I’m not a huge Metal Gear Solid fan. I understand why the series is so popular and I appreciate that Hideo Kojima uses video games to communicate important cultural messages, but I’ve always found his dialogue to be agonizingly long-winded in a manner akin to vocal masturbation.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, however, is developed by Platinum Games, the studio responsible for Vanquish, and my disinterest in Metal Gear is matched by my fervent admiration of Platinum. That’s why I’m looking forward to Revengeance and that’s how I found myself attempting to answer two seemingly unrelated questions:
Should you be looking forward to Revengeance if you’re a fan of Metal Gear Solid? And should you be looking forward to Revengeance if you’re a fan of frenetic third-person gameplay?
The answers are yes and yes, with a few noteworthy caveats.
Revengeance‘s narrative is smeared with Kojima’s unmistakable fingerprints. The characters are overly expository and self-important and I didn’t have any clue who these people were or why I should care. I sat through a few early cut scenes to satisfy my own sense of professional responsibility, and then I couldn’t skip them fast enough.
Revengeance is essentially everything I tend to dislike about MGS productions, but that’s also why I assume that fans of the franchise will enjoy it. You already know whether you’re interested in Raiden’s extended backstory. Cut scenes clock in at anywhere from two to five minutes, so the game moves forward at a steady clip without any egregious crimes against pacing. If I skipped anything, it was only because I had 90 minutes and I wanted some actual gameplay time.
To that end, Revengeance shows potential, although it’s not as quite as refined as Platinum’s previous efforts. Vanquish was so subtly amazing because it boasted the best gameplay balance I’ve come across on a console. The game could be relentlessly difficult, but it also rewarded you for understanding its rhythms, encouraging you to constantly engage like a boxer sticking and moving rather than a slugger trading haymakers.
With its heavily promoted sword-time and ninja-based mechanics, Revengeance is cut from a similar cloth insofar as the best defense is an even better offense. The combat is designed for speed and style with flashy animations and massive boss fights; Platinum has the pedigree to pull everything off relatively seamlessly.
That makes Revengeance a hell of a lot of fun once it gets going. You’re not going to be making fruit salad during a firefight – the action is far too fast for that level of precision – but the game does give you enough control to target enemy soft spots with dozens of rapid slashes. Dicing a flunky into component parts before ripping out his pulsing blue spinal column is about as satisfying as it sounds, especially once you’re able to start chaining those fatalities.
The problem is that Raiden doesn’t have much in the way of defense. Generally speaking, the first thing I want to know when I pick up a new game is how to attack. The second thing I want to know is how to evade, and near as I can tell, Revengeance doesn’t have a dodge button.
For a game that perpetually exists at double time, the inability to react quickly becomes a monumental frustration. There is a parry technique that skips past in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tutorial (incidentally, I blinked), although, the finicky manoeuvre is more indicative of a general lack of communication. Revengeance relies on contextual quick-time events to generate spectacle but frequently does so without bothering to explain the context. Without knowing what an optimal (or even effective) approach to a given fight might be, you’re left to blindly attempt parries and counters against giant mechs that can’t be parried or countered, and waiting several seconds for the subsequent attack combo to finish doesn’t make for thrilling interactions.
That’s not to say that Revengeance is too unforgiving. Killing grunts cleanly and efficiently refills entire health and energy bars and there are numerous healing items that do the same. Playing well yields more stamina against the larger baddies, so the game is balanced to the extent that your offensive output directly improves your chances of survival.
The system just isn’t particularly satisfying in practice because it prioritizes attrition over skill. The best way to avoid enemy fire is to disengage and wait for an opportunity to strike, which turns most boss and boss-type battles into guerilla affairs in which you spend less time fighting and more time running laps around the arena.
Fortunately, I did get the impression that the gameplay goes far deeper than an inevitably shallow preview, so it’d be a disservice to write off Revengeance after a mere hour and a half. After all, Vanquish had an extended learning curve, and I’ve seen enough to suspect that Revengeance might follow a similar trajectory. That’s a major point in the game’s favour. With more time, I might very well find the high-level sparring that I’ve come to expect from Platinum, and that’s why I’m still looking forward to the eventual release even after an ambivalent first impression.
Despite some truly frustrating moments, I desperately wanted to keep playing Revengeance beyond the allotted 90 minutes. Given my aforementioned apathy towards Metal Gear, take that as a cautious recommendation.
Revengeance appears to juggle genres well enough to appeal to Metal Gear fans and action games alike, even if it’s unlikely to be as resonant as the purer versions of those respective experiences.