I got an early glimpse at the upcoming Metal Gear spin-off from Platinum Games via PAX Prime 2012. It was fun, albeit the stupid sort, but still too tiny of a demo to tell whether the emphasis on the ridiculous slice-and-dice would become a brilliantly unique mechanic or a tiresome and corny gimmick. With the latest demo released a few days back, I returned to Revengeance to experience the evolution since that early show floor exposure. After an additional five-or-so months of development time, how does Metal Gear Rising play today?
Well, it’s still stupid.
Stupid isn’t always a bad thing, by the way. Games like Saints Row: The Third thrived on intentional stupidity. However, when specifically considering Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I’m having a terribly difficult time determining who is supposed to enjoy this wild ride. Right now, I can think of nobody.
I never made my way through the Metal Gear Solid series because of its gameplay. Stealth actions ask for a certain sort of patience I (sadly) never developed. That said, I still appreciate the methodical mechanics for those that do. Here, though, lovers of perfectly planned executions are left out. For all of Metal Gear Rising’s similarities to the proper Solid series that exist within this game — and there are many, I assure you — a stealth system is not part of that connective tissue. Stealth kills can take place, though the enemy placement and overall environments are not conducive to a straight-stealth approach to success (or at least not within both demos I’ve seen — as always, grain of salt when speaking of demo previews). If nothing else, codec dialogue actually encouraging you not to worry about an up-front assault appears to point to an experience where hiding in the shadows isn’t in the ideal deck of cards.
Then again, stealth isn’t supposed to be intact in Revengeance. Platinum is very clearly creating an action game, after all. Action fans once entirely turned off to this slow-going franchise can finally get excited about a high-energy adventure within the wacky Metal Gear world through Rising.
Or so it seems.
Blade Mode, as it’s dubbed, is the big gameplay driver behind Metal Gear Rising, the focal point of Revengeance-related hype. Once initiated, Blade Mode pseudo-slows down time to allow complete control of Raiden’s katana, aligning your every cutting angle to chop opposing cyborgs to bits. We can all agree that this concept sounds wonderful enough in theory, well in line with the exaggerated violence we have come to expect from a Platinum release. Yet when put into practice, my problem born out of PAX just won’t go away: Blade Mode feels like a gimmick. A cool gimmick, sure, but a gimmick nonetheless. A shallow gimmick too, one that gets old after severing only a few helpless limbs. When playing an action game, I want to keep moving. I want to clear an area of enemies with efficiency and keep my adrenaline circulating strong. I want that, but Blade Mode stands in my way, asking me to slow down so I can stare at the developer’s stellar sword-swinging, blood-spilling engine.
Needless to say, I quit using Blade Mode in minutes, begrudgingly bringing it out again only when absolutely necessary.
Unfortunately, Blade Mode isn’t my only gripe with the gameplay. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing this article. In actuality, I didn’t like the straightforward swordsmanship, either. The crowd control mechanics are essentially nonexistent, forcing me to zig-zag through confrontations trying to draw out enemies to avoid being blindsided while attempting a combo. And yes, this was an issue whether or not I chose to incorporate Blade Mode into my tactics. For singular fights, though, the absence of a true block button made even one-on-one boss encounters unnecessarily bothersome. There is an opportunity to parry (apparently), but I believe it only works when you don’t think your fingers are executing it quite correctly. It’s frustrating, and I never felt compelled to dive deeper into the combat minutiae to discover a better approach … and mostly because a better approach to combat isn’t there. Not yet, at least. Not in this week’s demo nor in the one Konami brought to PAX.
Again, I wonder, “Who is this game made for?” The story addicts like myself, perhaps? From that perspective, it has the codecs and feature-film, alternative reality, military-talk cutscenes like the Metal Gears we remember. We can see machine-enhanced soldiers and will likely listen to the direct deeds of
The Patriots La-li-lu-le-lo.
Of course, these features all appear through the eyes and ears of Raiden.
Raiden is not the automatic essence of awesome. That’s Snake you’re looking for, and either Solid or Naked will do. Some of us — myself included, I admit — once cared about Raiden the Man, that hormone-riddled hero from Metal Gear Solid 2 that resonated with my teenage self at the time. Understandably, converting him into Raiden the Machine backfired on those like me. Emotions were replaced with a military object, his original fans forgotten, all the while those initial naysayers interested in a more grizzled protagonist were well aware of the pandering with the advent of Raiden’s cyborg form. Nobody wins. Solid Snake stays synonymous with the Metal Gear name and Raiden stays synonymous with a Metal Gear joke.
So it’s just a demo. Technically two, but a notably small slice of the total Metal Gear Rising experience either way. Because of this limitation, I could be totally off-base with these impressions. Hell, I hope I am! A common misconception from the online gaming audience is that critics enjoy being disappointed, love low-quality releases, and relish in the failure of others. Quite the contrary; I constantly keep my fingers crossed, hoping every title tops the charts in both scores and sales. Nobody likes bad games, and I (along with every other passionate person out there who cares about this industry) am no different.
Despite it all, my undying optimism doesn’t change the fact that it’s tough to identify the target audience for Revengeance. Stealth and Snake appeal to franchise fans, and neither are apparent here in any meaningful way. Similarly, action enthusiasts unfamiliar with the lore have scores of games with more enjoyable combat systems to choose from beyond this spin-off. For the final time, I ask again: Is there someone out there anticipating Metal Gear Rising?
Or is this interest gap the reason why Kojima canceled Metal Gear Solid: Rising in the first place?