Developers: Platinum Games | Kojima Productions
Ten minutes with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance left both Jon and myself shaking and shuddering with poorly contained delight earlier this year. Slicing down trees and gantries and bridges and buildings before running up a stream of missiles to cut a helicopter to smithereens turned out to be exactly what we wanted from a game. Who knew?!
Well, apparently Platinum Games knew. And, having spent six hours in the company of a very angry Raiden, it turns out that they know a hell of a lot more too.
Occasionally, games make you work for bosses, giving you a showdown once you've progressed a fair way through the main story. Not so with Revengeance. A prologue sets the scene, introducing you to a suited and booted Raiden, working for a PMC operating in Africa to protect a Ghanaian president - portrayed as an arbiter of peace. Our androgynous hero, a symbol of warfare, appears to be content transitioning from warmongering into peacetime security...only there are some who aren't particularly pleased by the calm state of affairs. Needless to say, the president's convoy is interrupted, and Raiden has to leap out of his limo, throw away his suit, and kick some bottom. Then Metal Gear RAY shows up.
That's right. It's not even the first level proper, and a freaking Metal Gear behemoth appears and tries to kerb-stomp the life out of you. Of course, being a ridiculously superpowered cyborg with some balletic fighting moves, instead of rolling over and letting out one last sigh, you kneecap the leviathan, smack its plasma-firing face around a bit, and then, after it's thrown you into a clock tower, run down the Big Ben lookalike, embed your sword in RAY's skull and rip the machine a new one from brain to balls with a katana that's crackling with electricity.
Revengeance is a game that centres around the spectacular, though perhaps in a slightly more accessible manner than that of Platinum's original IP - Bayonetta. With the breadth of Kojima Productions' Metal Gear universe in which to situate their latest hi-octane showstopper, there's a prevalence of outlandish mechs and hugely imaginative cyborgs, and heavy doses of Kojima-flecked insanity, rather than nude witches clad in catsuits made out of their own hair.
The controls lend themselves to this notion of accessibility too. Two face buttons for light and heavy attacks, one to jump, and one to interact with objects. One bumper causes Raiden to dash about the place in a rapid Ninja Sprint, which, as well as allowing him to slice bullets out of the air, gives him the power of one-button parkour, much like a speedier, slicker, more angular Ezio. The other bumper engages Blade Mode, fuelled by a blue bar just below Raiden's crimson health meter, which allows for precision slicing with a rather unique targeting tangent, letting you fillet foes like a teppanaki chef.
We've already witnessed Raiden carving flesh and metal apart like turkeys on Christmas day, with a square hitbox providing you points of weakness, but having spent a large amount of time with the game this week, it's interesting to see how KP and PG have built that into the story and attempted to explain exactly why Raiden medically needs to seek out the innermost organs of his fellow cyborg. Apparently it all comes down to electrolytes. As the stereotypically mad Doktor tells his patient, Raiden absolutely must slice people open and "take their fluids". For science, you understand, though we can't hep but wonder...couldn't he have just chugged a Lucozade?
However, one feature that's been underplayed thus far, and even the first level or two do little to really encourage you to use it, is the Parry move. With no evade option, which feels incredibly weird, the Parry is the only way you can ever hope of getting anywhere beyond halfway through level two. I say this because, having merrily felled Metal Gear Ray and seen the insides of far too many guards, henchmen, and assorted nemeses, I ran into LQ-84i: the robotic dog from the end of the Gamescom trailer with a chainsaw for a tail. Having not really bothered to spend too much time mastering the parry because everyone up until that point had fallen before my supreme swordmanship, ChainRoboDog eviscerated me in seconds. Then he did it again. And again. And again. Then I managed to get his health bar down to 60%, whereupon he called for backup (goons and guards...kitana fodder), before leaping back into the fray and punishing me yet again.
Parrying is a simple matter in theory: hold an attack button and flick the left stick in the direction from which your adversary is approaching when they move to hit you. Most enemies will telegraph these assaults with a red glow (gold proves to be pretty unblockable, so fleeing is the best course of action there), but then again most enemies had been fairly obvious up until that point, and had only had a smattering of different attacks. LQ-84i will spam you with pain, whipping his chainsaw tail around, reminding you that you'd better remember to press that parry button for each and every strike, and then hitting you with an unblockable grapple move just when you though you might have the smallest window of opportunity.
It's infuriating, and it's not the last difficulty spike either. But you'll keep coming back, you'll keep persevering, and when you finally nail that one gameplay element and separate the dog's head from it's body, you might just punch the air in satisfaction. There's no sense of unfairness, and the mechanically impassive vocal module with which that the canine contender speaks does a good job of lightly taunting you, instilling a primal sense of progression. The game is slick, accessible and handles delightfully (aside from a far too twitchy default camera), ergo the fault lies with you: get better, or die trying. Definitely a Platinum game, then.
Mastering the Parry is essential as it's your only real defence against other cyborg ninjas, bipedal dino-mechs, stomping heavy hitters, other heavy ordinance, and your adversaries at rival PMC: Desperado. Every enemy requires a slightly different approach but the basic template is usually the same: block red attacks, run from gold, get in close and flurry until limbs and attachments start glowing blue. Once they do, you can activate Blade Mode and start the process of dismemberment. It's not quite as elegant a system as that of Bayonetta, it feels a little too automated at times for that, but Revengeance does a good job of constantly challenging you from all sides, whilst always, crucially, making you feel like lithe, deadly, killing machine.
Of course, the best bits come from being pitted against others like you. So it is that you'll battle against the Winds of Destruction: a triumvirate of cyborg aggressors working for Desperado. The Screaming Mantis-esque Mistral rips the limbs from Dwarf Gekko both to attach to her mechanical spine, and also to fashion an enormous, double-bladed bō. Monsoon is an adversary with the ability to magnetically fling his body parts (he appears already more sliced up than a loaf of Hovis) at Raiden, wield enormous magnetic and kinetic powers, and skewer things with his Sais. Sundowner is a chunky git with a hefty scissor blade and an explosive shield that requires Raiden unlock it with some dextrous zan-datsu. All are challenging, and all of the battles unfold in a different manner, with the player rewarded with their opponent's weapon upon victory.
It's good to feel in control during setpieces that would normally take pace only in cutscenes. We've been spoiled a fair bit of late with titles presenting cinematic gameplay, and Revengeance takes that heavy criticism of MGS 4 onboard. There are still a few cutscenes, sure, but Platinum know what we want. There comes a moment before the final showdown with Sundowner where you hijack a winged Slider cyborg, having just been thrown from the roof of a skyscraper. Just as I silently mouthed the phrase, "please let me pilot this thing back up to the top, preferably up a gauntlet filled with explosions and guitars and burst out of the roof of the building", Platinum let me do it.
Please could we have the chapters broken up into replayable score attacks segments? Apparently so. What about reams of unlockables, from a score-based upgrade system, to combo moves, to cyborg profiles, and virtual figurines of Men in Boxes (oh there are in-jokes galore for all you MGS fans out there)? Yep, we can have all of that. And how about unlockable Virtual Reality challenge rooms as well, designed to test our ninja cyborg skills to the max? Oh, absolutely.
I'm not allowed to talk about the hilariously nutty story, and I wouldn't want to: discovering the various layers, comic asides, costume mishaps, and cavalcade of weird and wonderful characters for oneself will be a particular highlight. But the real star is, as always, the delightfully slick way in which Platinum's games operate. The graphics are perhaps not too much to write home about, but the frame-rate never dropped once for me, and that's key. As with Bayonetta, Platinum seem to have created another challenging, empowering, and immensely satisfying game.
A game fuelled by ludicrously widdlyJ-rock and metal that make you feel like Raiden is living up to his name and channelling Thor. A game that doesn't believe in ferries for a beach landing, but instead fires you out of the belly of a stealth bomber like a torpedo. A game that encourages you to slice the knees off of a robotic sauropod as a defence mechanism. A game that does all of that and still lets you hide in a box.
A game that's definitely getting bought.