Metal Gear Solid is about stealth. Metal Gear Rising is about fast-paced combat. It’s a game in which you’ll be slicing enemies in half and ripping out their juicy insides to replenish yourself – although that’s a little easier to stomach given your foes are emotionally-suppressed cyborgs. Bright-blue nano-repair units stand in for actual guts, and the violence isn’t overly gratuitous either, but it’s a noticeable departure from the game’s parent franchise. The same is true of combat, which makes up a bulk of the gameplay and introduces interesting mechanics like “Blade Mode”.
Your character, Raiden, is equipped with the same cyborg augmentations as his foes, fitted after he loses an arm and an eye in a vicious attack by mercenaries from a private military corporation that rivals his own. As a result, you can pull off some super-human moves; although Blade Mode is always accessible, you enter a special slow-motion version of it if your energy bar, filled by striking enemies, is full. In Blade Mode, you can carefully control the blows of your “High-Frequency Blade” with complete 360-degree control. That accuracy comes in useful: there are parts of the game in which you’ll have to dismember enemies with surgical precision, or slice something thrown at you at a very specific angle. It’s something of a gimmick, and players are sure to enjoy it most when slicing trees into logs and salami-slicing the rest of the largely destructible environment, but it’s implemented very well in boss battles and thankfully never becomes tedious.
Even setting aside Blade Mode, though, combat isn’t mindless button-bashing. Parrying is incredibly important, being the only way to block incoming attacks, and it’s more dependent on quick reflexes than in most other games. Flicking the left analogue stick towards an enemy and tapping Square (usually the “light attack” button) puts Raiden in a defensive pose that absorbs a single blow. Against foes who quickly chain together three or four strikes in the space of a couple of seconds, some serious flick-and-tap talent is needed to maintain your guard; quite rightly, there’s a Trophy on offer for parrying ten blows in the space of only a few seconds. After an appropriate number of parries, a great opportunity opens to enter Blade Mode and deal some damage yourself.
Overall, combat works well, marred only by a camera that occasionally fails to co-operate, especially in keeping enemies in view during parry attempts. Let’s leave that for now and focus on the story, which is carried by cutscenes throughout and between the game’s eight distinct chapters (each of which can be accessed for repeat play-throughs from the main menu). Lurking behind the dry, Konami-esque humour, which sees cyborgs in mariachi costumes and security guards reading questionable comic books, is a cutting criticism of practical libertarianism. The major antagonist of this game isn’t a crazed villain, but a private military corporation faced with falling profits as a result of relative peace in the African continent. In order to revitalise the war economy, the firm decides to artificially create instability through assassination and terrorism.
Don’t expect a particularly deep political message, though. The game occasionally attempts to subvert players’ thought processes and make them question their own morality, but these moments land off-key. The game only really breaks away from being a series of disjointed action segments at the start of the penultimate boss battle, after which the story is imbued with some emotional charge. Unfortunately, the end of the game comes too soon: the stat break-down at the end reported that I’d beat Story Mode in five hours and forty-nine minutes. While six hours is rapidly becoming the de facto standard length for triple-A games, it’s not at all satisfying. Arguably, Guns of the Patriots contained a similar length of actual gameplay – but Revengeance boasts fewer and shorter cutscenes, making the overall experience much briefer in comparison.
Fortunately, there is replay value to be found, and not just in the form of Trophies. Enemy terminals hidden throughout the game allow players to unlock “VR Missions”, which are challenges accessible through the main menu and set in the yellow-hued virtual world seen in the game’s tutorial. Your performance in these is determined by the time spent to beat them, and medals are awarded for particularly good runs, encouraging players to repeat them in order to earn a better time. They’re not all particularly inspired, but unlocking and beating them adds a couple of worthwhile hours on top of the story mode. Playing combat-laced VR Missions between chapters can also help players make it through Story Mode faster – all combat, in Story Mode or otherwise, contributes to your “Battle Points” wallet, and these points can be spent on upgrades in the customisation screen. (You can also equip special costumes like the aforementioned mariachi one.)
There are definite problems with Metal Gear Rising: its length; the occasionally dodgy camera; the ridiculous number of quick-time events. Its story-telling isn’t flawless, either: that Raiden himself works for a private military corporation, one that we’re assured is truly only concerned with “security”, dulls the political message and adds a dimension of hypocrisy which isn’t really addressed in the plot. There are some great touches in the cutscenes, such as shots involving the team at Raiden’s employer, Maverick Security. Kevin and Courtney, who serve as auxiliary, off-screen characters for the most part, feature in a running gag showing Kevin subtly and repeatedly moving Courtney’s coffee away from the edge of her desk. Despite this, there’s little development of characters besides Raiden, whose past as a child soldier is frequently brought up.
As action games go, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is better than most. It’s genuinely enjoyable, and refreshingly challenging. To call it outstanding would be a gross exaggeration of its merits, however; it’s above-average for sure, and it even throws in optional stealth elements and item descriptions which hark back to Metal Gear Solid, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s a serious gulf between the value of Revengeance and Guns of the Patriots. Metal Gear fans should certainly pause and think before they buy.