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There is a tightness to their controls, in all of their games, that displays a brawler expertise that any developer should envy. In the hands of the more-than-capable studio, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance will win over many fans who still hold reservations about a Metal Gear canonical game largely out of Konami's hands.
Slice and Dice
During my recent interview with Platinum Game's Atsushi Inaba, he described Raiden's "free cutting" capabilities in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance as one of the most challenging design elements in the game. Within the first twenty minutes of playing the game at the recent press event, I could see why.
Just a few minutes after introducing the warring African state and its vulnerable Prime Minister who has hired Raiden and his security firm as personal bodyguards, the game introduces cyborg combatants with grace and deadliness to give you pause. But when Raiden steps out of the vehicle, whips off his coat, and readies his blade, there is no mistaking it: This is a game all about skilled sword play.
Free cutting places Raiden in a time delay, letting him unleash a flurry of sword strokes, either with the right thumb stick or the button interface, to dismember foes into minuscule pieces. When enemies are sufficiently damaged, their limbs, or their entire body, glow blou, indicating their vulnerability to a free cutting attack. You will live and die by these simple notifications. You will anticipate every possibility of diving into a time-dilated synthetisis of bloody vengeance. In fact, you will become desperate for that blue glow.
See, the game is unabashedly hard. Platinum makes games, from the beginning, for the hardcore action fighter in mind. Yes, new players may come to the hack-and-slash element and pick it up with ease. You can probably smash buttons and barely squeek by, but high-level play and the game's boss battles in particular require excellent reflexes and smart play. Those deadly ninjas fade into the background as Raiden encounters increasingly difficult foes, like Gekkos, which appear with startling frequency. What in past games were difficult encounters on their own have become fodder for players with the skills to take them out efficiently.
Parrying successfully becomes paramount as well, particular as Raiden takes on the lithe and tricky Monsoon, who is invulnerable at times, attacks from the cover of noxious fumes, and generally slams Raiden to the ground when he fails to respond in time. From the Metal Gear REX's to new Wolf AI, everything in Revengeance is deadly. Which means when you finally see that blue glow, the slice and dice becomes more than a visual treat, it becomes a moment of immense catharsis - a reward for all your efforts.
Becoming an Artist
Despite the game's difficulty, or perhaps because of it, Platinum will turn players into artists. When the necessary skills are learned, navigating an encounter is like painting with a blade. Players can unlock a variety of skills, from aerial attacks to sweeping flourishes, adding a range to your repertoire. On top of that, unlockable weapons all have their own style, upgrades, and signature moves. Extra outfits, such as Raiden's comical Mariachi costume, sometimes offer their own tweaks as well.
With so many tools at your disposal, reacting to any given situation becomes personal and stylish. Any opponent can be dispatched in a myriad of ways. Want to sneak up stealthily? Hope into your cardboard box and pop out to chop your opponent into little pieces. Want to chain together a massive combo? Throw combatants into the air and keep them there before slamming into a crowd of enemies below. My personal favorite? Doing a slide-kick into your enemies right before slamming into free-cut mode, slicing bad guys while on the move.
These maneuvers are more than flourishes as well, they are often necessary. By improving your skills, you are also revealing Platinum's tell-tale visual extravaganza. The Zandatsu, or "cut and take" ability, for example, lets Raiden cut opponents into pieces until they reveal their glowing blue spine. Rip that out and crush it between your fingers and Raiden heals himself completely and fills his free-cut meter. This simple mechanic results in gorgeous combat maneuvers, out of necessity. While leaping between larger opponents, you will have to strategically take out the smaller opponents in hopes of chaining Zandatsus and keeping your health intact. Mistime your maneuvers and you will regret it.
Of course what would this be without any form of measurement? Platinum tracks your efficiency and artistry, awarding letter grades if you take out opponents in a timely manner and with style. When you execute a room like a true professional, you will feel both incredibly empowered and rewarded.
First and foremost, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is about combat. The star of the show, ultimately, is you, the player. That being said, Konami has clearly watched over the canon with care. Raiden, despite his extreme acts of violence, is a man of principle. His work with Maverick Security Consulting sustains the livelihood of his wife and child and keeps him from the heavy combat of which he has grown tired. Placed into another extreme situation, he wrestles with two sides of himself - the killer, one who even enjoys it, and the bringer of peace and justice.
To this end, every boss battle, through to the very end, explores Raiden as a character. Why he fights and the cost of fighting is a constant theme in Revengeance. One scene in particular, which I will not spoil here, confronts Raiden with the truth of murder surprisingly well considering most of the game demands immense bloodshed.
Of course the game is not one entire narrative downer. Platinum fills the game with humor, rounding out Raiden's "sharper" edges without losing focus on presenting a compelling narrative still entrenched in the Metal Gear series. While Revengeance won't please all fans, there is more than enough sharp gameplay and interesting story here to be excited for the game's February release date.