy attack (Triangle, Y) button, and each has a unique combo or function that sets them apart from the H.F. blades. The pole-arm “L’Étranger” has a variety of unique sweeping and enemy-juggling attacks that make it well-suited for crowd control. The tactical sai “Dystopia” gives Raiden a long-ranged grab that lets him close the gap between him and his enemies with ease. It also earns an attack bonus after a few seconds of non-use, allowing Raiden to stun his target when the sai glows violet. The scissor-like pincer blade “Bloodlust” gives Raiden a slow but powerful armor-breaking combo. Each of Bloodlust’s attacks can be charged to further increase its damage, range and armor-breaking properties.
In addition to these weapons and attacks, Raiden can purchase special abilities that further expand his already expansive list of moves. Some, like the previously mentioned “Defensive Offense,” improve his defensive abilities, while others will allow him to perform unique attacks with his equipped weapon. All of these features, as well as costumes and health/fuel cell upgrades, can be purchased through the customization system accessed through the Codec menu (by pressing the “Select,” or “Back” button).
Despite the focus on action and Raiden’s enormous list of abilities, Metal Gear Rising doesn’t stray far from its stealth roots. Many of the game’s combat encounters have been designed around stealth and cover, allowing players to complete many scenarios without ever being detected by enemies. A variety of sub-weapons further emphasize this style of play, with disguise and distraction-type items allowing for sneakier play in addition to the more direct attack sub-weapons. With that said, Raiden moves like a bat out of hell, and so stealth has been designed to accommodate his agile movement with quick, stabby ninja assassination. Most non-boss enemies in the game can be killed instantly if they are unaware of Raiden’s presence, provided he gets the jump on them first. The enemies in Metal Gear Rising tend to follow set patrols, allowing players to carefully pick them off or sneak past them without alerting other enemies in the area.
Also in line with the series’ roots: it’s actually possible to earn “no-kill” bonuses when engaging human enemies. Crippling cyborgs (by paring down a few of their limbs) without striking a vital (their head in particular) will leave them helpless on the ground. These crippled PMCs will eventually disappear from the battlefield, netting players the classic Metal Gear bonus for the encounter. The unlockable “high frequency wooden sword” can also be used for this purpose as the weapon has a chance of instantly KO’ing enemies it strikes, removing them from the field non-lethally.
Metal Gear Rising isn’t a particularly long game, but its strength lies in its massive amount of unlockable content, which serves to extend the game’s longevity. Metal Gear Rising throws four different types of collectibles into the game for players to hunt down, each of which adds new content to the game, be it new accessories, weapons or play modes. For example, players are informed of special data chips stored within the left arms of cyborg combatants relatively early in the game. Cutting this arm off leaves a collectible item behind, which will unlock new weapons and content after a certain number of them have been collected. Another example would be the hidden computer terminals scattered throughout each stage, which unlock a respective VR mission to play with on the Codec screen or main menu. On top of adding more content for players to sink their teeth into, completing these missions also unlocks new weapons and accessories.
Also, because unlocked content is available to them for all future play-throughs (regardless of difficulty), Metal Gear Rising encourages players to try their hand at the higher difficulties upon replays. The content earned during earlier, easier play-throughs will be vitally important to completing the game on Very Hard and Revengeance modes, which remix enemy appearances and boosts enemy aggression sky-high.
As mentioned in the introduction, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a fantastic action game, but it does have its share of flaws that detract from it. Some of these are fairly minor and can be easily overlooked, while others can lead to a few irritating situations during play.
The biggest issue I’ve encountered is how the game handles targeting. The lock-on function is extremely basic in that it only serves to focus the camera on a single enemy. Because enemies rarely fight alone, targeting a specific enemy is important, as players will want to prioritize annoying enemies first. Unfortunately, there is no effective way to switch the lock between enemies. Without a way to toggle the lock-on between enemies, I’m required to either hold the directional thumbstick in the direction of the enemy I do want to target (and hope for the best), or break my lock entirely, focus the camera on the enemy I want to hit, and try again. During a hectic fight, fighting with the lock-on can easily get me hit. In a game that encourages precise defense and evasion, a weak targeting system mars the combat. Fortunately, Metal Gear Rising has a fairly lenient checkpoint and retry option, so players trying to earn no-damage or no-kill bonuses can retry after a screw-up with relatively little trouble.
Manual saving is useless. On the Codec screen, Raiden can talk with fellow Maverick member Courtney to save his progress. However, all this does is save which weapons/subweapons Raiden currently has equipped, as the game will start you right back at the last auto-saved checkpoint regardless. This can be irritating during the few situations where there is no checkpoint between encounters, as players will need to redo any fights leading up to where they died or saved previously. I want to stress that this isn’t a major issue, as there are very few points in the game where Raiden is required to fight several waves of enemies in between checkpoints. As I mentioned before, the checkpoint system is generally lenient.
Some boss fights and combat scenarios feature quick-time events that result in Raiden’s instant demise if players fail to input the proper command. Because the checkpoint system is lenient, the commands never change, and Metal Gear Rising doesn’t penalize you for deaths. Failing a QTE is only a temporary setback that players can avoid once they know how to overcome the event. It doesn’t make it any less annoying, though.
I personally would have liked to see more combos and abilities for the custom weapons. The pole-arm “L’Étranger” is by far the most robust of the weapons in the custom series, as I find the “Dystopia” sai and “Bloodlust” pincer blades to be a bit underwhelming. As mentioned, the sai serves as a long-range grab, and it allows for a follow-up kick. While this is a welcome feature, I would have liked some quick, multi-hit combos to fight with, much like Desperado captain Monsoon performs when he uses the sai against players. Likewise, more attack options for the pincer blades besides its chargeable combo and aerial attack would have made the weapon more fun to experiment with.
The last issue I have is in respect to the story: particularly the last chapter. No, I won’t spoil the last chapter for readers, so don’t fret. The story of Metal Gear Rising is very straightforward overall and revolves primarily around Raiden coming to grips with his bloody, murderous past, while at the same time playing with themes of a war economy and its effect on society. There are a few conspiracies and twists thrown in for good measure, but the story remains easy to follow throughout. Codec conversations between Raiden and his fellow Maverick teammates serve to enrich the plot and flesh out their personalities. Overall, I don’t have any complaints as far as the story is concerned, in general.
No, my issue stems from the pacing within the last chapter of the game. The scenario escalates far too quickly, and isn’t set up well enough to feel significant. I don’t want to reveal any more than that, but suffice to say, the chapter should have been split in two. That or the villain should have had greater presence earlier in the story, rather than making his first official confrontation with Raiden right at the end of the game. Because there is no adequate buildup, I felt that the end came abruptly — as if my time with the game were cut short. I suppose it’s testament to Metal Gear Rising‘s overall quality that I was left wanting more as the credits rolled.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance delivers a solid action experience that actually demands something from its players. The unique parry and evasive abilities force players to re-learn and master tired mechanics within the genre, giving combat a technical and engaging feel. At the same time, the surprising mount of stealth in the game, while by no means as in-depth as the stealth elements in previous Metal Gear titles, encourages players to step back and re-think how they approach combat scenarios. Add to that an absolutely stellar soundtrack, fantastic art direction, silky smooth animations, an absurd amount of unlockable content and an over-the-top, yet pleasantly grounded story (by Platinum Games’ standards, anyway) and you have a game that Metal Gear fans and action game fans alike can enjoy.