[Updated again: Kojima says the game is a “spinoff”, an “interpretation”, and a “parallel” universe in this interview. Considering that he’s the final authority on the subject, I guess my initial review was correct after all (I knew he’d said that somewhere before!) Either way, I’ll leave the review as it is, and you can see my take on the game no matter what they decide in the future.
Thanks to JMG519 for having my back with the link — go watch his videos!]
Bottom Line: Platinum Games does their best with a failed experiment.
A phoenix Rises from the ashes
Rising counts as Kojima Productions’ first major failure. It walked into the spotlight back in 2009 with a plot supposedly occurring between MGS2 and 4, meant to explain how Raiden went from being a pussy to a badass – and meant to be official canon in the series. It had a different game engine than it does now, and while Kojima admitted the whole project was in an “experimental” phase that didn’t stop them from hyping it up with new trailers and tidbits of information. The fact that it was eventually cancelled, outsourced, and rebooted should have been a memorable low point for a man with a reputation as sterling as Kojima; but with “Revengeance” all doubts were forgotten.
That’s a testament to both Kojima’s business cunning and Platinum Games’ brute creative force. If they hadn’t played their cards just right, it could have gone very badly.
At first I complained about Rising because it seriously threatened to screw up the MGS timeline more than Guns of the Patriots already had,
so I was overjoyed when I found out it was going to become a “what if” spinoff in the hands of another developer. [Update: The game is actually canon story sadly! This message is obviously confusing, since Kojima Productions clearly said it wasn’t a “Solid” game, suggesting that it was its own timeline. Oh well.] And as I explained at the time, almost everything about the reboot was what I wanted, including the choice of Platinum Games. That was pretty amazing. But “what I wanted” was still more about pushing the game away from the previous instalments than actually looking forward to what they created. I still didn’t think it would be good. Being a spinoff meant just meant it no longer mattered how over-the-top and thematically inconsistent the game got; it could just be dumb and let loose. Being “canon story” means that the timeline is permanently fucked up! “Rising” tried awkwardly to tip toe away from tradition while exploring new possibilities, but “Revengeance” was an arrogant middle finger to everything. The reboot fiasco was spun by Kojima Productions as a meaningful collaboration and a celebration of Japan developers, but I saw it as damage control plain and simple.
Regardless, the question now became whether a “Metal Gear” title as half-assed and rushed as Revengeance could win me over against all logic. Promotional stuff like these awful teaser videos were only good for a laugh at the game’s expense, and the overall ‘roid rage pretty much answered the question for me: it aimed for an audience with no taste or intellect, yet still insisted on leveraging the Metal Gear brand name to sell its shameless celebration of gore and action. It was for the very people who ruined the Metal Gear series over the course of a decade.
Needless to say I didn’t rush out to buy the game. In fact it took me a while to even bother renting it, since I don’t consider it to be a Metal Gear game at all. [Update: Obviously I stopped paying close attention to it and watching the interviews as well, because the game is a joke.] But I did rent it, and here’s what I think now…
I like that it brings the social commentary of the Metal Gear series to a new demographic without making the mistake of being bloated, eccentric, or abstract. There’s nothing wrong with Kojima’s signature quirkiness — he’s always thrived on bewildering the audience more than satisfying them — but this game needed to be streamlined. Characters don’t make off-hand references to the START 2 treaty or the Kurdish massacre, they shout “Fuck American pride! Fuck the media!” In other words, it’s emotionally-driven, resonates with the majority of the world, and focuses on a handful of mainstream topics that may not be new, but still don’t get enough attention.
Nobody likes America’s foreign policy, or the military-industrial complex, or corruption in the media and politics. These things are not controversial to complain about. But I like how the game seems desperate to drive the point home one way or another, regardless. If you’re a sheltered teen whose parents watch FOX News and don’t have the Internet, it may be shocking content. Or, if you’re a 29-year-old who reads r/politics and remembers the 9/11 attacks clearly, it might be relaxing to have somebody echo old sentiments in a new way.
- Take its condemnation of child soldiers, which is a stance nobody opposes. It’s not “edgy” to stand against the use of child soldiers, but Platinum Games proved they don’t need to be edgy to be effective, they just need to make it a visible, tangible theme throughout the story. Hence, the “harvested brains” subplot…
- About a third of the game revolves around saving a hi-tech warehouse full of kids’ harvested brains, which are being subjected to intense VR military simulations so they can later be implanted into PMC cyborgs. This is a fact you see with your own eyes, not an abstract concept told to you during a monologue with some stock footage. The eyes of the children, still active and connected to the brain, stare at you with fear just to make sure you get the point.
- Platinum Games favors pure blunt force over subtlety. They seem glad to pound a universally acceptable message home in plain words until it breaks through our collective indifference and becomes interesting again. This is the proper inverse to Kojima’s less popular method of trying to arouse curiosity with obscure trivia and mandatory codec conversations.
Indifference is a major theme, and plays a central role not only in Raiden’s personal character arc but in the world around him. I’d say it’s actually the core of the game, weaving nicely throughout the story from beginning to end. It shows an alarming level of maturity for a game that I dismissed as pure schlock. Let me explain.
- The game perfectly anticipates the mixed motivations of its audience by making Raiden an enigma whose moral code is dubious at best. If you’re a psycho who just wants to slice dudes into tiny bits, you’ll find an echo in Raiden’s sadistic “Jack the Ripper” persona, always hidden just below the surface. Or if you’re more into playing the hero who uses his sword as a “tool of justice”, he claims be that exactly that kind of hero. Then again, if you simply rely on bursts of petty emotion and want to get revenge on the guy who cut out your eye, you can feel free to cling to that as well.
- Every corner of Jack’s twisted psyche is explored by the end of the game, which makes the whole crazy world feel a bit more believable. Perhaps the true turning point of the game is when Raiden is forced to hear the inner voices of the grunts he’s been killing the whole time. Snake Eater tried to arouse sympathy with the River Styx sequence by making us walk past all the enemies we’ve killed, but this scene is far more effective, and something I’ll remember for a long time.
Quinton Flynn is still the worst voice actor alive, and is the only thing preventing Raiden from being genuinely accessible as a character. He can’t make up his mind whether to be whispery, raspy, or all-out gargling, first of all, so you can expect a random assortment of tones and attitudes popping in and out without rhyme or reason. Secondly, just like in MGS2, he has no depth and treats the material like its all campy fluff, so whether its a badass one-liner or an emotional breakdown, expect the same Saturday morning cartoon quality. Thirdly, Flynn drones on and on with the same boring cadence, which started to drive me crazy: hey Flynn, he’s a cyborg, not a robot! I found myself turning the volume down and reading the subtitles out loud just so I could hear how an actual human might say those words, and it was a big improvement.
I still have gripes about its premise,
even though it’s not an official continuation of the Metal Gear timeline, especially because it is officially part of the timeline, because it pretty much guarantees that there never will be a good sequel to MGS4. I expect sequels to Revengeance, and I expect it will be declared canon by Kojima eventually [or, you know, last year!] but we’ll never get a “real” Metal Gear that properly continues from Metal Gear Solid 4 — which sucks. Here’s why…
- Guns of the Patriots laboriously established a dystopian world in which battlefield emotions are suppressed, war is routine, and an indifferent “System” controls global affairs. This game replaces “System” with “status quo” and the rest in kept perfectly the same. I don’t mind the excuse that the Patriots passed on their “memes”, and I understand that this is due to the fact it was supposed to be a prequel originally, but that doesn’t make it okay. The ending of MGS4 centers on the destruction of that System and the restoration of humanity to its natural state — thus ending the mindless cycle of war for good!
- I’m disappointed nobody took the hint here. Literally the entire point of MGS4 was to tie up the loose ends, kill off the characters, and set the next game up for a clean slate in which ideology matters, ambitions are pure, and there are no traces of the old all-compassing hegemony. And yet that’s exactly what we have now. It’s almost heartbreaking to think of how much pain and suffering Kojima went through to create that perfect clean slate, just to see the same shitty System duplicated again.
If you want the whole story, most of the details are tucked away in the optional codec calls, which is a smart move. Unlike MGS2, 3, and 4, you have a real support team here, and codec conversations can get pretty interesting. The writing is sharp and extremely pace-conscious, so characters will actually get bored and interrupt at the same time you get bored and wish they’d interrupt; they make jokes at the same time you’d make a joke, etc. I can’t claim to have listened to even a tenth of all the dialogue available, but from what I heard it was brisk and interesting. Fanservice is mostly saved for codec calls as well, which is the right way to handle it considering classic Metal Gear fans are probably the only ones who’ll search through that far into the story.
I don’t know the official term for this genre, but I personally call it a Slayer type. Not only because it seems like their action and their soundtracks are inspired by this shitty band, but because it’s all about extravagant murder, combos, finishing moves, etc.
The Slayer formula is in effect here, but this also means it’s accessible to anyone who’s played Devil May Cry and its imitators. Did you really want to learn a fancy new way of fighting? No, you wanted to mash buttons and then go into slow motion to slice a dude in half without much hassle. Like always, you can counter enemy attacks by parrying, or just go on a rampage before anyone has the chance; like always, everybody stands around taking turns. [This is a bit misleading — actually the enemies do try to team up, shoot while others are attacking, and so on. However, it’s still not interesting.] Platinum Games wisely avoids pushing the envelope here, giving us the standard combo counter in the top right corner, which now includes a “parts” counter too, in case you want to beat your record of chopping a guy into 53 parts before he hits the ground. Here’s what stood out to me:
- “Blade Mode” is a wonderfully elegant way to break up the pace, creating a Zen-like moment of precision and calm amidst a clusterfuck of disjointed action. “Zandatsu” is a simple gimmick that directly rewards players who can keep their cool and hit their target regardless of the adrenaline pumping through their arteries.
- I’d like to know whether the psychology of this was carefully planned or a happy byproduct of really, really wanting to have players go “bro check it out slow motion slicing a dude yeahhhh swag yolo”
The biggest problem is the camera, sadly.
There’s no lock-on or strafing button, There’s a very shitty lock-on button that doesn’t work properly when there’s multiple enemies around, so you’ll be awkwardly swiveling the view around when you want to find enemies, or worse yet, when you need to keep track of fast-moving boss characters. Those gorilla-like robots are a complete pain in the ass simply because you can’t follow them when they start jumping into the air and landing on you.
Defense is dull. I get that it’s a high-octane Slayer game where offense is king, but defense can be just as interesting as offense if you do it right. I don’t mind how parry and blocking are tied to the attack button because, after all, you do block with your sword; and it helps players figure out that they can’t interrupt your own attacks with a quick block and then keep attacking. You have to choose when you block and when to attack, in theory.
- A bigger problem in defense is the lack of rolling, diving,
or dodging. Or rather, the lack of enemies and gameplay ideas that necessitate dodging. Jumping is my first instinct when I want to avoid something, but jumping is pretty useless in combat. [Update: My bad, turns out there is a “dodge” function, not a dodge button, but my god it’s terrible. You have to press attack and jump at the same time as a direction and he just kind of floats away awkwardly.] “Ninja Run” allows you to move away from attacks and deflect bullets while doing so, but there’s no precision or satisfaction in running away and then running back toward enemies.
- To be fair, Blade Mode can be used defensively to slice incoming rockets in half before they hit you… but this concept isn’t taken far enough and barely comes into play.
- Bonus idea: create “Dodge Mode”, where you slow down and dodge attacks similar to Blade Mode.
Environments are very dull. Of course you need to have big open spaces are to allow for action, but the problem is that everything feels the same, from beginning to end. Sections of the level are blocked off using “electromagnetic walls”, which means you’re stuck fighting in a squared-off arena until you have to kill everyone. Large crates are just stacked around the level for your convenience, and getting around reminded me a lot more of PS1-era controls than something I’d expect to see nowadays. It’s better than shoving in unnecessary crawling and climbing I suppose, but it would have been nice to have to get creative and use your cutting ability to solve environmental puzzles, open up hidden areas, and block off enemy routes. “Cut what you will” is far too limited in my opinion.
- Enemies should have been designed to strategically hide behind cover, allowing you to slice open their protection and get at the gooey insides. Hunting down enemies and assassinating key targets that are well protected would have been a lot better than the standard sprint-and-slash pattern in walled-off sections.
- You should be able to pick up things you’ve cut and use those as weapons — fashioning clubs out of Gekko legs, or tossing segments of marble pillar at the enemies. They already have a system of dismembering specific limbs to gain a bonus item, so take it the next step and add some variety.
Traveling through the environments is equally boring. “Ninja Run” is your basic sprint button, letting you deflect bullets, jump up walls of a specific height, and bypass obstacles that are specifically designed to be bypassed with Ninja Run. You don’t get to jump off walls, hang off ledges, or feel like an acrobatic ninja at all. You run and cut. That’s it.
Ah dang, I forgot about Sub-Weapons… just like I did while playing.
This game feels rushed, but it’s questionable whether it was worth spending time and money to develop in the first place. It was an experiment that got out of control, not a project with vision or substance. Nevertheless, it’s a fun spinoff if you’re renting it without treating it like something more than the disposable entertainment it is. And the writing does a great job keeping your attention long enough to see it through to the end. Not a lot of games can say the same.
I give Platinum Games credit for using clever game design to hide flaws, too, like when they give a higher score for a faster mission completion time. By turning the game into a race against the clock, they keep people moving from fight to fight instead of looking around and soaking in the dullness. Big neon indicators show you where to go, an Arkham Asylum style vision mode tells you where items and special objects are, and in the end your attention is constantly occupied with the next step, instead of enjoying what’s around you. Maybe that’s because there’s not much around you to enjoy?
No motion controls, a minimal amount of effort put into “stealth” gameplay, and an extraordinary amount of marketing hype to compensate for its fleeting appeal make all point in the same direction: this game does not deserve the Metal Gear name, and it doesn’t deserve the money it costs to buy.
ROTTEN LEAGUE (IF CANON)
NO THANKS LEAGUE (IF SPINOFF)
Wlecome to the -/+ rating system, where games begin at zero and work their in one direction or the other! +1 represents being satisfactory, worth the time, money, and energy required to experience it properly, and for developers to create the thing in the first place. 0 represents a failure to justify its own existence and/or requirements. -1 represents an unpleasant experience that should be avoided.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance attains a
+0.3 in spite of everythinga -1.7 for daring to call itself a proper sequel. Nevertheless, the writing is sharp compared to what I expected, with interesting themes and neat gameplay pressurization tricks managing to break up the generic combat and drag this otherwise bad spinoffso-called canon story wreck from an easy -3.0 into the positivesa slightly better league, just barely. Getting rid of Quinton Flynn and fixing the camera would have gone a long way.
Hey, who would’ve guessed calling it canon story made such a difference?
(* Note: As mentioned in the update above the article, the latest decision by Kojima Productions seems to be that Revegeance is indeed a “parallel” spinoff. Therefore the game would respectfully stand at a +0.3)