Cut. Cut. Cut!
Metal Gear Rising certainly hinges around a simple mechanic. From the very first publicity shot that featured a random assortment of severed, lacerated objects, we were made aware that Raiden was going to gleefully transform large things into varied assortments of vastly smaller things with his H.F. Blade, an aggressive new take for the venerable Metal Gear franchise. However, as development woes and relative inexperience with creating traditional action games started to take their toll on Kojima Productions, we started to wonder whether the project would ever see the light of day.
In stepped Platinum Games, like a glorious knight in shining armour. Or a kinky, sexy witch in hair armour at least. Taking the reins from Kojima and co, the veteran action game designers behind Vanquish, Madworld and Bayonetta promised to turn Metal Gear Rising up to eleven with more raunchy guitar music, insane stunts and hardcore ultraviolence than you could shake a severed memory-retaining plot-furthering arm at. Branding it with their mark, the deliciously over the top Revengeance subtitle, Platinum set to creating something profoundly ridiculous.
True story: I've been walking around the first day of E3 with a rictus grin twisting my face. It was unnerving, for bystanders and PR personnel, let alone myself. But after using a missile barrage as aerial stepping stones and dicing a combat helicopter into tiny chunks of charred metal, nothing can wipe the smile off my face. If what I played is representative of the finished product, Reveangeance is on course to be bonkers, unhinged, outrageous and bloody brilliant.
The E3 demo started out in a compact playground area that contained everything you could ever want to cut. Family sedans. Logs. Referential cardboard boxes. Target dummies. Watermelons; both of regular size and taller than a man (screw realism, let's cut stuff). Revengeance wasted no time in introducing the pivotal slicing mechanic that underpins the action: by holding the left trigger, Raiden plants his feet on the floor and enters a heightened sense of awareness (heightwareness, if we're following Platinum's naming conventions) that slows time to a crawl. While entranced, the right stick allows players to carefully direct the angle of their sword swipes by manipulating a wireframe indicator with slow movements, and summarily flicking the thumbstick to deliver a precise blow. It's a simple, intuitive and devastatingly accurate setup, providing the pinpoint precision necessary to gouge a hostage-taker from hip to neck without so much as nicking his victim's earlobe.
Alternatively, you're also free to just waggle the stick like a man possessed, watching your blade effortlessly pass through your target's armour, skin and bone over a dozen times... and then watching their bodies fall apart along their newfound cleavage planes once real time is restored. The aforementioned family sedan collapsed into tiny blocks of metal, plastic and glass; perfectly reflecting the angle of my myriad swipes. I alternated between cutting watermelons into perfect edible slices and reducing them to pulpy messes. And humans... I'm so sorry. Once you've hacked a PMC operator into a pile of meaty kibbles - or cut a hapless soldier lengthwise and beheld the two separate halves peeling away onto the floor - it's actually difficult to think of any game as staggeringly graphic. If it wasn't so much fun, and an impressive 60FPS in pre-alpha to boot, it would be thoroughly terrifying.
Of course, abusing this feature would make Reveangeance far too easy, so the Cut mode has to be charged up in order to use at opportune moments. Most of the game will be spent enjoying a more traditional brawling setup, with quick wide attacks mapped to X while the Y button dishes out slower, more precise blows. Combat is fast and effortlessly responsive (that's Platinum for you), with a nifty parry command that deflects incoming hits or bullets with a well-timed jab of Y. Should an enemy enter a weakened state, a context-sensitive finisher lets Raiden brutalise them in ways that defy both physics and taste, optionally ripping out their spines with a supplemental QTE to sup on bio-electrical energy.
Throughout a few war-wracked city streets, small groups of PMC soldiers posed little in the way of resistance (Raiden's H.F. Blade passes through armour and flesh like an H.F. Blade through a hot knife), but did their best to push the offensive and surround Raiden when possible. A couple of stealthy takedowns were possible on unaware opponents, or enormous leaps from high altitudes that resulted in obscene PMC kebabs. Like most brawlers, grunts are more deadly in groups, and the challenge soon ramped up as multiple opponents took the field. Prodigious use of the cutting mode, balanced with some careful repositioning and parries, made for some breathtakingly slick engagements that feels taught and slick; a world away from Metal Gear Solid's admittedly awkward fumbling when faced with direct combat against multiple adversaries.
A Gekko makes for a much more formidable foe, however. These biomechanical killing machines lash out with their disturbingly shapely legs, leaping about the battlefield in an orgy of athleticism. Even Raiden's aerial attacks aren't quite fast enough to keep up with their enormous jumps and ground pounds, making perfect parries the order of the day. As I poured on the punishment, however, it started to bleed and whine... and stood still long enough for me to hold the left trigger.
Its right leg flew off. I cut the left leg into slim, frisbee-like discs. And its metallic torso soon succumbed to the death of a thousand cuts, tumbling down into a sorry mess of sparking electronics and oozing goo.
I half expected the demo to finish at that point, but the next arena heralded a panicked flight from a helicopter gunship that pulverised the ground to ribbons. An aggravating quick time event and backwards-running section later (hopefully those will be kept to a minimum), and Raiden was pressed into combat against the menacing whirlybird, which pulverised the battlefield with rocket barrages. Luckily some signature Stinger missiles were littered about the ruined courtyard, and the simple aiming mechanic (Raiden hefts missile launchers like most protagonists hold revolvers) quickly allowed me to put two clean shots on target while dodging away from its firepower.
Having expended my available ammunition, the chopper retreated to a safe distance, delivering an insane amount of explosive ordinance onto the battlefield in enormous, unbelievable waves. An onscreen prompt urged me to "hold RT," and doing so allowed Raiden to gracefully hop and vault over the incoming missiles while circling around the arena.
Most games would let you run around for a minute until triggering a different attack pattern, but as the helicopter continued its unrelenting assault, it became increasingly apparent that Platinum wanted players to do something breathtakingly, brilliantly stupid. Running towards the missiles while tapping the trigger in rhythm caused Raiden to casually hop over them as if they were mere stepping stones, using the rockets as a stairway up to the helicopter itself. Once up to its altitude, the ever-popular cut mode converted the once-powerful weapons platform into so much scrap metal, taking special care to ensure that scavengers wouldn't be able to salvage any piece bigger than a shoe box.
That's the E3 tutorial level.
The. Tutorial. Level!
No, Revengeance isn't going to be a traditional Metal Gear Solid game. No, Kojima won't be as involved as some of the fans might expect. Yes, stealth takes a back seats to outrageous shenanigans. But different doesn't have to be a dirty word, and Platinum could well be on course to deliver a startling and unremittingly fun new take on Kojima's classic franchise. We'll find out next year.
Should you plan to pick up Zone Of The Enders: HD, you'll have the chance to try out a similar demo.