Few characters in gaming have been as maligned as Raiden from the Metal Gear Solid series. His introduction in the second entry in the franchise, Sons of Liberty, was not well received. Players expecting another adventure with Solid Snake became annoyed when the iconic operative was dropped after the introductory mission, replaced with a novice agent lacking Snake’s skills who ended up in a series of embarrassing situations that made him look inept. Series creator Hideo Kojima wanted Raiden to be a more appropriate avatar for the player, someone who didn’t possess Snake’s many abilities. Even though this was intentional, it failed to help the character endear himself to players, despite attempts to give him depth with a tragic backstory as a child soldier and frequent interactions with his girlfriend Rose. Raiden’s lackluster first impression, coupled with the convoluted, nonsensical plot of Sons of Liberty, caused many American fans of the series to despise the character, though in Japan he had a more positive reception. Kojima attempted to rectify the problem by bringing Raiden back for the fourth Metal Gear Solid game, Guns of the Patriots, recreated as a battle-hardened cyborg skilled in swordplay and martial arts. This new incarnation proved more popular, prompting Kojima Productions to develop a game focusing on Raiden, initially planning to document the events that led him to become a cyborg, but later changing the concept to take place after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. Kojima planned for the title to retain the stealth focus of previous entries, but had difficulty figuring out how make it mesh with Raiden’s more action-oriented focus, and the project was scrapped until 2011 when development was transferred to Platinum Games, who reworked the title with a greater emphasis on action. The new version, titled Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, was released by Konami for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Unfortunately, the troubled development cycle, coupled with an attempt to merge clashing gameplay styles, resulted in an inconsistent game that has some enjoyable moments, but is ultimately a letdown.

Four years after the events of Guns of the Patriots, Raiden has become an operative for Maverick, a private military and security company specializing in restoring order to unstable nations. His most recent assignment has been assisting in the rebuilding of a war-torn African nation, serving as confidential bodyguard to the newly elected Prime Minister. During a tour to observe how the country is faring with a strengthened infrastructure and newly trained army, the prime minister’s convoy is attacked by agents working for Desperado, a corrupt PMC that thrives on furthering international conflict in order to reap the rewards that come from offering guns for hire to war-torn nations. Desperado hits hard with an onslaught of cybernetically enhanced soldiers and Metal Gear units. Despite his best efforts, Raiden is badly mutilated during a battle with the mercenary known as Jetstream Sam, and the prime minister is assassinated. After Maverick rebuilds his body, Raiden embarks on a mission to bring down Desperado, putting an end to their militaristic endeavors while gradually uncovering a conspiracy that threatens to ignite a massive global war. His sword must be true if he is to succeed against his adversaries.

Though Revengance is not considered an official entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, it is technically canon since it takes place in the series’ universe (making reference to events from past games like FOXHOUND, the Patriots, and Solidus Snake) and therefore shares many narrative similarities. The lead writer for the script, Etsu Tamari, had previously assisted in writing for past MGS games Guns of the Patriots and Peace Walker. It’s apparent that he picked up many aspects of Kojima’s style, both the good and bad. As with the other entries in the series, the plot touches on many of the issues that have arisen from a growing military presence: war economies, the mercenary nature of PMCs, corrupt governments using conflict to further their own agendas, if war is a way for humanity to satisfy its natural bloodlust, how soldiers can justify killing others. All of these concepts should provide for a deep, thought-provoking story, but their delivery is executed rather poorly. Too much of what’s discussed has been mentioned before in other media with nothing new or substantial added. Much of the discussion of these matters, while attempting to appear profound or insightful, simply come off as clichéd and pretentious.

As with previous Metal Gear Solid games, any attempt to take these concepts seriously is abandoned when the more outlandish elements are introduced. It never gets to the bizarre fourth-wall breaking moments of past titles, but when a major plot element involves harvesting brains from third-world children to create an obedient army of cyborgs, the more serious concepts look jarringly out of place, like deadpan moments in an outlandish comedy. The main antagonist’s over-the-top revelation of his master plan also has a detrimental impact on the game’s tone. It’s so ludicrous, nonsensical, and at some points inconsistent with his motivation that it comes across as something you’d expect to see in a parody, though Revengeance never sells itself as a spoof. Don’t come into this game expecting a strong story. Thankfully, the cutscenes never become unbearably lengthy.

The weak writing also extends to the characters. Raiden has very little development throughout the game, never really fluctuating from the stock personality of a soldier with a tragic past trying to keep his violent nature in check while fighting to protect the innocent. A few mentions are made to his family, and the horrors he endured as a child soldier, but just referencing these events isn’t enough to fully flesh him out. After the third mission, there is what looks to be a drastic change in Raiden when he starts to hear the thoughts of the other cybernetically-augmented soldiers he’s been fighting, discovering that many of them were either forced into becoming mercenaries or wanted to help their families but had no other choices. He questions whether or not his mission of protecting the weak was simply a rationalization to satisfy his bloodlust, eventually giving in to his suppressed violent urges and reawakening the brutal killer known as Jack the Ripper. The game after this point could have explored his conflicting urges, putting Raiden into situations that would have tested whether or not he truly is a soulless killer or whether he does have humanity. Instead, however, it’s just discussed through side conversations with his allies, and after the next mission, this change in attitude starts to fluctuate in and out of existence until it’s basically dropped altogether.

Many of the side characters also lack any engaging personalities. Raiden’s allies at Maverick have the same problem of being one-dimensional without any unique traits that help them stand out. Kevin and the Doktor, for example, seem to exist solely for the purpose of providing exposition, to the point where their dialogue could be switched between them without any noticeable difference. There are a few bits of humorous banter or some moments that give a bit of depth, most notably with Courtney, but those are few in number. The characters I disliked most were the robotic BladeWolf, who while occasionally offering a dry comeback to one of Raiden’s jokes, mainly served to spout the same tired, arrogant nonsense regarding how artificial intelligence has proven itself to be more kind and compassionate than humans, and the Guyanan child refugee George, whose overly enthusiastic pidgin English schtick got old very quickly. Strangely, the antagonists appear to be the most compelling characters. Some, like Mistral and Monsoon, actually managed to garner a bit of sympathy, while others like Sundowner and Senator Armstrong stood out due to their outlandish behavior (which, again, would’ve come off better in a title that didn’t take itself seriously). That just makes it all the more shameful when you have to kill them; the entertaining characters should never die before the dull or annoying ones.

Revengeance definitely falls flat in its writing, but it more than excels in delivering action. The fighting is intense, visceral, and enjoyable, everything you’d expect from a Platinum game. Combat is centered around Raiden’s swordsmanship skills, with a series of combinations that can be executed to deliver intense damage. Adding to the fun is Blade Mode, a feature that allows the player to temporarily slow time and adjust the angle of their blade, striking in specific locations to sever parts of an enemy’s body. This technique is crucial when trying to incapacitate powerful foes or bosses. You can’t just mindlessly slash away at enemies; accuracy is crucial if you want to get through alive. Halfway through the game Ripper Mode is unlocked, which boosts Raiden’s power while in Blade Mode. Using these modes drains Raiden’s fuel cells, so you need to keep recharging them either by finding power-ups in the level, or with the Zandatsu technique, which allows you to steal repair gel from an enemy you kill in Blade Mode by attacking in the right spot, restoring all health and energy. The need to constantly kill opponents in order to stay alive adds a new level to the fights.

There’s an interesting defense mechanic that requires you to block by pushing the analog stick in the direction of an attacking enemy while simultaneously pressing an attack button in order to block. It takes a while to get used to, but once you have it down, it becomes easy to reduce damage. Mastery of the parry function is necessary since there’s a slight delay when trying to dodge normally. New skills and weapons are gradually unlocked to prevent combat from getting stale; I personally recommend the sai as a great tool for dealing with enemies from a distance. Weapons such as grenades and rocket launchers can be found throughout the levels to provide an advantage in certain battles, though there’s no quick select function, and trying to choose one of these weapons causes a brief delay that gives your enemies time to get in a cheap shot. Unfortunately, combat can be hampered by an erratic camera which moves too quickly, either automatically or manually, making it easy to become disoriented. One aspect I found odd was the lack of a double jump function. I’ve become so accustomed to this feature that I expected it to be present, and even when I’d learned there wasn’t one, there were still points when I hit the jump button twice to gain more altitude. I suppose this is alleviated with the Ninja Run, a technique that allows Raiden to instantly run up walls or make certain high jumps.

Revengeance is structured like a standard beat-‘em-up/hack-and-slash title in the vein of Devil May Cry or Viewtiful Joe. The plot progresses through a linear succession of areas where you need to slaughter every enemy in your path in order to make it to the end. Standard hack-and-slash gameplay is broken up with a few stealth segments, owing to Kojima’s original vision for the title. The stealth aspects are pretty simplistic, with enemies patrolling in pre-set patterns who will react if you wander into their line of sight or alert them by moving too quickly, requiring you to use the layout of the world or the series’ acclaimed cardboard box to remain hidden until you can strike from behind. The use of an augmented reality visor to see through walls greatly helps in tracking enemy movements to determine the best opportunities to strike. If you are spotted, a small chance to run and hide until the enemy alertness drops, but in most cases this will lead to a fight.

As I mentioned earlier, the combat is intense and provides a great challenge thanks to well implemented enemy AI. Your foes aren’t just mindless cannon fodder; they will take every opportunity they can to stun you or knock you down. You need to rely on sneaking, dodging and blocking in order to succeed. The boss fights are a perfect example of this, with each boss having their own devastating attacks but never falling into a set pattern. You need to be aware of their tells and ready to act quickly in order to survive. Much like Bayonetta, some of the more difficult fights have checkpoints, which is a nice touch given how much damage they can deal. Quick time events are present in the fights against bosses and stronger enemies, and for using the Zandatsu technique, but they never become annoying and the window to use them is never too short. Once again, though, I have to criticize the inclusion of BladeWolf, as he feels wasted. In game his purpose is marking set-points to indicate your next location on the map screen. Given his potential, I think the developers should have included some attacks or combos that used Raiden and BladeWolf together in combat, then the robot would have more of a purpose.

As with many Platinum brawlers, however, Revengeance is incredibly short. A standard game on normal difficulty can take about 4-5 hours, with the latter half of the game being incredibly rushed. Aside from the prologue there are seven missions in total: one is backtracking through the setting of a previous mission, one is just a boss fight, and one is a very short sequence before the final boss. This seems especially lazy since, in the context of the game, there were opportunities for aerial or motorcycle combat that would’ve offered some nice variety. There are some optional tasks scattered throughout the game such as saving civilians threatened by enemy soldiers, locating hidden enemies for achievements, unlocking alternate costumes and concept art, but I never found myself going out of my way for these bonuses. The main reason someone might want to replay it is to test themselves on higher difficulty settings, which I have yet to do, but I’ve heard it offers a truly extreme challenge (apparently on the hardest difficulty, every attack by the final boss completely drains your health.)

Visuals are impressive, though they don’t seem to be well utilized. The character models are as well detailed as those seen in Metal Gear Solid 4, with the cyborgs having the best designs. Color and texture is used to make every aspect of their metallic bodies stand out as a distinct element making up a greater whole. Oddly, the fully human characters suffer a bit, mainly when they speak since the skin around their mouths have a bit of a rubbery texture Bloom is well used, especially when providing light reflections off water or metal to provide an extra touch of realism. The levels are well designed, but it’s a bit of a waste as the areas are all rather bland and generic, such as a ruined city, a military base in the mountains, and a sewer level. As much as the designers worked to make them stand out, that effort could have been put into making more unique worlds. Very few areas stand out as truly impressive, like the research facility in Mission 2 and the interior Japanese garden in Mission 4. The cutscenes are well done, though more action heavy scenes have a bit too much motion blur.

Voice acting is hit-or-miss depending on the performer. Quinton Flynn reprises his role as Raiden, but there’s nothing really remarkable about his delivery. It’s just a pretty standard tough guy with a heart of gold that never wavers in tone, at least not until his breakdown. His voice when trying to sound menacing and psychotic is just laughable, much like Christian Bale attempting to sound threatening as Batman. The other voice actors have the same problem, sticking with one inflection that never helps them show any real emotion other than what they’re saddled with as their default personality. This is a shame considering there’s some strong talent in the cast like Phil LaMarr, Kari Wahlgren and Crispin Freeman. Nothing much I can say about the music, it was all pretty forgettable hard rock. The worst sound decision they made was including a very annoying, shrill alert when your health becomes too low. I can understand why some games use this to illustrate the need to regain health, but it can be done without sounding unbearable.

I really wanted to like Metal Gear Rising, but in the end it was disappointing. The story couldn’t decide on whether or not it wanted to be serious or outlandish, the characters are pretty static, and the overall experience felt like it was rushed. There were some moments of potential where I thought we’d see some really good character development, sadly it was all buildup with no payoff. If Platinum and Kojima had decided to go all out and make the plot more humorous and campy like MadWorld or Bayonetta, and given its cast more personality, then I could have forgiven some of the other flaws present. The intense combat is the game’s only redeeming factor. If you like challenging, bloody beat-em-ups, you might want to rent Revengeance. If you like it and want to add it to your collection, wait until the price drops. It’s not worth the full price.

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