It’s a hard thing to do: successfully branch off a popular series into another genre. A lot of gamers, myself included, had this thought in mind when Konami decided to move the Metal Gear franchise away from its stealthy roots and take a more action-oriented approach with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It turns out the decision was a wise one, as developer Platinum Games has taken Raiden’s new look as a kick-ass, sword-wielding pseudo ninja first introduced in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and worked it into a game with a near-flawless combat system that fits well into the realm dominated by Solid Snake and Big Boss.
Set a few years after MGS4, Raiden is working with a new private military company on missions strictly intended to provide peace and stability for second- and third-world nations. A failed mission brings the cyborg face-to-face with a new threat to world peace, causing him to push himself to the limit and beyond to protect all who would suffer should these new antagonists succeed. It’s not as long or fleshed out as other Metal Gear games – which isn’t necessarily negative – but does a good enough job to bring in some interesting new characters both allied with and opposed to Raiden. All the technobabble mumbo jumbo, psychoanalysis of war, and other intelligent messages placed throughout the game’s dialogue also make it worthy of the Metal Gear name.
While the main entries in series are known for their incredible length – thanks mostly to cutscenes – Revengeance is in fact quite a short affair, as the main campaign can be finished within four to six hours. Despite its brevity, the game is paced satisfactorily and at no point did it feel like I was going through it too quickly or too slowly. The action keeps things going smoothly, while some optional stealth segments and the codec conversations – which occur as Raiden slowly walks through the game world – always come at the appropriate moments. When the main campaign finishes up, players also have access to VR missions – one of the campaign’s several unlockables – that will increase playtime and offer additional challenges.
Of course, all that playtime is worthless if the game itself isn’t enjoyable, but that’s far from the case here. If anything, Revengeance’s hack-n-slash mechanics are what will keep gamers sprinting through the campaign and wanting to come back for multiple playthroughs. Separate buttons execute standard and heavy attacks, and while that seems simplistic, the number of combos available gives the combat a surprising amount of depth. At the same time, these combos are easy to chain together in order to take out multiple enemies at once, yet not so simplistic that mashing buttons at random can turn you into an ultimate wielder of death. Blocking is also as easy as properly timing a basic attack in the direction of an enemy. Platinum Games was able to find that perfect balance that so few other action titles can, creating swordplay that rivals some of the best franchises out there.
Had the developer stopped there, players still would have gotten quite an adequate action game fix; but the studio wanted to take it one step further with the brutal Blade Mode. Here, Raiden enters a slowed-time state and the player is allowed to freely slice away at an enemy. This will render foes limbless and diced into dozens, possibly hundreds of pieces. Should a player hit the proper location on an enemy, its spine becomes severed, allowing Raiden to rip it out and use it to replenish his own cyborg body’s energy. These are some vicious and violent acts, even when considering the fact that the player isn’t really killing humans, just cyborgs. However, that doesn’t keep it from being satisfying to the point of perverted bliss. It’s the best mechanic I’ve seen in a hack-n-slash title in a long time.
Though the swordplay is a gem, it’s the game’s ancillary combat options that prevent the experience from reaching further heights. The inclusion of a secondary weapon such as grenades and rocket launchers prove valuable when desperate, but the method in which you have to slow down all this fast-paced, high-octane action in order to use these tools of destruction completely throws off the tempo of any encounter. Revengeance also attempted to implement a bit of stealth, which is a nice nod to the series at large, but with no cover mechanic it pretty much consists of running behind enemies and performing a not-so-stealthy stabs of death when no one else is looking.
The game also features a leveling system of some sort involving battle points accrued by how effectively players complete VR missions and sections of the campaign. These can be used as currency to purchase new skills, outfits, and wigs that give in-game bonuses, as well as unlock and upgrade weapons, and improve Raiden’s maximum health and energy. It’s a nice feature that allows some customization and further entices players to jump back into the campaign after it’s already been conquered.
Revengeance holds up well to the audiovisual scrutiny bound to be cast upon a game in the Metal Gear franchise. The majority of the actors do a strong enough job to keep the story moving along and don’t sound ridiculous despite some exaggerated facial expressions during cutscenes. The engine never lags and holds up seamless motion through the game’s frantic combat. What stands out most about the game’s presentation is its soundtrack. Guitar-heavy rock accentuates the perfect ambiance for every important conflict and duel; letting the player know that when Raiden draws his sword, it’s go time.
If I were to go back in time to a visit a pre-teen version of yours truly and tell him that the incredible stealth game he was playing would eventually spin off into an equally impressive action title, I probably would’ve had myself committed. It’s not every day a mega franchise can switch genres with a spin-off and make it look so effortless, but Platinum Games was able to do so for Konami with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Even gamers who don’t enjoy the traditional Metal Gear experience should seriously consider giving this one a whirl. It’s not just an excellent Metal Gear game, but a standout action game as well.
Review based on PlayStation 3 release.