One of the many goals of any video game is to immerse the player into the experience. Usually the key thing a development team often strives for, immersion within a game is not an easy goal to achieve since there are so many factors to take into consideration. With things such as the narrative, gameplay, and visuals to take into account, making the player feel truly connected to the character they’re controlling is something that truly sets the great developers apart from the rest.
Fifteen years ago one game was released that immediately made players feel like the character they were controlling: Metal Gear Solid. Even with basic visuals, the premise of sneaking through a top secret Alaskan base and trying to foil a plan that could have international ramifications ultimately made people feel like they were a top operative; in this case the bandana wearing Solid Snake. Now the Metal Gear franchise is responsible yet again for making players feel a direct connection to the character they’re playing as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the epitome of ninja style action brilliance in video game form.
When it was first unveiled, or at least re-revealed after disappearing for nearly a year, Metal Gear Rising seemed like it was a true dark horse. The lineage of Platinum Games as a developer was without question due to titles such as Bayonetta and Vanquish, both of which are at the top of their respective genres, yet taking the ever serious Metal Gear franchise in a more stylized and action oriented direction seemed odd. I for one made my feelings on the matter public knowledge, perhaps a bit too hastily for my own good, but upon playing Metal Gear Rising any worries or fears I had about the title were immediately wiped away due to the sheer bliss of hopping on top of missiles or slicing whatever I desired.
What sets apart Metal Gear Rising, in a good way mind you, is that it’s a game that makes absolutely no qualms about what it is. While the game may be rooted in the very deep Metal Gear lore, which I’ll talk about later, Rising is a title that simply excels at being an excellent action experience that never once falters during the course of its ever fast campaign. A few liberties have been taken with how things are brought forth such as character introductions and things of that nature, but Platinum Games absolutely cut no corners when it came to not only delivering on the concept of allowing the player to cut anything they wanted to, but making them feel as powerful as a cyborg ninja warrior badass should be.
As we all know the main gimmick of Metal Gear Rising has always been the ability to cut what you will, an element which has the catchy Japanese name of Zandatsu. Perhaps what ultimately brought development at a standstill while the project was in production at Kojima Productions, Platinum Games has run with the Zandatsu mechanic in such an amazing degree that it’s instantly unlike any action game I’ve played before, let alone that’s on the market today.
It was rather amazing to play Rising since the combat system is one of deep complexity yet it’s not designed in such a way that I had to enter ninja Zen mode to truly appreciate it or pull off all the cool maneuvers Raiden is capable of. Armed with his high-frequency combat sword, Raiden allowed me to do such things as basic hacking and slashing on an array of enemies ranging from standard soldiers to Metal Gear Geoko’s, who this time out are actually deadly as opposed to the slow mooing behemoths they were in MGS4. The combat of Rising, at least its foundations, is that of any other game since I could do basic heavy and light attacks with Raiden’s sword. But what really sets the game apart is the pace of the combat and how that plays into the Zandatsu mechanic.
Opting not to perhaps overpower the player and in turn set up a lot of weird design logic issues, I could only unleash Raiden’s precision attacks once his Fuel Cell gauge was fully charged. Now it may sound limiting that the Zandatsu attacks need to be earned in a sense, but it’s this decision that in turn makes the combat of Rising a masterful ballet – except instead of seeing someone stand and jump on their tippy toes I saw people sliced into hundreds of pieces as I smiled with glee. Rooted in doing combo attacks, unleashing the Zandatsu maneuver is simple since all I had to do was press the L1 button (on the PS3 obviously) or even do a Ninja Run attack (holding R1 and run into an enemy) to launch them up in the air and in turn leave them open to feel the end of my blade.
On top of that, the Fuel Cell gauge attacks can also be earned by doing precision cutting – not of watermelons but of soldiers or the other more deadly mechanical based foes that appear in the game. By entering Blade Mode I could literally choose what I wanted to cut off an enemy, whether it was their head, their legs, the left arm to earn a slight boost in stats, or the sweet spot: their mid-torso to access their spines. By being a bit more precise in how I wanted to dismember my enemies I could grab their Fuel Cells, which in turn not only refilled my FC gauge but my health.
It’s this combat premise which sends the game into an instant combat frenzy that never once felt sloppy, repetitive, or inane, since all the battles had a level of spontaneity to them. Yes, in some cases Rising is hindered by the lack of more enemy variety since not a lot of new enemies are introduced throughout the game, but besides that I was in constant awe of how I felt during combat since I could do a ninja slide to pop an enemy up, cut them in two, grab their fuel cell, go on to the next enemy with a few basic attacks, and then do a double decapitation if two foes were in close proximity of each other.
Best of all, the tone of the combat in Rising is one of pure bloody, body parts everywhere goodness, which I don’t think will be rivaled anytime soon. Never being on the verge of excess, at least in my humbled opinion, Rising strikes the perfect balance of being accessible yet there’s a true skilful nature to everything. Besides the skill required to truly get the most out of each encounter whether it be doing a Zandatsu chain or chopping off left arms, Rising has one of the best block/parry systems in an action game. Rather than having a dedicated block button, I instead had to press the left analog stick forward plus the Square button to block an attack from an enemy. It may sound a bit tricky, and in some cases it does require good timing, but during combat the block system feels excellent as it instilled a true sense of skill within me, mostly because the boss battles made me work to win as opposed to merely pressing one button for five minutes and being crowned the victor.
The boss battles themselves present an array of skills and scenarios which easily match, if not trump, what Platinum has done in the past. Utilizing Raiden’s talents, both his ninja run and Zandatsu attacks, tackling the four members of the Desperado LLC PMC is already one of my finest gaming moments of 2013. Always varied, the boss battles aren’t a one-off in the cool department since Platinum never really nerfs Raiden’s abilities in the game. I certainly couldn’t scale the side of a building whenever I wanted, but the moment to moment combat still allowed for some cool moments to be had and the more tailored sections, which come in the form of brief QTE sequences that aren’t a pushover, often left me in awe – both due to the scope of each encounter and the sheer action choreography and direction that Platinum devised.
Rising isn’t an entirely perfect game since there are a few minor blemishes here and there. While the combat is pure bliss from top to bottom, I did find myself having to combat the camera system Platinum created for the game since it’s a bit too close to Raiden; thus making it difficult to see certain enemies on his side or even behind him. Other than that and the already noted lack of more enemies to dice up into tiny pieces, Rising’s only other shortcomings come in the form of stealth sections that don’t wholly work. Usually only consisting of having to avoid a few enemies or security cameras, the stealth segments of Rising feel slightly thrown in since the mechanics aren’t entirely suited for the rest of the game. I did have fun going old-school by hopping into a cardboard box or oil drum for a bit, but it’s merely a novelty as opposed to an integral mechanic that can be used as a worthy tool of my arsenal.
On the flipside of the dull stealth segments, the action scenes found within Metal Gear Rising truly are spectacular since the game bares such a distinct visual style. A melding of sorts of the traits and small artistic touches found within Kojima Productions and Platinum Games, there’s a nice evolution of sorts in Rising as far as how everything looks. Much cleaner aesthetically, there may not be the profound mechanical beauty in Rising similar to the creations devised by Yoji Shinkawa (head artist at Kojima Productions), yet the style of the game doesn’t seem too out of place for the Metal Gear universe.
Backing up the art of Rising is a simple yet effective graphics engine that is serviceable enough to lend a nice appearance to everything. Utilizing the same internal graphics engine that Platinum has used in their previous games, the fidelity in Rising is good but it’s clearly not exceptional – at least compared to the somewhat high-end look of MGS4. Now that may sound like a huge knock against the game, especially when comparing it to a five-year old title, but some of the environments in the game do have a rather drab appearance and it’s obvious that things aren’t really being pushed as much as they can. Even then, the game does boast some dazzling specific effects when it comes to how the Zandatsu mechanic represent and simply how mesmerizing some of the blood/cyborg oil looks when Raiden’s blade cuts through an enemy
The action centric nature of Rising doesn’t result in a title that totally disparages it’s lineage since the narrative isn’t that far off from what longtime MGS fans are used to. Platinum Games have certainly injected their own flavor in feel of the game and how characters are portrayed, as evident by how everyone is fond of swearing when they’re angry. Yet even with Raiden entering potty mouth mode and random manga addict jokes being thrown in, the game does have a rather heartfelt and charming tone to it amidst all the bloodshed and social commentary that’s being sprouted throughout.
Yes, while Rising certainly has a more brisk pace compared to the ever monotonous and detailed MGS games, there’s still an underlying theme in the game; one which actually works brilliantly with the background of Raiden as a character. Never becoming too heavy handed that it offsets the less than serious action scenarios, the plot of Rising certainly has that Kojima flair/inspiration in it and does once and for all prove that the Metal Gear series can evolve and go off into more unique directions without becoming dumbed down to appeal to a broader audience that doesn’t care or know what XIFF is.
Still sharply written, if not a more self-aware of what it is, the plot of Rising is truly surprising since it does have some shocking moments that never once betrays the rules of the characters and universe. It may still be odd to see Rising co-exist with MGS4 or even the forthcoming Ground Zeroes/Phantom Pain since it has Raiden doing things that are simply ridiculous, but all together the game is well implemented as far as to not step on any toes of the Metal Gear lore – especially that of Big Boss/Solid Snake.
Keeping me utterly mesmerized during every minute I played it, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is easily one of the best action games ever made. The melding of Japanese and Western styles/motifs may not set well amongst everyone, but those who enjoy a game with deep combat that is actually challenging will instantly love what Rising has to offer. Even fans of the Metal Gear series will likely enjoy the more action oriented direction Rising provides since it still has the tense tone coupled with the small whacky Easter eggs that the franchise has been known to provide for over twenty years. If ever there was one game that proved us all wrong by living up to its moniker of making things right, it has to be Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.