Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Preview: There’s Nothing Metal Gear About It

Exiting a tall, decrepit building, I looked down on the plaza below and beheld a disturbing sight.

Two cyborg soldiers had guns trained on a civilian man, regarding him coldly as he begged for his life.

Cautiously, I made my way over to the ledge above them, careful to not be seen before I had a chance to catch them by surprise.

Looking over the edge, I leapt off and landed on the first guard, burying my blade completely in him, then drew the sword out and turned to his partner, engaging blade mode and lining up an attack that sliced him neatly in half. Both pieces of his corpse slid to the ground, and the civilian went free as I stood in a pool of my enemy’s blood.

Such is not an unusual encounter to be had in the demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the latest from Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Vanquish). But while it has the words Metal Gear in the title, there’s next to nothing Metal Gear about it. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Rather than the series’ iconic character Solid Snake, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeace stars the troubled youth Raiden from Metal Gear 2 as a full-fledged ninja cyborg working for a Private Military and Security Company called Maverick intent on keeping peace in regions throughout the world. Thanks to some particularly traumatic events, Raiden’s got it out for Desperado, another PMC responsible for inflicting a number of severe injuries on him. So when they start poking their nose in international business, the cyborg is all but ready to go out and put a stop to them once and for all.

It’s a storyline with elements ripped straight from the Metal Gear universe. And in many ways, the game itself has many pieces with a distinct Metal Gear flavor to them. The iconic exclamation mark appears above enemy heads when they spot you, some of the character interactions feel like those of a Metal Gear game, and even enemy and character design borrows heavily from Revengeance’s roots.

(See the Video Preview Below)

But flavors don’t feel like actual elements, and what references there are to the Metal Gear franchise feel more like cursory nods than meaningful gestures. In many ways, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a great action game with Raiden and the Metal Gear name tacked on in order to give the gameplay some sort of context. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things.

That being said, I’m not a crazy Metal Gear fan looking for reasons to trash the game. But there is some merit to the arguments being leveled against it, and playing through the demo made them all the more relevant.

Narrative inconsistencies aside, Metal Gear Rising has some interesting elements that make it unique and, quite frankly, great.

Its strong point being, of course, the combat. With the likes of Bayonetta, Platinum has more than proven that they’re capable of making great action games with fluid combat and intuitive button controls.

Revengeance is no different. Combat has a fairly simple structure, but mastering the flow of everything is something that will take a great amount of skill and patience.

Raiden is armed with a heavy attack, a normal attack, secondary and unique weapons, a parry system, and blade mode, all of which need to be carefully juggled in order to use the combat system to its fullest extent. Fighting enemies requires accurate timing and quick reflexes, as they are varied in their attacks and are quick to take you down. Some fire guns, while others are armed with swords like our own hero. Their attacks can’t be interrupted, and the game’s difficulty even on Normal is substantial enough that you’ll want to take great care to protect yourself from enemies as they attack you.

Blade Mode is one of the unique features of the game that will challenge players in an interesting way. Effectively the “bullet time” of Revengeance, Blade Mode slows down time and allows Raiden to line up one powerful slice that, if implemented correctly, could cleave an enemy completely in half. While it might sound like an overpowered mechanic, there’s actually a number of drawbacks to the mode that won’t make it a go-to system with each and every encounter. Enemies can still move in Blade Mode while Raiden is frozen, it can often be tricky to line up the perfect slice, and a meter depletes rapidly while you’ve got the mode enacted, only allowing you so much time to use it. And while it might be a powerful mechanic, it doesn’t always work on enemies unless they’ve had their own health whittled away a bit first.

It’s no secret that the Metal Gear franchise is known for revolutionizing its respective genre by refining stealth mechanics and challenging players to go through the game without ever having to directly confront hordes of enemies.

While Revengeance is much, much more action-based, it still tries to retain some of those ideas. If he’s able to do so without being spotted, Raiden can sneak up on enemies and take them out with brutal and stylized stealth kills that give him the advantage. It’s super fluid and satisfying to use, but lacks any and all of the refined mechanics of the classic Metal Gear series. There’s no real way of knowing when guards can or cannot see you, no controls that allow you to effectively “sneak” up on enemies, and no no-kill options whatsoever. Raiden’s on a bloody rampage and isn’t about to choke someone unconscious in order to accomplish his objectives. Really, all you can do is stick to the shadows and hope for the best as you begin your approach on enemies. The stealth kills are a nice and admittedly fun addition, but they’re so poorly realized that they fall into the same trap mentioned above: they’re not much more than a cute throwback to the game’s origins and serve little to no real purpose in the overall gameplay. It’s almost as if they felt like they needed to have them included in order to justify the game having Metal Gear in the title.

While I only played through the demo, I still managed to see a lot of the game’s overall presentation. And like any of Platinum’s famous games, Metal Gear Rising’s presentation left me impressed with the overall product.

Painstaking detail has been applied to the visuals of this game, resulting in great textures, interesting lighting, fluid animations, and an overall lifelike world. Saying it’s pretty is a bit of an understatement, really; Revengenace is a visual marvel, using stylized design to deliver a title that retains the look of a Metal Gear game while still creating its own identity.

Music is largely forgettable but complements the action well, being made up mostly of high-energy electronic mixes or hardcore rock heavy on the screaming and guitars. It sounds a bit more like something you’d hear blaring from a seventeen-year-old’s car, but works alongside the combat well enough and isn’t a problem.

Where the problem potentially is, however, is the game’s overall narrative. While Platinum is known for making great games, they aren’t known for making particularly memorable or fantastic narrative-driven experiences. I only got a taste of the game’s story,but  this looks to be the case as well in Metal Gear Rising, marking another departure from the game’s roots in a series known for its cinematics.

Raiden is a broody, generic fighter with no likeable qualities and no interesting quirks. He’s dark, he’s fierce, and he’s a great character to forget about as you slice enemies in half. The rest of the team behind him at Maverick is pretty much the same, with a few small exceptions by way of wisecracking guides that aren’t necessarily funny or endearing, but manage to somewhat break the monotonous tone the game has overall. Add to that a cliched plot, and it’s safe to say that fans of the deep and twisted storytelling seen in Metal Gear  games past will be sorely disappointed if they expect the same experience from Metal Gear Rising.

Overall, the demo itself revealed two things: that Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a great action game, but it’s a terrible Metal Gear game with mere nods to its predecessors that are in no way meaningful. It’s fast, fluid, and fun, but largely forgettable, making this potentially one of the most awkward spin-offs a major franchise has ever received. Don’t come to Metal Gear Rising expecting anything more than a Bayonetta-esque action game featuring one of the more prominent characters in the Metal Gear universe.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance releases on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on February 19th.