I’ll just come clean right now: I’ve never been particularly fond of the Metal Gear Solid series. Between the lethargic pace, stiff gameplay and convoluted pseudo-philosophical mess of a storyline, I’ve been effectively scared away from the series after giving it numerous chances over the years.
I guess the question that arises from that is “why am I reviewing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to begin with?” Well, “Konami sent me a review copy anyway” would be my first response, but my second would be “it’s a hack-and-slash spinoff made by Platinum Games.” These are the folks who brought us imaginative and fluid titles such as Bayonetta and Vanquish. If anyone can penetrate the cold corners of my heart and ease me into the world of Metal Gear, it’s them, and the incorporation of a sword-slicing dismemberment mechanic never ceases to excite. With that being said, is Revengeance a game that deserves the word Rising in its title, or will the only thing you want to cut after playing it be yourself? Read on to find out.
Firstly, it’s impossible to overstate just how much Revengeance FEELS like a Metal Gear game. Fans who worried that Platinum Games would in any way soil the great name of the franchise can rest easy. Everything from the stylish cinematography of the cutscenes to the near-future visual design of environments and characters to even the bite-sized layout of the encounters is absolutely dripping with that trademark Kojima style. The game is set four years after the events of MGS 4 and fits remarkably well into series canon by sticking to its rules (nanomachines!) and without ever resorting to ret-conning You can expect several clever nods to the MGS titles as well, which manifest themselves as equipment, cameos and enemy types.
Unfortunately, what all of this also means is you’ll be subjected to similarly heavy-handed storytelling. Expect to once again wade through geopolitical lecturing, expository-heavy writing, overly long philosophical diatribes before each and every boss fight, and the pestering nature of your allies’ codec calls. The cinematics, all of which never seamlessly transition into the action, can get incredibly long-winded, and during codec calls you’re forced to slowly walk Raiden down a hallway, which is far from engaging.
The story also suffers from some awkward pacing and superfluous characters. Without wishing to spoil, the plot feels like it blows its load about halfway through with an involving climax, complete with a sort of epiphany for Raiden. Then the game has to traipse along for several more hours, handing out smaller and smaller chapters as it goes on. It must also be said that as endearing as your support characters are, most of them, as well as many of the villains, are utterly stereotypical and few of them have anything relevant to contribute to the plot. Raiden’s past as a child soldier also isn’t explored quite as much as some fans may have hoped, being mostly relegated to the occasional mention in conversation.
With all that said, I still found myself more engaged with the story here than in the MGS titles and was also more attached to Raiden than I ever was to Snake. During his journey, our cyborg ninja, as badass as he is, still shows signs of vulnerability and moral doubt that really helps one identify with him. The story itself also manages to raise some intriguing questions regarding violence, ethics, politics, honor and whatever else the writers felt like sounding off about, and voice acting throughout is excellent despite the sometimes clumsy script. That said, be prepared for an astoundingly biting portrayal of Republican ideology, as well as a final boss fight so ridiculous that it makes the roided-up Joker fight at the end of Arkham Asylum look like it were based on a true story.
Enough of that, though! Revengeance is an action game above all else, and I’m pleased to report that once again, Platinum Games has done the genre proud. Slashing away at foes is not only bloody and satisfying but also incredibly responsive, with each tap of your button feeling like it has proper input and timing. Raiden gains a boatload of sub-weapons during his quest, as well as the signature secondary weapons of the bosses he defeats. The highly advertised cutting feature, called ‘zandatsu’ or ‘blade mode,’ essentially acts as a rage mode, allowing Raiden to build up fuel cells by slashing cyborg enemies. He can then enter slow-mo and precisely cut off specific limbs or parts, either vertically or horizontally. There’s a great risk to reward ratio here, since the meter drains quickly and the whole thing calls for precision, but slicing a torso correctly will prompt Raiden to snag the robotic spine within and squeeze it like a stress ball, completely replenishing his health and blade meter.
Revengeance is a different beast than most action games out there in that it focuses on parrying as a means of defense. Sure, there is a sidestep dodge move (press jump + slash simultaneously, and Raiden can sprint and jump around, but that will only get you so far. In order to truly succeed in this game, you’ll have to learn the proper timing and etiquette of parrying, which involves nudging the analog stick towards the direction of the strike and slashing at it. For someone raised on the dodging of God of War or the blocking of Ninja Gaiden, it can certainly be a jarring change of pace. However, those willing to cope with the learning curve and patient enough to practice, in VR missions or otherwise, will soon find a system that is efficient, compliments the fast action beautifully and, when used alongside the targeting system, makes Revenegance a totally unique action title when compared to anything else out there. The game expects players to juggle its various abilities during battles, fluidly transitioning from parries to sprints to sidesteps, but in a way that usually feels involving rather than frustrating.
Believe it or not, stealth is also a viable option throughout much of the game, and although simplistic, it allows you to one-hit-kill ANY enemy in the game in order to thin numbers, or you can simply sneak past enemies and get to objectives quickly. The absolute highlight of the game, however, is undoubtedly the duels and boss fights. In these multi-stage battles, many of which rival the God of War series in sheer scope, the game takes on a one-on-one fighting form that is a lot less hectic than standard skirmishes, where the game’s flow and responsiveness truly shine. They’re also complimented by an excellent soundtrack that gradually builds up and intensifies alongside the action to give a great sense of progression and involvement within each fight.
Unfortunately, every game has its issues, and I wouldn’t dream of talking about Revengeance without mentioning some of its more frustrating moments. Raiden has a horrible habit of getting stun-locked or knocked down by enemies and bosses alike, allowing them to get in more hits than they have any right to in one go, and this becomes doubly annoying when the ineffective stick-waggling recovery prompt comes up. A select few attacks are also just plain cheap (Monsoon and the ultimate final boss are particularly nasty offenders), such as sudden lunges, attacks that continue after you deflect them, infuriatingly small windows of opportunity for parrying and undodgable grab moves, none of which should have made it to the final product. Many of the stealth segments will throw overpowered Geckos or Cyborg Gorillas at you should you fail them, which feels like utter punishing hatefulness to the player in a game focused entirely on action. Lastly, switching sub-weapons or equipment requires that Raiden stop dead in his tracks in order for the screen to come up, which feels like utter heresy in a game built on in-the-moment efficiency and responsiveness.
Revengeance is also not a long game, one that shouldn’t take even struggling players more than 7-8 hours to complete. Hack-and-slash fanatics and/or cutscene skippers will probably be able to slice several hours off of that playtime. That said, there is a degree of replayability here, as every single combat encounter grades you upon completion, and getting S ranks is appropriately tough. An upgrade system allows you to use Battle Points you’ve acquired through defeating enemies and spend them on new combos, weapon and health upgrades, and even nifty new costumes for Raiden. It smartly allows players to commit points to abilities/upgrades that help them with whatever deficiencies they may have, such as getting hit too often or not building up fuel cells. You definitely won’t upgrade everything by the time you’re finished, which also helps replayability.
Finally, it should be said that Revengeance looks darn good. While not a Crysis 3 competitor by any means, the game’s textures, lighting and motion effects still look superb and sleek, and save for a few dips during codec sequences when the game is clearly loading, the entire adventure runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second that allows players to fully appreciate the responsiveness and lightning pace of the action. As mentioned above, the voice acting and soundtrack are expertly done, the latter of which is lively and nicely establishes personality that fits each of the boss characters it accompanies. Bonus: none of it is J-pop.
Revengeance undeniably has issues, some of which are less forgivable than others. There were moments during the game where I came dangerously close to giving my controller flying lessons, and the occasional clumsiness of the writing and pacing, combined with the short length, certainly didn’t help matters. However, shortly after leaving the game, I would always get giddy with excitement, and both my mind and thumbs wanted nothing more than to rearm themselves and dive right back into the fray to face the fast and furious action. Even during the few moments of cheap or clumsy design, I gained immense satisfaction when powering through the game’s challenges, and I felt genuinely accomplished and empowered after doing so.
I can’t recommend Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to everyone. Between the parrying, dense narrative and general demand for sharp reflexes, it’s likely that the average gamer will be put off quickly, and I sympathize with them. However, for anyone who has cut their teeth on challenging swordplay in the past and hungers for a return to the unforgiving games of old, Revengeance is the freshest and fastest action game in a long while. Platinum Games has succeeded in constructing another solid hack-and-slasher while also infusing it with a unique feel thanks to its parrying and cutting mechanics. It may frustrate, confuse and punish, but when all is said and done, it’s still a rewarding experience, no matter which way you slice it.
(Reviewed on Playstation 3. Review copy generously provided by Konami. Many thanks.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 8/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 7/10
Overall – 8/10
(not an average)
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (TBA)
Developer: Platinum Games, Kojima Productions (story, creative)
Rating: Mature (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)
Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average
The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.
The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.
Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.
Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.
Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.
Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.
An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense. A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.
Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging.
A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.
Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.
Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.
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