The Year of the Brawler Part III: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
In what might be the greatest written review of any video game - Hammish Todd's review of Clover Studio's God Hand - the clever author states that God Hand would never lie to you. What I think he means is that the current gaming trend is building bigger and prettier gaming worlds, (of which no person in their right mind would ever accuse God Hand of having) while robbing us of anything close to personal choice and freedom. And not just that, but robbing us of that rare commodity in contemporary gaming... accomplishment. Which, if you've played God Hand for any length of time you know that it's a game that doles out personal triumphs almost as much as it does snickers and punishment.
You can beat most of this new batch of console games - but did you really beat the game? Or was it all a terrible lie?
Game designers are supposed to design the system for players to beat. Or at least that used to be the paradigm. Now it seems like they want to control every nano bite of the action on our flat screen televisions. Action set pieces have gotten more grand - and in turn, less interactive. And QT events now comprise entire video games, (Heavy Rain and Walking Dead) and the hardcore video gamer can't help but feel a bit hoodwinked by it all.
Brawlers are an intolerant system, set up and set in place for gamers to sharpen themselves against, honing their reaction time and skills until they finally hit the apex of what the game requires of them to be defeated. You can't stroll through the latest Devil May Cry game. You can't stroll through Portal or Demon Souls. (neither being brawlers, but I'm hoping you get why I brought them up here) You certainly can't stroll through God Hand. (we'll discuss the mighty Hand a bit further when we finally get to Remember Me later on in June this year) Metal Gear Rising is built with the same digital prejudice. It doesn't like the player beating it very much. It might not even like the player come to think of it.
Revengeance is an untamed mustang - kicking and snorting and biting - and it is our duty as console cowboys to break it.
Put simply - and frankly, put better than probably anyone will ever put it...
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance doesn't lie to you.
When you finally pull off your first successful parry, your first successful Zandatsu, (explained below) when you finally beat any one of its eight bosses, you've furthered your strengths as a Revengeance player. By the time you've begun to master the controls in this game - and for me it felt like it happened two hours into my second playthrough on "Hard" mode - you feel invincible. Like a cybernetic ballerina spitting dismemberment and death to anyone, or anything, self-destructive enough to ask you for a dance.
Of course if we can accuse anyone of sticking their big fat hands in and interrupting the natural flow of our gaming experiences we can obviously point to Hideo Kojima. His Metal Gear series is notoriously fussy. The breaks of gaming genius constantly invaded by epic cut scenes, needless advice, nagging codec chirps with fatuous observations on war, women, and geopolitical babble that doesn't mean anything to the people with the controllers cooling in their hands, but seems to mean absolutely everything to the guy telling the story. Thankfully Hideo's allowed another designer to play in his sandbox. Bayonetta studio, (and Anarchy Reigns studio...) Platinum is dealing the cards for this table game of cybernetic military contractors and super-powered sword combat.
Which means that shit gets crazy. Platinum crazy. The main story involves private military contractors stealing the brains out of Mexican orphans.... so yeah... we're in Platinum country here.
Not content with having an action lead that swings a sword using only his hands, Platinum's given Raiden the ability to lock the sword to his legs as well causing all kind of interesting looking combinations. If you've played Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden games (which we will be discussing further when Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge is released in April) then the combat system in Metal Gear Rising should be easily approachable. You can build on your move sets through upgrade purchases, but the core system is perfectly lethal right out of the box.
It's the additions that this particular brawler bring to the table that make Revengeance something a bit more interesting than the average brawler. They've added the "Ninja Run" (the R1 trigger on your DualShock controller) which means that Raiden takes off running like a rocket ship, and will automatically duck and dive over terrain and deflect bullets with his sword. What this means is that open combat can build up some frenetic speed as players tear up the pavement, hacking and sliding past enemies - some of them as tall as buildings.
Things get even more interesting when you add the (should be...) patented "Blade Mode." Hit the L1 trigger during a slide or an aerial maneuver and time slows dramatically while your left thumb stick becomes the striking-angle of your katana blade. You're then free to slice anything in range, from any angle. The results can be spectacular, and totally devastating to any villain caught within arm's reach. The real beauty of Blade Mode comes when you weaken an enemy enough to pull off a Zandatsu.
The Zandatsu is the endorphin pellet feeder in Metal Gear Rising. It's the perfect Hell Yeah moment. The perfect reward for kicking ass. A miniature orgasm for the pleasure center of your brain if you will... and it never loses its wallop no matter how many times you manage to pull it off.
Using Blade Mode you can aim your strike toward a small hit-box on a weakened enemy stuck in temporal molasses. Hit the box directly and Raiden will snatch the glowing blue spinal column out of the cyborg's body and crush it, releasing blue electrolytes into Raiden's cybernetic fuel stores replenishing them and refilling his health bar. The Zandatsu is like a blast of pure Gatorade - it's always refreshing.
Blade Mode isn't so easy to grasp the first few times you try it. It's unwieldy and weird - like someone tossed a game of Milton Bradley's Operation into your hack and slash game. But put it into practice a couple thousand times as the campaign rolls on and you'll be snapping off Zandatsus at will.
As the game progresses and the difficulty ramps up, and health pick-ups run scarcer, Raiden will need to pull off the Zandatsu just to stay afloat. (I get the feeling that playing on the "Very Hard" setting this might be the only way to refuel) Which turns the ninja into a cannibal vampire - feeding off his cyber-brother's fuel stores just to maintain his own. It's a risk/reward wonderland.
Platinum's kept the stealth mechanic that made the Metal Gear franchise famous. There are some instances where you'll really want to use it - some of the cybernetic life-forms in Rising are extremely tough all on their own, add two or three of them to the mix and you'll be taking a beating there might not be any walking away from. So it's a good idea to cull the herd down to a more manageable number, and then pick a fight.
Complaints have been made about the parry system. It isn't a simple button press in Revengeance - it's an attack button and the direction of the attack you want to parry. It's extremely sensitive, and you're going to feel kind of hit and miss with it until, after hours of being the brunt of missed-parry-abuses, you'll finally start connecting with the flow of the move.
I personally liked how I wasn't able to tack down everything this game offered in the first few levels. That it took playtime and growth before I felt like I was blocking and redistributing strikes with ease. If you're not willing to go through that kind of frustration and torture Metal Gear Rising also features a Defense/Offense move you can buy as an upgrade - which makes it much easier to get out of the way of an enemies swing, but you'll be missing out on some of the more crazy Zandatsu acrobatics if you don't learn to stick your basic parries. Block at the last second and a Zandatsu prompt pops up on the screen leading to all kinds of sweet looking finishes. (and thus more miniature pleasure center orgasms)
If I were making any complaints about the game I'd add that the relationship between the lock-on and the camera is a stormy one. Sometimes - and it could be because of the mania, the speed and opponent variety, of the campaign - it's next to impossible to know where everyone is at any given time. This can lead to some cheap shots that the player couldn't possibly see coming. That being said, nothing drove me more crazy than how easy it was to knock Raiden out, leaving him a dizzy punching bag on the battlefield. If you get knocked out during a face-off with some of Rising's stronger opponents in the latter half of the game, expect to get pummeled, then knocked unconscious again, and again, and again, till you die.
Which is about as fun to play as it sounds.
The campaign's relatively short - it's a heavy five hours, but it's still only five hours long. I've been replaying it on tougher difficulties and haven't grown bored with it as of yet. In fact, I'm still discovering new things about this game every minute I spend tinkering around with it. Platinum's releasing two new DLC packs, allowing the player to play as Jetstream Sam (awesome) and Bladewolf, (really awesome) so Metal Gear Rising's still got some legs for the near future.
I can only hope that Platinum and Kojima have a sequel in the works for Metal Gear Revengeance. They've got the basic blue-print for what could be a terrific brawler series, maybe even one of the best.
This isn't going to replace the classic Metal Gear Stealth/Action formula that's brought the franchise limping into the 21st century, but it's a nice shot of adrenaline in the arm for the series, and a good reminder to Hideo Kojima that sometimes it's best to put your pen away... and pick up your super-charged power sword.