Raiden, a whiny, sword-sophisticated non-Snake, was the bait-and-switch for fans in 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. He raised the ire of fans, an off-putting protagonist in what many waited and hoped would be the grizzled return of series veteran Solid Snake. His reception was loud-n-clear, and Konami swiftly made Raiden the butt of some jokes in the following game. He would eventually re-emerge nearly unrecognizable (if not for his Deviant Art-friendly hair) in Metal Gear Solid 4 as a nihilistic cybernetic ninja. The next step in Raiden’s evolution would be a spin-off, a chance for redemption in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, handled by beloved absurdity lords, Vanquish and Bayonetta makers Platinum Games. With his nigh-powerful electro sword, Raiden cuts his own path in an outsourced adventure, one guaranteed to prove divisive. However, while Platinum shows much love for the series and its players, that isn’t to say it actually has to respect Raiden, either.
In a post-Patriots world, Raiden is among an altruistic private military company working as bodyguards for Prime Minister N’Mani. A successful assassination attempt by another PMC, Desperado, robs Raiden of a client and an eyeball, but gives him a new purpose. Digging a little deeper, Raiden discovers that with the Patriots gone, the world has a vacancy for new puppet masters. The Desperados, with a twisted, industrialized method of producing child soldiers, hopes to be the globe’s new shadowy war profiteers. Raiden, an ex-Liberian child soldier himself, makes it his duty to behead the organization before it ruins any more young lives. The whole eye-thing becomes water under the bridge.
In the world of twisty-turny Metal Gear conspiracies, Revengeance is sinisterly straight-forward. Shown all the cards near the outset, Revengeance is more Kill Bill than Tinker Tailor, giving you a shopping list of heads to roll. The only tension deterrent comes in the form of squabbling rhetoric matches, which sometimes end in bro-hugs with the enemy.
Familiar faces are on the scrawny side. Raiden’s new clan is Maverick Enterprises, among them a robot dog, an eerie German Chris Ware lookalike named Doktor and a Russian who carries himself like Boris Badenov named, uh, Boris, though they do little more than ask Raiden how he’s feeling, as if he’s willing to answer.
While there are plenty of Metal Gear gags, the lines to previous games are mostly cut. Fanatics hoping for Phantom Pain crumbs will be sorely disappointed, as, by the end, Revengeance has tangented closer to Fist of the North Star. On the other hand, gamers who prefer to hit the baddies who talk too much will likely be delighted by such news.
Not only is it surprising to see where Metal Gear has ended up in Revengeance, but it’s even surprising to see where Platinum — a company that has made its foundation mad-action games — have taken themselves. Bayonetta was about breakneck combos and Vanquish about getting accustomed to weird weapons. Revengeance foregoes not only stealth (okay, there are “stealth” moments, but they’re always optional and comparatively a laugh to the rest of the series) but even cherished combo finesse.
Instead, Revengeance is a game about rhythm and pacing. Basic sword-swinging will get you by, but mastery is in nailing the pattern of building up your ‘sword mode,’ using it — which slows down time — to julienne enemies in unique weakpoints, extracting their extravagantly misunderstood “electrolytes” and doing it all again. That may sound cumbersome, but the Platinum team understands action; they’re alchemists with mixing elements, enemies and ambiance to make every laceration cut deep.
Raiden globetrots to unravel the Desperados. From Abkhazia to Pakistan to Guadalajara to Colorado, you dice those mooing GEKKOs, farmed cyborgs, luchador-taught android apes, and a freak show of Metal Gear-inspired oddities. Platinum has become profoundly better at one-on-one fights. Many “climactic” bouts in Vanquish and Bayonetta leaned on pithy bullet-swatting, but the boss fights in Revengeance, especially encounters with surreal assassins Monsoon and Mistral, merge the cinematic and the tactile, rivalling even the God of War saga.
There is one strange undercurrent in Revengeance that I just can’t shake. Something that is mostly unknown of in the world of triple-A titles. Metal Gear Rising had a few false starts before landing in Platinum’s lap. It’s also the first time Platinum’s been tasked with handled another’s property, never mind one starring a protagonist most series fans have grown to loathe. When your gift is a white-haired elephant, do you try to paint it or parade its uselessness? The question I found myself asking during my play is: Just because Raiden is their hero, does that mean Platinum has to necessarily like him?
Revengeance is Raiden’s chance, as a fictional character, to prove he, the fair acrobat, belongs in a realm of cigar chompers. Platinum may have decided that, no, he doesn’t, which may make a game starring the anime oddball more fun. Raiden never wears an explicit dunce cap, but in ways from subtle to surreal he keeps goofing things up.
Where Solid Snake’s mantra was to be neither seen nor heard, many of the locations Raiden visits in Rising end up in more dire straits than before he got there. Denver is littered with dead cops and sliced copters, while the unnamed African capital where the game begins may as well be a crater in the ground after a block party battle with a gargantuan Gear.
Halfway through the game, Raiden just snaps, which really just means he no longer cares about the body count, though it still does nothing to explain why he spent the entire game speaking with a gremlin’s accent. Perks can be unlocked by purchasing beautiful wigs. In Mexico, asked if he can handle a low profile, Raiden assures that he’s got incognito in the bag, before revealing that his disguise is nothing more than a bedazzled poncho and sombrero. Often the Codec peanut gallery wonder aloud if this is the same guy who resolved the Big Shell incident. Raiden’s been treated as a gag before, but it’s never been so centre stage.
Platinum Games has swiftly become my favourite studio for action games, not for the rules it redefines but the ones it outright breaks. Nothing’s too zany, nothing’s too absurd, and, when it comes to upping the ante on action, the wisest choice may be to toss logic to the hurricane winds. That’s not to say Revengeance is flawless.
The ‘ninja dash’ is a bit of a cheat button, and it would have been nice to feel more control like in Bayonetta. Likewise, making ‘block’ a function of the main attack button may be a noble attempt to keep the pulse, but it makes you feel like a desperate fool when competent enemies are using you as a knife rack. Jamie Christopherson’s angst-punk dubstep score is awful. Awwwwfuuuul. Neither Bayonetta nor Vanquish were very long, but both felt satisfying come the end. Revengeance is shockingly short for a game that spent so long in development. Upon completion I was awarded an in-game medal for blitzing through the story in under eight hours. I earned that accomplishment with over an hour to spare.
For a quest so out of line with the rest of Metal Gear in terms of the story and tone, the wraparound design is a well-mimicked coat, showing that Revengeance may truly be a collaboration rather than just a tack-on. Platinum’s lunacy is scientifically thoughtless, abolishing the dense, tinfoil hat conspiracy fogging the franchise… which will likely offend those expecting Revengeance to be a tighter spin-off, but for new players or Gear fans who wouldn’t mind watching Raiden acting like the awkward dope they feel he is, the game is a satisfying slice into the wide open mouth of madness.
If the world has already chosen to dislike Raiden, then it may have been wise for Platinum to put on a big goofy smile and roll with the punches.