Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review: ripped apart

By Andrew Yoon, Feb 19, 2013 12:00am PST

There's few franchises that garner the same kind of respect Metal Gear does. Over its 25 year legacy, it's repeatedly defined landmark moments in gaming. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has a lot to live up to. Not only must it adhere to the same quality expected of the franchise, but it must make real what many fans have been waiting for: a game where you get to play as one of the series' deadly sword-wielding cyborg ninjas.

Platinum Games, developer of cult action hits like Bayonetta and Vanquish, clearly have the chops to make a great action game. But, can they make a great game that lives up to the Metal Gear name? Almost, but not quite.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance does a lot right, enough so that any ardent Metal Gear fan should unquestionably play it. Although it may not be a stealth game like its predecessors, it still stays true to the core tenets of what makes a Metal Gear game. Fans curious about what happens after the fall of the Patriots in Metal Gear Solid 4 will lovingly watch Rising's many long-winded, heavy-handed cutscenes. Bosses will opine about war, violence, and morality. Allies and foes will take over your codec, explaining the rules of a world controlled by shadow organizations and PMCs. Taking the Metal Gear mantra to another level, Rising openly questions the necessity of violence and preaches against killing--right before handing you a sword to cruelly dismember your foes.

While most of the game is centered around killing men, Rising actually offers numerous ways to avoid violence. There's a surprising amount of stealth gameplay here, letting you use cardboard boxes and magazines to move around enemies undetected. And while there are no puzzles in the game per se, there are numerous hostage situations that require a more delicate, intelligent approach. Finally, there are tons of collectibles to unlock and hidden areas to discover, encouraging exploration in what would otherwise be a relatively straightforward game.

By Platinum's Atsushi Inaba's admission, the added gameplay options make the game less "dull." While the stealth gameplay and exploration bits are appreciated, they ultimately don't make up for Rising's unsatisfying swordplay. Although Raiden can expand his repertoire with new moves and secondary weapons, the swordplay is fixated on the parry mechanic. Raiden can't block, so he'll have to wait until the moment before an enemy attacks to strike and counter that attack. Parrying exposes the enemy for follow-up strikes, and can usually trigger "Blade Mode," which lets you aim your sword and hack away at body parts.

That's not to say the parry system is mindless, as you'll have to learn different timing for every enemy and their assorted attacks. By landing a perfectly-timed counter, you'll be able to destroy an enemy shield, stun the enemy, or trigger an elaborate QTE sequence that ends in an automatic "Blade Mode" finale. Some parries will be countered by the enemy, forcing you to re-parry back-and-forth. However, the singular focus on parrying makes combat seem far less flexible than, say, Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, and discourages exploring Raiden's full assortment of moves.

Oddly, the game actually hides many of Raiden's more advanced moves, tucking them away as unlockables. Even when a move is purchased, the game only lets you know about these moves by navigating many levels into the pause menu. This rather inelegant approach is repeated with the game's weapons system. There's no way to switch sub-weapons without having Raiden stand completely still and then opening a separate pause menu with the D-Pad. By relegating these features to menus, Rising once again discourages players from experimenting with the gameplay systems.

Still, there are some truly spectacular set pieces. Your first fight against a Metal Gear is an absolute delight, as you ninja run away from laser blasts, whilst cutting away at a stories-tall mech. Fighting your first helicopter proves to be a joy. However, the game's camera regularly fails to keep up with the action--no matter how big or small the battle. In fact, the camera is easily the player's worst enemy. More often than not, you'll be swinging blindly at enemies that aren't on-screen. Even worse, given that the game is defined by parrying, you'll often be unable to tell when enemies are going to strike at you. Not only will you be constantly managing the camera with the right analog stick, but it will sometimes actively fight against your control. One time, as I was trying to sneak alongside a wall, the camera swung around, fixated on the wall. I tried swinging the camera back so I could see which way the enemy was looking, but to no avail. A few seconds later, I get spotted, and I start slashing away the enemy--never really knowing where he was.

The game's camera can be so infuriating that I've been tempted multiple times to simply give up at the Game Over screen. This isn't an issue that pops up occasionally; it is a problem that plagues the experience from beginning to end--and only gets worse in boss fights. Thankfully, the game's plentiful checkpoints made it easy to jump back into the game.

Many will undoubtedly complain about the game's length, with a campaign that clocks in under six hours. However, there's plenty of reason to replay missions, whether it's simply to get a better score, or to find all the hidden items scattered throughout the levels. There are even twenty additional VR missions that can be unlocked. However, the campaign may feel shorter than it actually is due to its odd pacing. The story takes its time building up its mystery--only to rush to a relatively abrupt finale.

While there are plenty of things to admire about Metal Gear Rising, from its over-the-top boss fights to its surprisingly amusing dialogue (Wolf is easily the best character), it falls short of what many expect from a Metal Gear and Platinum game. This is easily the most unpolished in the Metal Gear series, with lackluster graphics, and some questionable design choices. It's far from Platinum's best as well, with their other titles sporting more satisfying combat and more fanciful set pieces.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a deeply flawed game that manages to nonetheless be likeable. It even has its moments of brilliance. However, Metal Gear fans are likely to get more out of the experience, if only for the narrative and multiple callbacks to previous games. Newcomers will probably be less charmed, and more prone to seeing the game's many shortcomings. Metal Gear Rising is, at the very least, a novel first collaboration between Kojima Productions and Platinum Games, one we'd like to see continued and refined. (A rerevengeance, perhaps?)


This Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review was based on retail PS3 code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox 360.

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