Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Review

There was a cutscene in Metal Gear Solid 4 where cyborg ninja Raiden turns up and saves his old friend and mentor Solid Snake by kicking so much ass it makes you want to cheer, easily slicing up five 'GEKKO' unmanned walkers without breaking a sweat. Gamers were somewhat surprised to see the wussy, girly hero of Metal Gear Solid 2 reborn as a badass cyborg – and I would guess that most had the same reaction as I did. "I want to do that."

Thankfully, Platinum Games has hit that nail completely on the head. Unlike other titles in the series, Rising (I refuse to call it 'Revengeance'. It's not a word, never was…) is an action-focussed hack-and-slasher which aims to give the player that feeling of being a badass cyborg ninja – and it pulls it off brilliantly.

Picking up four years after the last Metal Gear game, Rising opens with former child soldier and Solid Snake's protégé Raiden helping an African nation get back on its feet, with his private military company Maverick offering security and training. Beforelong both the country and Maverick are attacked by cyborg agents of rival PMC Desperado Enforcement, and Raiden and his team are drawn into a wider plot which ties the story together, but is nothing to write home about.

While there is some deeper exploration of the thematic conventions behind Raiden's dark past, it's mostly overshadowed by the action - and that's just fine, as the action is fantastic.

Platinum, the geniuses behind witch-em-up actioner Bayonetta and slide-em-up shooter Vanquish, have done a fantastic job bringing Rising to life, and the game's addictive action is backed up with sharp controls – which are then sadly let down with a tricksy camera.

Rising's focus on melee combat is its strength, and the control scheme combines fast combos with a precision strike called 'Blade Mode. In this mode the action slows to a crawl, and Raiden can carefully carve up his enemies with swings of his sword, selectively cutting off limbs to earn extra upgrade points or new weapons. Of course, you can also just go nuts and slice your foe into a red paste – cathartic, if slightly disturbing.

Generally, the combat revolves around using combination attacks to break through your target's armour, before using Blade Mode to finish them off. Using Blade Mode is also essential for keeping Raiden alive and fighting. The Zandatsu technique – or 'cut and take' – allows the ninja to slice open his enemies by striking at a specific point, before gruesomely removing their electrolyte-filled spines and taking their power for yourself. It's brutal, but satisfying.

Of course, human-sized enemies aren't the only foe Raiden has to face, and at many points in the game you find yourself taking on everything from tanks to helicopters to full-size Metal Gear, pulling off incredible stunts as you do – and all backed by high-energy rock which draws you into the bloodletting.

The main problem with the relentless pace of the action is its constant need to stop for Metal Gear-style introspection, especially as the storytelling can sometimes be rather clunky, and relies heavily on the player knowing something of the Metal Gear backstory. Equally, certain gameplay elements can stop things dead – such as the need to stand still while using missile launcher subweapons or to throw grenades. Similarly, using captured enemy boss weapons cuts the number of possible sword combos in half, and to deselect these special weapons you have to stand still and flick through Metal Gear-style menus.

But these are minor faults at best – the main issue is the camera, which is stubborn, frankly.
Prone to spinning out of your control, Rising's camera is obstinate, and unhelpful at times. When you're surrounded by enemies it can make it extremely difficult to see where you're being attacked from – and this is a big issue when your parry has to be aimed in that direction.

It also makes some of the optional sneaky bits very difficult, as trying to steer through a dark room and look to your left while the camera is desperate to get behind Raiden can be infuriating.
It's also an issue during some of the boss battles, as despite a handy lock-on for the camera, keeping up with what's going on through a screen full of missiles and gunfire can be a nightmare.

That said, the action itself is nice to look at, and there's very little issue with Rising's graphics. While the urban vistas on offer aren't exactly the lush jungles of MGS4, there's enough eye candy to keep you interested. The score and voice acting is a mixed bag, however, as constant high-energy rock can tire out the action pretty quickly. As for the cast, while most stand up OK, a couple – notably the man playing Boris, a Russian, and Raiden himself – can slip into B-Movie acting, which spoils the serious tone the storyline takes. Still, that's nothing new for Metal Gear games – or indeed any Japanese-created title.

All in all, Rising does not disappoint. Sure, it's not your traditional Metal Gear, but there's plenty of nods to the series (yes, including a cardboard box), and Platinum have done a fantastic job making the player actually feel like a badass cyborg ninja. It's not perfect, but I defy you not to enjoy the combination of breakneck pace and pinpoint sword strikes.

Reviewed on Xbox 360