Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013, PS3)

By ua86 / April 2, 2017

This is one of my favourite games, and I'm tempted to recommend it to any carbon-based lifeform with a pulse. Revengeance is a strange spin-off from a popular franchise that abandons the Metal Gear Solid formula and only includes token nods to the stealth focus of its progenitor. In spite of the player character being a "cyborg ninja", the mechanics for stealth are as minimal as can be, while those for high-speed stylish melee combat are far more developed than anything Western action games might have prepared you for.

   I don't want to go into the details of Revengeance's story, but I do want to commend how effectively it carries the game, without spoiling any details. Throughout the story, our player character Raiden has clear motives and goals. He also goes through an interesting character development arc, an arc that stays true to his personality in both previous MGS incarnations while also pushing him forward as a person. By the end of the game Raiden has gone through both physical and philosophical transformations. At the infamously bombastic finale of the game, Raiden and the final boss clash over distinct ideological differences. This final boss advocates loudly for a twisted worldview where the strong dominate the weak, and then demands that we, as Raiden, use our strength to prove him right by defeating him. It's a unique synthesis of player involvement and philosophy that I don't think Revengeance gets enough credit for. It's a traditional aspect of Metal Gear Solid games to have the game's villains be complex in their goals and motives, and Revengeance nails it.
   The fighting in Revengeance is maybe 80% of the total game, with another 10% being stealth and the rest being less-than-compelling 3D platforming. Thankfully it's in this 80% that the developers succeed 100%. It'd be hard to define "the Platinum feel", but every Platinum game (and every Clover game for that matter) has a level of combat mechanic excellence that you rarely find elsewhere. I think there's two major aspects that make this particular system so good, the first being that the player maintains total control over Raiden. Every player move can be "cancelled" out of, meaning the player never finds themselves stuck in an animation, and every enemy attack can be either dodged or parried with enough precision and skill. This is a game that politely asks you to "git gud" and gives you the tools you need to do it. Every hit you take is entirely your fault, every blow you land is entirely to your credit. When you learn to use the fundamental mechanics correctly you start dodging through previously devastating attacks and swiftly dominating previously intimidating enemies, and the feeling of satisfaction and pride is second to none.
   The other aspect that makes the Revengeance combat system so fresh is the Zandatsu. When Raiden has harmed an enemy enough to shatter their armour, he can pop them up in the air and hack them to pieces. You can swing wildly and hack the cyborg enemy up into a hundred meaty slices, or you can cut carefully and pull out their cyborg heart to absorb their juices. This move is the Zandatsu and it refills your life and energy meters. When the game gives you this ability and then pits you against tough enemies, it incentivizes you to chase down weaker enemies and consume them, giving you the boost you'll need to face the rest of the enemy mob. Not only does this mechanic look and feel great, it once again ties back into the philosophical thread of strength and weakness that runs throughout the game.
   Sadly the execution of this system does have some flaws. The camera positioning isn't always on your side, particularly when fighting in hallways, and larger enemies (particularly Gekkos and Raptors) can leap into the camera and drop down onto you in ways which are disorienting. Some enemies have conventional firearms that they constantly drill you with, and the only way to avoid taking damage from them is to keep constantly running. When you're trying to beat a fight without taking damage (and therefore get the No Damage bonus to your fight ranking), one random Dwarf Gekko with a machine gun can really ruin your mood.
   The game provides you with access to three unique boss weapons that you can purchase after beating their respective bosses, but these weapons can't be toggled mid-fight. They have to be accessed by opening a menu on the D-pad, which inevitably costs you some momentum in a battle. I don't love the boss weapons, none of them feel as good as Raiden's sword and they seem more like novelties than necessities. I'm sure there are high skill players who can wield them in amazing ways, but as an average player I couldn't find their utility.
   Revengeance can be finished in about five-six hours by a casual player on Normal difficulty. I'm sure some players get their fill and stop there, but if you love your first experience MGR has a huge amount of replayability. VR challenge missions, DLC side campaigns (Jetstream Sam's DLC is phenomenal), collectibles that you literally have to chop off your enemies, a vast wealth of codec dialogue with interesting characters, and of course the constant challenge of S-Ranking every fight in the game.
   Or you can play on Hard straight away, multiplying the game's length by many times, while being forced to learn all the game's systems inside and out to get anywhere near the ending, instead of running around like an overpowered tank that slices up everything he sees within seconds in the Normal mode. It's your choice.
   The only thing left that I want to specifically praise is the music. Each major boss fight is accompanied by a unique boss song, with lyrics relating to that boss's internal struggles. The songs are some weird hybrid of electronic kick drums, downtuned nu-metal guitar riffs and distorted rock vocals, which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. The songs are played as instrumental until the final stage of the boss battle, at which point the lyrics kick in. It's precisely as cheesy as it sounds, and I can't help but punch the air and sing along every time it happens. When you're mashing your controller in frantic excitement while battling an enemy you've come to love, and you're hearing a song decrying their loss of identity and lack of any choice other than to fight to the death, the synthesis of mechanics and mood elevates MGR to an intoxicating apex. It's so addictive you'll want to lose certain boss fights just so you don't have to stop experiencing it.
   Gaming doesn't get much better than this.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is runner-up to Insomnia's 2013 Game of the Year.