By now, I assume at least some of you have played the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo included with the Zone Of The Enders HD release. I know Michael Urban has, and I know I have, considering we’ve both written words (I specifically recall “grand old time” coming up in conversation somewhere…)
The demo was a fun action title. There was a lot of slashing and slicing and cutting and lopping and hacking and dismembering involved. There was even some slow motion acrobatic dissecting glowing-blue-thing crushing. There was not, despite the Metal Gear taxonomy, a whole lot of stealth.
One ledge in the demo was deliberately positioned to allow a stealth dropdown kill. A canny player could find one or two more opportunities for a sneaky backstab. Most of the time, the demo encouraged flashy, frontal assaults that showed off the fluid swordplay.
While combat is by all accounts dynamic and thrilling, there was some trepidation whether there was enough in the setting to earn the game the Metal Gear moniker. Namely, stealth. A ShackNews interview did allay our fears some, suggesting that stealth was a viable gameplay option, however there is yet to be any footage of stealth play.
Let me assure you right now that, having recently gotten my hands on 3 hours of preview code, stealth is well and truly alive in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Warning – there be more than a few spoilers regarding the prologue and first two levels in what is to follow. Consider this your official warning.
Our adventure begins in a VR training room. I get a quick refresher on the basic controls again – square and triangle for light and heavy attacks respectively, R1 for ninja run, L1 for blade mode. I’m not a pad guy – my primary gaming format these days is my PC, and the latest game I’ve been using a pad for is Dark Souls. Revengeance is a whole different kettle of kippers, so it takes a little getting used to, even though I had already played two previous builds of the game. After making a little bit of an uncoordinated fool of myself in front of PR, I’m ready to move on to the meat of the game.
The prologue sees a lightly cyberised Raiden hacking his way through some relatively easy goons to rescue the President. At this stage there is no blade time ability, with L1 controlling regular speed directional slicing. It’s relatively straight forward, as prologues usually are. Most of the level is a blur to me, but that’s okay, since it’s only a short section of the game – maybe 15 minutes all up. The prologue ends with a confrontation with the hulking, heavily augmented big bad of the game on top of a moving train, who predictably kills the captured President and then delegates the boss fight to his main lackey Samuel – a cyborg with a pink sword who looks suspiciously like Soul Calibur’s Mitsurugi.
Battle ensues, and it’s one of THOSE boss fights – you cannot win. Following some brief cutscenes, in which Raiden loses an arm and an eye, combat degenerates to blindly flailing about with one arm, desperately trying to hit anything. The prologue comes to an end with Raiden’s last minute rescue by friendly troops with machine guns and the escape of your nimble assailant.
The game starts now in earnest. A cutscene introduces some more plottage, with expositioning carried out by some new characters – members of Raiden’s team. Raiden himself is sporting a new look – an artificial cyborg body that includes his bottom jaw, and an eyepatch, reminiscent of Snake’s Solid Eye. After a quite visually spectacular infiltration over water, Raiden and I arrive on a familiar beach. This is from the demo level, and our honed skills and newly regained blade mode ability make short work of the familiar first areas. We run along, severing and crushing spines of military cyborgs and Gekkos alike, having a jolly old time.
There are one or two obligatory Codec calls along the way, in full video, that pop up in front of Raiden on a holographic screen. This appears like Isaac Clarke’s popup screen in Dead Space, hovering in front of Raiden, however this is more like a visualisation of an internal HUD than an actual external projection like in Dead Space. Luckily, the dialogue can be advanced through with the press of a button, allowing for the horrid slow walking to be reduced to the length of subtitle reading speed – a feature thankfully familiar from the existing series.
There’s a boss battle, although it’s more of a mini-boss. It’s the well covered chainsaw robot dog AI, and it dies as fast as I can make it, having faced it several times already on earlier playthroughs. I think that’s a testament to the battle system – once you learn your abilities, and the abilities of your foes, you need not fear the outcome. The battles are still entertaining, but it becomes a challenge of how fast and how elegantly, rather than a simple grind. We’ve talked before on the elegance of the combat, but it bears repeating – the combat is fluid, smooth, and most of all fun. Not overly complicated, but with enough depth to tantalise combo mastery.
Now I am ninja running along a collapsing bridge, flipping over cars and dodging cracks. When the ground falls away from under me, a quick QTE sees Raiden stabbing his sword in the sheer concrete surface, and then running up the vertical wall. It’s rather over the top, but hey, fun! Perhaps having to repeat the bridge run due to a few missteps was a little harsh, but the section is thankfully short, and death does not set you back enough to be a large burden.
Now I’m fighting a helicopter with a sword, and occasionally a rocket launcher. Aerial sword slashes, in conjunction with stunning rockets, allows for a breaking up in the action, presenting something new. The idea of taking on a fully loaded combat chopper with a sword is healthily ludicrous, but Raiden pulls it off in style, partitioning rotors with ease. And a helicopter looks hilarious sporting a halo of dizzy stars.
Now I am fighting some metal Rays, armed with machine guns and missiles. They fight like slower, stronger Gekkos, and fall to my discerning blade.
Now I am in another boss battle, this time with what looks like a full-sized robot attack vessel – perhaps an advanced descendant of Rex. I am slicing robo faces, and jumping onto shoulder mounted machine turrets, and cutting rockets into pieces, and dodging lasers and missiles. I am flying through the air. I am running down the side of a collapsing building, dodging more lasers and missiles. And now, to top it all off, I am jumping from missile to missile, making my way through the air towards the beast along its own stream of attempted murder, like an avenging ballet dancer with a keen cutthroat razor. Sparks and explosions and metal shards fly and it’s over. I just destroyed a big piece of metal with my own, much smaller piece of metal and I am happy, so happy with the choreography.
I am down on ground level again, and I have to get through a big gate. I am supposed to take out a key-card carrying guard. Me, being the clumsy controller bastard I am, let all the targets get away. No sweat – I can always cut my way through the giant obstruction. I do, and I am in a factory. There are some patrolling guards here, and they haven’t noticed me yet. The level layout is not huge, but it’s large enough to allow for a custom approach. I decide to try out the stealth takedowns and sneak up behind a guard. My sword makes a satisfying squelch as it pierces the guard. I am okay with that. A second guard goes down quickly too, but the third spots me. I go through the motions, and my blade goes through his sternum, allowing me to grab his blue spine and juice it for health and a blade mode meter refill.
Finally, I am in a battle with yet another boss. She is Mistral, and she attaches Dwarf Gekkos to her back. Her attacks consist of summoning Dwarf Gekkos to drain my blade mode, and a staff/whip that is made from interconnected Dwarf Gekko arms. There is battle. It is not swift, nor easy, but I prevail. Final words are spoken and I’ve completed the level and accomplished my objective, whatever that was. I don’t remember, but I don’t care – hacking away at things that want to kill me is a rather zen experience.
So the demo is roughly the first third of the first level, and it’s representative of the gameplay so far. It’s bombastic and it’s sleek, and it’s refreshingly entertaining. But so far, it’s not Metal Gear.
Level two changes my mind.
The second level takes place in a sewer – the highest roofed sewer I have ever seen. I am encouraged to take a stealthy approach by my advisers. This puzzles me – the stealth so far seems rather perfunctory, relying on a quick takedown to slightly thin the herd before going all out with the blade. I am about to learn that there is more to this game.
The level begins the same – with combat. The enemies in the sewers are somehow bigger than in the previous level. There are few generic soldiers around, and they do not appear until later in the level. The first enemies I encounter are gorilla-sized cyborg things. They are faster than they look, and take a lot of hits to put down, but Raiden fights through. Knowing that you are able to fight bigger, stronger looking opponents and win easily feels good, perhaps even a little unfair. But in a good way.
After the first few enemies, though, the level size tightens down and security ramps up. The stealth approach is again advised, and again I am skeptical.
And then it happens.
I find it.
I find an item.
I find A BOX.
That’s right, a cardboard box.
A box. Made of cardboard.
I equip it.
Suddenly, I am Metal Gear. I am Solid Snake. I am stealth personified. I am happy, and I am home.
I can’t overstate how important that one item was in my enjoyment of the stealth section of the game. Stealth does not hinge on the use of the box. You’d be able to stealth through without the use of the box at all, if you slow down and observe patrol patterns. But having the box made me feel better about the stealth play – it made me feel like Snake. And that made the difference.
Of course, you don’t need to take the stealth approach, and as far as I know, there is no fail condition for the sewer stealth sections. If you want, you can rush in, sword drawn, and hack the toes off whatever comes your way.
Or you could hide in a box.
I did the latter.
Like its predecessors, the Revengeance box is not a stealth panacea – it has its limits. If an enemy gets too close, you will get noticed and you will get the box kicked off you, and you will have to slice your way out of the mess. Its best use is at a distance, if a patrolling guard accidentally looks your way. This then allows you to run up behind them and stab them in the back, executing them with one swift blow. From what I played, running is as sneaky as walking, which allowed for some quick dashes in and out of cover for a little bit of the old ultra-violence.
Another thing about the stealth kills – I did not find any type of enemy that I could not one hit stealth kill. Gorilla-borgs? Stealth-killable. Regular goons? Stealth-killable. Giant-flamethrower-spider-bots? Stealth-killable. It makes Raiden feel like a proper cyborg ninja, and adds joy and reward to attempting a stealth approach.
You may be wondering if this might make the game too easy. Not particularly. Positioning yourself behind an unsuspecting enemy is a trick in itself. And the open combat, even against huge creatures, is not overwhelmingly difficult when you know the attack patterns and are paying attention.
While navigating the sewers, Raiden saves a young boy and reveals some uglier truths about widespread use of military cyberisation. The sewer is arguably slower in pace than the previous level; more deliberate. There is even a section where Raiden hacks into and takes control of a Dwarf Gekko, taking down guards with an electrifying grapple.
The narrative is a lot more distinct in the second level, too, providing a clearer sense of purpose than in the previous one. I can remember some of the more intricate plot points from level two – perhaps due to my more contemplative play style, or the measured pacing.
There are a few more features that deserve mentioning. We’ve already given a quick overview of combat and the blade mode destruction, but I’ll briefly break it down again. Combat consists of heavy and light attacks. Pressing square and triangle leads to different combos. Button mashing worked for me, although I did have to recognise when I’d need to break a guard with my heavy attack. Parrying is easy to pull off by pressing square and forwards just as an enemy attacks. This blocks most attacks completely, and can allow for a quick light counter. Enemies clearly telegraph attacks, which leads to parrying or interrupt opportunities. Occasionally, enemies will allow a QTE input to land a finishing blow, and, if blade mode is triggered and aimed correctly, allows for a blue spine crush, which completely refills health and blade time. There is depth here, but it is not necessary to master every little intricacy to beat the early levels.
That’s not to say it’s easy. I played on normal, and I only died a few times. Goons are more fodder than a danger. The challenge comes from bosses – of which I have seen quite a few in the three levels I played – and from beating your times and scores.
As for scores, points are awarded after a battle section. There are various categories, such as speed of completion and combo bonus, and a rank system. The higher your rank, the more Battle Points (BP) you earn. BP can also be found in boxes around the levels, rewarding exploration.
Effectively, you earn experience points for you to later use on upgrades. There are various upgrades you can purchase that enhance Raiden’s attributes, and you are prompted to do so throughout the game.
A diligent explorer will also find various crates and easter eggs scattered around the level. Orange lidded crates could be sliced open with a light attack, revealing BP, healing items, or secondary weapons like grenades. Harder to find blue lidded boxes are opened by a blade mode slice, and reveal stronger, additional bonuses.
There are also optional bonus objectives. At a few points, I was informed that someone had called for backup, but I could ambush them before they arrived by following the locator on my radar. This generally lead to a tougher battle against a few stronger enemies, which was rewarded with the experience points earned.
Another interesting addition is the VR mission system. VR missions, other than some tutorials, are locked from the beginning – you must find laptops or computers in the levels to unlock the VR missions. I was then able to access the unlocked VR missions from the pause menu at any time. Playing a VR mission would exit the story mode, and take you directly to the VR mission selection menu. When I was done, I was able to resume the game from the nearest checkpoint.
As for length, it took me a bit over two and a half hours to complete the prologue, level one, and level two on normal mode. I did a few VR tutorials, and spent a bit of time exploring. I took the second level slowly and stealthed around. And I only S-ranked one combat encounter. I am not sure how many levels will be in the final product, but it should take a decent amount of time to complete the whole game at the rate I was playing at, and there seems to be a lot of replayability with finding unlockables, score challenges, and VR missions. My only fear is that the combat may become repetitive to those who do not wish for mastery, and that the subsequent levels will not be able to maintain the pace and tone changes, or sheer dynamism of the first two levels. There is a lot of variety in the first levels, and it may be hard to keep it up.
Most encouragingly, Revengeance appears firmly rooted in the Metal Gear mythos. The setting is familiar, but fresh. The gameplay is new and interesting. The narrative is recognisable. There are some great little in-jokes and nods to the core series which reward a dedicated fan.
It is the inherent ridiculousness of the Metal Gear series taken to its logical extreme. It is a fun, over the top experience that approaches the world with a strange silliness that bizarrely fits the fiction perfectly, while still addressing an interesting subject – admittedly one already addressed quite sufficiently in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
From the first time I saw Cyborg Ninja, I wanted a game that could capture that experience. I wanted to be able to slice through metal and concrete like it was nothing, smoothly tearing through a vastly inferior enemy with only an atom-sharp blade. So far, this is that game. It is full of energy and bombast, and it is, above everything, designed for fun. If it can keep it up, then it will stand alongside Bayonetta and Devil May Cry with pride.
Revengeance is due out in NA February 19th, on the 21st in AU and Japan, and on the 22nd in EU.