The Metal Gear franchise has been "a thing" ever since it first appeared, way back in 1987. The Solid variant, which first appeared in 1998, has largely defined the series in the minds of most gamers, and the increasingly convoluted story has enthralled a generation of fans.
It was with much apprehension, then, that those same fans greeted the reveal of Metal Gear Rising. Originally announced in 2009 as Metal Gear Solid: Rising, the game floundered at Kojima Productions, with Hideo Kojima eventually citing his team's inexperience with sword-based action as the reason for its initial cancellation.
That's where Platinum Games stepped in. Platinum, whose games include the bizarrely wonderful Bayonetta, are the reigning masters of the genre and their selection was a particularly adroit one.
Why? Quite simply, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (the new name for the game) is spectacular. If you like action, love crazy boss fights, and adore the Japanese neo-tek aesthetic, it's genuinely hard to imagine it getting much better than this.
Basically, the action boils down thusly: you control a chap called Raiden, an ass-kicking cyborg. Viewed from the third person, your goal is to slice other cyborgs and all manner of machines into scrap with your ultra-trick sword. You do this by stringing together combos of light and heavy attacks, as well as blocking and dodging where appropriate, in an ongoing chase for the almighty "S" rating of your prowess (oh, and to beat the game, obviously.)
It's all nicely contextualised by a hero's journey-like narrative, complete with highs, lows, revenge, innocence, and extreme evil. There's loads of references to Metal Gear Solid (even outside of the story, which directly follows Metal Gear Solid 4), and wider pop culture too. The tale is an enjoyable one; unlikely, sure, but the evolving narrative (and I won't ruin it by detailing it here) really is fun to follow.
Gameplay is both delightful and challenging - even on the easiest difficulty setting (where it automatically parries for you as long as you're attacking; on higher settings, you need to attack in the right direction to counter enemy combatants). A key mechanic is the ability to slow down time and slice a frozen enemy into hundreds of pieces, directing your slashes with the analogue stick in a seemingly infinite number of directions. Essential? Of course not. But it provides a wonderful tension release, especially when you eviscerate a particularly tough foe in this manner.
You also expand your skill repertoire as you progress, and have the ability to equip (or otherwise) combinations of skills that best suit your techniques. While the random enemies you fight are fun, with frequently interesting situations in which to battle them, the bosses...
The bosses in Revengeance are amazing. Each is unique, and memorable. From the bizarre weapons they wield (which you unlock for your own use by beating them) to the way in which they challenge your skills, or even the way they talk to you as you fight them - to a one, they're spectacular and will leave you grinning from ear to ear when you beat them. The last guy is ultra tough, and challenges you to use all of your skills perfectly (and repeatedly), but that's no bad thing; you sure feel like the king of the hill when you beat him.
A common mechanic in the game, and something that's rarely seen elsewhere, is the interruption of gameplay (often, but not always, in boss fights) to advance the story. These sequences really help the game feel like an interactive action movie, rather than just a button masher, especially when things aren't going the way that you think that they should. Again, details here could detract from your experience, so I'll keep things vague; just know that the experience from beginning to end has clearly been crafted, rather than simply constructed, and it shows. Platinum, and the caretakers at Kojima Productions, obviously cared deeply for the user experience and it shows.
Something a lot of gamers will likely have some difficulty accepting is the game's length. It's . . . not long. Excluding restarts, et cetera, my completion time was under four hours - likely a total of under six hours of actual play time. I personally don't mind (I'm more about enjoying every second of the experience, than grinding through "padding" levels) but you should definitely factor it into your consideration if shortness alarms you.
When you finish the game, you'll be unlikely to have leveled up all of your weapons or purchased all of the available upgrades, so that alone provides incentive to go through it again (and, perhaps, on a harder difficulty level.) There's also all those chapter and boss scores to raise to "S", secret VR missions to unlock, and the VR missions themselves (glorified tutorials, they're actually a smart way to polish your skills with individual game mechanics.) The reason you're most likely to go back, however, is much simpler than that: you'll go back again because it's damn good fun.
The presentation of the game is mostly excellent; just about the only areas where things dip a little are in some of the cutscenes, in which certain aspects of the title can look a little old. Detail in some sequences is a bit lacking, and environments here can be a little boxy. Hair technology, too, is basic; in one sequence, one of the bosses was monologuing about something which I'm sure was important, but I missed much of the detail of his speech due to the rather bizarre way in which his mane was flapping about. It's minor stuff, and nothing to get too worried about, but you'll probably notice it nonetheless.
The game sounds amazing, with the rocking heavy metal score a particular highlight. Slicing things into pieces was already fun; doing it while rocking out to intense, electro / metal / rock music makes it even better.
My neighbours listen to awesome music, whether they want to or not. A mantra to live by, and one that's perhaps best underscored by this very game. Play it loud.
So it's a bit on the short side, sure, and the visuals have a tiny hiccup here and there. Everything else about the game is perfect. Seriously, it's exactly right. If you like your action to be intense, dramatic, and totally ridiculous, this could very well be your game of the year.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3