There are few videogame series that can claim to have an almost unfaltering level of quality from inception through to current day. The main Mario series of games could probably make the claim, as could the mainline Zelda games (depending on your opinion of the second one), but the Metal Gear series is one of few others that could be placed on that list (although that may be rose tinted spectacles there - Ed).
Ever since the original Metal Gear was released on the MSX back in the 1980s, the series has barely put a foot wrong. Exploding into the public consciousness with the massive success of the PlayStation’s stealthy, espionage fuelled Metal Gear Solid, the series has gone from strength to strength, garnering enough acclaim in the present day to warrant a whole bunch of side-games, expanding on the many characters introduced throughout its run.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is one such game, although it's one that deviates strongly from the traditional Metal Gear sneak 'n' peek action. Instead, Revengeance places you in the shoes of ninja Raiden and, as anybody familiar with Metal Gear Solid 4 will tell you, the somewhat androgynous ninja Raiden isn't one for sneaking around - he just slices and dices anything that gets in his way.
But as you may expect, bringing a ninja to life in a game (not just in a cutscene) is something of a challenge. Fluidity in battle is key if you're going to create a convincing cyber-ninja (trust us, we know), and that type of thing is more the trademark of the God of Wars, Devil May Crys and Bayonettas of the gaming universe. Recognising this, Konami drafted in Platinum Games, developers of the aforementioned Bayonetta, to deliver the high-octane action game that would do Raiden justice. In short, they deliver in spades.
With a game like this getting the combat system right is absolutely essential. Raiden is meant to be swift, sleek, and deadly - if he ends up skulking round the levels like a geriatric with a sword, it'll hardly paint the character in the best light. Luckily, Revengeance gets this right on every level possible. Combat is rapid, smooth and immensely satisfying, hiding immense amounts of depth for any player willing to spend the time with it, as is the case with so many great games of this nature.
Raiden controls beautifully. Whether you're in the flow of battle, or navigating seemingly impossible to pass objects with his ninja run, there will rarely be a time when the adrenaline isn’t flowing. When you do hit a quiet patch you can generally rest assured that things will be getting hectic again in very short order.
That isn’t to say things are easy though. While the combat system is well-implemented and will make you feel like a god amongst men (or women) when you get it right, actually getting to the point where you're getting it right consistently takes practice, especially if you intend to tackle the game’s harder difficulty settings.
Central to everything is the parry system. In short you can create openings in an enemy’s defence by parrying their attack and exploiting the resulting gap for lots of choppy goodness. Get it wrong and it’s a few smacks around the face for you. Timing is absolutely key, as a successful parry can only be pulled of by tilting the analogue stick in the direction of the attack and pressing the light attack button at the exact time it is due to hit. It can be difficult at first, though the game does have a fairly forgiving difficulty curve, allowing you dip your toes in the water before jumping in entirely. There's also an easy mode that features an auto-parry system for those who want to play for the story.
Metal Gear games have long been known for their complex, meandering and often over-the-top storylines, tackling the horrors of war with a melodrama and self-referential humour that no other series can replicate, and Revengeance carries on this tradition. While you generally won’t be bogged down with hour long cutscenes, the game still grapples with some fairly complex issues, such as child soldiers and a less than subtle swipe at the need to repress natural fear at the expense of your own humanity in an effort to become an effective soldier.
It’s quite heavy stuff when taken on its own, but happily, the array of somewhat cheesy villains helps to somewhat lighten the mood. Every one requires a very different style of combat to topple, and each of them hams it up in an effort to out-do the others, meaning you'll enjoy the build-up to battles almost as much as the fights themselves. While you series creator, Hideo Kojima had less of a role in making this game, it still has its fair share of shock moment. Nowhere is that more true than in a pivotal moment near the mid-point of the game. We won’t spoil it for you here, but the game makes it a point to slap you round the face with its message and make you think a little differently about your murderous exploits up to that point.
While the game places an overwhelming focus on the combat, you do have the option to choose to be stealthy in some sections, just like a traditional Metal Gear game. Unlike a traditional Metal Gear game, there's little indication of how far an enemy can see or any sneaking mechanics, which means that stealth basically involves running up behind an enemy and executing them before they turn around. Given that you also have the option of slowing down time, slicing them to pieces and then stealing their internal organs to replenish your health (lovely - Ed), it seems like a little bit of a cop-out.
Progress is also rewarded with points, which can be spent on upgrading Raiden so that he can take more hits, hit other people harder and all the usual stuff. You can add more moves to his repertoire, making the game even deeper and more engrossing, plus you get a metal dog as a companion. I would like to think that is a throwback to the brilliant SEGA game Shadow Dancer, though it is unlikely anybody under the age of 25 would get the reference.
So what else is there to say? Well graphically the game looks stunning. Capturing such fluid motion and surrounding it with visuals that are amongst the best the Metal Gear series has yet offered is an achievement in itself. Accompanying the battle sequences with a thumping heavy metal soundtrack is also inspired and will get the adrenaline flowing every time.
Unfortunately no game is perfect and Revengeance is no exception. There are occasional moments where the combat can be frustrating and this can be blamed solely on the camera. While it is by no means a regular problem, there will be occasions when the camera simply does not show what you want it to show, which can feel unfair when the game centres on timing parries. The problem really only rears it head when battling in enclosed spaces but it certainly isn’t a game breaker.
Apart from that minor foible there isn’t a whole lot wrong with Revengeance. As long as you don’t go in expecting Metal Gear Solid it is almost impossible to be disappointed. Platinum Games are building an absolutely stellar reputation amongst gamers at the moment and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is yet another big, shiny feather to be added to their cap.