Raiden the ninja cyborg gets his own outing in Platinum Games action centric addition to Hideo Kojima’s long running Metal Gear series, without a Snake in sight.
To begin with I nearly put this game down in disgust, not because of a dislike for Raiden (fans of the series have always been split about the character) or the absence of Snake, but because I was hopeless at it. I just kept getting my arse kicked. The game is unquestionably hard to begin with, as it does not do a good job of explaining its combat system. You must learn to block and parry or you will be crying with frustration at your sudden lack of games playing ability and you will not be getting through the first two bosses. When an enemy is about to land a blow on you, you must flick the thumb stick in the direction of the attack whilst pressing X or square on the Xbox or Playstation controller, this will result in a block or if your timing is good a parry that results in a execution prompt.
With a healthy measure of perseverance (and some practice) I finally got my head around this and I was good to go. Your patience and perseverance will be rewarded though, as blocking, parrying and ultimately carving and cutting your way through enemies is bloody good fun and there is a huge emphasis on cutting. Raiden’s weapon of choice is a High Frequency Blade which is a charged sword that resonates at extremely high frequencies, allowing it to loosen the atomic bonds between atoms making cutting things easier and by that read cyborgs, mechs, vehicles, well pretty much anything that stands in his way.
Given Platinum Games action oriented history (Bayonetta and Vanquish), I was never expecting this to be a stealthy title (and I sure was right about that), but the game's core mechanic, Blade Mode, works beautifully. I spent considerable time just carving up inanimate objects to marvel at how well it looks slicing things into loads of bits. The real fun though is to be had in chopping up your enemies. When enabled, Blade Mode slows the action down allowing you to precisely target your foes, once enough damage is done to them a handy square reticule pops up and if sliced results in a move called a ‘Zandatsu’ where you get a short animation of Raiden deftly wrenching the spinal column from his cyborg foes and is as freaking awesome as it sounds. However, you cannot stay in Blade Mode indefinitely and you have a gauge that depletes as you use it. The beauty of the Zandatsu move though is that the spinal cord you are ripping from the unlucky recipient actually serves to replenish this gauge and your health. Thus, once you get the hang of things, it is easily possible to chop and cut your way through huge groups of foes and come out the other end unscathed, fully charged up for the next fight.
This ability to precisely target enemies and their body parts leads to one of the best trophy/achievements I can think of: A Big Fan of Lefties, which sees you trying to acquire the severed left arms of a particular enemy. Awesome!
Fairly early in the game Raiden decides to have a mid-life crisis in the middle of hostile territory whilst surrounded by enemies (not the best time for a break down), but it does enable Raiden to get another ability. After a couple of protracted but highly entertaining cut-scenes Raiden gets his mojo back via his existential crisis and accepts the fact that he is Jack the Ripper, former child soldier and all round psycho murderer. This opens up Ripper Mode for use. Pressing both thumb sticks down when the Fuel Cell gauge is full activates Ripper Mode, sending Raiden into a bloodlust where he glows red and deals additional damage.
The plot is not as convoluted as previous titles and evolves around the dodgy rogue Private Military Company: Desperado Enterprises and its trio of cyborg villains that are named after various types of wind: Mistral, Monsoon and Sundowner as well as the enigmatic henchman known as Jet Stream Sam. The nefarious Desperado’s are farming street children from third world countries for their brains (yes, you read that right), to put them into cyborg bodies and turn them into soldiers through virtual reality training. Obviously Raiden is upset by all of this, being a former child soldier himself, and sets about putting things right by cutting the crap out of everything moving with a Desperado badge on it.
The usual cod-philosophy and existentialist twaddle abound in the codec conversations (and I know I would miss them if they weren’t included), although some are interesting and do help to fill in the story. I grew particularly fond of the Doktor and Raiden’s new four legged friend Wolf’s ramblings, the Dok’s a bit of a pervert and Wolf is just cool. You also find out a lot of back story about the bosses in the game, I found Jet Stream a very interesting character via the codec and ended up liking him and felt a bit sad once I had stuck my HF blade in his chest.
In keeping with the series the boss battles are suitably epic and bosses themselves suitably interesting characters. The fights themselves will test your skills considerably, although once you have nailed the block and parry system none of them should be too difficult to overcome bar the final boss. Make sure your younger siblings, parents, girlfriend/boyfriend are not present when attempting it, I turned decidedly blue cursing at my T.V. set. He is a total bastard. Seriously, I have not had console rage like that for ages. I nearly gave up! But, as with the initial difficulty with the game patience and perseverance will pay off.
The VR missions make a welcome comeback and are unlocked as collectables scattered throughout the game's levels. These have Raiden take on a variety of mission types utilising his skills in different ways and not only serve to lengthen the game, but are also a way of honing your skills for your inevitable subsequent play-throughs of the campaign, especially if you are looking to complete the harder difficulty settings.
Like the samurai sword the tant? it may be short as it is easily completed within seven hours, but it is definitely sweet. The game warrants multiple play-throughs, with plenty of collectibles and some great unlockable weapons to keep you coming back for more. The initially daunting combat system and an expletive inducing final boss aside, this is a well-rounded, immensely enjoyable title. Platinum Games hack and slash heritage shines through in MGR: Revengeance and the game is a worthy addition to Kojima-san’s Metal Gear universe. Seriously, chopping stuff up has never been so enjoyable.