While there are certain legacies studios hope their work will create, I doubt being an exhibit of a bait-and-switch is one of them. Never mind the controversy that's come to embroil Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines—in my eyes, Konami owns one of the leading contenders in that seemingly unending race. When what was demoed for the months leading up to their Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the Patriots release turned out to be a mere prologue for a game dedicated to a new character, Raiden, disappointment mixed with extolment.
Sneaking Snake through the corridors of the tanker demo showed off the technical achievement of the PS2's hardware, giving him more nuanced and expressive rendering where there once was only artistic interpretation and basic control. As the grizzled hero exclaimed “Cypher?!” and the screen faded to the “To Be Continued” ending, excitement distilled into hopes and aspirations of playing as this visually realized Snake. However, upon the game's release, Raiden's rookie outing confoundedly took over what was supposed to be Snake's big return. The character skin didn't detract from the technical upgrades to the series, but he wasn't the guy we were expecting.
Fast-forward to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and we were re-introduced to a much more—well, badass Raiden; a cyborg-ninja Raiden who was just as deadly with a sword at his feet as he was with it in his hands; a Raiden you couldn't help but want to play as. This is the character Platinum Games were put to work with, using their idiom of solidly constructed action gaming to create an extension to the “Metal Gear” series, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The product of Platinum's work is one that ultimately shares superficial commonalities with the source material while providing for a specific experience.
With intended contrast from the previous franchise releases, there isn't any criticism wasted on Raiden this time around for what 'makes' a “Metal Gear” game; instead, take Revengeance as a hack-and-slasher set in the Metal Gear universe (complete with box-sneaking), showcasing Platinum's telltale execution of successful engineering. Whereas Snake's missions are focused on methodical insertions and deliberate misdirection to subdue sentries, Raiden's newest outing encourages overpowering patrolling enemy obstructions with direct force. There are a couple of moves at his disposal for surprise attacks, but this is a ninja who relishes face-to-face slicing-and-dicing and who carries around a rocket launcher for the just-in-cases.
Like their past efforts, Platinum's Raiden-focused endeavor steers the player towards fast action with both reward and necessity. A relatively shorter story than any of Snake's, Revengeance uses quickly replayble chapters staged with multi-enemy interactions to take Raiden and his team of privateers around the world in order to stop a war-monger's conspiracy. Armed with stylized armor and a super-cool katana (along with secondary weaponry picked up through the stages), speed and accuracy are necessary player skills. While speedy, unscathed level completions rank your play, they also grant experience points to bank towards attribute augments (sword strength, health, etc.) that make subsequent playthroughs easier, thus reaping more points and better gear to repeat the cycle.
It's a tried-and-true approach for creating longevity in games, but there is a balance in the effort that Platinum are able to strike so as to not make the theirs feel too short or needlessly padded. Neither is it dissimilar from some of their past efforts, like Bayonetta or Vanquish. Though Revengeance might strike a similar mechanical note to Surge's Afro Samurai, they back up their slow-mo, directional sword swinging with smartly employed uses: weaken an enemy with basic-but-showy combinations, slow down events with a built up special move, aim your line-of-slice at a critical point, and make your cut to expose and absorb a vital health recovery. The gimmick is used repeatedly throughout the game, but it isn't over-animated and is visceral enough to not get old. Also, it's a move that's only a requirement in boss battles, so it's completely avoidable.
Nevertheless, for all of its tightly directed, upgradeable (and in some instances discoverable) swordplay action, Revengeance is also in need of some refinement, on both its gameplay and narrative sides. Foremost: it needs to shed the weight of too many overbearing philosophical, ideological, geo-political, and social themes.
Whereas Platinum's stamp might be on Revengeance's interactivity, Kojima's influence persists in the writing. Allegory and other similar narrative devices work fine and certainly have their place in videogame storylines, but when they number too many and are never wholly fleshed out or explored, they become a burden and droning element to the fiction. There's a concerted effort to make Revengeance a breakaway “Metal Gear” game, with its focus on fast, direct action, so it's strange that a game where wacky things like a house-broken deadly robo-dog with an evolving artificial intelligence get mashed into a story dealing with ideas like individual agency versus mass “-isms.” It's a story so thematically cluttered and overwrought with trying to say something, everything gets lost behind:
Here is Raiden;
Cyborg samurai and his group hurts Raiden and want to take over the world;
Raiden is mad;
Raiden gets stronger and wants revenge-ance.
There are some cutscenes that go over how world domination plans play into a differing philosophies, and what makes Raiden's killing more just than that of the 'bad guys,' but it's too much for a game where you're supposed to slice open dudes for XP. At least a soundtrack, which switches between vocalized rock during boss battles and a strong orchestrated score for the rest of time, wins out over some cringe-worthy dialogue.
Beyond the gratuitous story, there exist opportunity for improvement when it comes to the play of the game as well. Though Revengeance is built solidly with functionally entertaining elements, things stale when you're not toe-to-toe with a giant Metal Gear or a couple of cyborgs. Linearity is fine, but Raiden has few ninja tricks in his ninja bag while following the path. Encounters play out with set patterns, leaving little improvisation necessary for players, and a stubborn camera gives the upper-hand to backstabbing enemies. Morever, getting to the bouts is done with little trickery or novelty, since Raiden has only the means of running over or under obstacles in his way (kind of like Sonic); unfortunately, his skill set lacks any other means of traversing environments besides hopping haphazardly, or stealthing upon clueless enemies by walking up behind them.
All in all though, it's a Platinum game. That is to say, if you're familiar with their work, and are a fan of it, Revengeance won't create an exception to that perception. Sure the writing could use some tiding up, and cyborg-ninja battles would be even better if the way you could approach them was more diverse,but what we got delivers on what was advertised.
What defines a Metal Gear game for you? What other spin-offs would you like to see? Maybe a Rampage-like game with a Rex or Ray? Let us know over Twitter @Gamers_Hell