As a Western gamer you'd be forgiven for thinking the Metal Gear story has recently become a bit more complicated than your average shooter. There's cyborgs, clones, clones of cyborgs and a veritable army of enemies & bosses each more menacing than the last. To make matters worse characters often have split personalities or ulterior motives. Metal Gear's conflict is always sociopolitically relevant but focuses primarily on paramilitary organizations, terrorism, the war economy and a "new world order". One thing is similar across all of the titles though: no matter where you go or which character you're playing as you're fighting to protect honor, safety, and the lives of innocents.
The majority of Metal Gear titles follow Solid Snake, heck they all do, so when Kojima Productions announced they were creating a new game that focused on what has long been considered a secondary but very important character fans began to question if it could be done. Metal Gear Rising would follow Raiden a friend of Solid Snake and a fan-favorite character. Raiden's fighting style of direct combat with a samurai sword differed greatly from Snake's stealth tactics but it was still surprising when a few years into development Kojima started encountering trouble with developing the gameplay. Production was halted citing difficulties.
Kojima and Konami turned to Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Vanquish, Anarchy Reigns) to develop the gameplay while Kojima would retain creative control over story, cinematics and design. Eventually Kojima gave Platinum Games much more freedom to develop what was eventually retitled Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Metal Gear has a very busy timeline and sticking to it is vital to the integrity of sequels. Rising takes place in 2018, 4 years after the Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots story. Raiden is now working for Maverick Enterprises, a PMC providing security and attempting to re-stabilize a small African country. Raiden's squad is quickly ambushed by members of the rival PMC Desperado Enterprises whose members attack and kill all of his squadmates and the president of the African nation.
In the first moments of the story our hero is severely injured by a cyborg mercenary named Samuel Rodrigues. Rodrigues gets inside Raiden's head and effectively disables him in combat using psychological warfare. Raiden has been tormented by his murderous alternate personality named Jack the Ripper who would kill civilian and terrorist alike to achieve his goals. Rodrigues brings up Raiden's past and his fighting style while continually taunting him about Jack the Ripper.
During the short fight Rodrigues bests Raiden, cuts off one of his arms and destroys his left eye leaving a giant scar. The attacker escapes and Maverick retrieves their broken warrior. After taking him home they rebuild his cyborg body ushering in a new form for the famed Lightning Swordsman. Before his fight with Rodrigues he was known as White Raiden and his new form "Black Raiden" uses a powerful advanced form of cybernetics that requires constant recharging. Clad in his new armor Jack now chases after the operatives of Desperado Enterprises who are attempting to establish a New World Order by shaping world military conflicts. Can he get to the bottom of their mysterious plan? What evils are they perpetrating to win the war against humanity? Who will stand in Black Raiden's way challenging him to the very end of his journey? Most importantly can Raiden keep Jack the Ripper in check as he's constantly taunted by enemies who know his deepest secrets?
A Sword To Fight With
You'll control Raiden's every movement as he takes on Desperado Enterprises and its many "employees". Previous Metal Gear games placed a heavy emphasis on stealth or deadly gunplay. Solid Snake's combat style forces him to sneak through levels and ambush small groups of enemies or sabotage surveillance networks. Raiden appears in many of the Metal Gear titles but until now it was assumed his fighting style was similarly stealthy. In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance our hero can either be sneaky or attack his enemies head on. In order to experience the range of Platinum Games amazing development you'll want to unleash Raiden's full destructive capability. There's no need to tiptoe through this story.
Metal Gear Rising's hero uses an advanced high-frequency sword which has vastly superior cutting power when compared with your average cutlery. Can you chop an M1 Abrams tank in half with your Ginsu? No - but Raiden can. Jack doesn't like projectile weapons and for good reason: with fully mechanical bodies advanced cyborgs or UGs (Unmanned Gears) can easily block or sidestep bullets, even he can easily deflect automatic gunfire with a flurry of sword swipes. You'll control Raiden's every movement as he takes on Desperado Enterprises and its many "employees". Basic attacks can be combined with jumps, blocking movements, and a heavy attack that deals increased damage. By stringing these together Raiden can unleash deadly combos that will keep his enemies reeling from the many devastating blows. I found that hitting particular combos turned enemies that I had trouble with previously into easy quivering targets.
Once you daze your target you can enter "Blade Mode" by hitting the left trigger. In Blade Mode you move around a slicing arc that can bisect nearly any item in the environment including your disabled enemies. Once you select your blade-path you can unleash a volley of swipes that will turn anything in front of you into finely diced cubes. It's extremely fun to run up to an APC, UG or a pile of crates and reduce them to splinters using the Blade Mode, the entire time a neat little counter will keep track of the number of individual pieces you've created in your current attack. If you're inventive you can exceed 2000 pieces easily.
Your enemies range from basic paramilitary troops to an advanced collection of Unmanned Gears. As you chop your way through groups of bad guys you'll gain points based on your style. Raiden can also collect points from information units that you precisely slice from body parts. Once you've collected enough points you can spend them to upgrade different aspects of Raiden's cybernetic body, skills and even his weapons. As you progress through the game you'll battle bosses whose defeat will unlock special weapons that Raiden can equip. You can learn to use these special weapons and other attack styles by spending points in the modification menu.
Your Smirk Is Disquieting
I sat in awe as Samuel Rodrigues and another baddie named Sundowner took out Raiden's squad in Africa. The world of Metal Gear Rising was a little less detailed in my opinion than that of MGS4 but there were new dynamics at play that demanded the full processing power of modern consoles. The game engine handled me chopping a pile of crates into 2200 pieces without breaking a sweat, couple that with the fact that I could pick almost any item in a level and bisect it on any axis and I understand why things couldn't be as crisp.
Despite an otherwise beautiful visual experience I did have trouble controlling the camera during fights. As I was running towards or fighting enemies the view would stick against walls. The game engine tried so hard to avoid having the camera see through objects that occluding items would bounce the camera around the room causing disorientation. It got so bad during one battle that I lost any edge I had going into the encounter.
It's hard to notice the points where Kojima Productions' work ends and Platinum Games takes over. This stands as a testament to how well the world of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was created using talent from both teams. I sat in awe as Samuel Rodrigues and another baddie named Sundowner took out Raiden's squad in Africa. My jaw dropped during the fight with Monsoon and I nearly shed a tear as I witnessed Raiden transform into Jack the Ripper. This is a game that shows off epic, almost god-like, characters in a story that is explosive in scale. At points while playing the story Raiden flies through the air and lands in a flourish on the ground that would make any Hollywood exec blush. This is action that belongs in a movie theater - my television can barely contain it.
Clangs Echoing In My Ears
The voice acting is superb and the timing is reminiscent of the best in western drama. To imagine that this was a Japanese produced game that was originally planned without Japanese localization is surprising. In the end Konami/Kojima/Platinum produced both versions of the game inviting back many well known voice-actors to fill roles.
The story of Metal Gear Rising is still complicated by Western standards. Raiden deals with difficult to understand emotions like death, murder, suffering from PTSD, self doubt, abuse and other trauma. Underneath the fancy combat system and the pretty graphics is a depressing story that examines what it means to wage war in a post modern world. Raiden in some ways represents the Samurai who battles a changing environment that is becoming too violent and evil for his tastes. A powerful military economic machine is taking control and he seems unable to stop it, but even he has a dark side. Raiden's alternate personality surfaces halfway through the game and Jack must struggle to now control the influence and power of "The Ripper".
Who can concentrate on all these minor defects when this is a game that lets you chop grenades in half mid-flight? Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has an engaging story that rivals the complexity and drama of any past Metal Gear titles while introducing an entirely new play style to the well-established franchise. In some ways it is easier to follow Raiden's tale than those of his cohort Solid Snake but it is still very heady. If you're a fan of Metal Gear this is a title you can't pass up as you finally get to take control of the most mysterious character in its mythology. Only you can guide Raiden down the proper path. What helps this story along is the fast-paced gameplay that trades in stealth for "lighting-quick action". Platinum Games managed to reinvent Metal Gear by creating a title that focuses on swordplay instead sneaking around, bravo.
Rising's biggest problem is that players will have trouble controlling the camera during fights causing them to lose track of enemies and possibly lose fights. The average player will also have trouble following the deep social, political and economic issues the PMCs bring to the world of Metal Gear. Who can concentrate on all these minor defects though when this is a game that lets you chop grenades in half mid-flight?