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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance


By on 3:03 AM

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Metal Gear Solid 4 may be one of the most polarizing games of this generation, but supporters and dissenters alike can come together and agree on one point: Director Hideo Kojima really goofed with his choice to depict the outrageous acrobatics of Raiden's new cyborg form exclusively through non-playable cutscenes -- a decision that seems like an intentional tease, given that Guns of the Patriots features a creaky and cranky old man as its protagonist. And Kojima certainly isn't above yanking his audience's chain; remember, 2001's controversial Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty came into being largely as an elaborate and masterful prank engineered to prove its director's point about the control and flow of information. We have only short attention spans to thank for the fact that games journalism as an institution wasn't dissolved shortly after Sons of Liberty's release.
That said, the announcement of Metal Gear Rising Revengeance (nee Metal Gear Solid Rising) oh so many years ago came off as a true act of contrition on Kojima's part; not only would his own Kojima Productions finally let players step into Raiden's robo-high heels, Rising would also take the form of a true action game, moving away from the methodical style that defines the studio's output. The once-infallible Kojima would finally be doing something different, all the while making up for past hubris brought on by the breakout success of 1998's Metal Gear Solid -- until, that is, Kojima Productions quietly cancelled the game in 2010 due to the team's inability to mix stealth and Raiden's particular brand of swordplay.
Wait a minute -- was he just screwing with us all over again?
In the middle of this mess, developer Platinum Games swooped in to rescue KojiPro's once-abandoned project -- even though the former's particular style of action games (built on the foundation of 2001's Devil May Cry) doesn't exactly mesh well with the intricate-if-clumsy realism of the Metal Gear series. Thankfully, Platinum just pays lip service to the mechanics you'd expect to see in typical installment of Metal Gear: Codec conversations interrupt the action solely to mask loading times, stealth rarely matters, and projectile weaponry makes for such a slow and inefficient means of attack that you're better off just sticking with Raiden's katana blade. And, considering Platinum's track record, this focus on their area of expertise stands as the wisest of wise decisions; the Metal Gear elements of Revengeance feel vestigial at best, and incongruous at worst, but its sublime fighting system ranks up there with some of the studio's finest work.
As expected from a Platinum game, Revengeance focuses on presenting a series of battles in which the player must master the strict rules of an elaborate fighting system. And while the phrase "deceptively deep" might have been overused into meaninglessness, no other term better describes the two-button setup found in Revengeance. The game's battles, oddly enough, play out like an advanced version of Punch-Out!!, and knowing how to counter soon becomes a necessity when dealing with some of Raiden's beefier foes. Before most enemy attacks, a flash of light indicates Raiden had best get ready to counter (performed by hitting the weak attack button while jamming the analog stick in the enemy's direction). Do it too early, and you'll simply block the attack; perform this action just before you're struck, and you'll counter with your own attack -- which you can often chain into combos that sometimes lead into QTE-style finishing moves.
It's a system that feels frustrating initially, because countering doesn't seem to always work reliably; but once you take on the same enemy several times, how their attacks play out and the way you're intended to respond soon becomes second nature. And some of the most rewarding moments of Revengeance come when you determine how to deal with enemy attacks that don't telegraph themselves in any way. Knowing how to react on the fly -- even in the middle of your own attack animations -- stands as the most useful skill for Revengeance's fast-paced battles.
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Of course, the elaborate slicing and dicing of humans and scenery -- the highlight of the game's early footage -- plays a major role in Revengeance, though, sadly, the fun physics toy nature of Raiden's sword sees little use outside of battle. If you're coming into Revengeance expecting puzzles akin to those that took advantage of Half-Life 2's gravity gun, prepare to be disappointed; precision slashing really only matters in battle, though you're free to chop up furniture, trees, and street signs at your leisure. Along with clever countering, the game's fighting system requires careful monitoring of Raiden's blade meter, which fills as he successfully pulls off strings of attacks. Hit the right button when this meter is full, and the action will temporarily slow down -- a Platinum special that bafflingly has yet to get old -- allowing Raiden to expertly slash at his enemies' weak points. If you manage to slice through a tiny square indicated by the GUI, Raiden will pull off a move called Zandatsu, which allows our protagonist to rip the core from a cyborg's body, granting him full health and a complete recharge of the blade meter.
In early stages of play, most of the weaker enemies can simply be slashed in half without much work; but later, the game tasks you with removing specific parts before the juicy core makes itself accessible. This mechanic absolutely shines during Revengeance's prolonged boss battles, which often have Raiden destroying the parts of massive, hulking robots with all of the ludicrous theatrics you'd expect from the lovechild of Platinum Games and Kojima Productions. Metal Gear Rising Revengeance features some absolutely out-there choices I wouldn't expect an American developer to make, and some of the more extreme set pieces will leave your jaw hanging from their utter absurdity.
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It doesn't always work, though. Revengeance has some issues with tone that I'd like to call "Devil May Cry Syndrome"; basically, it's extremely difficult to tell what I'm expected to take seriously -- a problem compounded by the fact that Revengeance attempts its own Metal Gear-style philosophizing that mostly falls flat. And the music -- my god, the music. While the songs you'll hear in the levels themselves sound pleasant and serviceable, the bosses feature some of the worst/best tunes I've heard in some time -- in fact, when the lyrics kicked in during my first boss fight, I had to pause Revengeance since my uncontrollable laughter was starting to get in the way of me playing the damn thing. If you like Nickelback, you might disagree with my take; but if you like Nickelback, I'm not sure I care what you think.
At its worst, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance has the feeling of a rescued project; the parts that don't belong stand out as the remnants of Kojima Productions' original vision (whatever that was), and the game doesn't feature the laser-precision focus on core mechanics found in other Platinum productions like Bayonetta and Vanquish. But while it relies on the same slow-mo mode used by Platinum since Viewtiful Joe, Revengeance still offers an exceptional and rewarding set of mechanics to master, and a fighting system that feels original in its execution. Revengeance isn't Platinum at the top of their game; it's the studio making the best of a bad situation -- even so, a troubled Platinum production still has plenty to offer.

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