Remember how everyone just used to fucking hate Raiden? He was an effete looking pretty boy with a nagging fiancée and no real sense of fun in his character. Well it seems Konami has been trying to fix that mistake ever since his debut; first by making him a mysterious cyber ninja in MGS4 and now by making him the star of what just may be the best Metal Gear game ever. A bold claim I know and I’m sure MGS purists are fixing to lynch me for praising a no Snake having, not made by Kojima Productions, non stealth focused Metal Gear game, but I can honestly say that I had as much fun with Rising-if not way more-than I did with MGS3 which was my previous series favourite.
You see fun is big focus here; for as much as I love the universe and the strategy of classic MGS, firing those guns and dealing with its somewhat fumbly mechanics was more the price I paid so I could have hilarious codec conversations and cut scenes, I enjoyed playing it more in concept than in practice. In Revengeance however the combat and core gameplay is as fun as the crazy universe that surrounds it. To be blunt it is essentially God of War, the focus is almost entirely on light to heavy melee attack combos with the goal being to reduce the enemy’s defense to a point where you can perform a quick kill move called a zandatsu, which is that thing from the trailers where you steal their robo-hearts. This is where it gets interesting though, the games steals a cue from Warhammer 40K: Space Marine by having a successful zandatsu refill both your health and your fuel cells, which is the energy you use to fuel your zandatsu ability. You can also fill your fuel cells by doing standard attacks, so if you screw up a zandatsu and are out of fuel, you can always regain some that way. This means combat is an elegant balance of all out standard attacks with little regard for your own health to gain the necessary fuel so that you can jump back and wait for the perfect moment to use your zandatsu to slice a guy in half and get back to full strength. This does take some getting used to though as the blade mode you use to perform the zandatsu move can be rather finicky and aiming at a single point on a moving target (you can only recover the robo-hearts if you slash them in just the right spot) can be rough but once you get the system down the feeling is beyond empowering. You will at first feel fairly at odds with the combat system but give it a chance and you’ll feel like the ultimate badass, turning whole rooms of soldiers into decorative meat chunks on the floor behind you in the span of a few short seconds.
Of course amazing gameplay isn’t the only reason to love this game; the classic MGS crazy is here in full swing and the little touches that scream Metal Gear & Kojima saturate this product. From codec conversations involving Raiden’s creepy fanboy love for Solid Snake to crazy bullshit bosses with things like the ability to split up into a billion parts all held together with electro-magnets, this game brings the weird we’ve come to expect from the series. It feels like every other moment in this game something either really funny or really unbelievable happens and just as you’re getting used to one thing another jumps out. Oh what’s that, you just came to terms with the idea of the boss that wields the robo-arm spear while being herself covered in grasping groping robo-arms? Well then BAM! Now Raiden has a robot wolf-dog with a snarky superior AI brain that bosses him around. Revengeance is just caked in this stuff and it’s exactly what I want from a Metal Gear game; if anything adding Platinum to the equation has only upped the scale of the ridiculousness, why else would the game pretty much start with you singlehandedly fighting a Metal Gear Ray and winning spectacularly. Don’t even get me started on the utter insanity that is the final chapter, I’m not allowed to talk about it here and wouldn’t anyway as I want you to enjoy it yourselves but lets just say my jaw was on the goddamn floor during the entirety of it.
All of that awesome aside though, I think for me the most important part of the whole experience is that they finally give Raiden some actual character. He jokes around and converses well with his support team and has real good human interactions with the people he runs into. Most importantly they highlight some stuff from his past that helps flesh him out in a necessary way and they have his character change with those revelations in ways that you don’t expect from video game heroes; put simply this ain’t whiny old emo Raiden anymore, he’s genuinely interesting now and seeing him evolve is a big part of the game. In fact the story and writing here in general are high points of the game with great representation and discussion of themes such as transhumanism, patriotism and it’s relationship with the military industrial complex, and-what with this being a Metal Gear game-the difference between a warrior and an innocent. Of course for the sake of not spoiling anything I won’t discuss in-depth here how it talks about and deals with these issues but I will say I feel it’s done in an interesting way that meshes well with its characters.
I also want to touch on the presentation quickly as it features an interesting mix of design philosophy from both Platinum and Kojima productions. The environments are all classic Metal Gear, everything is near future but very believable looking with the occasional warzone or evil lab thrown in for good measure. This same design philosophy is present in the basic enemies as well, they pretty much look like just military dudes, cyborg military dude for sure but not overly designed cyborgs. That said the bosses and the massive scale of the action are pure Platinum with a crazy techno samurai aesthetic that feels straight out of Anarchy Reigns. The music is also very much Platinum’s territory; gone are the epic sweeping compositions of Harry Gregson Williams (which to be fair wouldn’t have really fit here) and in their place are alt rock remixes that match the bombastic boss fights perfectly. All those remixes also have lyrics which surprised me at first but added just the right edge to the game’s more intense moments.
Despite all this praise the game isn’t perfect and there are a few issues that need to be brought up. The first and most egregious in my eyes is the camera which to put it nicely isn’t always a team player. It’s just a little too sensitive and I found it moving too much on its own during fights requiring me to spend more time then I would liked running around, not to get away from my enemies, but just to get them into my view. That said it’s not a deal breaker and the game’s lock on feature means that in hairier situations you can force the camera into line so you don’t have to worry about losing sight of your foe. The other major issue here is the game’s length, it’s somewhat short at only 5-6 hours and while there is new game plus and VR challenges to futz about with when you’re done, your core experience will be over just a little sooner than you’d like. Aside from that there are a few other minor quibbles; the semi-steep learning curve I mentioned earlier and some framerate lag when the game switches scenes but nothing of consequence. Overall you can overlook pretty much all the faults in this game just because the gameplay and content is so crazy and fun in spite of those niggling issues.
Platinum has done something really special here with a series I love and as weird as it feels to call this a Metal Gear game at all-let alone my favourite Metal Gear game-it totally earns both those titles. While Snake may not be here and stealth may not be king (though it is present in some small part) the Metal Gear vibe is strong and this feels like more than just an action game with a famous franchise shoehorned onto it. I can happily give Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance a 5 out of 5 stars, it’s a fantastic game and more importantly it’s a fantastic Metal Gear game that fans of the series should not let themselves miss.