[Review] Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3/X360)

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[Review] Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3/X360)

Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: February 19, 2013
ESRB Rating: M
Pg! Score: 9

There was no shortage of skepticism when Kojima Productions handed off Metal Gear Solid: Rising to Platinum Games and rebranded it as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  While not uncommon for publishers to outsource popular franchises after creative teams break up or to liven up a franchise that has stagnated – see Ninja Theory’s take on Capcom’s Devil May Cry and Silent Hill’s parade of hand-offs to various developers after Team Silent’s dissolution as examples – results have generally been mixed.

Knowing the design philosophy of Platinum Games’ prior titles, simply handing a story-heavy franchise over to the action-first, story-second studio might have meant bad news for Revengeance.  Fortunately, instead of a simple outsourcing, Revengeance is a full-blown collaboration between Platinum and Kojima Productions. This allowed the former to concentrate on fast-paced gameplay and the latter to handle the franchise’s trademark narrative style and cinematic tone, each playing to their strengths.

The result is beautiful to behold.

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Gameplay/Mechanics – 9

Breaking with Metal Gear‘s traditional “Tactical Espionage Action” gameplay, Rising focuses on over-the-top swordplay, mimicking Raiden’s feats during his battle scenes in Metal Gear Solid 4.  Unlike other spectacle brawlers such as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, which emphasize stylistic combat, Rising‘s combat system encourages speed and efficiency – there are no shortage of stylized attacks, but precision and speed in dispatching your foes ultimately earns higher ranks than overlong combos.

As expected from a Platinum title, Rising’s combat is slick, fast-paced, and satisfying. In addition to a variety of combos, weapons, and unlockable skills available, the core of Rising‘s combat system is “Blade Mode”, a bullet time-inspired mechanic, slowing down time while the player is given the option to aim precise strokes with the right joystick or a barrage of quick strikes using the light and heavy attack buttons. Any surface without armored protection is slashed apart by Blade Mode attacks, dismembered quickly and savagely or with surgical precision.

On the defense, Rising lacks a dedicated block mechanic, relying instead on well-timed parries executed by a light attack and moving the joystick towards the attacker. While the mechanic takes some getting used to – it’s difficult to do so mid-combo, discouraging overly aggressive tactics and overlong combos – it makes battles feel very strategic and is incredibly satisfying when pulled off properly. Another way the game makes defense exciting is its purchased dodge, which combines a short hop to the front, back, or sides with a chastising sword strike. Combat always feels frantic, but an adept player never feels out of control.

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Stealth isn’t the game’s focus, but it still plays a role in avoiding optional encounters. Raiden can use an oil drum or the series’ iconic cardboard box to remain hidden from enemies, which is encouraged at times to avoid raising the alert. But stealth is not a passive choice – Raiden can also use the opportunity to eliminate unsuspecting enemy cyborgs with instant-kill stealth attacks.

Furthermore, as this is a Metal Gear game, fans of the series will appreciate the ability to complete the game without taking a single life, barring plot-mandated boss encounters and non-sapient Unmanned Gears.  While a bit more violent than knocking out an enemy in older games, taking an out enemy cyborg’s limbs with sufficient precision will eventually require them to leave the battle, leaving them alive and netting the player a nice no-kill bonus upon finishing a battle without a single kill.

The game’s high points are its intense boss battles, which go out of their way to test the player’s skills while still remaining fun and exciting.  These battles allow the player to really cut loose and exercise their full arsenal. Each encounter has its own flavor, and is packed full of high-octane action and spectacle – bosses are always the high point of any chapter they appear. Ultimately, it’s a shame that there aren’t more bosses to fight, but the quality of each battle more than makes up for that.

If the gameplay has a flaw, it’s the camera. Mostly tolerable, it nonetheless seems to work against you at times, unable to keep up with a fast-paced battle or one in close quarters. The game’s lock-on function is usually sufficient to counteract this, keeping it from becoming a big problem.

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Narrative/Pacing – 8.5

Four years have passed since the events of MGS4 and the downfall of the AI-led Patriot international conspiracy. With them gone, many secrets they’d kept suppressed have come to light, leading to significant technological advances – most notably, cyborg technology has become commonplace, especially among private military companies.

Following his reunion with his family at the end of MGS4, Raiden has joined peacekeeping PMC Maverick Security Consulting, utilizing his combat skills and cyborg enhancementsto provide for his family.  However, when a routine mission to safeguard an African Prime Minister goes wrong, Raiden crosses paths with a team of cyborg soldiers from rival PMC Desperado Enforcement LLC, and winds up finding himself involved in a conspiracy that threatens to recreate the Patriots’ war economy.

With Platinum Games handling Rising‘s gameplay, the Kojima Productions staff – led by writer Etsu Tamari and supervised by series creator Hideo Kojima – was tasked with handling the game’s plot. Kojima Productions has always been a firm believer that a game’s narrative is an important part of the experience, and Metal Gear Rising is no exception to that rule. Featuring an engaging and compelling story with an interesting bit of social commentary that builds upon ideas established in Metal Gear Solid 2, Rising should make long-time Metal Gear fans feel right at home.

That’s not to say, however, that the narrative doesn’t have its fair share of flaws.

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Like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Rising has a rather straightforward plot, avoiding the lengthy cutscenes that plagued MGS4.  It moves at a brisk pace, keeping up with the lightning-fast gameplay without feeling superfluous.  The downside, however, is that it feels a bit thin, especially as an isolated title. Thankfully, the game manages to supplement that with a lengthy series of optional radio conversations for players interested in exposition and backstory.

These optional Codec conversations really help Rising feel like a real Metal Gear story, while allowing players more interested in the combat to enjoy the game without being bogged down by lengthy exposition.  And, despite being optional, these conversations are what allows the story to shine, adding an essential layer of characterization and context.  Still, the overall narrative would have benefited by integrating some of that exposition and characterization into the main plot – especially early on in the game.

During the opening missions, the plot tends to leave out what happens in between, leaving the narrative feeling a bit disjointed.  For example, following Raiden’s defeat during the game’s prologue, the narrative suddenly jumps to three weeks later, showing Raiden with a new, more powerful cyborg body. No explanation about what happened in those three weeks is provided, aside from the revelation that the Desperado team is still up to no good.  Thankfully, the narrative manages to find a good flow once the game’s plot really starts take off, ultimately building up to a satisfying – if a bit bizarre – climax.  Then again, bizarre is par for the course when it comes to Metal Gear.

One of Metal Gear‘s biggest strengths has always been the ability to tell a serious tale without being afraid to poke fun at itself from time to time, ranging from humorous comments to some ridiculously over-the-top moments.  Thankfully, Rising is no different.  Whether it’s Raiden being duped into believing that wearing a sombrero and poncho will help him pass as a local during a mission in Mexico or cutting off an innocent civilian’s clothes and leaving him in his underwear as a joke, the writers keep touches of levity to counterbalance the game’s plentiful darker moments.

Raiden and his support staff are well-written, fully developed, and quite likeable, each with their own unique personality and motivations.  Such a feat is especially notable in terms of the Maverick support staff, as most of their screen time is relegated to optional radio conversations.  However, characterization falls a bit flat with the game’s villains. While the Desperado team have their individual quirks, a bit more interaction between them and Raiden would’ve been quite welcome, especially for Jetstream Sam, Raiden’s rival in the game.

Rising never misses a moment to reference older games in the series, but does a fantastic job at being accessible newcomers to the franchise. The narrative feels right at home within the established Metal Gear universe.

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Audio/Visual Presentation – 9

Rising is an auditory wonder.  Choosing to forego a standard Metal Gear soundtrack, composer Jamie Christopherson instead opted for a blend of electronica and rock for the game’s audio tracks.  While it may seem like an odd choice, it’s a choice that ultimately works really well and fits the game’s lightning-fast pace.  Particularly noteworthy are the boss battle themes, each unique and relating to each boss. They build up intensity as the battle proceeds, ultimately switching from an instrumental to a vocal theme at the climax.

Quinton Flynn once again reprises his role as Raiden for his third outing, dropping the emotionless tone used in MGS4 in favor of something more lively.  Raiden’s character has come a long way from MGS4.  No longer a death seeker with nothing to live for, he’s a much livelier character with a sense of humor, something that comes across in Flynn’s performance.  However, during Raiden’s darker moments, Flynn tends to drop into a gruffer tone, both unsettling and somewhat ridiculous.

Voice acting in the game is up to par with what’s been seen in previous Metal Gear titles.  There is at least one character, however, that manages to chew the scenery in a hilarious fashion.  And, whether intentional or not, it somehow manages to work.

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Graphically, the game is competent, but not perfect.  Character models are great and the pre-rendered cutscenes look gorgeous. But the game’s backgrounds can be a bit dull. Between this and a few rare visual oddities, the game could stand to be a bit smoother and polished. That said, the game manages to run at a consistently smooth 60 frames per second, with little to no slowdown, keeping Rising‘s combat going at a lightning fast pace.  If the trade-off for such a smooth framerate means a slight dip in graphical quality, the game can ultimately be forgiven for its shortcomings.

Additional Features/Replay Value – 9.5

Ultimately, Rising isn’t a particularly long game, clocking in at about 7-9 hours.  And, given its lightning-fast combat and the fact the game’s rating system only keeps track of the player’s fastest times, it might seem even shorter than that.

Thankfully, with five different difficulty levels – or four if you’re like me and don’t count Easy mode – as well as 20 unlockable VR Missions, unlockable HF Blades, bonus items, and collectables, Rising‘s replay value is quite high.  Players seeking 100% completion will definitely have their hands full with this game for a while.

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Overall Score: 9

A fusion of Platinum Games’ affinity for high-octane action and Kojima Productions’ love of a deep, engaging narrative, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is truly a sight to behold.  The synergy between two disparate development teams is astounding, delivering a radically different gameplay experience that still feels right at home within the Metal Gear universe.

Whether you’re a fan of the spectacle fighter genre or a fan of Metal Gear, this is one game that is definitely worth a look.  While Rising may leave you wanting more, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case.  In fact, you can be sure I’ll be eagerly anticipating what comes next.

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Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is available for the PS3 and Xbox 360 for $59.99.  A PS3 copy of the game was provided for review purposes by Konami Digital Entertainment.