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Review: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Metal Gear Rising Title

When I first saw footage of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, it was during the original announcement presentation for the Xbox Kinect – way back in 2010. It wasn’t called “Revengeance” back then, and it had a different studio attached (and I assume they planned some form of Kinect integration at that point which fell through) but the footage we saw was memorable nonetheless.

It definitely felt like a next-generation game. Its slicing system was so accurate, and the footage displayed showed incredible precision – from slicing limbs off or bodies into thousands of tiny pieces, to cutting the supports of a balcony to make it collapse or dividing a watermelon into easily edible slices. Unfortunately what we ended up with, two studious and three years later, was a completely different beast.

Not that Revengeance (which is sort of a silly title, even if it turned out to be a real word after I looked it up) was a bad game, I just want to set up the fact that I went into it with expectations that probably couldn’t be matched by the end product – which isn’t really the best mindset for an objective opinion.

So with that in mind, let’s take it from the start.

I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game, so I can’t talk about whether or not this loyal to its parent franchise. I have played action-slash brawlers though, including games like the extremely well received Bayonetta, so I’m not out of my depth in saying that Metal Gear Rising hits a lot of the same notes gameplay wise – even if it doesn’t do it with quite as much style or substance.

The core of the game is the Zandatsu game mechanic – and realistically that’s probably the main reason anyone would buy this title. This is the game that lets you use a sword to neatly separate people from their limbs, or hack them into a thousand tiny pieces (there is an in-game counter, I definitely landed in the hundreds a few times) if that’s what you prefer. Luckily the enemies in this game are mainly cyborgs, so apparently it’s ok (from a censorship standpoint) to brutally cut them apart time after time.

Zandatsu is Japanese for “cut and take”, and this is an accurate summary of every single combat situation (bar one or two stealth kills) in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. The formula is quite simple: you engage the enemy, fill your Zandatsu bar, engage a slow-motion cut sequences, cut them apart and rip out their organ-like energy system to recharge your health and energy. Ofcourse sometimes while you are rending them limb from limb you might destroy their energy center and be unable to recharge your health post combat – but that’s just the price you pay for choosing to hack a man apart instead of delicately slicing him open. Which are you, a surgeon or a butcher? By the end of the game, it’s highly likely you will feel like both.

The actual story of the game is more or less incomprehensible. You play as Raiden, a cyborg swordsman who apparently cuts first and asks questions later. You are somewhere in Africa doing something with a political leader when it all goes to shit, and a mysterious organisation appears to be manipulating chaos in order to force armed conflicts in the interests of making a profit off the wars they create. That’s about all I could understand, despite long phone conversations which interrupted my killing sprees and cinematics with typically overtly attractive scientists or black and Russian stereotypes (two different guys, if there was a black Russian that would certainly be something new to experience). Whatever the plot it doesn’t really matter much since in the end, Raiden will be plonked down in a street or sewer or base or lab somewhere and have to cut his way through a bunch of cyborg soldiers.

Luckily the choreography of the combat is at a very high grade. No matter what weapons Raiden is using (your main weapon is always a sword but there are a variety of secondary weapons which can be acquired and upgraded) his attacks are stylish and fluid, and beautiful to behold – even if they aren’t especially realistic (he can catch his sword with his foot and use it with a surprising amount of accuracy, even for a cyborg).

Another highlight which breaks up the borderline monotony of having to decimate a squad of elite commandos, again, is the boss fights. Each boss in Revengeance, from the as-deadly-as-she-is-beautiful Mistral to the hulking Sundowner, has a finely wrought personality which comes across both in their style of combat and in the inevitable conversations you have pre and post battle.

Difficulty, especially in terms of these bosses, is also a plus. I was playing through on Normal difficulty and came close to destroying my controller a number of times, only to have an epiphany moment 20 minutes later and rethinking my whole approach. This largely stems from the games blocking system, which forces you to actively parry your opponent’s attacks with a well-timed slash instead of a traditional block button. This method requires a bit of practice, and even once learned is hard to perfect, but the feeling of success once you do master it is worth the wait – as you actually feel like you are performing something that takes skill, instead of merely holding down a button to mindless block your enemies advances.

At the end of the day Metal Gear: Rising probably isn’t going to be one of the more memorable games of 2013. It’s a little on the short side (I finished at about 7 hours) and the plot is a little thin, and even the exceptional slasher gameplay can be a little tiresome after awhile – but I personally found the bosses to be the games saving grace, even when I had to wade through a few tunnels of cyborg soldiers to get to them.

Is it going to win game of the year? Probably not. But I’m glad that I played it, and even in a world of Metacritic scores and snap-judgements – I’d like to think that’s worth something.

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Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

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