Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has the twin virtues of being a Platinum-developed hack-and-slash and a game overseen by Hideo Kojima. It’s a marriage that merited some expectation – Platinum, famed for the emphatic Bayonetta, meets Kojima, with his grandiose, marathon tales about global peril, politics and war – but in execution it’s a peculiar brace.
You take the reigns of Raiden, fan of swords and prattling and author of The Big Book of Morals. The man is imperious on the battlefield, having taken a lesson or two from Bayonetta, but little more than a punch-puppet in the cutscenes for all manner of bad guys to pummel. He’s mastered the gurning face and is an able performer of ad-hoc surgery on the dance floor, not to mention a dab hand at swatting helicopters out of the sky. Despite all that, he’s a far cry from leading-man material in a game that boasts cutscenes stretching over a healthy three hours.
Raiden’s story goes a little like Alec Baldwin’s wet speech at the end of Team America. Cyborg terrorists have brain-jacked a coup while child-soldiers massacre the war economy with memes. An African president is captured, mumbo jumbo and jumbo mumbo, morals, more memes and PMCs. SURPRISE TWIST! Skullduggery, global instability, the internet is evil, so are warmongering politicians, or are they are? Yes they are. But wait, phone call! Cameo! Explosions! The end.
The trouble with Revengeance’s garbled yarn isn’t that it makes as much sense as condoms with a breathing hole but that it’s as captivating as a three-hour documentary on Keanu Reeves’ acting drills. The plodding, bloated bouts of exposition foisted on you after battle in the form of lengthy cutscenes or in-game phone calls are a mile apart from Platinum’s trademark whiz-bang gameplay. Replace the story with MAN WITH SWORD LIKES CUTTING THINGS and you’ve got something very close to excellent, but as it stands the game struggles to find flow. The combat is blistering, but the story lumbers along as grown men yell things like “my sword is a tool of justice” and “they sealed their fate when they took this job. I’m just the Reaper” and “if America’s gone to shit, you’re just another maggot crawling in the pile.” It lacks the grandiose of a Metal Gear-proper story, yet there’s far too much of it for a Platinum-developed hack and slash. It’s an awkward mix of both worlds, with neither particularly benefiting from the merger.
Still, at the heart of the game is a winning, empowering and expressive combat system that plays out much like a simplified Bayonetta staged in a Metal Gear pocket-universe. You tear-ass from one combat arena to the next hacking away at anything that dares move (and plenty of things that don’t, just for the hell of it), prevented from progressing until you’ve reduced all nearby soldiers or robotic monstrosities to a neat pile of limbs, scorched metal or both. It’s as linear as a children’s pop up book with little, if any, opportunity to veer from the beaten path (although there are a handful of collectibles peppered throughout the eight levels and a couple of opportunities for some cardboard box-themed stealth if you’re feeling so inclined). But you probably won’t be, because every tap of the attack button sends a surge of pure yes! from fingertip to brain, and combined with some excellent animation work and a pristine frame-rate, the act of severing chumps in Revengeance is never anything short of exhilarating.
While Raiden isn’t quite seizing Bayonetta’s throne in terms of her imposing repertoire of combos, the combat is reasonably freeform with ample room to string together natty combos and fierce executions. In the heat of the moment it can all descend into dribbling-idiot button bashing, and you’ll make it through well enough like that so long as you remember to parry, but it’s worth getting to grips with the different combos if you want to wage war on the rankings and make it through some of the tougher boss fights.
Unlike Bayonetta, Revengeance doesn’t particularly lend itself to repeat plays and it’s a reasonably concise game. Good though it absolutely is, it lacks the nuance or depth to the combat that came from the deep well of combat-modifying trinkets and unlocks in Platinum’s masterpiece. Combat here is a case of juggling strong and light attacks and threading those together with well-timed parries (the parrying mechanic will feel natural to anyone who grew accustomed to Bayonetta after unlocking the Moon of Mahaa-Kalaa). At first, the lack of a dedicated block or dodge feels unintuitive, but once everything clicks it’s nothing short of a joy.
Instead of blocking, you push the thumbstick in the direction of the attacking enemy and tap the light attack. Time it right and the enemy reels, leaving him open to attack. It means you’re never far off landing another blow, and while you can bash the right analogue stick in the direction of your attackers like a lunatic, the game rewards those with the composure to time a block well.
It’s effortlessly cool, as you’d expect from Platinum, and the developer ensures blade mode is more than a gimmick, putting it to good use in boss fights in particular with Raiden slicing the rotors of helicopters and carving the legs from beneath mammoth robots routinely. Playing as Raiden isn’t far removed from the feeling that came when Raiden popped up in Metal Gear Solid 4 and proved himself to be a VIP at the hotel of consummate badasses by murdering Gekkos with glorious panache, before resigning himself to the cutscenes to be a milksop once again.
Raiden’s much-talked about Blade mode replaces Bayonetta’s eclectic arsenal of diabolical killing contraptions, and it’s almost as worthy of fanfare. With LB held down Raiden’s feet are cemented to the floor and time slows to a crawl, leaving you free to slash in any direction with the right analogue stick and watch as the unlucky sap ahead goes the way of any number of European horses of late. The idea is to carve a hole in your foe so that Raiden can reach in and conduct amateur spinal surgery on the unfortunate sod caught in a web of slow-motion. With a button prompt, Raiden thrusts his fist through the floating gib and yanks out the spine, which rekindles a dash of health and contributes to your high-score. In truth, the combination of the parry and blade mode makes you near-invincible against all but the toughest of bosses, and when parrying is no longer effective you’re only hope of evading attack is darting around as fast as possible.
While we’re grousing, there’s also the matter of a camera that can’t hope to keep up with the frantic on-screen action. It’s a predictable grumble, but the lock-on system is woeful and the camera has the acumen of day-old roadkill. Level design too is a little uninspiring, by turns either sterile and lonely or just plain sterile. Neither the colour and pizazz of Bayonetta’s world or the intrigue of a Metal Gear Solid universe have quite found its way into Revegeance’s thinly veiled videogame battlefields. You trek through factories, through war-ravished cities and through airfields, none of which boast much pull.
Which is a shame because if you can stomach the nonsensical story and a shonky camera there’s plenty to like; additional VR missions add some extracurricular value to the game, there’s a rather compelling ranking chase and, of course, the sharp combat, which is plenty good enough to carry things as the story descends into madness. But it desperately needs to be snappier, levels shorter and with none of the interruptions. The in-game phone calls could do with taking a blindfolded hike along a pier most of all, but even the cutscenes are needlessly drawn out sometimes over ten or more minutes.
Hideo Kojima, so the joke goes, would do well to make films instead of videogames. Here, he’d be better off making a Metal Gear Solid game and leaving Platinum to do what they do best: kicking ass with the zest of a thousand angry gods. Still, Metal Gear zealots will surely find some joy in the Raiden’s tale and take nothing away from Platinum’s zippy combat. There are few developers working today quite so adept at making the act of thrusting a sword through a man’s pelvis as intensely gratifying as Platinum, and Revengeance is another testimony to the studio’s imposing pedigree.
This review was originally published on BeefJack.