What the heck were the developers thinking when they added the subtitle to Metal Gear Rising? “Revengeance“? I’m pretty damn skippy that’s not a real word, and even as a made-up word, it doesn’t make much sense. There are plenty more appropriate real words they could have used that describe the game, like Metal Gear Rising: Restart, or Retry, or Return Game to the Store in Rage – that’s my clever way of trying to say that it’s very hard.

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In case you’re wondering how this game ties into the overall Metal Gear story, it’s actually quite simple. A few years have passed since the end of MGS4 and the world is slowly calming down. Raiden, that poncy-haired twat from MGS2 that nobody likes, has signed up with a private military company to help bring peace to destabilised regions, using his cyborg body and ninja skills. As the game opens, he’s in a limo as part of a security detail protecting the president of an unspecified African nation, who kind of looks like Denzel Washington. Long story short, president Denzel Washington is ambushed, kidnapped and killed by two other cyborg ninjas from the goofy grin club and Raiden is forced to fight a Metal Gear Ray (the MGS2 type) as part of the opening tutorial stage.

Moving swiftly along from that abject failure, the game then cuts to Raiden embarking on a new mission to drive another PMC out of another country somewhere else in the world – and, shock, gasp, it turns out the same two cyborg ninjas are behind it all. Being the paragon of virtue that he is, Raiden digs a little deeper into their involvement and discovers a shocking scheme which he just has to thwart, even if it means going rogue.

Story-wise, it’s a bit less needlessly convoluted than Metal Gear storylines usually are. Most of the cut-scenes are not too long, but there are a few – particularly those pre-boss-fight verbal showdowns – that drag on long enough to temp you to pause the game and select “skip”. It’s the same old anime rubbish we’ve come to expect anyway. It’s tedious, which is a real pity though, because the boss fights themselves are actually pretty damn good, but more on that later. I honestly don’t know why the developers thought anyone in their right mind would be interested in listening to all this crap – Raiden can even call his support staff during the mission, and they’re more than happy to chinwag with him for hours about nothing. Why? What does it add to the game? At the very least, I hope those voice actors got paid by the word.

Anyway, the game has two main components, action and stealth, and they’re blended together surprisingly seamlessly. The same controls used to run around slicing enemies into croutons are used to sneak about stabbing guys without raising an alarm – which is great for making you feel like you’re in complete control. If you mess up and get spotted, it’s no problem at all to immediately dash in, sword swinging. Usually, a game possessing both action and stealth elements falls short in one of those areas, but MGR:R pulls them both off incredibly well.

That’s not to say the ratio is even. MGR:R‘s recipe definitely calls for three cups action to one cup stealth. At the start of the game, Raiden will have only his high-frequency sword and a few basic techniques. There are only two buttons to worry about, light attack and heavy attack. By pressing them in different combinations, Raiden can perform all kinds of flashy combos. Typical Japanese action game stuff – but here’s where the differences start to come in. Instead of a block button, Raiden has a “parry” move activated by pressing the analogue stick towards the attacking enemy and tapping the light attack button. You’d better get used to this real quick, because it’s one of the most critical core skills you’ll need.

In direct contrast to what you’d think, this isn’t actually hard to do. In fact, the timing is very loose. Hell, I’ve activated a parry up to more than a second before the enemy attack actually landed and it still worked. The trick is, the closer you time it to the enemy attack actually hitting, the better the parry – and if you get perfect timing, Raiden will automatically counter-attack – which is enough to finish off some weaker enemies instantly.

Another thing that might take a while to get your head around is the types of attacks that Raiden can parry. You wouldn’t think that Raiden could parry an attack from a Metal Gear using a blade seven times bigger than he is – but he can. Here’s the basic rundown for you. If an enemy glows orange before attacking, Raiden can parry it. If they glow yellow, he can’t parry it. He also can’t parry gunfire, rockets or lasers. Remember that and you’ll be off to a good start.

One of the most publicised action elements is Raiden’s ability to enter Blade Mode, where he can freely cut enemies and objects into cat-pellet sized chunks. This isn’t just for laughs, either, and it has many benefits in the game. For starters, Raiden can heal himself by cutting enemies open and taking their regeneration units. You’ll be doing this a lot. Also, you get higher scores at the end of each stage by removing enemy limbs cleanly, and sometimes it might even be part of the mission, to remove an enemy arm to bypass a coded lock or something. You’ll also use it in boss fights and fights with bigger enemies to remove their armour and deprive them of certain weapons that might be bothering you.

And last but not least, Raiden can gain access to entirely new weapons, usually after defeating bosses. Equipping these weapons always takes the place of the hard attack with the high-frequency sword. But while you lose the sword’s hard attacks, you gain a whole arsenal of new attacks that may be far more useful depending on your play style, like a flexible staff made of robotic arms that is great for hitting all enemies around Raiden, and a Sai that Raiden can throw into enemies and then teleport to it. All of these weapons can be upgraded with points earned by fighting well and finding hidden items in the stages.

The stealth element of the game is really simple to describe. Stay out of sight, watch enemy patrols, choose your moment and eliminate them one by one. To help with this, you have an augmented reality vision mode that displays enemies even through obstacles. There are a few sections where stealth is almost mandatory… on hard mode, at least. If Raiden is discovered, the enemies call for backup, and so many arrive that it’s practically impossible to fight back when you’re being dizzied, bounced around on grenades and constantly hit by enemies off camera – to the point where I’d just reload the checkpoint immediately if I got discovered.

Getting back to the boss fights I said I’d talk about, they’re easily one of the highlights of the game. Not only are the bosses weird and wild in their own ways, but their attack patterns are imaginative and they really make you exercise every skill you’ve learned so far. The best boss fights in video games are ones that make you feel like you’re outsmarting a very powerful opponent and that every trick you’ve mastered is now coming in handy – and these boss fights are exactly that kind.

The last thing I wanted to clarify was the game’s rather sadistic difficulty curve. Now, as I said, I haven’t tried it on normal, so it might be much easier – but on hard… damn. While Raiden can parry the attacks of enemies twenty times his size, it’s groups of enemies that he’s not equipped at all to deal with that become an unfair challenge – particularly in the bits where you completely pork a stealth section and the reinforcements are called.

There can be three types of enemies attacking at once, from all directions, each one requiring a different tactic – but as you move to attack one, another will hit you; then as you start a combo on another, he’ll be (cheaply) immune to stun-locking and attack right through your combo and interrupt you; when you finally get back on your feet, you’ll parry another attack and a rocket will hit you from off camera and send you flying; then as you struggle to your feet and try to reposition the camera, an enemy will hit you and dizzy you; then another rocket… and so on. It’s what a ping-pong ball in a tumble dryer full of wiffle bats must feel like.

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Again, maybe this is more manageable on lower difficulties, but I promise you, play it on hard and you will pitch your controller across the room while screaming expletives the devil himself wouldn’t use. There’s no skill involved at all, it’s the kind of thing you have to try over and over again 20-30 times before you get lucky. Oh, and if anyone knows how the hell you’re supposed to avoid those big purple energy blasts from the mini-Geckos, write it in the comments section, because you’d be doing a public service.

And that’s about it. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a slick, polished and incredibly fine-tuned extreme action game. I’d readily recommend it to just about anyone looking for a good challenge, and the only people who might not be interested are fans who were expecting a more traditional Metal Gear stealth game, or people with weak action game skills.

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