It's been 25 years since the first Metal Gear game, and the series has largely remained unchanged in all these years. In fact, the shift to a 3D perspective with the games bearing the Solid suffix is the only major change the franchise has seen. Even then, the change has been more or less cosmetic. The basic stealth gameplay mechanics have remained absolutely sacrosanct. Even with portable distractions such as Metal Gear Acid, which featured an offbeat turn-based playing card gameplay, the stealth aspect has been left largely unchaged. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, as the new Rising suffix evidence suggests, is a new addition to the franchise that will shock die-hard fans. While Solid, Acid and Portable Ops flavours of Metal Gear didn't stay away from the basic stealth elements, Metal Gear Rising trades it in for an unapologetically hack and slash approach.
Series Producer Hideo Kojima had originally intended Revengeance to fill the gap between MGS 2 and MGS 4 while focusing on Raiden's transformation into a cyborg, but that version was eventually cancelled. Revengeance is a complete spin-off featuring an alternate storyline that still is a part of the Metal Gear canon. While Kojima still remains the Executive Producer, a major chunk of the development has been entrusted upon Platinum Games. Metal Gear fans needn't worry because this is the same studio comprised of the best talent from Japan and responsible for games such as Madworld and Bayonetta—all excellent hack and slash titles.
Half man, half machine
The preview starts off with a trademark long cutscene explaining the backstory. The player is briefed about Raiden's botched stint in a Private Military Company as a bodyguard for an African VIP, which ends in him losing an eye and an arm to an ambush by Cyborgs belonging to a terrorist PMC dubbed Desperado Enterprises. I'd say that's a good enough excuse for as long as you get to play Raiden suited up in bad ass cyborg exoskeleton. The short preview gave the same vibe as the recent DmC: Devil May Cry preview—it lacks the whimsical humour of the series, and instead replaces that with a relatively more subtle brand of humour.
This isn't the only similarity it has with DMC; the basic hack and slash combat system comprises of weak/fast and strong/slow attacks triggered by the Triangle and Square buttons. The ultra short tutorial segment didn't brief me on any multi-hit combos, but a fair bit of trial and error showed a wealth of DMC-like hit combos, with elaborate flourishes and random blades popping out of Raiden's legs. Get the combos right and you pummel foes with an almost poetic grace of a ballet dancer—one equipped with a high tech sword capable of cutting through virtually anything.
However, unlike MGS games, you won't be squaring off with mere humans. Your foes range from military cyborgs to uber-fast Mechas packed to the gills with all sorts of blades, guns and rocket launchers. This is where the main USP of Revengeance comes into play. The spin-off introduces a new free-form swordplay system dubbed as the Blade Mode. Once in the Blade Mode, you can use the analogue stick to trace a blue plane through your target, which represents the trajectory of your sword. Let go of the stick and Raiden slices through anything that once stood in blue trajectory.
The Blade Mode is absolutely brutal
It gets even better because in combat this can be executed at lightning fast speeds, letting Raiden slice through enemies several times before they hit the floor. This is achieved with a sweet bullet time sequence. Apart from enemies, this manoeuvre lets you slice through various destructible elements in the environment. You can cut through a pillar to bring down a section of the ceiling upon your enemy, or alternatively slice through cover to decapitate a cyborg hiding behind it. However, nothing is as satisfying as planning your strikes carefully for selective dismemberment and exploiting gaps in enemy armour.
So powerful is this mode that having it at your disposal all the time is bound to make the game a tad too easy. That's why using the Blade Mode saps power, which can only be replenished by obtaining electrolytes to juice up Raiden's suit. Doing so involves slicing enemies in the Blade Mode and hitting weak points that pop up in the ensuing slow-mo sequences. This initiates a QTE that sees Raiden rip the electrolyte source, which looks disturbingly similar to a blue spinal column.
The stealth elements aren't completely done away with either. Revengeance features what's described as "hunting stealth", which is a more dynamic replacement to the previous games' "fighting stealth" approach. This is enabled by the Ninja Dash mode, which is quite similar to the parkour modifiers used in Assassins Creed games. Press a button and Raiden charges quickly and stealthily at enemies, scaling obstacles and clearing gaps to deliver a one-hit kill.
Cutting through the environment has its tactical merits
The idea is to use the visor to survey and locate enemies and then choose the best path to Ninja Dash and pick off most of the enemies in the map, before you're eventually discovered. This enables an Alert Mode, wherein you will be pursued by every enemy in the vicinity. This is where the hack and slash begins. Once you do get surrounded, the games excellent parry and block system lets you hold your own in the face of great odds. Blocking attacks is as simple as pushing the analogue stick in the direction of the enemy and pressing the Square button. However, parrying requires impeccable timing to accomplish.
The boss sequence involving a quadruped AI-controlled robot is pretty spectacular, and requires mastery on the block and parry system to succeed. The cutscene leading up to the fight is rendered using the in-game engine and shows off Revengeance's graphical prowess. The preview code wasn't entirely polished, but the lighting, particle effects and an amazing level of model detail still shone through.
I did encounter a few niggles with a patently retarded AI, issues with an abysmal analogue stick sensitivity, and a few game balance issues. However, considering the early nature of the preview build and a host of other glitches, these issues will eventually be ironed out in the retail version. From what I played, this seems to be a fun diversion from the usual Metal Gear Solid routine of stealth. At the core of it, Revengeance is a satisfying hack-and-slash game built upon Metal Gear canon. Its unique freeform swordplay system and an interesting combination of stealth with hack and slash elements should please Metal Gear fans willing to open their minds to a new gameplay experience.
That's going to leave a mark