Somehow, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is boring. Not boring to watch, mind you, but boring to play. Despite the visual appeal of the action on-screen, the act of playing Revengeance is stupor-inducing. Mechanically, it is unable to engage the player in any meaningful way, instead being content to throw the same 3 or 4 combat encounters at you over the course of its short campaign, while the narrative drones on endlessly with its dull characters and wooden dialog.
The first impression of the game is actually quite positive. The opening cinematics and gameplay sequences ratchet up the level of crazy until Revengeance resembles a classic Metal Gear cutscene, only playable. The funny thing is that the disparity between the cutscenes and gameplay is often one of the chief complains of players after playing through a Metal Gear game. By the end of the Prologue I was excited to see what else the game would throw my way. I soon found out that there wasn’t going to be much more.Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a character-action game in the style of Ninja Gaiden or DmC: Devil May Cry only without the former’s mechanical prowess or the latter’s creativity. As series’ punchline Raiden, players mow down enemy after enemy using a combination of strong and weak attacks with multiple weapons, each more useless as the last. As you fight enemies, there’s a special energy gauge that builds up which allows you to enter “Blade Mode” and utilize precision cuts in order to mow down your enemies. The “Blade Mode” mechanic holds a lot of promise in theory until you actually have to use it, at which point it becomes a muddled mess of imprecision and confusion. The problem with the mode is that Raiden cannot move while using it, as the left-analog stick is mapped to camera controls in order to allow fine-tuning of the sword angle with the right stick. Although the game slows down as you use Blade Mode, enemies still move and attack, and can interrupt your attacks quite easily. You’ll find that they often take a hop-step back after you start to enter Blade Mode, forcing you to exit, take a few steps forward and re-enter. In normal combat scenarios, Blade Mode is completely useless. It pulls the camera in tightly behind Raiden, obscuring the player’s peripheral vision and opening Raiden up to attacks from the back and side. It’s also easy to get disoriented while using the mode, as your natural instinct is to use the left stick to move around and dodge enemy attacks, but this only changes your perspective and gets you confused and hit.
Revengeance‘s enemies hit hard, too. Many of them have multiple strong attacks, and there’s simply no reliable way for Raiden to defend himself. In most action games, there’s a quick dodge or block that can be triggered at any time (even while attacking), but in Rising, the only real way to defend yourself is by parrying, which requires you to somehow recognize that you’re about to be hit (not easy with so much happening on-screen), reset the stick position, then push in the direction of the attack with the stick and hit the light attack button. It’s an insane requirement for such a basic combat capability. While utilizing his “Ninja Run,” Raiden is able to deflect bullets and slide under attacks, so I found myself simply running around holding the right trigger and spamming the light attack button until an enemy started to glow blue (which meant it would stay still long enough for me to finish it off using the Blade Mode). The game is so concerned with looking cool that it forgets that it needs to be fun, as well, and its dopey combat scenarios don’t do anything unique at all. It’s the same basic “enter an area, get locked off by a semi-visible arbitrary wall, then fight until everything is dead and move on” mechanic that we’ve seen as gamers since the inception of action games.
The camera doesn’t help, either. It’s a squirrely bugger, constantly bouncing around anytime you get near a wall and switching perspective at a moment’s notice (which makes the game’s few stealth sequences nearly impossible). The third mission of the game takes place in a research facility which has narrow corridors, and the camera goes absolutely berserk in this section, making the game almost impossible to play. Fine control of the camera is almost too good, as on default settings the camera slips and slides to the slightest touch like a high-powered sports car on a rain-soaked road. Between the inability to dodge or block and the enemies’ predilection to sneak up on you, the best strategy was (again) to use Ninja Run to get on the opposite side of enemies and let them come to me. Every combat scenario literally feels like a cut and paste job, with only the mix of nondescript grunts and giant mechs making the difference.
The boss fights are unfortunately not much better. What could have been interesting duels between ninja cyborgs typically boils down to annoying crowd control interspersed with frantic slicing-of-the-glowy bits via Blade Mode. In one early boss fight, players are put on a narrow walkway which eliminates any of the horizontal movement that doubles as the only viable defensive strategy, making the final parts of this fight a simple war of attrition. If your health is above a certain percentage, you’ll survive. Others involve a systematic deconstruction of large mechs by first attacking their ankles, something that stopped being impressive after Demon’s Souls introduced gamers to the massive Tower Knight. The final encounter is a convoluted mess of quicktime events and cut-scenes which culminates in the most infuriating boss fight in the game. It takes the basic gameplay conventions the game has taught you over the previous 5 hours or so and throws them out of the window, killing you repeatedly in unfair ways which had me cursing the game aloud, which I almost never do.
At least Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is pretty. There is some slowdown here and there which is unfortunate for a game ostensibly predicated on twitch, but when you realize that the actual twitch element (a dodge or block) is not available, the framerate’s inconsistencies become less important. The CG video is heavily compressed on the Xbox 360 version of the game, looking in parts like a low-quality YouTube video. It’s understandable when you consider that the game fills up the entire DVD, but less so when you realize that the environments lack variety and that many of the textures are of a subpar quality. The combat animations are wonderful, but the grenade throwing animation is perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a videogame. Raiden throws grenades left-handed, which is fine, except it’s obvious from how he throws them that he is actually right-handed. It looks ridiculous and awful, and I’m not sure how this animation was left in the game for something that happens so often. It made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it.
Yet, the effects are gorgeous, with luminescent light trails for attacks and bombastic explosions, and the character models are detailed and sharp. The game’s many destructible environments fall apart nicely as the collateral damage of the furious battles piles up, and the large bosses fill the screen impressively. Upon light inspection, Revengeance is a technically well-done game from a graphical perspective, but the art direction is bland and the environmental work lacks imagination.
The sound work is just as bad as everything else, with the lowlight being the voice acting, which is putrid. The main villain uses a southern accent that sounds ridiculous and stilted, and Raiden’s earnest delivery sounds out of place in such an otherwise-absurd setting. The sound effects are the typical clings and clangs, and the moos of the Gekkos is funny the first two or three times, but less so the other 200 times. The action is backed by a generic rock soundtrack that is forgettable.
Metal Gear stories are known for their ludicrousness, and Revengeance is no different. Only, the heart that is usually present in the Kojima-authored entries in the series simply isn’t here. The villains, typically the strongest part of Metal Gear storytelling are underdone here, introduced and killed off in a matter of minutes. Classic Metal Gear villains–The End, Vamp, Psycho Mantis, and others–had a history and a depth of character that separated them from a stereotypical videogame villain. Members of the Beauty and Beast Corps from Metal Gear Solid 4 all had unique backstories which underscored that game’s themes, and none of that is to be found here. One boss, Mistral, derives sexual pleasure from battle, which is at least not generic, but it’s never put into context.
You meet Mistral and kill her within a 15 minute span, with most of that being gameplay. There’s no depth to the main villain, either, as his primary motivation starts as wanting to profit off of throwing Africa into war, but it eventually somehow devolves into something far more stupid, which didn’t seem possible at the game’s outset. There’s a faux-Kojima sensibility to the narrative otherwise, with oft-repeated references to Paramilitary Corporations casually thrown around without any understanding as to why Kojima was so obsessed with the idea of war for profit. Raiden is a reviled character in the Metal Gear lore, and if the reasons for this weren’t clear to you before playing this game, they will be afterward playing it. Raiden, simply put, is a huge dork. He’s such an overly-earnest character, full of only good intentions and hamfisted lines about truth, justice, and freedom. His one-note arc and the similarly vapid performance of the voice actor conspire to make him a character to be made fun of, not a hero to aspire to be. Snake was never an antihero in the traditional sense of the word, but he was conflicted about his place in the violent ballet that takes place in Kojima’s games, and he showed a vulnerability that Raiden never approaches in any way.
The narrative takes a serious left-turn in the final act, as what was an absurd story gets a sudden and unexpected dose of sentiment that isn’t earned. Two characters, previously on opposing sides of the battlefield, find a common bond, but it arrives out of nowhere and doesn’t feel earned in the slightest. That this forgettable character is further honored in the final boss fight comes off strained and silly.
It’s amazing how poorly the different parts of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance turned out. The combat, typically the strength of developer Platinum’s games, is marred by a poor central mechanic, a lack of a viable defensive strategy and a truly horrific camera. The narrative, typically the most-memorable part of a Metal Gear game, goes through the motions of a generic action game, with occasional references to legendary series’ creator Hideo Kojima’s life’s work, but it comes across as stilted and fake, as inauthentic as Raiden is as a character. Seeing this material in someone else’s hands actually makes me appreciate Kojima’s work more, as this is evidence of how bad things could be for this series.
I cannot recommend Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to anyone who doesn’t love action games, and even then there are enough major gameplay issues that would cause all but the most ardent Metal Gear fans to dislike the game intensely. It’s a game that starts well before falling off a table, somehow continually topping itself with its stupidity in narrative and design as it plummets toward its unsatisfying conclusion.
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A copy of Metal Gear Rising: Revengance on the Xbox 360 was provided to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.