Monday, January 13, 2014

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review - slice and dice

I’ve never played a Metal Gear game before. The closest I’ve ever come is playing the beginning of the original Metal Gear on the NES, which held my attention for all of about five minutes before I took the cartridge out and replaced it with Super Mario Bros. 3. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a spin-off of the Metal Gear Solid series, recently released for PC almost a year after its console release, and for someone like me it’s the perfect window into the Metal Gear series.

My biggest concern going into Revengeance was its overreliance on past games’ storylines and narratives to tell its own story. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. Revengeance contextualizes the series into its own self-contained world that works better if you know of the Metal Gear series, rather than knowing about it. There are mentions here and there of SOP and PMCs, but I never did feel like I was missing a piece of the puzzle for the story to make sense. Well, as much sense as any Kojima game does.

Revengeance is through and through a character action game in the same vein as Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Hell, it’s from the same developer as Bayonetta, Platinum Games. With that pedigree, it was a forgone conclusion the pads of my thumbs would feel sore after each play session. Button combinations made Raiden feel unflinching and almost callous. Limbs would often go flying different directions as Raiden’s sword slices through the bone, metal, and sinew of enemies. Revengeance is the fastest and most brutal character action game I’ve played, and the parry system makes this all possible.

Unlike most character action games that use dodge as a defensive mechanic, Revengeance uses a parry system, requiring you to use light attack in the direction of the incoming attack. Dodging an attack can give a break to the cadence of combat, the way it flows from strike to strike, but parrying an attack doesn’t allow for that break. The clang of weapons clashing continues, unrelenting, and makes the combat feel intense even when fighting a non-boss enemy.

But let me tell you about the joy of blade mode.

The first time I reached the boss Monsoon, I still hadn’t figured out the quirks of the parry system. It was a struggle to reach his second stage, where he hops up on the columns outside World Marshall HQ. He used his magnetic force to throw an armored transport at me, and as it approached me, the symbol for zandatsu appeared on the right side of the screen. I pressed the left trigger on my Xbox 360 gamepad, and everything went into slow motion, almost to the point of standstill. I wiggled the left analog stick back and forth, cutting the transport into parts, and parts, and still more parts. I looked over to my fuel cell bar, and it wasn’t going down.

I was in blade mode indefinitely until I let go of the left trigger. That only made me hold the left trigger harder as I moved the left analog stick back and forth more, cutting and slicing the transport into more parts. I smiled as I saw at around 300 parts, my constant framerate of 60fps began to chug as it had trouble keeping track of all the parts. My mouth opened at around 500 partswhen I was dipping below 30fps, but still I held the left trigger, seeing how far I could go. At more than 700 parts, the transport now chopped up into finely shredded pieces of metal, my framerate wept at just barely 11fps before I finally let go of the trigger, the ground raining in what used to be a transport. The more the framerate dropped, so did my jaw, until the pitter-patter of metal fell against the pavement.

It was the same kind of joy as I received from playing Diablo 3 last year, when so many big damage numbers would appear on the screen my framerate would dip. It’s the reassuring kind of joy to know games like Revengeance aren’t just making things look fancy, but actually doing the math and calculating out the physics and dimensions for each of those pieces I cut.

In spite of blade mode, a few parts of Revengeance did feel clunky and frustrating. The sub-weapons, practically everything besides your sword, are hidden in a sub menu, making on-the-fly weapons switching impossible. The unique weapons did work wonders for certain aspects of combat; the polearm for area attacks, the sai for ranged attacks, and the pincers for heavy attacks. But trying to switch from one to another broke that cadence of combat I spoke about. Even though I spent my battle points on unlocking all of the unique weapons, I spent most of my time with one equipped until I needed a different kind of attack, rarely switching back and forth between more than one kind.

It also took me the longest time to get used to the way the camera handles Raiden’s and enemy’s positioning. It wasn’t until about three-fourths of the way through Revengeance I discovered the lock-on button, making parrying a bit more manageable. Blade wolf, and particularly the gekko intermission phase, took at least 50 tries. It was hard enough to learn how to parry the first time it mattered, but when enemies attack from off-screen and I can’t tell which direction they’re attacking me from, and in turn unable to decipher which direction to push towards to parry, it becomes infuriating, especially when it’s essentially the first boss.

The boss fights are the star of the show, however. They’re fun, creative, a bit silly, and more useful to learn game mechanics from than most of the tutorials. As I already mentioned, the Blade Wolf and Monsoon fights taught me how to parry more effectively, while the Sundowner and Jetstream fights emphasizes precision and patience. When I finally figured out each boss’s pattern and design, and the lyrics in the cheesy music kicked in, it reminded me of playing Sonic Adventure on my Dreamcast, adding in a non-existent nostalgia factor that made each fight satisfying to play.

After reaching the final boss, I asked friends if, with no prior experience with Metal Gear games, this is what essentially a Hideo Kojima game is about: A cyborg ninja and the main villain arguing political philosophy on top of a giant robot. The answer was a majority yes, leading me to try to explore the convoluted storyline of the Metal Gear series. But after so many Snakes, Bosses, and one too many mentions of nanomachines, I’ll stick to just Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and hope there’s a sequel in the future.

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