I’ve long entertained the notion of becoming a ninja. Probably not in the very realistic “go study ninjustu and hone your reflexes” sort of way and more in the “throw smoke pellets and slit a lot of throats” kind of way. And I’m here to offer you a simple sixty dollar course in ninja-ing things.
So go to your local whatever and pick up a copy of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and bask in the glory of being…a really ineffective—but totally awesome—ninja.
So here’s the thing about ninjas in video games: they’re not very good ninjas. And we don’t necessarily expect them to be, it’d be boring to see a blank screen, and watch the lights dim, and then see nothing (though it might be terrifying, more on horror games later). We’d rather revel in carnage, and Revengeance has that. In spades.
Re-renter Raiden: whiny spy-boy gone badass ninja, here to empirically prove that he isn’t a total ninny. Spoiler: he sort of falters in that regard. So SOP has failed (tl;dr nanomachines control soldiers on the battlefield in a huge US-gone-global conspiracy to control the growth of mankind) and cyborg technology has stepped in. In this sense, Revengeance has done a good job of continuing some of the themes of previous Metal Gear games. War is still a valuable commodity. The growth of the PMCs that evolved from the Big Shell incident and subsequent leaking of Metal Gear specs coupled with the “reveal” of the Patriots working behind the scenes is well taken care of. The nameless soldier on the battlefield is, in theory, given more of a chance to be real in Revengeance. The problem comes when that chance gets muddled among a convoluted political trip that isn’t really given a chance to shine.
Raiden now works for a private security firm, Maverick, tasked with guarding an African Prime Minister—who is subsequently murdered. Upon encountering several other cyborgs like himself, among them the terribly named Jetsream Sam and the unexpectedly awesome Sundowner, Raiden is beaten and humiliated, left to discover the identity of his attackers (known only by their employer/supplier, another cyborg PMC by the name of Desperado, LLC) and seek revenge. Along the way there is much spouting about justice and protecting the weak, and a lot of words that kind of muddle together in a kind of ultra-violent soap opera (though much less digestible than numbered Metal Gear entries) that eventually ends up involving ridiculous plots to assassinate the president and Raiden channeling his inner muderous child.
The story isn’t without it’s occasional charm. A few of the characters are well played and possess a few good lines, though several of them are tertiary. Many characters are left with their motivations out in some void, never to be determined, but I liked them, nonetheless. I even chuckled at a line or four that poked a little meta-fun at the game-at-large. In the end I’ll say I didn’t lose any brain cells over MGR’s story, but it definitely didn’t leave me asking as many philosophical questions as MGS 3 or 4 did. If you’re a fan of secret plots to topple governments and people spouting on about ideals and the like, you’ll find plenty to like, otherwise expect the story to take a back seat.
What the game lacks in substance is made up in style. Visually full of sparks, crackling electricity and blood spatters, MGR is nothing if not satisfying. Textures are smooth, the characters are iconic, and there is panache in spades. The animations were smooth and impressive, and I found myself trying fairly hard to diversify my slicing-and-dicing for my own sadistic enjoyment. Many people called the inability to play as Raiden during his more spectacular moments in MGS 4 a major flaw, and they’re given a chance to live those scenes in Revengeance, and more. Probably the coolest thing in the game is Jetsream Sam’s sword and sheathe. Equipped with a small set of explosive charges, Sam can literally shoot the sword out of the scabbard at insanely high speeds. There is a new “cut anything” mechanic that uses Raiden’s new cyborg enhancements to slow down time briefly and allow him to slice enemies, doors, or random environmental elements to ribbons with ease. Combat is a fairly straightforward action affair: string together light and heavy attacks to kill your enemies, push the left stick toward them and press the square/X button to defend oneself and marvel at the total lack of dodge button in a game that involves a frakking ninja. Considering Platinum Games has brought us some masterpiece actions games like Bayonetta and Vanquish, I was surprised to find that while slicing my foes to shreds was gratifying to an extreme, the combat lacked a lot of nuance and strategy, especially in the mobility department. The boss fights, of which Metal Gear contains some of the most memorable in gaming history, weren’t quite as impressive as their predecessors. Indeed, most encounters devolved into a series of parries and spamming the use of a certain alternate weapon. These fights do have plenty of suave moves however, and the last few bosses manage to add a few cool touches to spice things up a bit. And while this could be too subjective an area to “rate” the game seems to possess a strange lack of difficulty, giving the player ample opportunities to fully restore health with a quick zandatsu (badassedly cutting an enemy in half and grabbing their repair units). The game occasionally feels cheap, especially near the end, you may want to bring an aspirin or two with you to the final boss. Revengeance had plenty to lose, and certainlly didn’t hit every high note it could have. One might even call it a disappointment. Yet somehow, MGR avoids this moniker in my mind.
This mish-mash of misguided elements seems right on the verge of something great. You can see all the sparkles of potential that lie beneath the surface. The ninja run mechanic has Raiden jumping up walls and sliding under obstacles with extraordinary ease, though it gets a bit touchy at times, and totally overzealous at others. An awesome variety of enemies present themselves, but they all fall victim to similar battle strategies. There are plenty of skills and upgrades to delve in to with BP earned in fights, but the list of fresh skills seemed too short (and those skills didn’t seem useful enough to feel like I really had to shoot for them). The game has a great setting and absolutely gorgeous environments, marred by poorly masked loading sections and some serious performance slowdown during blade mode. Likable and charming characters fall victim to a story that just kind of gives up partway through. At a mere six hours, the game was insanely short, bolstered only slightly by a few VR missions, but that six hours never felt plodding or poorly paced. It felt like the back half of the game was an afterthought, as all the stages suddenly lost half (or more) of their length. But I found myself feeling as though the game only lacked one thing: moxie.
I’ve often found myself defending Japanese gaming, with all its idiosyncrasies, off-the-wall storytelling and general weirdness. Somehow this game felt like it was trying to reconcile itself as halfway between a fully eastern action game like Bayonetta or No More Heroes and a western one like Lords of Shadow or God of War. It feels like a product that was lovingly conceived and half-crafted before the attention shifted elsewhere. And somewhere deep down, I felt it. What the game really needed more of was heart, silly as that sounds.
I loved Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots. I loved Vanquish and Bayonetta. The marriage of Platinum and Metal Gear was one for the ages that just…didn’t pull it off. But stripping away certain pieces of the game here and there leaves something that can, and should, be loved. With enough support on the developer end, there can be plenty of VR missions and DLC to expand and vary the story and combat. This is an idea to run with, one with a story that could grasp at deep seated themes in a violent world while giving players the chance to affect real change in the action space. I had plenty of “Oh, man, that was awesome” moments in combat, and a few of the setpieces really blew me away. While the game ramped it up by the end in terms of challenge, I felt a decided lack of difficulty, even on the hard setting, so Platinum lovingly included a very hard setting that I will tackle soon enough. The parry action had a window wide enough to drive a REX through, but quick reflexes are still needed to pull off proper defense. The game soundtrack rumbled on quickly enough to merit the new subtitle “Lightning Bolt Action” and really got the violent juices flowing, but got kind of weird every time there were lyrics places in the middle of dramatic scenes. I feel as though if more love had been poured into the mix, it might’ve solved a lot of these issues. MGR is kind of like a game in a cocoon. It knows what it wants to be, and could totally be that thing, but is stuck within its own shell. Were each of the major mechanics in the game pushed just a little further, it could have been something really amazing. It’s the MENSA-level adolescent kid that never does his homework, cruising on talent that wasn’t well honed.
So should you buy it?
I’ll break it down like this, then. Do you love Metal Gear? A lot? Buy it, but keep an open mind. You’ve like a solid action game? Maybe wait for a price drop. Need something to satiate your violent side? Pick it up when the sales kick in. The game is what I would call “good*”. Fans will find plenty of that Kojima-style random charm, more than once did it put a grin on my face. But fans can also find plenty of issues. In the end, MGR is the game that could have been. It’s a totally good game that didn’t manage to avoid the potholes that kept it from being great. At least I know that if I ever need to sate my urge to cut shit into a thousand tiny pieces, I know just who to turn to.
Story not so good.
Combat good…but simple.
Music cool, but should’ve left out lyrics.
Verdict: Buy it if you’re willing to overlook some serious flaws. The game is undeniably Metal Gear, even if it was handled by a different dev and features a totally different style of play.
Catch a quick trailer below: