As a preemptive warning, this and all other OOTs will be full of spoilers for the entire game.
More than any other medium, video games have the ability to revel in absurdity. And two of the most absurd developers in the industry are Hideo Kojima and Platinum Games. So the idea of Platinum taking Kojima’s insane Metal Gear universe and adding their own brand of insanity is a promising prospect. However, there were reasons to be worried about Revengeance. Originally announced as Metal Gear Solid: Rising, Kojima was unable to create a fun game around the free-cutting mechanic, and the project was handed to Platinum with less than a year to develop it. And while that short development cycle can be seen in the final product, it is a feat that Revengeance turned out as well as it did.
On the insanity front, Metal Gear Rising delivers. It takes the absurdity of Metal Gear Solid 4 and ratchets it up to eleven. The butt metal soundtrack, over the top characters, and goofy little touches all help make Revengeance as dumb as a game with a fake word in its title should be.
Rising takes place four years after the events of MGS 4, and it is a solid continuation of that world post-Solid Snake. Metal Gear Rising fits the universe, but it doesn’t rely on it. You fight Metal Gear enemies, PMCs play a large role in the story, SOP and the Patriots are mentioned, Sunny makes a cameo, and of course you play as Raiden. But that’s pretty much where the direct references end. It would have been easy for them to have Otacon or Rose in your ear the whole game or drop references to Snake constantly. Instead, they created a game with an entirely original supporting cast. They even have their own take on Raiden.
Raiden has always been one of the more divisive characters in the Metal Gear franchise. Both his debut in MGS 2 and his transformation in MGS 4 drew ire from some people. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that Platinum decided to go in their own direction with the character. Raiden is still a cyborg ninja in Rising, and he even gets more cybernetic enhancements early in the game. However, he is much less serious than he was in Guns of the Patriots. I wouldn’t call him irreverent, he’s not Nathan Drake, and he definitely isn’t the Raiden in MGS 2. He just has much more personality than he did in his last appearance. He makes occasional quips, shows emotions, and is able to hold a back and forth conversation. He no longer sounds like he’s on a suicide mission, and that’s a positive change.
At the start of the game, he is working for a peace keeping operation and his goal is to protect those too weak to protect themselves. He then comes across a plot to take over the world and re-introduce the “War Economy”. Raiden’s opposition to them makes sense, and the discovery that they are training child soldiers gives him even more motivation given his past. Then about halfway through the game, his “Jack the Ripper” persona is revealed. Previously, this was just a nickname he was given as a child soldier. Now it’s a bloodthirsty alter ego. I hate this story beat. The “Ripper Mode” you gain as a result has almost no impact on the gameplay, and it just makes Raiden an unlikable asshole. Thankfully, it’s dropped just as quickly as it’s introduced, and Raiden goes back to being likable for the remainder of the game.
One of Metal Gear Rising’s strengths is its pacing. It’s not a very long game. By the time I finished, my in-game clock was at about five hours. This apparently doesn’t count time spent watching cutscenes, so my total playthrough was probably closer to six or seven hours. For somebody looking for a long or highly replayable game, this probably isn’t it. However, I think the length, despite being a symptom of the short development cycle, is beneficial to this game. Metal Gear Rising gets off running from the word go, and it rarely slows down. The game throws boss fights at the player every half hour or so, and the speed of the gameplay fits the pace of the story. In fact, the only down points of the game are when you are forced to slow down. There are parts in Revengeance where stealth is encouraged. I get them wanted to appeal to the average Metal Gear Solid fan, but that’s not what this game is. It’s mostly avoidable, but it’s annoying to have your team yelling at you for being seen and it really drags down chapter 2. In fact, that entire chapter is filled with forced stealth, gimmicks, backtracking, and not a single boss fight. It almost undoes all of the good done by the introduction and Chapter 1. Thankfully the game picks up after that and mostly drops the stealth. You still have Gears of War style finger to ear conversations replacing codec calls, but the never get too intrusive.
The combat in Revengeance is just as flashy as that in Platinum’s other games. As you input combos, Raiden pulls off incredible moves that are fun to watch. However, Revengeance is also much easier than something like Bayonetta. You can pretty much mas your way through most of the game and still look cool doing it. The light/heavy attack system is simple, but it is satisfying and the game plays great at 60 FPS. If there is one complaint to level at the core gameplay, it is that the camera fails to keep up with the action sometimes. The one are of the game that can be difficult to grasp at first is also a big reason why the game is so simple. That would be the parry system. Rising doesn’t have a dodge button. Instead, you avoid getting hit by flicking the left stick towards an enemy and hitting an attack button. The timing on this is very generous, so if you are constantly attacking and flicking the stick you will block most attacks. The system can be hard to grasp at first, but it is easy to exploit once you do.
The other system that makes the game easier is the “zandatsu” system, which is combined with the game’s “blade mode”. Blade mode can be activated when you fuel cell meter, or FC, is at 100% or higher. When blade mode is activated, time slows down and you can slice your enemies into hundreds of pieces. This is incredibly satisfying, especially when you get to do it to a boss or larger enemy. The zandatsu system allows you to use blade mode to slice certain parts of an enemy and then hit the circle button to rip out their innards. If you do this successfully, you refill your health and FC. For basic enemies, you can do this whenever. For larger ones, you need to beat up on them first and then trigger a canned animation. This can get repetitive, but it’s fun to do and makes it very hard to die.
There are other aspects of the gameplay outside of the core, some of which work and some of which don’t. The four main bosses in Rising have a Mega Man-esque feature where you steal their weapons once you beat them. These consist of three secondary weapons which replace your heavy attack and one main weapon which replaces Raiden’s sword. The three secondary weapons are the pole-arm, which has sweeping, quick attacks, a magnetic sai, which propels Raiden towards an enemy, and pincer blades, which have a slow, powerful attack and a charge attack. The Muramasa Blade is basically just an improved version of Raiden’s sword, which makes sense but is kind of disappointing. Overall, I really like the secondary and alternate weapons because they allow you to tune the game to your play style and increase replayability.
Metal Gear Rising has an upgrade system that allows you to upgrade your weapons, health, and energy consumption as well as purchase additional outfits and new abilities. This system isn’t problematic or intrusive in anyway, it’s just kind of pointless. I guess I’m glad that it doesn’t play a larger role in the game, but that makes me wonder why it’s even in there in the first place. At least they allow upgrades (as well as unlocked weapons) to carry over to subsequent playthroughs, making them a de facto new game plus mode.
A system of the game that I can’t wrap my head around is the sub-weapons. This is a group of grenades and rocket launchers that I never used. The controls are slow and clunky, and throwing a grenade is nowhere near as fun as slicing an enemy up. You can ignore this too, but again I have to question its inclusion at all. I fell it can only hinder somebody’s enjoyment of the game if they think it is necessary to interact with.
Up to this point, I have been talking around the best parts of this game. The best parts of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, far and away, are the boss fights. Platinum pretty much nails everything from the characters and mechanics to the the set pieces and music. Metal Gear Rising almost single handedly make up for all the terrible video game boss fights. But instead of saying why they are collectively great, I want to go through all seven of them, one by one.
I cannot think of a better way to open this game than the Metal Gear RAY fight. By reusing an enemy from Metal Gear Solid 2, they are able to show how far Raiden has come since that came. And in addition to that, it’s just a ton of fun. The amount of standing at the base and cutting the legs is a bit ridiculous, but once he thrusts his arm at you, you realize what you’re in for. You catch the arm, and the lyrics to “Rules of Nature” start playing. Then you swing the RAY around and run up the arm before slicing it off. The second part of the fight is more interesting from a mechanical standpoint and ramps up the insanity even more. Leaping from missile to missile and running down the side of a clock tower are able to one up the first phase of the fight. And if you don’t want to keep playing the game after this fight, then you’re not a person I want to associate with.
You then go from the largest scale fight to the smallest. The fight with Wolf is not flashy or really mechanically deep, but it is probably the most important fight in the game. What the Wolf fight does is it teaches you to use the parry properly. All of Wolf’s attacks are able to be parried, and you cannot beat him without parrying his attacks. Parrying is also a necessity in the Mistral, Monsoon, and Sam fights as well as an incredibly useful tool for regular enemies. If you don’t learn the system, you will never get past the Wolf fight. It acts as a barrier halfway through Chapter 1 to determine if you are ready to play the rest of the game. In terms of being awesome, you are fighting a robot wolf with a chainsaw for a tail. I also like that Wolf becomes your ally, although I wish he fought alongside you more often.
Mistral does not have a ton of character development, as she is introduced and then killed off right away. However, what is there works, and she does have a really cool design. It is a good use of the dwarf geckos visually, and it gives you a way to regain health throughout the fight. The fight itself however is really cool. It is the only fight in the game that changes location as much as it does. However, part of me wishes the entire thing took place on top of the pipe. The limited motion makes it feel like a fighting game, and the camera angle makes parrying look really cool.
Monsoon is similar to Mistral in the sense that he is killed as soon as he is introduced. However, I find his character to be a lot more off putting and his design a lot less interesting. His fight is much better though. The parts where you are forced to use blade mode are a bummer, but everything else works really well. The idea of a character whose limbs come apart is really clever for a game about precision slicing, although I was disappointed that I never had to cut specific segments off. The parts I really like are when he comes through the fog to attack you and when he combines multiple attacks in a row. The take full advantage of the parry system and make it look like a great fight sequence in a movie. The ending where you run up an obelisk and then attack each other in mid air is also pretty great.
The Sundowner fight is the only one that I don’t like. It’s a shame too, because he is one the best characters. He’s a great warmonger who only becomes forgettable because of how memorable another character is. But his fight is just frustrating. The whole game up to this point rewards a button-mashy, fast approach to the combat. However, Sundowner forces you to slow down and go into blade mode in order to slice his shield apart. It is really antithetical to the way the rest of the game works and isn’t very fun. In fact, the Monsoon, Sundowner, and Armstrong fights all have annoying blade mode portions that feel like they only exist to justify the mechanic. And while they are annoying distractions in the other two, they consume the bulk of the Sundowner fight.
Sam was basically the opposite of Sundowner for me. The fight with him is great, but the character was sort of a let down. The reason he is a let down is because I feel like there should be more to him. The game presents him in the opening chapter as the guy in charge, and he has a relationship with Wolf that is never fully explained. However, he disappears for the majority of the game and is never fully developed. I don’t need developed characters in a game like this, but the fact that they try to introduce some sort of emotional connection is never justified. His fight makes up for it though and is probably the best in the game. The one on one, face off nature of the whole thing is intense. The portions that involve you just walking back and forth waiting for him to strike are nerve-racking and awesome. It also makes good use of the parry system and the entire fight has the fighting game feel that part of the Mistral fight had. Since the two of you have very similar weapons, the whole thing feels like two equals going head to head with no gimmicks. It is a pure sword fight and it works.
But at the end of the day, Senator Armstrong steals the show. He doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time, but he does a whole lot with it. His speech about the state of American politics is hilarious and well delivered. His plan is ridiculous enough for a comic book villain, and just the idea of a US Senator hocked up on nanomachines and fighting a cyborg ninja is perfectly absurd. Even if you never play this game, I recommend you watch his monologue. The fight itself is just fine. The excavator fight at the beginning is bad, but the regular fight is okay. The QTE where you constantly punch him and his health barely goes down is pretty hilarious, but nothing about the fight is special. It works and never annoyed me, but that’s about the highest praise I can give it. It really didn’t matter though because I spent the entire time thinking about the cutscene that preceded it.
Metal Gear Rising is a wonderfully absurd game. If you love Bayonetta or Metal Gear Solid 4, then there is something for you here. Platinum made a game that fits the Metal Gear universe and formula while also keeping it fresh. This feels like the natural continuation of the series, and I hope we get a sequel one day. The game is by no means perfect, and the short development time shines through at points. But in spite of all of this, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is an incredibly fun romp.