Review: METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE

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Spectacle fighters, character action, whatever you call these things, they’re an important part of the gaming landscape. Titles like Bayonetta and God Eater offer players a rare opportunity, showing them absurdly stylish moves in cutscenes and then allowing them to actually pull them off in gameplay. Metal Gear Rising is a big name among this field, and not just for its storied series of origin. Your cyber ninja adventures will reach some of the highest peaks this genre has to offer, providing a rollercoaster of action and drama that’s only slightly hindered by the baggage of its heritage.

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After his trials and travails in the main Metal Gear Solid series, cyborg soldier Raiden earns his keep as part of Maverick Contracting as a high-frequency-blade-for-hire. A job protecting the president of an African nation goes rather off the rails, leading Raiden into conflict with another private military company and the ethics of his own dealings. His quest takes him to labs where unspeakable acts have been committed, military bases under siege, and high-rise offices housing some terribly opportunistic souls. A deadly team of cyborg assassins will stand in his way, but overcoming them will grant Raiden insight into the nature of this conflict, as well as shot at the sinister force pulling the strings.

Metal Gear Rising will not waste a moment in showing you what it’s all about, mind you, packing a ridiculous amount of action into the very first mission. Raiden is very much a cyber-ninja, able to sprint freely, deflect bullets automatically, run up the sides of buildings, leap from debris in mid-air, and carve his opponents into microscopic chunks with his blade. You will need to do all of this and more in that first mission, as well as dodge missiles and suplex robots all to a vicious metal soundtrack. I desperately want to spoil the insane spectacles present in just the first thirty minutes of the game, but I won’t rob you of the joy that is beholding them for the first time.

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Mechanically, this title will be immediately familiar to fans of the genre, but with a few key differences. The biggest is Blade Mode, an attack mode where you control Raiden’s sword directly for precision cuts. The game engine here allows you to slice most objects and enemies into as many pieces as you want, and in fact requires it for some enemies. You can cut bonuses out of foes in the form of their cybernetic spines and hands, leading to all kinds of cinematic slashes and grabs during fights. Aside from that there’s plenty of liberating hacking and chopping to do, with an intuitive parry system to keep you safe from just about everything in the game.

The beginning and end of the game use these tools to produce incredibly stylish scenes and fights, with you squaring off against memorable foes in wild encounters. Unfortunately the middle chapters of the game slow down a bit, and don’t quite match the brilliance of the fights elsewhere. Part of the reason for this is that the visual language used to communicate gameplay concepts to the player is woefully inconsistent here. Early on, the game will signal attacks to parry with a red flash from enemies. Later, however, you’ll encounter parryable attacks that aren’t signaled at all, as well as red flash attacks that can’t be parried without taking significant damage. Blade Mode is another offender here, with most uses signaled with a blue flash and slowdown, but other blue flashes on foes meaning something different, and some situations needing Blade Mode with no signaling at all.

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Some of the bosses can become quite tedious as a result, as the game fails to clearly communicate what it needs you to do and fails to build upon previous experiences. This is far from a dealbreaker, as I found all the fights still entirely doable and part of the fault in how little I experimented with Blade Mode outside of prompting. But it’s worth noting that the game leaves out key information at times, and that extends to the story as well. This is still a Metal Gear game, after all, and all the implications that carries remain true to this title. Expect plenty of overwrought philosophizing and absurd posturing, which actually work exceptionally well here thanks to the over-the-top style. But there are also tons of links to the main MGS games, to the point where several characters are introduced with big reveals that will be meaningless to folks who never played MGS4.

The net result is a game with an absolutely blockbuster opening and closing, and a bit of meandering in the middle. None of it is really bad, mind you, and if you cotton to to combat quicker than I did it should be much smoother sailing. Just be aware that this more than just Metal Gear in name alone, and more than just wild cyber samurais facing off against each other. It’s got the graphics to sell the action, and a crushing rock soundtrack that amps up all the best scenes in precisely the best ways. Really you should be here for the spectacle, both in the mad cutscenes and the hectic combat, and for a spectacle fighter that means it very much succeeds.

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