Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance preview: Cutting edge
7th Dec 2012 | 14:49
"One sword keeps another in its sheath," says Raiden in the opening moments of Metal Gear Rising. Don't be fooled by the sharp George Herbert quote, or the stoic demeanour, Raiden is as naive and impressionable as ever. Also, wrong - very, very wrong.
Our hands-on demo of the Platinum Games spin-off kicks off in Africa, four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. Since the fall of The Patriots, the polarising protagonist of MGS2 has signed up with a peace-keeping Private Military Company called Maverick Securities. We join him on a routine mission guarding the prime minister of Montenegro.
War Never Changes
Things go pear-shaped when the motorcade is assaulted by goons from Desperado Enforcements, a rival PMC stocked on cyborg soldiers and Metal Gear Rays. It's not the strongest of starts for Raiden, who watches the PM get ganked, with his team get reduced to paste, his left eye poked out, and his arm lobbed off. What was that about swords in sheaths?
As it turns out, Desperado is quite fond of war, specifically the technology advancements it provides, along with the jobs and cash. The nefarious company is in the midst of destabilising an entire region to keep the gears of war turning, and is also neck-deep organ harvesting for experimentation.
Driven by his sense of justice - which his katana serves as an avatar for - Raiden embarks on a crusade to bring down Desperado and put a stop to its schemes. How you ask? By cutting of course!
At the core of
Ninja cats aside, Raiden's blade effortlessly glides through objects like they're blocks of warm butter. In addition to the typical arrangement of blisteringly quick light attacks and slow-but-powerful heavies, players can engage Blade mode, letting them pick the exact angle they want to slice through an object.
Sure, it's a gimmick, but a deeply satisfying one. We spent an inordinate amount of time ignoring the main objective and instead running around cleaving inanimate objects into small pieces. The physics model is fairly capable, even when we're swinging like a frenzied orchestra conductor. A cool touch is the on-screen indicator that keeps track of how many pieces you've cut an object into (we reduced a car to 300 small bits).
Blade Mode is the kind of grin-inducing mechanic that you show off to friends, like the launch and juggle from Devil May Cry, the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2, or Portal's speedy-thing-goes-in-speedy-thing-comes-out mechanic.
Before long we'd chopped our way through everything in our immediate surroundings, and headed to the objective via radar guidance. Raiden's mission in Abkhazia is to seize control of the country from Desperado and return power to what remains of its elected government.
Rock, Paper, GIANT KNIFE
After his massive fail in Africa, Raiden is outfitted with a new suit courtesy of team poindexter Doktor. Precision sword-swinging eats up fuel, so Raiden needs to cut through his enemies and use the outfit's electrolyte absorption functionality to keep his tank full. Cyborg enemies also contain the biotic paste reserves needed to replenish energy. To score these, players must use "Zandatsu"; which we imagine is a succinct Japanese phrase for "blade them in half and rip their energy-filled spines out".
A standard mixture of light and heavy attacks will also cause enemies to drop the goods, but by deploying Blade mode and employing finessed sword swipes, the paste can be grabbed before it touches the ground and thus retain all its potency.
The extra energy alone is worth attempting the surgical strikes for, but those that go through the trouble are rewarded with kill porn. Against the grunts, these flourishes can be as simple as a hand being plunged through a chest, but on enemies like the huge Gekkos (yes - they're back) Raiden opts for unnecessary backflips, mid-air twists and crazy sword-between-toes capoeira moves.
Given the pedigree of Platinum Games it's no surprise that the hack-and-slash gameplay as a whole is robust and comprehensive. While not as open-ended as
Initially, Raiden is only capable of basic mash combos and doesn't even have a reliable evasive ability. But, by the end of chapter two we had enough points to unlock advance combos, aerial attacks, launchers and more.
Sticks and stones
Rising is a tough game, non-boss skirmishes require crowd control and threat prioritisation, while larger enemies - of which there are many - and boss characters demand faultless execution.
Parrying is the crux of combat. With no options block, mastering the timing to deflect attacks is vital. We learned this the hard way during our battle with Bladewolf, a quadrupedal robot possessing a smart AI and, also, a chainsaw for a tail. It's parry or peril.
For all its thrills, the parry system carries a few issues too. Firstly, the game's camera is prone to wandering, especially when it's trying to keep apace with the more limber enemies. On more than a few occasions we'd attempt to parry but activate an untimely attack instead due to an unexpected camera movement. The issue is compounded by the lack of a lock-on function.
Secondly, successful counters aren't rewarded with openings, instead enemies either block or just wind up another attack.
Rising revels in the absurd. If you thought the scene where Raiden stops a giant warship with his bare hands in MGS4 was over-the-top, wait until you see the trouble he gets into here. Metal Gear Rays are torn asunder, Gekkos are tossed around like Frisbees, missiles get used as springboards and there's plenty of running down the side of crumbling structures.
Fun Loving Criminals
Chapter three takes Raiden to Mexico and it's here we're handed some brief Metal Gear humour. While comedy in the mainline Metal Gear games is somewhat understated, Rising makes it a point of regularly cracking jokes and delivering gags.
For instance, to make himself inconspicuous in Mexico, Raiden puts on a disguise - a mariachi uniform complete with comically large hat and poncho. Unsurprisingly, he's the centre of attention on the streets, but hams it up by shouting "adios amigos" at befuddled onlookers before disappearing into the sewers.
The humour adds levity to what is otherwise quite a preachy and po-faced game. Complementing the comedy is a cast of characters with that unmistakable Metal Gear quirk. Boris, founder of Maverick, is a jolly Russian and always up for a tussle. IT wiz Courtney has a habit of spilling her coffee, so mission controller Kevin is constantly seen moving her cup around. George, a runaway who Raiden finds wandering the sewers of Mexico, has a jarring Guyanese accent and frequently uses the word "Skunt".
Rising makes an attempt at getting a serious message across too and - from what we've seen - doesn't fall flat on its face. In chapter four, Raiden makes his way to the US to face Sam, the cyborg ninja responsible for his humiliating defeat in Africa. Now on Raiden's home turf, the ethical line dividing Raiden and his enemies becomes blurred as the player is made to think about their wanton killing. These are unmistakably the fingerprints of Kojima, adding an emotional context to that game that, although a well-trodden subject in the series, is nevertheless welcomed.