May 11, 2013

Review: Metal Gear Rising

I don't know about you, but I play action games to feel like a total badass. By that standard, Metal Gear Rising is the greatest action game ever made. It's certainly my favorite ever. Action games have had a great legacy in the 21st century from Devil May Cry to God of War to Bayonetta. All of those feel like the appetizer compared to this game. Platinum has a reputation for being the best action game developer for a reason. Bayonetta was some great, crazy fun (and I'm looking forward to the sequel) but Revengeance takes it to the next level. It's crazy, it's over the top, and it makes you feel like a badass in ways you've never experienced before. In fact, I'd say that Metal Gear Rising isn't even an action game. No, it's a badass simulator. 

Metal Gear Rising was almost the game that never was. Kojima wanted to make a Raiden game, but didn't know how to go about it. It started off as Metal Gear Solid: Rising before entering into a coma, being handed off to Platinum and waking up as the part of a new series, Metal Gear Rising. Now, a lot of Metal Gear Solid fans have cried foul about this. They took the "solid" out of the title! Kojima didn't have enough influence! It's not a Metal Gear game! I'm here to tell you that it certainly is Metal Gear, just not Metal Gear Solid. They changed the name to differentiate it because it's not part of that series. There's also the top-down Metal Gear series and the strategic Metal Gear Ac!d series. It doesn't play like Metal Gear Solid because it's not that. Interestingly enough, if you go back and watch the original Kojima concept trailer, all of those mechanics are still in the game. It even uses the same tagline! So Platinum can't be given all the credit as far as the gameplay is concerned. They actually didn't come up with the free slicing mechanic, but the Platinum team was able to build gameplay around that and make a cohesive game. One significant change was a move in the Metal Gear timeline from between MGS2 and MGS4 to after MGS4. "What the hell?" cry the Solid fans. "Why is he fighting again and what happened to his body?" These questions are actually answered and justified in the game! Before I get to the ever so excellent gameplay, I'd like to discuss that story.

Rising follows Raiden, now working for a Denver-based PMC called Maverick as, what is essentially, a bodyguard. He did this because being a cyborg is hard and he needed to support his family in an accepting environment. So he took his current position rather than a direct combat role. His new body? Well, things go to hell after the prologue. There's this other PMC that secretly supports terrorists called Desperado Enforcement and they've kidnapped Raiden's VIP in hopes of igniting a very profitable war overseas. Let's just say Raiden can't make it in time and goes on a quest to stop them. During the second chapter, the story actually takes a pretty dark and interesting turn relating to both cyborgs and child soldiers. During the course of the game, Raiden struggles with himself over what he fights for and his justification for killing. It's this (what I call) cyborg subplot that is the most interesting aspect of the game's narrative. The main storyline is more typically Metal Gear, having to do with the war economy and all that. The difference in this game is that I can actually understand what the hell is going on at any given time. KojiPro is known for convoluted stories and Platinum is known for over the top wacky stories. I'm not sure what happened here, but this story is both straightforward and serious. And, I don't know what it is, but even with all the crazy characters and the insane action, I never felt that the game was trying too hard to be serious (for the record, I do feel that way about MGS). For a game about cyborg ninjas, it seemed much more grounded in reality to me than the stories of Solid Snake.

The cast of characters in this one is great, too. Although you barely ever see your allies in person, the codec conversations go a long way towards fleshing them out. There's tons of them to be accessed at any time and they're legitimately entertaining. It's almost worth playing the game again just to hear the ones you missed, although there's much more motivation than that to justify a replay. It's the bossess that really stand out, though. There's a group called The Winds of Destruction that work for Desperado. You meet the leader, Sundowner, at the beginning of the game along with Jetstream Sam, who is loosely affiliated with the group. Unfortunately, the other two members, Mistral and Monsoon, are introduced shortly before you kill them and your interactions with them are woefully short. All of the bosses are incredibly unique, provide a different challenge, have their own theme song, and are just all around awesome. Metal Gear Solid always had some cool bosses, though I felt they were wasted on boring gameplay. Not so here. You get into some truly epic one-on-one duels. Although I'm not a person who typically likes boss battles, I simply couldn't wait until my next confrontation. The bosses of this game are really the centerpiece, kind of like in No More Heroes. You'll fight droves of henchmen (and don't get me wrong, that's fun too) but it's pretty much just practice for the main event.

The gameplay, then. It's extraordinarily tight. You've got your basic light and heavy attacks that can be combined for insane combos. You can activate blade mode and slice through weakened enemies so long as your energy is full. Hitting a sweet spot will let you yank out their core and replenish both health and energy. There's also ninja run that lets you leap, slide, climb over obstacles, and deflect enemy bullets like a real badass. There's a mode that enhances Raiden's vision and lets you see enemy and item locations through walls. You can even perform context sensitive assassinations and quicktime combos that line you up to free slice your enemies into chunks. Oddly, the game has a lock-on option, but no real block. Instead, it offers a parry. This can be rather challenging to master, but it's pretty rewarding. You must attack in the direction of your enemy when they attack to enter a defensive stance. This will block pretty much anything and can lead to some awesome counters. There's also a variety of upgrades for Raiden and his weapons you can buy with credits you earn. 

Your main weapon is Raiden's sword, which can get a fair number of upgrades in terms of attacks and modifiers. After the first boss battle, you get access to the weapons of the bosses you defeat. This next part is something that many action game fans will probably lament but it's something that I really appreciated. Of the four weapons you get in the game, only Raiden's sword and the polearm are upgradable in any meaningful way. The other two weapons you get from bosses only have two or three attacks and so should only be used in specific situations or to supplement your main weapon occasionally. I didn't mind this at all because I hate it when games give me too many weapons to chose from. It was an easy decision for me to upgrade the polearm fully wich gave me some pretty great combos when combined with my sword. I was allowed to focus on mastering these two weapons instead of dabbling in a whole bunch.

Essentially my only major complaint about the game is that the controls are rather complicated but the game only teaches you the basics. For example, you'll often come across healing gel you can pick up. You would assume that to use it, you need to go into the item menu and select it. However, you'll notice that in said menu you can equip items in a slot. This lets you have quick access to a secondary weapon at the press of a button, but it also lets you automatically use healing gel when your health runs out, which works like a bottled fairy in Zelda. This is a great touch, but the game never tells you you can do it! There's also a dodge move that can be purchased, but it's buried in with the others. Other than that, the pacing gets kind of weird towards the end. Chapters get progressively shorter as the game goes on until they're nothing but boss battles and it makes the game feel pretty top-heavy. Unlockable weapons and moves you get later on are barely utilized in some cases. 

Lastly, the game is also pretty short. My playthough clocked in at about 5.5 hours. But let me tell you, the game didn't feel short at all. The length felt perfect to me. It was just as long is it needed to be without becoming boring and with no fluff. I had more fun in those 5.5 hours than I've had with some 40+ hour games. It's perfectly concentrated fun.

At the end of the day, Metal Gear Rising really blew me away. It was so much more than I was expecting it to be. I demoed it once at PAX 2012 and again when the demo released. Somehow, the final product was incredibly polished. It made me feel like a complete badass in a way I hadn't since The Darkness 2. It's worth noting that the excellent soundtrack really perfected the badass feel. The music always kept the adrenaline pumping, but the boss battles too it to another level. Each boss has their own theme and when you get to the final stage of the battle, the lyrics kick in. It's an amazing feeling that I just can't describe. 

I doubt I'll have more pure fun with a video game this year.

Game exceeded expectations

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