After Metal Gear Solid 4’s supposed conclusion and several prequel/remake adventures, it appears as if famed Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima is finally ready to mix things up a bit. Even I didn’t see this transformation coming when I booted up the crazily-named Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a game that’s not only a radical new vision of one of the industry’s most celebrated franchises but also a smart lesson in brand revitalization. And for the sake of a franchise that has longed taken itself too seriously, this is a very good thing.
Originally titled Metal Gear Solid: Rising, the name-change is more than symbolic, as this is also the first time series creator Hideo Kojima has let a studio other than his Kojima Productions take the reigns of his beloved franchise for an original release. Saved from cancellation by eccentric developer Platinum Games (MadWorld, Bayonetta), Revengeance (a term created for this game) is definitely not crafted like its melodramatic espionage predecessors starring Solid Snake. Those familiar with Platinum’s previous efforts, especially the black ‘n white bloodfest MadWorld or the titular Bayonetta, will quickly learn that this is one of those rare collaborations where opposites indeed attract, as melodrama meets mayhem in a tight little package that works.
For starters, you won’t be controlling Solid Snake, and you might as well forget about sneaking around covertly as Revengeance really isn’t interested in that sort of thing; it’s practically an afterthought here, with explosions aplenty followed by quick-edit pacing that would make Michael Bay jealous. The only real nod at subtlety, if you can call it that, is perfecting just how many pieces you’ll cut down objects or enemies in your path into. This is unlike any Metal Gear game I’ve ever played, despite the involvement of Cyborg Raiden, last seen in Metal Gear Solid 4, with much of the expected moral overtones of war that touch on the issues of human rights and political corruption dialed back considerably, replaced by an emphasis on extreme action with some dry humor and technical babble thrown in to lighten the mood. It’s hard not to laugh while taking in the sheer absurdity of it all.
The premise, beyond the requisite codec dialogue and cardboard box nod, is loud and in your face and the gameplay seldom lets up. You’ll jump right into the action and it’s not ten minutes before you’ll be going up against a four-story Metal Gear Ray unit and chopping it in half while racing down a building, complete with dramatic QTE button-mashing prompting you along the way. This scenario only serves as an introduction to the countless hacking and slashing you’ll participate in throughout the single-player campaign and, boy, is there plenty of it to go around.
The gameplay is about keeping things as simple as possible on a chaotic battlefield, with only two attack buttons and a nice helping of combinations using the shoulder triggers, including your HF Sword or acquired secondary weapon (aka the Heavy Attack) and the ability to ninja run, or to focus your Blade Mode to accurately target body parts. You’ll also have access to other items, limited artillery, and the ability to scan your immediate area using the d-pad, or access your codec to get intel (or just engage in some friendly banter) with the select/back button.
What makes Revengeance so unique from past Metal Gears is the aforementioned feature of carving away anything that moves, be it an arm, torso, or a ruthless runaway office chair. This is unquestionably the game’s guiltiest and most satisfying pleasure as Raiden can make short work of countless onscreen enemy cyborgs and Metal Gear tanks lickety-split – emphasis on the splitting. This brutal form of surgery can be performed by tapping the attack button with reckless abandon or using the art of Zandatsu (aka “cut and take” or 斬奪), which activates Blade Mode to slow time down, slice things to pieces, and steal a foe’s life energy either with the attack buttons or the right analog stick for a more personal touch.
Aside from being a violently cartoonish approach to dismemberment, it’s also the only real way to actively keep your health up, yet can’t be abused as you can only activate it for brief periods at a time. Fans of Platinum’s Bayonetta should delight in how well this bloody tactic is employed here, as there’s plenty of winks and nods to their past sprinkled throughout to keep a lookout for.
Indeed, those unfamiliar familiar with Platinum Games and how they ‘do’ gameplay can expect little mercy here; there’s only one real mandatory training session in the VR room and after that you’re thrown right into the fray with the opportunity to earn and collect additional VR sessions during the campaign. It’s total immersion therapy that works fantastically for those who like their action thrills immediately; not so much for newcomers to the fold.
A big issue I do have, as with Platinum’s other recent titles (Anarchy Reigns their biggest offender) is a lack of overall polish, most noticeably with how the camera reacts in the heat of battle. There’s no auto-centering mechanic to speak of and things often get way too hectic way too quickly. Better get used to being attacked from behind or figuring out who (or what) just launched a shot from off-screen because it happens more often than it should, and not being able to refocus your camera gets annoying fast.
As a whole, the experience of putting Cyborg Raiden through his paces and focus on intense action may take longtime fans by surprise, especially those expecting yet another tactical thriller that’s more cinematic than button-mashing frenzy. Looked at as a series spin-off, I believe the developers have generally succeeded on Kojima’s behalf, but these changes probably won’t and shouldn’t suit everybody. Also, there’s no multiplayer to speak of and the lack of customization, at least at the time of this review, may disappoint those looking to keep playing after slicing through the main campaign. Konami has promised extra DLC to improve the game’s replay value, but don’t take that shortcoming as a lack of value; for what it’s worth, the game is kept short but is remarkably focused compared to previous Metal Gear entries.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t so much a departure from the franchise as a complete metamorphosis, and one that will take longtime fans by surprise. Espionage action and excessive storytelling take a backseat to tactical evisceration and bloody combat, and even before I button-tapped my way into lassoing a Gekko unit and slammed it into the ground I knew this was going to be over-the-top and ridiculous, but I’m not ashamed to say that I like it. For a franchise that’s become infamous for its self-importance it’s great that Kojima let others play in his sandbox, and while I can’t imagine that we’ve seen the last of his particular brand of melodramatic angst, for now I recommend those curious fans just shrugging their shoulders and giving it a shot, enjoying the insanity while it lasts.