Metal Gear Rising is entirely unlike all past instalments in the Metal Gear series, fittingly replacing the usual tagline of “Tactical Espionage Action” with “Lightning Bolt Action”. It’s fast, fluid and ridiculously extravagant.
Even though the gameplay is extremely fast and may appear intimidating with Raiden flipping and dashing continually, the controls are surprisingly simplistic and quick to master. Unlike most games of this nature there aren’t a plethora of combos that you need to memorise nor a complex array of counter, parry and dodge moves – the majority of the combat relies on simply swinging your blade and timing a single parry button carefully.
Whilst there are a handful of combo moves available for general combat there isn’t a great reliance on them, and instead emphasis is placed on the use of your katana in a first person view which is referred to as Blade Mode. You can switch into Blade Mode at any time, as long as you have energy for it (gained by killing enemies) and will be granted a brief window of time in which you can slice your katana either vertically, horizontally or manually using the thumbstick. Anything close to death that is caught in the path of your blade will be sliced, quite literally, in half.
The katana is without a doubt the star of the show, taking centre stage well ahead of Raiden himself or any attempt at a coherent storyline. The single gameplay mechanic of being able to slice almost anything at any direction and angle is mesmerising. From start to end it never once gets dull to literally slice an enemy into carefully crafted slices. It’s not just the enemies themselves but their weapons too, as you’ll slice in half incoming helicopter missiles and, my favourite, a well-timed and aimed slice can even put a stop to an incoming hand grenade.
Along with the enemies there are a lot of environmental objects that can be sliced with your weapon, which can also result in revealing hidden areas or objects to be obtained – be it a vent that can be sliced upon or a pickup hiding underneath a bookcase. This will result in you running and slicing through as much of the environment as possible, as why open a door when you can cut it in half and watch the pieces tumble to the ground?
Raiden’s only defence is a good offence, having you block by pressing attack along with moving in the direction of the enemy as a swing is about to hit. If you time the block well you’ll parry and open your enemy for an attack. Similarly, and one of the best aspects of the combat system in my opinion, is the way in which health is replenished by once again offensive play. Unlike most games of the genre where health is magically consumed from souls or obtained by dull health packs; Raiden regenerates by… ripping an enemy’s spinal cord from their body (he’s a cyborg, it makes sense somehow shush!) and consuming it.
If attacking to kill, defence and heal wasn’t enough you’re also rewarded with points per kill and combos that can be spent on upgrades, and have the opportunity of obtaining unique unlocks by slicing off the left arm of thirty unique soldiers throughout the game. In all avenues, in every way, you’re encouraged to fight. If you need Blade Mode energy, if you want health, if you need to defend an attack, if you want to kill enemies, if you want to unlock new upgrades … no matter what the game pushes and promotes the need to attack, and all the while it comes together brilliantly rewarding successful kills with the ability to survive longer, fight further and unlock more. It is ultimately quite simply one of the most fluid and engaging combat systems to grace the hack-em-up action genre to date.
Unfortunately it’s not all praise and glory as whilst the gameplay is sublime there are faults across the board elsewhere. The story and character development in particular falls short of providing anything with substance that you’ll even remotely care about. It’s nothing more than the typical Metal Gear soldiers created for war story, with the emphasis placed on manufactured cyborg units and once again extravagant boss enemies wanting to bring about a return of global warfare for profit and entertainment.
It certainly lacks the creative flair and outright insanity of Kojima and more importantly the unique, and again insane, characters in which populate prior Metal Gear instalments. Whilst there are a handful of interesting and unique boss characters, their backstory is rarely fleshed out and scenes of dialogue drag on as you sit waiting for the next explosive combat cutscene to initiate. Raiden, whilst in a far better standing than Metal Gear Solid 2, is still greatly underdeveloped and weak voice acting and sparse dialogue with substance has him still functioning as the pretty boy, now only made mostly of metal with some killer moves.
The boss encounters themselves are superb though, which is evident right from the offset as you take on a Metal Gear entirely alone within the first thirty minutes. One particular encounter half way through the game has you fighting an enemy whose entire body can segment, detaching limbs and separating his torso – literally splitting apart between your blade slices. It’s an encounter of sheer brilliance given the gameplay emphasis on sword swings and adds a great sense of tension, functioning as a brutal tutorial in needing to parry to succeed.
As previously touched upon, the voice acting throughout is lacking particularly with Raiden the gravelly voiced protagonist, who’s seemingly trying to steer clear of his feminine street credibility. The music track selection throughout is hit or miss with a heavy emphasis on rock and metal that often doesn’t quite fit the combat too well, excluding a handful of tracks that go along well in high intense boss encounters. From an audio perspective it’s not quite the success that Platinum has encountered in prior games.
One positive from the game’s presentation though are the graphics, which hold up well throughout the over the top action packed combat and handle the slicing of objects and characters surprisingly well. The only complaint to be had would be on the heavy asset reuse and a handful of dull environments, particularly during open world segments and the boss encounter arenas.
The last sore point comes with the campaign length coming in at just over four hours. Whilst this might appear remarkably short it’s worth emphasising the brilliant pacing throughout. Levels are fast and action packed, with continual boss or large encounters happening every ten to fifteen minutes. It doesn’t pull any tricks or cheats in order to artificially lengthen the game (looking at you Devil May Cry 4) and thanks to frequent scoring and ranks for each segment within a level has the potential for a handful of campaign replays. Additionally there are VR missions (mini gameplay challenges common to the Metal Gear series) to keep you busy beyond the campaign.
In its entirety Metal Gear Rising is an ambitious attempt to take a beloved franchise to a new genre, one in which Platinum excel, and whilst there are a handful of shortcomings the gameplay is pin perfect. Ultimately Platinum has managed to deliver on the vision that Kojima first announced back in 2009, and it’s a roller coaster ride from start to end. The gameplay is the forefront of importance for the genre and it’s there that they’ve certainly managed to deliver. I only hope that Platinum succeed at market and get a second chance at improving upon the shortcomings with a sequel.