THINGS I REMEMBER: METAL GEAR RISING

 

Metal Gear Rising was released in 2013 by Platinum games, and is the spin off to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, staring Raiden from the second game. And yes I know this game’s full title is Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, but I refuse to refer to it as such! Really? Revengence?

Originally Kojima’s team at Konami developed this game, but he realized that his team wasn’t suited to a sword-based hack’n’slash like they wanted to create with Rising. So they handed development over to Platinum games, who previously created Bayonetta, and the result is a match made in video game heaven; Platinum worked on the main game, while Kojima worked on the story.

The story follows Raiden eight years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, now working for the PMC Maverick, which is assigned to guard the leader of a recovering African nation. However they are attacked by the mercenary group Desperado, who make up this games equivalent of Fox Hound, and their charge is killed, while Raiden himself is humiliated in combat against the badass Ronin Samuel “Jetstream Sam” Rodriquez. Now armed with a new body and a thirst for *sigh* “Revengence” (seriously with that name?), Raiden embarks on a bloody path of destruction against Desperado and later their backers at the group World Martial, as this simple revenge plot soon gets a little more complicated. World Martial is revealed to have been kidnapping street kids and turning them into cyborgs, leading to Raiden taking on the global conglomerate himself, and eventually thwarting an evil plan to turn the United States back into the wild west.

Normally I wouldn’t bother with a spin off, but this game does have some baring on the main series from a story perspective. Namely when it comes to Raiden himself. If you read my retrospective on Metal Gear Solid 2, you might recall that I found this character to be an insufferable whiner, who annoyed me for the majority of the game before the final act where he suddenly decided to have a personality and interesting backstory. In the fourth game he was transformed into an awesome breakdancing ninja, which is what we’re dealing with here today. The plot of the orphans being turned into cyborgs hits home for our hero, since he was not only a child soldier himself (and the orphans are being trained using a program based around the training he went through as a child), but he was also forcibly turned into a cyborg by the Patriots, the secret rulers of the USA for the majority of the Metal Gear series. Not only is history repeating itself, but it’s being mass produced, and in a way that makes the villains immune to the law, preventing them from going public. Raiden is forced to accept his murderous instincts and became more unhinged and dangerous in order to prevent others from following his path.

The importance of this is that giving Raiden the tragic backstory and motivation is what elevates him from his beginnings as a true unlikable protagonist. In the second game he spent most of the story swearing that he was trained entirely in VR and acting incompetent. This wouldn’t be so bad; starting as a rookie and making any accomplishments that the character goes through credible to the player rather than to the character; when in Rising a character refers to Raiden’s previous experience fighting a harrier jet and acts in awe, it means more to a player that actually did that boss fight than it would if it was something that just happened off screen. But they have half of his dialogue be wining and complaining, not helped by the insane amount of unnecessary exposition that game dumped on the player, mostly though text based codec conversations. He just seemed like a fan boy of Snake with no real personality of his own. With all this in mind, Rising is proof that a bad character can be written well.

I suppose that I should also talk a little about the gameplay, right? Combat is fairly simple to understand; light attacks that can be chained with heavy combos. Unlike similar games, light attacks will usually form their own combo, while in Rising they can be chained indefinitely until you end the combo with one of a few simple heavy combos. As a result there is no long list of combos to master, which makes the game simple but accessible. There is also the key gameplay mechanic of blade mode; time slows down and you can systematically target limbs to hack off, or cut your foe right down the middle and extract their fuel source to recharge your health. It really puts you in the position of a badass ninja, with the ability to take out a basic minion in a single strike before he can even blink. But it is balanced out by a limited charge for the slow down, which can be recharged via taking their fuel source directly or by slashing them continuously.

There are also heavy enemies which you have to wear down first before they can be cut, so it’s not all easy. In addition you have UGs (unmanned gears), which include the Gekkos from MGS4, as well as new enemies like the chainsaw tailed wolves, team based raptors or the walking battle tank known as the Grad. Each has their own strategies and attacks, so there is a decent variety in your enemies. Defense is the most interesting aspect of the game; you don’t block attacks, but rather parry them with the light attack button in co-ordination with a stick press in the direction of the incoming attack. This helps keep the flow of the battle going and encourages you to keep up the attack, making combat very fast paced and energized, as well as allowing you to break you combo with a parry and continue your onslaught. It’s a lot more engaging than just giving you a block button; each strike requires you to be alert, and keeps the adrenaline going. Enemies do telegraph their attacks, though this is with varying degrees of time, from a UG reeling back for a heavy strike, to a quick kick from a cyborg, so it’s not something that works against the game and still represents some sort of challenge to the player.

I do however take issue with how you dodge in the game; you can dodge while slashing which is good for combat and continues the all out combat style that the game is going for, but there’s no real defense against long range attacks that can’t be blocked, namely the railgun shots from the wolf UGs; they pelt you from long range, leaving you helpless, even while sprinting! It does force you to stay close to your target and stay on the attack, but this doesn’t help you during those fights where you have multiple targets, making the situation feel unfair. Granted these moments are few and far in between, but it does smudge what could be otherwise a near perfect control scheme. It feels so unique, especially when compared to other big budget games in the same genre.

The biggest black mark against the game is the stealth sections; they aren’t forced which is gratifying when the mechanic for stealth is barely non-existent. You’re always standing, so there’s nothing to help conceal you for your enemies, except for a box. It is cool that the box was included, but it does little to distract from how awkward it is to play these sections stealthfully. The issue is that the controls are designed around straight up combat, which other games like the Batman Arkham series or Splinter Cell: Blacklist got around by giving the player a sneak button, reducing their profile and allowing you to stick to cover. In addition the stealth kills are so long winded that it feels like you’re just giving the enemy the opportunity to spot you. Giving the player this “ninja mode”, with silent kills that allow you to be sneakier in your approach would go a long way. And the enemy AI isn’t really stealth based either; you can blow an enemy away with a rocket launcher and they wouldn’t be any the wiser.

This brings me to the equipment in the game, which isn’t that bad, but I found myself hardly using them. Smoke grenades for helping you sneak, or the aforementioned cardboard box to avoid detection, which does add variety if you should choose to use them, but it’s more fun to run in there and slice everything; it’s a lot like the items in Castlevania 4, where you have them but rarely find the need to use any when you have a close range solution to all situations (speaking of which you’re probably wondering if I’ll shoehorn in a similarity to Castlevania here? Well we have a sequel game which follows a side character from a previous game; namely Raiden and Alucard, who was a playable character in 3. Lazy I know, but I was mainly using these connections to the main series).

In terms of story, Rising is very accepting to new comers; you don’t need to know everything going in, with references to the previous games minimal. There is additional information in the Codec calls if you go looking for it; much in the same way that it worked in Mass Effect, but it’s not mandatory to the story, and as a result there is a huge reduction in the levels of exposition, which the series is known for. Even if you’re not a fan of the other games, you could play this game and enjoy it with little issue. The only retuning character makes sense to the overall story and is an important character in Raiden’s past. No Snake however, though his spirit lives on in a wooden sword which has David Hayter’s voice (weirder things have happened in Metal Gear, trust me).

One thing does bother me in regards to the story however; at this point in the timeline Raiden is married with a kid, but this is barely brought up! He speaks fondly of them in Codec calls, but they only get a throwaway line during the actual story. Rose and John are a huge aspect in Raiden’s character history, and should have been more present. Hell, there could have been a Robocop situation where Rose tries to appeal to Raiden’s human side when he starts to loose his grip on sanity.

But then there are the bosses, which are the highlights of the game. The multi-armed mistral, to the magnetized Monsoon which the ability to detach his limbs at will, with the scissor sword and explosive shield wielding Sundowner, and then of course Jetstream Sam with an explosive sword in a one on one duel in the desert. There are other bosses too, like Metal Gear Ray from the second game, which acts as the first level boss; in fact he’s pretty much the only real enemy you face in the first level. You fight a few guys, then the game is like “OK, now you fight the robot dinosaur. I won’t ruin the final boss for you, but this guy is about as crazy as you can get. You’re better seeing it for yourself, but if not…

SPOILERS START HERE

He’s an American football playing, cigar chomping Senator with iron skin and is about as insane as you can make a representation of bloated American capitalism. Simultaneously cliché and unbelievably unique.

SPOLIERS END HERE

Music plays a huge role in these encounters; the soundtrack starts with the instrumental, but comes in with the Chorus when the fight reaches it’s climax, matching the actions on screen without it resorting to a cutscene and taking you out of the moment. It’s a fantastic example of cinematic gameplay at it’s best, and the reason why I went to iTunes straight away to buy the OST.

SPOILERS START HERE

The most interesting fight is against Sam; the guy who kicked your ass at the beginning and the entire source of Revengence (seriously!?!) in the story, comes down to a basic duel. Nothing flashy, and with a victory that feels somewhat hollow, though I feel like that was the intent. Revenge isn’t going to be glamorous, and by having the player suffer defeat themselves before this encounter it puts them in that mindset. That said the duel itself is still epic and pushes you to your limits, but it’s representative of the road that revenge has driven the hero down.
It’s not flashy or heroic; it’s empty.

SPOLIERS END HERE

One thing which seems to bother people is the length; the game is about 5 hours when all is said and done, but that’s excluding achievements and VR sub-missions, which easily push the game over that limit. It depends on wether this a game you’re going to play once, or you plan to sit down and play to completion (like me). If not then it’s a solid rental, with a decent amount of replayability to unlock all the weapons and abilities.

Overall, Rising is a fantastic game and I sincerely hope that it becomes it’s own series. Hideo Kojima himself expressed interest in a game that follows the ninja Grey Fox from the first Metal Gear Solid, fighting cyborg zombies; PLEASE LET THIS BE A THING!

As for Things I Remember, this is the end of my retrospective on Metal Gear Solid.
But how about the next review is on something similar to this?

How about a hack and slash game with startling similarities to Castlevania?

MATT HANCOX

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