The fact that Metal Gear Rising exists baffles me. If you know anything at all about the Metal Gear franchise, you’ll know it’s a series known for helping to popularize stealth games, for bringing movie-style production and sensibilities to gaming, typically in the form of lengthy cutscenes and the occasional big action set-piece, and for its wrangling with complex, difficult philosophical questions and concepts. Across the course of the franchise it’s dealt with ideas such as the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the widening grip of military development on nationstates, and the reduction of soldiers to simple tools devoid of humanity and commodified as loyalty is stripped down and turned into a controllable force to fuel the never-ending grinding churn of a global war economy. It’s a series which lives in a kind of mad singularity between cerebral, depressing, and utterly absurd.
Metal Gear Rising takes all that and dials it up to 11 in the maddest way possible. Also it’s about a bloodthirsty samurai cyborg man and his robot murder dog.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Released Feb 2013 | Developed: Platinum | Published: Konami
Genre: Hack-and-slash | HLTB: 7 hours
If there’s one thing that had helped define Metal Gear up to the point of Rising’s release, it was that it stood as a testament to the merits (and flaws) of the auteur project. It’s impossible to separate Metal Gear from its creator and director, Hideo Kojima. Indeed, he’s made sure of that, from plastering his name across every game to being part of a huge controversy when he eventually left both Konami and the future of Metal Gear hanging and uncertain, especially given its parent company decided to push forward with this venerable and loved series by releasing themed pachinko machines and a lack duck multiplayer zombie survival game that for some reason get to wear the Metal Gear branding.
And yet, in the middle of Metal Gear’s height came Metal Gear Rising, a game handed over to Platinum rather than staying solely in Kojima’s hands. Platinum’s name certainly comes with a fine pedigree; by the time of Rising’s release they’d garnered some fame for titles like Bayonetta and Vanquish, both frantic and stylish action games. Attaching their name to a Metal Gear project already tells you this game is going to be a little different to the norm, but you might not be prepared for just how much this attempts to break the mould, and I suspect a large part of whether you enjoy Metal Gear Rising will come down to how readily you can accept those changes.
As you might guess from all the preamble, Metal Gear Rising is an action game proudly made in Platinum’s signature style. You play as Raiden in this latest in Kojima’s desperate attempts to convince the world he’s cool; whether he’s successful in that endeavour is down to you. Across his appearances throughout the franchise Raiden has developed from a sneaky recreation of Solid Snake used to trick players who were taken in by Metal Gear Solid 2’s marketing to being a katana-wielding cyborg in Metal Gear Solid 4. In Rising, we get to not just see Raiden in his cyborg ninja prime, but also to finally properly play it. With that in mind, the appointment of Platinum starts to make a lot more sense as the last time Kojima gave us a sword-swinging Raiden in the denouement of Metal Gear Solid 2 it was a little clunky to say the least.
Combat is often a frenetic affair. If you’ve played a character action game before you’re probably a dab hand at the old light and heavy attack malarkey that Rising gives you to play with, and you might expect that to be more or less it. But you’d be wrong! Metal Gear Rising is much more exciting than just that; instead, Platinum opted to build the game around a mechanic called Blade Mode, and this is one of the greatest strengths the game has with which to entice players in. In fact, it’s not just built around Blade Mode – it’s positively desperate for you to use it. Essentially a kind of slow-mo bullet-time mechanic, during Blade Mode you are given complete control of your sword strokes. Lines bisect the screen, showing you exactly where your next slices will land, and control switches over to the right stick in order to give you significantly greater accuracy in directing your attacks. You can still just jam on the two attack buttons to quickly tear through your target if precision isn’t necessary at that moment, though.
Whatever – and I do mean whatever – you cut through while in Blade Mode will invariably fall apart, cut to cauterized ribbons. The level of detail in this particular result of Blade Mode never stops being amazing, in my opinion – it’s extremely technically impressive how much you can chop something up and the game still keeps track of all the tiny pieces of your target. I don’t think there’s ever been a game that quite so effectively captures the feel of being an anime samurai! The time you can spend in Blade Mode is governed by a meter which rapidly drains away; other games might expect you to use a consumable item to refill this gauge, or to wait for it to recharge, but Rising, true to form, requires you to cut enemies in half and crush their glowing blue spines that pulse with nourishing electrolytes to replenish your health and energy all at once. Putting healing in the hands of the player and forcing it to happen during combat is, frankly, a genius move. Naturally it’s helped by the balletic form the combat takes; you both need to engage with the Blade Mode mechanic because it provides the main way you heal, and you want to get stuck in with it because it’s stylish as all hell and ridiculously fun to see Raiden swirling and whirling around like a living helicopter rotor.
In short, the game requires you to engage with it on a hyper-aggressive level. Even the way you defend from attacks is confrontational; there’s no block button and while you can learn a skill which allows you to dodge, the input is more complex than necessary and it says a huge amount that during my playthrough I didn’t just not use it, I didn’t even notice that it was there at all. What you can do however, is parry. Parrying in Rising is done by hitting the attack button at the same time an enemy’s attack is about to connect, and typically it opens up an opportunity for a “zandatsu” in which the game more or less prompts you to go ham in Blade Mode. This is, I think, what helps set apart the stages of the game’s skill gate; certainly on lower difficulties players can slap away at the attack buttons and pretty much get away from most combat instances with nary a scrape since by doing so you’re guaranteed to hit some parries some of the time. However, on the harder difficulties, knowing when to time your attacks and parries, as well as getting to grips with the game’s more complicated skill moves, is what will really give you the edge over opposition that can easily tear Raiden apart.
Something you’re definitely going to note about Rising is its brevity. It’s not a lengthy game by any stretch of the imagination; howlongtobeat.com has it down as somewhere between a 5 and 8 hour game, depending on how adamantly you skip dialogue and cutscenes, and there’s no getting away from that for some people, that can be a serious black mark against a full-priced game. Instead, Rising relies quite heavily on its players wanting to replay it. But that’s a fickle and fragile thing, because much of Rising’s value to you can very much depend on whether you feel that you need to replay it. In fairness, there’s plenty of content to try and encourage you to return. For a start, there’s a bunch of collectables to gather up, chief among which are the left arms of certain mooks. These have to be detached in Blade Mode to collect them, so you need to be willing to practice a little to get the cut right, which adds on precious time played. You also get graded on every instance of combat, so completionists have a ton of S ranks to try and shoot for, and getting the no damage requirement on some of them is fiendishly hard.
Still, if, like me, you find yourself bereft of any great drive to repeat the Rising experience, you might well come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really give out value for money (unless, I suppose, you have been terribly patient and got it in a sale for a couple of quid). We’ve actually talked about this before in relation to Metal Gear, way back when I looked at Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes which is also a very short game that relies on you going back to replay it a ton to try and get more bang for your buck. Just like we said with that game, it’s important to remember that brevity isn’t always a mark against a game; if you’ve enjoyed your time with a game then I’m generally of the opinion that it must have been worth it, and, to be honest, it’s certainly very easy to come away from Rising having had rather a lot of fun. When I played it this time around (this being my second run through of Rising; I think I first played it back when it came out as well) I admit that basically all I did was smash through the main plot. I didn’t especially want to go back and collect stuff or challenge myself by playing it on a harder difficulty, but I was also able to sit back and be content as the credits rolled. I got what I needed from Rising, which was basically a few hours of hacky-slashy fun.
Still, I’m not one to let a game slip by without a grumble if I think there are legitimate things to moan about, and Rising does have a couple of things worth mentioning. It’s frightfully easy to get caught up in hype around this game; it remains a well-liked entry in the franchise and you can find praise for it all over the internet. I happen to think that some of that praise is a little blinkered, personally. A lot of time is often given over to celebrating the boss fights, which is well-deserved acclaim because the boss fights in this game are, to put it bluntly, fucking mint, but I’m of the opinion that Rising would be a significantly better game if it were only boss fights, like some sort of coked-up Shadow of the Colossus or a slightly more philosophically wanky version of Furi. The actual levels you play through in Rising are absolute dog water. You trudge through bland corridors and grey buildings and at least one sewer, and you fight barrages of mooks who are kind of dull to fight, despite the brilliance of the combat system. The stages all largely exist purely to pad out time between the next boss fight, and I genuinely came to resent them for it.
The dreaded difficulty debate also rears its hideous, unwelcome head while I was playing Rising. If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the last decade you’ve probably got difficulty talk trauma, so I shan’t try and poke too much into this, but I do think it bears talking about. Now I’m not a games-as-challenge person as a rule – I play games largely for story and for fun, and I don’t get a lot of satisfaction from dying and retrying, which is why I’ve not yet talked about the Souls games on this blog – but I think Rising is possibly one of the few games where I think it is likely to be more worth it if you play on harder settings. For this playthrough I stuck it on medium and breezed through the story and that was fine for me, but I was struck with the thought that I might have had a more engaging time if I’d popped it on hard. Getting into the game’s combat is so integral to enjoying Rising that I think bumping the difficulty up is likely to be the key to making the levels more palatable; if every combat encounter is potentially lethal, and your timing is more important, then sure, I imagine Rising is a better time.
I haven’t done a soundtrack chat for a while here, but I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention at least one or two of Rising’s tracks given that the music is, in my opinion, definitely one of the biggest draws and 100% elevates every boss fight from frantic fun to mouth-dropped amazement. Every boss is accompanied by a pumping rock track that modulates according to your progress and performance in the fight, with certain instruments dropping in or out to match the ebb and flow of combat. The end result is insane and addictive, and when you hit that sweet spot and the maddening, blaring metal suddenly bursts into full life and volume, you feel invincible. In the opening of the game you have an utterly absurd sword-to-bipedal nuclear robot showdown against a Metal Gear Ray and as you slice through bits of the mech, hearing the game scream RULES OF NATURE at you is a wild feeling.
The closest comparison I think of this in terms of style is the Devil May Cry franchise. That too uses electronica-fused metal as the backdrop for nutty, flowing combat, and to much the same effect. Because a lot of the soundtrack is short pulsing songs with regular composition – i.e. verses, choruses, solos – it’s a very listenable soundtrack outside of its context, which is an underrated quality to game soundtracks although they are of course made more when paired with their respective game moments. Check out I’m My Own Master Now, A Stranger I Remain (just as it’s impossible not to scream out “Rules of Nature”, it’s also equally impossible not to jam with the chorus of this song when it hits during its respective boss fight), Collective Consciousness (oh yes I certainly do love dubstep wubs fused to alt metal power choruses, ta very much), and possibly my favourite in-game boss theme It Has To Be This Way for just a brief sample of this game’s ridiculously good music.
As far as Metal Gear games go, Rising remains one of the oddest proper entries in the series – but I’m glad it exists. Handing over the reins of a game to another studio must have been tough for Kojima to do, but it definitely paid off. While I don’t think Rising entirely manages to escape unscathed, it’s a game that exists to get your blood pumping and to entertain you for a few hours and it succeeds remarkably well at that. It is complete shlock, of course, but it’s the good kind of shlock, the kind where you don’t care that characters are spouting off nonsensical gibberish or that nothing is really making sense because you’ve just picked up a 50 foot metal spider robot and dunked it onto a building, or you’ve just ninja ran across a barrage a missiles to punch a mech in the face, or because your cyborg dog friend has just sawn someone in half with its chainsaw tail. It’s a game that is all style, and if there’s ever a company that knows how to make that work, it’s Platinum.
5/7 – GREAT.
Damn fine stuff, a game that doesn’t quite make the top echelon of games but sparkles regardless and holds the interest expertly. Make the time to give this a play.