Cut anything. Who knew two words could cause so much trouble? It was three years ago when Metal Gear Solid: Rising emerged with ‘cut anything’ as its core mechanic, tech demos showing Raiden slicing through watermelons, pillars and cars with lethal precision. Unknown to us, that same mechanic that made that tech demo such a tantalising prospect then became a huge burden, as Kojima Productions struggled to figure out exactly what it wanted its project to be. Stealth? Action? Story-driven? Open-ended? Games rarely suffer an identity crisis and stumble through development hell to happy endings (see Duke Nukem Forever, Too Human).
In the end, it became Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Perhaps more importantly, it became a Platinum game. If you were to approach Revengeance without any knowledge of the development, you’d think this was a Platinum tribute to the Metal Gear series. Platinum’s trademarks –punchy action, fluid animation, over-the-top action – are all pillars on which Revengeance is founded and the footloose speed rarely finds itself weighed down by stealth or lengthy CODEC conversations (both still present but relegated to background concerns).
In fact, the only real sign that Kojima Productions had any involvement in this project comes from the story, which is the usual Metal Gear mix of philosophical pondering, overly dramatic dialogue and loopy sci-fi. As soon as you’re introduced to characters called Jetstream Sam and Sundowner, you understand where Kojima Productions has had the most influence in the project.
There’s also a token nod at stealth. Most areas begin with enemies unaware of Raiden’s presence and using an x-ray vision of sorts, you can pick your way through areas using stealth kills and a healthy dose of patience. Yet the reason it’s merely a token nod is stealth is something you’ll rarely bother. On a practical level, it’s hard to work the parameters of Revengeance’s particular stealth system, as you can never really establish how far guards can see, nor which angles you’re safe from, and Raiden doesn’t have moves that allow him to crawl, or crouch, or hug walls. So there might be stealth but Revengeance clearly isn’t designed that way. But more importantly, on a fun level, there’s a bigger reason stealth will be ignored.
It’s because combat is so satisfying, so effortlessly stylish, that to go down any other route seems like a huge waste. Unsurprising given this has come from the same studio that has brought us Bayonetta and Vanquish, surprising that an official Metal Gear game can prove to be a happy home to the same style of footloose, frantic combat.
Combat is clearly the star here, with Blade Mode the most original concept. It’s the reduction of the ‘cut anything’ ethos to a single button, slowing the world to a crawl while Raiden slices through anything before him. Translated into gameplay terms (and presumably what’s practical in terms of design), cut anything actually means cut-through-enemies-and-environmental-objects. It’s Okami with a razor-sharp sword rather than a paintbrush, flicks of the right analog stick swiping the sword where instructed, enemies drifting apart in slow-motion in the angular cuts from where you sliced through. It adds a physicality to the combat that is rarely seen outside of fighting games when played with arcade sticks. It’s certainly closer to a ‘you are the controller’ ethos than Kinect ever managed.
Platinum’s biggest challenge most likely would have been accommodating such a precise system in its traditional chaotic, frenzied combat. This is where the studio deserves huge credit. At first, your main use for Blade Mode will initially be as a wild death blow, slicing enemies apart in slow-motion and revealing their cybernetic spines, which you can grab and crush to recharge your health. It’s the latter that forces you to figure out how to work Blade Mode into your routine. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a tough game and the difficulty is such that you have to grab free health whenever you can. It’s a smart, well-balanced system.