Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Game Review: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance by Matthew W.A

Well that was unexpected. I expected Metal Gear Rising: Reveangeance (lets call it MGR) to be good, sure. I expected a mindless, over-the-top action game with Metal Gear branding, and interesting cutting mechanic, and lots of large explosions. I got all of that and more. If any game could wash the bad taste out of my mouth left by Aliens: Colonial Marines, it was this one. Platinum games hit a home run with MGR. They took the Metal Gear franchise and made it their own. They came up with new ideas, bundled them with some older ones, and gave it the old college try. And they succeeded gloriously. I had pretty high expectations for MGR going in, but I was still surprised by the quality of the game. Platinum games really outdid themselves this time.

MGR takes place four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, and expects you to have at least played that or read a plot summary. It assumes that you know that SOP stands for Sons of the Patriots, and you know what that had to do with the concept of the war economy. Almost all of the important events involving the Sons of the Patriots system and the fall of the Patriots themselves is available via codec conversations, but if you aren't a veteran of the series, you probably won't know to call up your support team for additional information regarding back story in the first place. The story is a lot more personal then that of previous Metal Gear games, and reminded me of Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line of all things. The plot is coherent (which in itself was a plot twist considering the fact that this is a Metal Gear game), the characters are interesting, well rounded, and experience meaningful and believable character development. For some strange reason, Raiden (who is the main character once again) is not only tolerable, but likeable. He isn't whiny or obnoxious, he is a badass with some serious inner devils. In a way, I almost like him better then Snake, because he is the one running the show and deciding what must be done. He isn't obeying the instructions of someone over the codec, he telling the people over the codec what must be done.

The excellent voice acting only serves to enhance the delivery of the story. Quinton Flynn delivers a truly riveting performance as Raiden, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well. All of the bosses deliver at least one epic speech before engaging you in battle. The last three bosses (and Raiden, surprisingly enough) are deliciously large hams in the true spirit of Metal Gear. I only have a few (extremely) minor nitpicks about the story. The first is that Raiden put down his sword at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, and considering the level of technology compared to Metal Gear Solid 4, it would almost have made more sense for the game to be about Raiden's son. My other minor complaint is that the first two bosses aren't as well characterized as the rest of the rest of the antagonists. You only meet them just before you fight them, which softened the impact of what they had to say a bit. That's not to say that they were bad characters per say (Monsoon was actually really cool), they just felt underdeveloped.

Gameplay is a radical departure from previous Metal Gear titles. Gone is any hint of subtlety. You can try to be stealthy, but in the end you will always end up engaged in frantic, glorious battle. You have two basic attacks: a light attack that uses your sword, and a heavy attack that (eventually) uses one of the unique weapons that you get after beating a boss. The unique weapons all function completely differently, and have completely different move sets. Combat feels fast and fluid. The game often pushes you pretty hard, but when you die, it's your fault. MGR is unforgiving even on the lower difficulties, but it gives you all the tools you need to succeed. Of particular note is the parrying mechanic, which takes awhile to get the hang of, but is very satisfying once you master it. The lack of a dodge move was a bit of a surprise to me, until I realized that Raiden's ninja run is fast enough that he doesn't need one (although I did miss watching him cartwheel all over the place).
I should probably say more about that ninja run: by holding down a button you can make Raiden automatically run through hazardous terrain without having to actually time jumps and slides. A lot of other spectacle fighters and action games (God of War and Devil May Cry, I'm looking at you guys) have jumping puzzles that are more often than not showstoppers for me. MGR circumvents that problem by automating the timing of any required jumping and removing any frustration that could result from forced precision platforming. The ninja run feature seems to fit well with the core attitude behind the design of MGR. The game seems to say “we know that you don't have the speed and reflexes that Raiden does, so here are a bunch of design choices that will make you feel like you do.” The ninja run is one excellent example of that design ethos, while blade mode is another. Raiden has an energy bar that fills as he damages enemies, and you can spend that energy by entering blade mode, where time slows down and you have one-to-one control over the cutting angle of Raiden's sword. The mechanic generally works pretty well, and being able to slice an enemy cyborg into hundreds of little pieces feels very satisfying.

I mentioned this earlier, but I should talk about it some more: MGR is a really hard game. If you want to be even moderately successful (let alone earn S ranks) you need to master all of the mechanics the game has to offer. Don't want to get into the habit of using the “zandatsu” (cut and take) system to regain your health by taking the spines of enemy cyborgs in blade mode? Enjoy a nice death, because you probably aren't going to find enough repair nanopaste around the level to keep yourself alive unless you are very good at the game. Each boss demands mastery of a different mechanic, and if you don't at least have a reasonable understanding of all of the game's mechanics going into the final boss fight, you will get your clock cleaned and your ass handed to you on a silver platter. It took me a bit over six hours to finish the game on the easiest difficulty setting, but judging by my experience playing the first two levels on normal, it will probably take at least another hour or two if not more to finish it on normal or higher unless you are extremely proficient with the game's mechanics. There is also a good number of VR missions that add at least another hour or so to the game's length.

Graphically, the game is superb. When I first watched the opening cutscene, I thought it was pre-rendered. Then the gameplay started and the graphics looked almost exactly the same. That being said, I observed higher quality water effects during cutscenes then I did during gameplay, but the overall difference between the two is so small that that it really isn't worth mentioning. The game looks fantastic in motion, and even when you stop to really look at the game it looks impressive. It really is one of the better-looking games on current generation consoles. There are some caveats though. While the detail on characters is truly impressive, I noticed more then a few muddy environment textures in some of the levels, and while the frame-rate stayed at a rock-solid 30FPS I did notice some slowdown at the beginning of codec calls and when a lot of stuff got chopped into tiny pieces (think five APCs in ribbon form). That being said, it's the characters that you focus on, not the ground, and the frame-rate drops never actually hit during gameplay. I did notice one other strange graphical glitch, where Raiden's blood was red, as well as a bit of aliasing around to edges of geometry during gameplay. To be fair, complaining about anti-aliasing is a bit unreasonable of me, considering how good the game looks overall. It's pretty clear that MGR is pushing up against the outer limits of what the PS3 is capable of, and I honestly did not know that the PS3 was capable of delivering the level of graphical fidelity showcased by MGR.

MGR isn't a slouch in the audio department either, with a fantastic soundtrack composed of metal, alternative rock, and dubstep that always feels appropriate for the situation. I know, dubstep is tired, overused, and sounds like robot sex. I don't particularly care for it myself. That being said, there are times where dubstep is in fact appropriate. Giant robot boss battles are an excellent example of those times. Most of the time when I play a game, I don't notice the sound track. It just blends into the background. While playing MGR I frequently noticed just how awesome the soundtrack was. It's diverse, it's nice to listen to, and it always fits with what is going on on-screen. What more could you possibly want out of a soundtrack?
I came away from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance extremely impressed. Platinum games kept enough classic Metal Gear elements to keep it recognizable as a Metal Gear game while changing enough to make it their own. It is a bit on the short side, but it is clearly designed to be replayed with its new game plus mode and extremely hard higher difficulties. It's a loud, fast ride with big robots and even bigger explosions, yet it also stops and makes you think. It's well polished, looks great, plays great and sounds great. It grabs your attention and refuses to let go, but it doesn't outstay its welcome. Yes, I did have some nitpicks, but in the end, they are just that: nitpicks. As someone who has played and enjoyed every single major Metal Gear game since Metal Gear Solid 2, I have absolutely no problem saying that Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is my favorite Metal Gear game yet and completely worth its $60 price tag. Hats off to you Platinum, you really did just hit a home run.

Screenshots and pre-release PS3 review copy were provided to Blophish by Konami Digital Entertainment Inc.

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