After several delays and a change of development team from Kojima Productions to Platinum games, this week finally sees the release of the latest chapter in Hideo Kojima’s epic Metal Gear saga, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Initially revealed as Metal Gear Solid Rising at E3 in 2009, the game has seen several major changes since the melon slashing demo that, truth be told, confused as much it as it impressed. After a long silence and rumours of the game’s cancellation it was revealed that action game maestros Platinum Games had been handed development duties as Kojima Productions had failed to make any progress past the initial cutting mechanic shown at E3 2010. At the Spike Video Game Awards 2011 the games current incarnation was revealed, renamed Metal Gear Rising Revengeance.
Understandably, the games protracted development as well as the move to an external development team has made fans slightly apprehensive. Wondering if the new game would still feel like a Metal Gear game or whether Platinum’s gift for hyper realism and erring on the side of the ridiculous would have a negative impact on the tone and the quality of the final product
Well, I’m happy to announce that not only does it feel like a Metal Gear game; it’s also arguably one of the most compelling to date. Not only does it deliver all the usual political intrigue and philosophical debate that the universe is known for, it also delves deeper into the broken psyche of the games protagonist; former child soldier come bad ass ninja cyborg, Raiden.
MGR opens five years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, The Patriots have been defeated and the war economy is in tatters, the Private Military Companies (PMCs) controlled by the patriots have splintered into thousands of smaller private firms and, with no major world conflicts to fight in, are mostly hired as peace keepers in formerly war torn nations. Cybernetic augmentation of soldiers working within these companies has become commonplace as it has been seen as a way to get an edge on the competition.
Raiden finds himself working for one such company, helping to train the security forces of a fledgling African nation as well as protecting the country’s recently elected Prime Minister N’mani.
That is, until the convoy that Raiden and N’mani are travelling in is ambushed by agents from rival PMC; Desperado Enforcement. With the troops protecting the convoy brutally massacred and N’mani abducted in the confusion, Raiden springs into action giving chase to the PM’s captors.
After cutting a bloody swathe through Desperado’s cyberised troops and armour Raiden finally catches up with N’mani’s captors aboard a speeding freight train, climaxing with a thrilling duel to the death between Raiden and the deadly, but unfortunately named; Jetstream Sam.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say Raiden loses the fight and the prime minister meets an untimely end. Three weeks later, and equipped with some swanky new cybernetic enhancements, Raiden is sent to the nation of Abkhaz, a small eastern European nation in the grips of an uprising backed by, you guessed it, Desperado Enforcement,
So starts Raiden’s globetrotting quest for revenge-ance, travelling to numerous locales including an Eastern European city, a secret laboratory in Mexico, an American military base in Pakistan and down town Denver.
Although to be perfectly honest where the action takes place feels like mere window dressing for the frantic action on screen; functional but not particularly captivating.
It’s clear from the moment that control is handed to the player that Platinum’s and Kojima’s intention was to create a game that replicates the amazing introduction scene in Metal Gear Solid 4, but with the player firmly in the driving seat. For the most part they achieve this with aplomb. This is no more apparent than in the game’s opening mission in which Raiden finds himself going toe to toe with a Metal Gear Ray. As Raiden clashes in various parts of the city with the colossal mech with only a sword to hand, eventually polishing it off by disabling its guns and then hacking it in half after jumping from a collapsing building and then bouncing off a salvo of missiles like they were stepping stones.
Combat throughout the game is frantic, fast, furious and incredibly satisfying. Softening up enemies with a flourish of steel before engaging Blade Mode to polish off enemies in bloody fashion by targeting their weak points and ripping out their spines never fails to make you feel like a badass.
The controls on the whole are incredibly slick and chaining combos together is incredibly easy. Switching to Blade Mode is as simple as holding down the left trigger, the action then slows as you use the right analogue stick to adjust the angle of your sword swings before swiping with the stick. This makes attacks feel weightier and more palpable although you can also press either X or Y to strike which is great for literally mincing enemies and racking up higher combo scores at the same time.
However outside of combat, Blade Mode is used relatively sparingly, mostly to slice open fences or hack open crates containing health packs or sub weapons. Although there are a few fantastic uses in the middle of fights to tear down platforms troops are standing on, this doesn’t happen very often.
The only chink in the games combat is the parrying system. Within the game there’s no evade and no blocking. Instead as an enemy begins to attack you can parry the attack by pushing towards the enemy and pressing X at the same time, deflecting the blow.
It took a while to get the hang of and cost me dearly in a fair few fights before I managed to get the timing right. Often I’d think I had got it in time just to have Raiden drop his guard early or just get whaled on.
It’s a minor complaint at best though, just something you need to get your head around, especially if like me you tend to evade rather than block in melee based games.
It is worth noting, though, if you really can’t get to grips with it that in easy mode you can turn on parry assistance which removes the need for directional input, but to be honest it makes the game stupidly easy and it doesn’t really help you in the long run.
Every battle Raiden partakes in is rated depending on how quickly you dispatch foes, the highest combo you can rack up , how many spines you can rip out and generally how much mayhem you can cause. This is all converted into Battle Points (BP) which are then used to upgrade Raiden’s abilities and suit including the power of his weapons, his health and unlocking additional moves.
Obviously, the better your performance, the higher the ranking, the quicker you can power up Raiden into an unstoppable killing machine.
Being a ninja and, in keeping with previous Metal Gear games, you don’t have to take the direct approach if you don’t want to in fact earlier on in the game it’s probably in your best interest to attempt to sneak past or stealth kill larger enemies if you can, done by creeping up behind someone and pressing B.
Being stealthy is also helped by the use of Raiden’s Enhanced AR which is turned on by pressing up on the D-pad. This allows you to see the outlines of nearby enemies and traps as well as checkpoints and some collectables in the nearby area. Basically think Detective mode in the Arkham series but with one subtle difference, running or attacking will disable it.
The most fun stealth section however was sneaking into an underground lab via a sewers system in which Raiden finds a box to hide in and slyly sneak past unsuspecting guards in a not to subtle reference to Metal Gear Solid.
However unlike Snake, if Raiden gets caught chances are you’ll be able to defend yourself and then some. In fact throughout the entire campaign, once I’d been powered up a little, I just ran head long into every guard, mech and Metal Gear I came across.
Besides his trusty high frequency katana, Raiden also has access to several other unique weapons that he receives from members of Desperado Enforcement after defeating them in battle. These include a pair of magnetic sai called Dystopia, a heavy pair of scissor-like machetes called Bloodlust, and my personal favourite a pole-arm/whip made out of robot arms called L’estrange. Get it, because it’s a strange pole made of arms… never mind.
Each weapon works in a vastly different way; Dystopia for example enables Raiden to latch onto enemies from a distance and then pulls him towards them. These are great for closing the distance between Raiden and his opponents as well as targeting airborne enemies.
Blood Lust is very slow but great for busting through armour and damaging heavier enemies. It also completely decimates regular troops, as long as you can hit them.
L’Estrange is incredibly quick and as you’d expect, good for crowd control. Spinning around smacking the crap out of groups of troops with a flurry of hits is not particularly precise but gets the job done. As such I kept it equipped for the majority of the game and didn’t really bother with the others.
As well as equipping one of the unique weapons, Raiden can also equip a sub (ranged) weapon that he can use by holding LB. These include rocket launchers and grenades that can be used for a variety of things including bringing down helicopters and ambushing groups of troops.
Rising’s high point though is its boss battles against the agents of Desperado Enforcement. Every last one of these multi tier encounters is a challenging and tactical affair, a battle of wills that is reminiscent of the one on one battles that Metal Gear is famous for.
Highlights include the opening fight against Metal Gear Ray, a battle with the multi limbed Mistral in an exploding gas refinery and facing off against the intimidating Sundowner on top of a skyscraper.
My favourite boss fight, though, has to be the rematch against Jetstream Sam in the game’s penultimate level. In the wilderness, the two square off in a final battle that is tense, stylish and, compared to the rest of the game, incredibly understated; the calm before the perfect storm that is the games finale.
The game culminates in an epic boss battle against a humongous, spider-like, prototype metal gear and then a one on one showdown with the shady mastermind behind the plot to force America into another war. Without spoiling the ending I’m going to warn you, it’s one of the toughest boss fights I’ve taken part in for a long time.
Each boss also has their own theme music and are fantastic tracks in their own right. Pounding double bass lines and blisteringly fast guitars reflect the incredibly kinetic and fast paced combat on screen perfectly and are also incredibly catchy to boot. On the whole, the musical direction of the game is spot on, in keeping with what you’d expect from a MG game but at the same time faster and slightly tribal, speeding up and slowing down in time with the action.
Once you’ve finished the game’s first play through, which should take you about six to eight hours, not including cut scenes and dying obviously. There’s still plenty to do as you will more than likely have missed several of the numerous hidden collectables found throughout the game including; data disks, holo chips, and on slightly more macabre note, the left arms of Desperado Enforcement officers.
Also hidden throughout the game’s campaign are enemy intelligence devices that Raiden must activate in order to unlock the games 20 VR missions. These can then be accessed at any time via Raiden’s codec or straight from the games main menu.
At the time of press I still haven’t found all of the devices to unlock all the missions let alone completed them. I’d recommend finding a guide that’s bound to be lurking on the net once the game is released if you wish to save yourself a bit of effort.
Needless to say once you’ve found them all playing through the missions themselves is pretty much a game in itself and will probably take as much time, if not more than the main campaign to get through.
The missions themselves come in three varieties; get to the way point, get to the way point without being seen or eliminate all the enemies.
After some relatively simple missions in which you might have to sneak past a couple of guards or kill a couple waves of troops, the difficulty and complexity of the missions quickly ramps up and before you know it you’re sneaking through complex mazes and fighting huge waves of incredibly skilled enemies and robots.
Raiden also earns additional Battle Points from participating in each mission. Completing each within a certain amount of time will also reward Raiden with Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal as well as a significant amount of bonus BP for your trouble. This can then be used to further upgrade Raiden within the main campaign. So if you find yourself stuck it’s well worth your while playing through a couple of unlocked VR missions in order to improve Raiden’s chances of success in the campaign and vice versa.
So should you get MGR? Yes. Platinum games and Kojima have created a game that is more than a spin off; it’s a legitimate entry into the main fiction of the Metal Gear universe and hopefully the start of a second divergent series with Raiden as the star. Many thought that by dropping the Solid from the title, Konami were distancing Rising from the other games that came before it. You’d be right too, they were, but not because it wasn’t worthy of the name but because it didn’t need it.
Metal Gear Rising is not only one of the finest action games of this generation, it’s also arguably the best game brandishing the Metal Gear name as well.
While MGS 4 felt bloated and ham fisted at times, bogged down by series lore and struggled under the weight of its own epic narrative, Rising presents a much more streamlined experience in every respect that takes the Metal Gear series in a bold new direction while maintaining the utmost respect for its predecessors while not being shackled to series conventions.
In short, Rising represents the best aspects of both Platinum games and Kojima Productions, an incredibly slick action game without a second of filler and bags of replayability coupled with top notch production values set within one of gaming’s most enduring and beloved settings.
Move over Snake, Jack is back.