Anime. It has a funny, sort of damaged world view sometimes. Machiavellian politicians are usually villains, and the solution to nearly any problem is to vent enough arterial blood into the atmosphere to fill a robotic zeppelin. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Much of it is mature and multi-leveled. But there is plenty more with giant robots swordfighting.
…and that’s a good thing! Who doesn’t love watching a city get destroyed by hundred-foot-tall battlebots? The plaintive wails of tank crews as their heavy armour is chucked through the air as an afterthought by a mech? All wonderful, awesome, and completely over-the-top fun...
So welcome to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Why have revenge, or vengeance, when you can double-up on the fun with revengeance? Why do things the old-fashioned way when you can turn the dial up to eleven, even if it makes no sense at all and actually looks sort of ridiculous? Yes. The astute among you will have noticed that I’m using the title of the game as a clever metaphor for Hideo Kojima’s underlying game design philosophy. The glorious opening act of MGR:R is as outrageous and heavy-handed as anything I’ve seen in a game, and the sheer ludicrous joy of the thing continues through the second mission, which takes place in a refinery (spoiler: lots of stuff explodes). The protagonist Raiden is armed with a sword which he uses to dispatch the three-storey-tall robots that give the series its name. He kills giant robots with a sword. And then some. A couple of helicopter gunships are a light snack. If a gigantic metal behemoth fires a barrage of rockets at you, that’s a good thing – you can use them as mid-air stepping stones to get you into slicing range of its robotical head. It’s absolutely bonkers.
Beneath this crazy exterior, however, is a console game through and through. It was actually quite a surprise to me that Metal Gear Rising made it to the PC at all. And it’s a Metal Gear game; you’ll know that as soon as you hear the signature ringing noise when a guard is alerted, or when you check in on your CODEC for some hints during one of the many boss battles. As to whether the plot is quite as deep and complex as we’ve seen in older MG games, well, perhaps not so much. But there are plenty of gameplay tricks to keep you interested, and they’re fed out at a pretty regular pace.
The main trick that needs to be learned is blade mode, where the game enters slow-mo and Raiden just sort of loses it, swinging his sword in a crazed frenzy over and over again. Despite this berserk rage, the player has a fair amount of control if he wants it, and could in theory use the slow-motion time to deliver a single precise cut to sever a specific body part. In reality, though, it just devolves into rampant clicking resulting in a thinly-sliced helicopter. The main reason for this furious swordsmanship is to slice an opponent through a highlighted target area that will allow Raiden to reach inside, extract the glowing blue innards of a cyborg foe, and crush them in his hand to restore health. Bonus health is awarded if you can grab the nuclear intestines before they touch the ground. Because, you know, who wants to absorb a glowing spleen once it’s been on the floor? A lot of work has been put into trying to explain how the crazy things you find yourself doing in the game make some sort of in-world sense, usually through a quick bit of exposition from the gleefully amoral Doktor (yes, that is actually his name) who makes up part of your team of advisors.
So far, so utterly insane. When the action slows to something resembling actual reality – Raiden has a quick chat with a street urchin in a sewer, for instance – it feels oddly incongruous. It never lasts long, though. In fact, in typical Metal Gear style, nothing really ever lasts for long before the game takes you in a new direction, maybe with another unique puzzley boss battle or the chance to remotely control a robotic minion. It’s never dull.
But sadly it's far from flawless. Graphically, it leaves a lot to be desired. However, I could only run it on High settings. I don’t even know if there are higher graphics settings than high – every time I tried to increase the graphics settings the game would hard crash to the desktop. Mouse-and-keyboard controls are a little unwieldy as well, as a direct consequence of its console roots. It’s certainly better played with a joypad. Certainly, rolling a thumb stick to break out of a momentary concussion is all fine and dandy in console land, but trying to do the same with WASD just makes no sense. Swapping between secondary weapon and item options is similarly awkward, and can only be done when the character is ‘at rest’, rather than actively swinging his sword or legging it frantically from an enemy, meaning even getting to the selection screen can be a chore. The camera has a mind of its own, and it’s not an advanced cybernetic AI mind, either. The old faithful ‘leg it in a circle around the boss foe’ tactic is a little less useful when the camera struggles to keep up. Perhaps as a consequence of the heavy lean toward OTT action, the (thankfully optional) stealth sections feel like they’re only there because, well, you know, it’s Metal Gear, and something-something-stealth-something. Level design in general is essentially just one really, really long corridor from the beginning of the game to the end: if you see one of the conspicuously uncommon dead-ends, you can be pretty certain there’ll be some ‘secret’ bonus waiting for you.
Unlike Metal Gear games of yesteryear, the industry is not going to learn anything new from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Nor are gamers, for that matter. Revengeance would rather be an anime than a game in some ways. But the solid swordplay mechanics and the sheer comic craziness is enough to sustain it through the relatively short SP game. But will we still be talking about Metal Gear Rising in three months?
Well, in a word, no.