Thursday, July 18, 2013
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
A while ago I wrote a long ranting piece about my disappointment to see that "Metal Gear Rising" had turned into yet another over-the-top action spectacle game, just like "Bayonetta", "God of War", "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow" , "Enslaved", "Devil May Cry", "Heavenly Sword", and perhaps most-hideously, "Dante's Inferno". And to prove my ultimate hypocrisy, I went ahead and played it, and actually came pretty close to loving it. To be fair, I was reacting to a pretty awful trailer that went out of its way to make the game look as forgettable as possible with several awful guitar riffs which mostly ignored the bizarre genius that built Hideo Kojima's career. Plus, when you call a game "Revengeance", you can't help but assume that its going to be the dumbest trash possible. Like "Bayonetta" but instead of sexploitation, its badass-ploitation. That trailer was nothing but bad testosterone and pre-programmed action sequences, totally failing to play the high notes of this game, probably since they weren't finished yet. So I pre-judged.
And now "Metal Gear Rising" is getting its revengeance by being actually good. Boy is my face covered in egg... or possibly the triumphant ejaculate of a boss who has murdered me the eightieth time. Yes, I became many people's bitch during my journey through "Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance"*, because this game is hard, and that's how I like games, apparently. With this and "Mirror's Edge", two of my favorite PS3 games have been the ones that have systematically tortured my poor in-game character over and over again, killing them in repeated outrageous ways. This is in contrast to games like "Metroid: Other M" which are very nice to my character but torture me endlessly. Luckily the final score card at the end revealed that I died a mere 150 times, but I came out ahead since I killed some 436 enemies. And got a final score of C, which is a pass, meaning that this September I get to move on to the fourth grade!
The game that comes to mind first in comparison is "Bayonetta", since they are both hack and slash games for the PS3 and both made primarily by Platinum Games. "Metal Gear Rising" was originally in development by Konami's Hideo Kojima branch, but they failed tragically, and had to pass it on to Platinum. Now, I do mourn the lost promise that was offered by "Rising" back when it was more of a physics experiment in cutting things, but I'm also not so much of a detached snob that I cannot appreciate a game when it is fun, challenging, and all in all better than "Bayonetta". Yes, let's drop that controversial statement and leave it hanging there to keep you interested enough to read the review.
I recently purchased the new "Metal Gear Solid Collection" which came with pretty much every Metal Gear title that has been made in the last twenty-five years, excluding those weird forgettable titles like "Metal Gear Acid" and the Game Boy version of "Metal Gear Solid". I've never played any of these games before, which is odd since Hideo Kojima's epic is considered to be one of the great sprawling epics of video game writing, characterization, and gameplay. I've been told this series is a magical mixture of SciFi, 80s action movies, and Kojima's own mad wizardry, and like seven games for the minor price of fifty bucks is too much of a deal for me to ignore. It also came bundled with "Metal Gear Rising" for an ultra-cheap price of twenty bucks, so in a single investment I've purchased one of the great pillars of gaming. Imagine buying all of Zelda in a single convenient box and three discs. So since "Metal Gear Rising" happened to be the game that most caught my eye lately, it was the one I decided to play first.
Back to my "Bayonetta" comparisons, I mostly did not like "Bayonetta" for a simple reason: I had really no idea who I was, what I was fighting, or even if I was the good guy in this adventure. "Bayonetta" was a flashy arcade-style brawler which juggled chainsaws and fetishes to create a wild experience. However, even though it was a lot of fun to play, it didn't really have much substance beyond running forward and fighting weird monsters (and then enjoying a long load time). "Metal Gear Rising" is chronologically the last in a long epic of spy adventures stretching across decades in its universe, so it has to have some kind of narrative teeth and meaning. There isn't much, its essentially just the hero, Raiden running forward and killing a collection of bizarre cyborgs to stop an evil plot to - please finish any drinks before reading the next bit to stop yourself from spitting that liquid onto your computer in disbelief - kidnap third world children, steal their organs, and use their brains to create an army of cyborg supersoldiers for... money? Raiden starts out as the security chief to the Prime Minister of... all of Africa, apparently, then finds himself reverting to an evil maniac persona ready to slaughter all enemies in his wake.
What I like about this plot is that its not based upon the obvious cliche of a transhumanism plotline. Cyborgs are not inherently evil, human beings are not breaking into God's domain, and nobody is going insane just because they have a metal liver now. The villains are all evil, but they would be just as insane and horrible if they only metal components they had was some loose change in their pockets. Raiden's own dance with his insane-side comes from his pre-established backstory, something that is probably better explained back when he was the star of "Metal Gear Solid 2", not that I ever played that. During the story one Guyanan child gains a robot torso and is no worse the wear for it - he's even set up in a romance with some anime girl from previous games.
The villain's plan though, does not really make a lick of sense. They're all members of a Private Military Company out to create chaos across the globe so that they can get hired to fight in these new wars. Ultimately though, even this is just a sideshow for the real main villain, a figure so profoundly insane and hilariously awesome that my television set exploded into red, white, and blue fireworks due to the wonder of it all. Yup, its an insane Republican Senator trying to spark the next War in the Middle East, then punching Raiden with his bare fucking hands. Oh, he's also my favorite character in this game, what gave that away? This guy is like an entire three-ringed circus dancing around your brain doing wrestling moves while playing "We'll Put a Boot in Your Ass" on a banjo. What we have here isn't the clever subtle satire that you'd see in a Roland Emmerich movie, its a jackhammer of quasi-fascist rantings carving a penis onto the forehead of George Washington on Mount Rushmore, and you simply have to love every moment of it.
One thing I like about "Metal Gear Rising" is that even though the plot is pretty threadbare, the game does take a great deal of time to expand upon its universe and give its character some extra depth. This is done through Codec conversations, entirely option discussions you have with your support characters. These guys aren't the most interesting crowd in the world, sadly, since they consist mostly of non-dimensional characters including a Russian, a creepy German, a chick with big boobs, and Xzibit(!). But its an extra touch that is at least more interesting than a long empty sheet of extraneous writing like "Final Fantasy XIII".
Now for gameplay, since that's the real attraction. "Metal Gear Rising" is a game about your sword and the poor cyborg fools who dared commit the terrible crime of having arms and legs. Your job is to correct this mistake and carve your enemies into various bite-sized pieces, perhaps with the final goal to take off these chunks for a nice robot picnic. The point of the action is fast attacks and rapid reflexes, which creates a real challenge. Most of the cutting element has been excised to only be used at very specific moments, basically its a finisher for most human enemies. Other opponents can only have their limbs cut off once you've done enough damage, meaning that your battles can often consist of "attack-attack-attack" followed by "cut off limbs". The real purpose of all this slicing is to get health, which enemies keep inside their chests near to their hearts, giving Raiden a nice boost of Gatorade-flavored nanomachines that heal him right up.
The primary twist to all this hacking and slashing is your method of defense. You have the typical dodge slide move that works well enough, and you are the fastest single object in this entire game. However, there is no dedicated guard button. Instead you have to press Square, which normally does a light attack, and fling the left-analog stick forward in the direction of the attack at very precise timing. Too fast and Raiden doesn't understand you're blocking and will instead attack. Too slow and you've missed. If you do it with excellent timing, Raiden will even parry the enemy's attack, freeing their limbs for their glorious new future disconnected from the rest of their bodies. Your timing must be exact though, this is not merely "press Square and Raiden will absorb all damage magically". If an enemy does a combo, you have to block every hit. Yeah, you can breeze by without mastering this skill for a few levels, but by the time you're dancing with late-game bosses like Jetstream Sam, you better learn some defense or else Raiden is going to have many many many trips to Robot Hell. I died so often in this game that I think I have some kind of Frequent Flyer deal with the Robot Devil, in September I'm going to take a short vacation to Robot Limbo.
Ultimately, the main attraction is the big boss fights against a collection of transhuman psychopaths. These are the highlights of the entire experience, really pushing your blocking and swordplay experience to their highest skills. They're also given somewhat unique character elements, though its mainly just window dressing since most of these bosses appear in a single cutscene. One is a sexy French assassin with a million arms, another is a crazy Philosophy nerd babbling about meme theory, and then there's Sam, a Spanish Samurai just looking for somebody to stab his throbbing red sword into (if you get my meaning). For the most part, the difficulties of these bosses depends on how many healing nanopastes you have collected from the rest of the level, so if you had a lot of trouble with the rampaging steel gorillas**, and have no more Potions, then you better play that much better, sonny. Some bosses just throw around healing items like they are candy - the French boss actually makes that expression literal. So even if you're playing like a limbless cripple, barely able to move the control beyond nudging it with your forehead slightly, you'll still be able to win. Then the last few bosses are basically unbreakable walls of steel, try getting past them with your puny little knife.
There is a great deal of imperfection, however that mars "Metal Gear Rising". For some reason they included an entire array of stealth items, as some kind of vestigial nod to the gameplay of the real Metal Gear Solid games, which I used exactly never. Why would I hide in a box when I can completely slaughter entire armies of cyborgs with my little finger? I am the Great Destroyer, do I look afraid of these guys? There's even a forced stealth section in level 2, for what reason I have no idea. There are lots of subweapons you can use, including a rocket launcher and grenades, but these simply felt unsporting to use. I preferred the weapons you lifted off the Robot Masters, such as the French chick's giant spear, which gave me excellent range and transformed Raiden into the savage child of a hurricane and a trash compactor. It even gave a nice downward stab. There wasn't much incentive to experiment with the other weapons though, because you have to invest your points into skills and upgrades for whatever weapon you get, so switching over to the big scissor sword was out of the question.
There is something of a lack of polish to a lot of the levels. You are really only allowed to cut certain foreground objects, and this doesn't really add up to much in terms of combat, so you'd never want to do it. Yeah, you can cut a truck in half, but for what purpose? Even if you found a strange dealer who wanted half a truck for some reason, the object explodes right after you cut it in order to ease up on the PS3's processor. Speaking of which, the game never hung up and did not load every thirty seconds, unlike a certain other game whose name starts with "B-" and ends with "-ayonetta". The environments are basically only: brown town, dark sewers, and Denver, without much love to any of it. The game gives more of a sense of movement and evolving plotlines than other linear titles, at least you go to different countries, but its also really short. The last three levels are puny, and one of them is just a boss fight, nothing else.
By the way, game developers, please never do this: at one point Raiden jumps out of a helicopter to protect his buddy from two charging space ships. He hacks into one of the space ships and shoots down the other one. At no point during that entire sequence was I asked to do anything, I was now watching a movie. Do not be afraid to include a short flight section in your game. And if Raiden gets on a motorcycle, is it too much to ask that he actually uses it in combat, instead of getting off it in the very next scene?
So to conclude this now massive review, "Metal Gear Rising" is a game, where you cut things, and those things die. Its probably the least sophisticated and most shallow game in the Metal Gear frachise, but then again, it was built as a spin-off. This is "Lightning Bolt Action", I don't see the words "Tactical" or "Espionage" in that title, do you? I wanted a game where you take a perfectly normal cyborg policeman and turn him into a pile of sawdust on the street. And I did that. Its not a classic, its not a masterpiece, but it is worth your time.
* Whose title makes little to no sense to me. Exactly who are we getting our revenge/vengeance against? The game opens with a character cutting off one of Raiden's limbs and taking one of his eyes, but since Raiden is more Machine Than Man, this does little to slow him down. Raiden doesn't even seem to hold much of a grudge over it, he takes the whole thing with a great deal of maturity. The villains do lots of evil things, but nobody is screaming about the preparedness of villains for their oncoming death because of a murder of a father or anything like that. The subtitle is not only idiotic, but pointless.
** The hardest motherfucking enemies in this game. They have lots of unblockable grab attacks that deal heavy damage, they are very fast for their size and amount of health, and their moves are random enough that I'll be lucky if you can ever block anything they do. Oh, and if one of their arms is ready to be cut off, ignore that. That's a trick, it weakens them in no way, and only opens you up for more attacks.