With the fallout of Duke Nukem Forever's disastrous release still settling in our rearview mirrors, I hardly need to point out how rare it is for a game to emerge from Development Hell in any kind of presentable shape – all you have to do is look backward, and not very far at that. While not as long or arduous as the development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever, the creation of Platinum Games and Kojima Productions' Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was still marked by conflicts, cancellations, and an 11th hour developer change, and it's a small miracle, or perhaps just a testament to Platinum's mastery of the action genre, that MGR turned out as well as it did. The game is no masterpiece; among the Platinum games that I've played, it's the weakest of the lot, and Metal Gear Solid fans have little to recognize here except for a few character names and a handful of enemy designs, but the core gameplay is still fun, and it's sure to satisfy any action junkie, at least for a little while.

Before I explain what works, I'll cover what doesn't work, starting with the weakest link and working my way up. That means the plot comes front and center, as it may be one of the worst stories I've seen in a game in recent memory. Even though it may be an action game, and all Platinum had to do was provide a flimsy excuse to go from point A to point Z and splatter waves of dudes at all points in-between, they fail to provide even a consistent plot among the game's seven levels. The only way I can attempt to summarize it is that the game revolves around Raiden's exploits post-MGS 4 as he completes missions for the PMC Maverick Inc, some of which involve a plot to steal the brains from street children and train them as cyborg soldiers. But that's only part of this jigsaw, and the other pieces all seem to be from different puzzles. The tutorial level is about an assassination in Africa. The first level is about a coup on an island nation (unfortunately not the one from Commando). Anything resembling a story arc doesn't even begin until the second level, where Raiden first encounters the brain-stealing conspiracy. The pacing is all over the place, as levels five and six demonstrate (one is a short retread through level three, and the next is literally just a boss fight), so even action gamers who are used to skipping cutscenes are likely to be annoyed by the game's scattershot narrative.


It's a shame, too, because unlike most action games, MGR has a narrative pedigree that Metal Gear Solid fans might expect it to live up to. But the aspects of the series that have drawn so many fans over the years – a well-developed plot, attention to detail, and impressive graphics – are all absent. Aside from some nice character models, the graphics are a bit of a letdown, with bland, lifeless environments and some weak special effects bringing down the game's presentation. Some of the basic enemy designs are generic, though the bosses all have interesting designs and gimmicks you'll have to overcome. Mistral and Monsoon, the first two bosses, are standouts, with truly memorable designs and boss fights I actually found myself replaying over and over. They are also the most “Metal Gear” of the bosses, as Mistral is a woman covered in cybernetic arms who uses a staff made out of...more cybernetic arms, and Monsoon can use his magnetic abilities to separate his cyborg body into slivers to avoid your sword or fling parts of himself at you. They're as unique, bizarre, and fun to fight as any of the more famous Metal Gear Solid bosses, even if their characters aren't as fleshed out.

Mistral, Monsoon, and some jerk in a trenchcoat.

The combat in general is excellent, and holds up Platinum Games' high standards for tight, kinetic gameplay. Raiden is capable of whirling through endless combos with his sword and a number of secondary weapons, and it all feels very fluid and responsive. Some perfunctory stealth elements are included, perhaps to make this feel at least partially like a Metal Gear Solid game, but the game grades you on speed and high combo counts, which don't exactly mesh with stealthy gameplay. The only incentive to play steathily is to avoid being made fun of by your support characters, who will mock you if you take the easier (and in this case more interesting) way out and engage in direct combat. If the stealth gameplay were as fleshed out as the combat, then that would be incentive in itself, but as it is, the stealth mechanics feel like they were thrown in as a meager bone to Metal Gear Solid fans who were expecting more tactical espionage action. Fortunately, the combat system is so fun that you will have no trouble tossing stealth out the window and enjoying the game for the high-speed hack-and-slasher that it is, as long as you can ignore the complaints of your support characters.


Button mashing is a viable strategy for most of the game, but as you progress, you will find that defensive techniques become more and more necessary, providing some variety and forcing you to keep your head whilst bathing in cyborg blood. I can appreciate an action game that adds layers of depth onto its combat system as the game progresses, but this aspect is not without its problems, as the defensive measures at your disposal are needlessly convoluted and the only area where combat falls a little flat. Your parry move is your primary method for blocking attacks, initiated by pressing light attack and the direction of your enemy's attack simultaneously, and it takes some practice to nail the timing and the quirks of the system. Your other option is a dodge move called “defensive offensive,” which you actually have to unlock in the upgrade screen and which the game doesn't properly explain how to execute, even in the help screen. This move is essential for some unblockable attacks the enemies throw at you later on, but it requires pressing jump, light attack, and a direction all at once to execute, and the game neglects to mention that you can control the direction of your dodge. Trying to pull off one of these convoluted dodge moves in the heat of combat made me long for the days when I could just pull the right trigger to dodge effortlessly in Bayonetta. Mind you, this was only after I learned how to actually use the move online. I beat the entire game without knowing that a dodge move even existed, as did many professional reviewers, and even if the move worked as beautifully as the dodge in Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, it's still sloppy game design to hide such an essential mechanic from players. Besides this minor flaw, though, the gameplay shines, and any fan of Platinum's previous work will feel right at home hacking and slashing with everyone's favorite bishounen cyborg ninja.


So from the game's lowest point, I've now arrived at the highest: Blade Mode. This is what really sets MGR apart from other, more polished action titles. By holding down the left trigger, you can slow down time and control Raiden's sword directly, angling your swings precisely with the right stick or slicing automatically with the attack buttons. And you can cut through just about everything in your path. Literally. Cars, billboards, giant cherry blossom trees, and, of course, enemies can all be hacked into fillets, and with Blade Mode, you can angle your cuts however you want. Not only does this allow you to cut your name into objects (it helps to have a short, angular name), but it serves as a crucial game mechanic as well, for precisely chopping up your enemies rewards you with glowing cyborg guts that you can pull out to recharge your health and your Blade Mode energy. Mastery of this technique can seriously tip the balance of the early game in your favor, as you can potentially recharge your health and energy with every enemy you kill, but later on, you'll encounter enemies with armor that prevents you from immediately slicing them up in Blade Mode. Incidentally, this feature is about the only thing that survived Kojima Productions' original game, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, aside from the more memorable enemy designs. Perhaps, if this game had been given a proper development cycle, every aspect of the game would have been as polished as Blade Mode, and it could have rivaled the best that Platinum has to offer.


As it stands, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is still a remarkably entertaining and functional video game for having gone to Development Hell and back. It's not perfect by any means, and it's certainly not a game for diehard Metal Gear Solid fans, but it hits all the marks an action gamer can expect, especially those accustomed to Platinum Games' particular style. It's worth playing, although considering its length, I'd recommend finding it at a reduced price. There are VR missions and unlockable items that give it greater replayability than, say, Vanquish, but they can only extend the game's life for so long. MGR is worth a purchase for Blade Mode alone, but the game's intense combat and great boss battles certainly sweeten the deal. And the final boss...well, I won't spoil it, because trying to describe the last fifteen minutes of the game is the kind of thing that can get people thrown into locked and padded rooms, but I will say that it was one of the most ridiculous boss fights I've ever played, and it must be seen to be believed. So if that sounds like your kind of thing, and if the negatives I've brought up won't bother you, then by all means, pick up Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.