I kind of feel bad for Raiden. He works so, so hard to be cool that it comes across as a little sad and pathetic. They even made a whole game about him, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which tries to make him into a big tough guy; a hero who’s capable of amazing feats of strength and acrobatics. They turned him into a bionic robot, gave him the ability to cut anything, and stuck him in fights with all manner of powerful robots and cyborgs. It’s an amazing game, with a flow of combat that was elegant and brutal all at once. Once you get the hang of its controls you’ll feel like an absolute powerhouse, turning sure death into victory with a few deft moves. You’ll cut up giant mechs, run up the side of buildings, and wax philosophical about the consequences of your kills. It’s fantastic. All the while, the poor guy still doesn’t even manage to be half as cool as Solid Snake. Good game, but better luck next time.
I didn’t pay much attention to this game when it was first announced. Sure, it was a cool idea to have a sword that could cut through anything, but beyond a tech demo this didn’t seem all that practical. Being able to cut anything could let you do some interesting things with unimportant set decorations, but that was it. What I didn’t realize was some of the interesting implications that would mean for enemies. You’d have to score a few hits on them to weaken them first, but the ability to cut in any direction through anything ended up being made into an addictive gameplay mechanic when thrown into combat.
When you use your sword with light and heavy attacks, nothing different from any other action game happens. You have a meter that fills up as you hit enemies, though, and when it’s full you can engage a slow motion power and really get to work. Holding in the left trigger slows time while you pull up your sword, allowing you to slice at the enemies and cut them apart. Tougher enemies need to be softened up until their body parts turn blue, making it so that the game doesn’t get too easy; but you’ll still be chopping off their limbs or mechanical parts in no time.
The most interesting part is in how you can cut off the limbs. You can direct the attack with your left stick and alternate vertical and horizontal slashes using the two attack buttons if you like, or you can use the right stick to direct each slash exactly where you want. The second method takes a lot more practice, but it will let you score some very specific strikes when you get good at it. I tended to be lazy and just mash the attack buttons until everything was reduced to chunks, but there are many points where a more specific strike helps more.
If you want to recover all of your health and sword meter energy in one attack, you’ll want to learn that specific strike. This is because each enemy carries a full restore item on their person somewhere. If you have a full sword meter you’ll see that spot surrounded by a red square in the enemy’s body, offering you a target to hit if you want all your health back. They tend to be in the middle of the enemy’s mass, so aiming for them really isn’t all that hard. The trouble is that when you start cutting off limbs willy-nilly the body breaks apart and you have to scramble to hit the right spot if you want your health back. Should you hit this spot you’re given a second to hit a button and catch the item in the air, instantly refilling everything. Miss this opportunity and you’ll get a paltry healing item in exchange.
Until you get good with the game’s defense system you’ll be needing those healing items. The enemies, while not on par with Ninja Gaiden (until you hit the higher difficulties), attack in packs with precision. Many of them will hang back and fire projectiles at you while tougher enemies move in with melee attacks. If you get hit once, expect the enemies to pile on top of you for a few seconds and pour on even more damage before you manage to recover. You’re given a short window of invulnerability when you’re downed, but as soon as you start to stand up you can take damage again. It can be extremely frustrating when this happens, as I’ve had enemy mobs chew through more than half of my health bar while I tried to get up and out of the way.
That’s not even factoring in when you get stunned. There are a lot of enemy attacks that will stun you if they hit, most of which are indicated by the enemy turning yellow before launching the attack. This would seem easy enough to notice, but when you’re fighting five enemies and two mechs while a couple of guys are firing rockets from the sidelines, you tend to miss a few details. Should you get hit with a stunning attack you’ll have to wiggle the stick as fast as you can to get free, and you usually have to do it quite a bit. I would have to take my hand away from the buttons, place my palm on the stick, and shake for everything I was worth in order to break out of the stuns from many late game enemies. I got away a little over half the time with this method, but it left me vulnerable in the split second it would take for me to get my right hand back onto the buttons; usually resulting in another stun. I’m amazed my controller survived the game’s final stages.
If that sounds extremely frustrating, it is. I shouldn’t have goofed up and been in that situation, though, as the game gives the player a decent defensive move to avoid taking damage. In order to block an attack, you have to hit light attack while pushing the control stick in the direction the enemy is attacking you from. At first I was annoyed with this technique, wishing I just had a decent dodge roll instead, but that move wouldn’t have been in keeping with the aggressive spirit of the game. Besides, for a button masher like me it was actually a dream come true. Instead of taking yourself out of combat by rolling away, now you could continue attacking but just push toward whatever was trying to hit you. You’d block the attack at bare minimum, but if you timed it just right you’d launch your own counterattack; one that often could lead to an option to instantly kill the enemy. That was pretty cool.
All of these combat options turn Raiden into a moving blender; a flurry of sword strikes that you send tearing through the enemies. You can continue to attack while defending, and with perfect timing do even more damage while protecting yourself from the enemies. It’s so unapologetically aggressive that it makes Kratos from God of War look like a hippie pacifist. It also makes combat completely involved instead of deteriorating into button mashing, keeping every fight interesting and fresh.
That’s just the regular battles, too. The game is filled with boss enemies and tougher mechs that have an array of different moves that require you to constantly learn when it’s best to attack and parry. The bosses show the quality you’d expect from Platinum Games, the lunatics behind Bayonetta. They’d throw in fog and make you watch for signs the enemy was coming through it, give the boss an explosive shield that could only be disabled with a perfectly aimed sword strike, or just toss dozens of enemies onto the screen as you tried to score hits on the boss. The mechs typically had all manner of weapons on them that you could disable with specific hits or attacks that needed odd timing if you wanted to counter properly. They used the system to its fullest in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, giving combat a constant rush.
That being said, I hated it a little bit every time the plot intruded on the fighting. I can see Kojima’s filthy inspiration permeating the entire work as enemies talk about the philosophical implications of what Raiden is doing. Worse was whenever Raiden would go on some talk about defending the weak and using his sword for justice. Dialogue in these games tends to be bad, but this stuff made me cringe almost every time someone opened their mouth. This might not have even been that bad in any other game, but this game relishes going into little cutscenes where the enemies and allies ramble on. It’s nowhere near as bad as any of the previous Metal Gear Solid games, but it still goes into cutscenes with alarming frequency compared to most action games. It’s all so poorly written that I just can’t get over the fact that these sentences are coming out of a human being’s mouth. It feels like I’m on the set of a 50’s sci-fi movie or comic book. It’s corny, badly voiced, and I really couldn’t stand it. Thankfully you can hit a button to skip the dialogue ahead most of the time.
There is one terrible crime the game’s combat is guilty of, though. I can’t even think about the camera in this game without seeing red. I wish there had been some sort of lock-on feature that I could manually use, as there were many times when I took a few cheap hits while I tried to locate whatever I was fighting. You could manually move the camera around in whatever way you’d like, but you constantly have to adjust it to look around for whatever’s attacking you. When you get hit it’s a lot worse, though, as I found the camera would spin wildly for a few seconds or position itself behind a wall. It was infuriating and made some fights a lot harder than they should have been. You kind of adapt to it after a while, but there will always be those times when the camera shoots right behind a wall and you have to do your best not to throw your controller or scream so loud that the neighbors call the police on you again.
I can’t stay mad at Platinum Games after all of the neat stuff I was able to do. The game doesn’t last for long, but in the same vein it doesn’t last so long that the combat system becomes boring. It’s a sharp game for the five or so hours you’ll be playing it, with lots of little hidden goodies and upgrades you can grab if you want to challenge the game’s higher difficulties. If you’ve been looking for a ninja game to match the style and substance of Ninja Gaiden you’ll have a hard time finding anything closer to it than Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on higher difficulties. For everyone else, it’s another excellent action game with complex combat and a powerful protagonist.
Even if he’s still a crybaby compared to Solid Snake.