The lights are on
Ever since Gray Fox appeared in Metal Gear Solid, there have always been people who wanted to play as a cyborg ninja in a Metal Gear game. Kojima Productions tried to answer this with Metal Gear Solid:Rising, but with their lack of action game experience they couldn't cut it. So they passed it on to Platinum Games, who made Metal Gear Rising:Revengeance.
I'm not sure what they were going for with the name. Trying to lower expectations so everyone would be impressed? We'll never know.
You play as Raiden in a post-MGS4 world where he's joined with a Private Military Company named Maverick Security Consulting, in order to provide for his family. MGR isn't as story focused as MGS, most of the characters are one dimensional, and the tone is impressively inconsistent. They go from poop jokes to evil corporations harvesting the organs of children at the drop of a hat.
The basic swordplay consists of Strong and Wide attacks that can be combined in a number of combos, although button mashing will get you by on the low difficulties, and at first glance most of the other moves don't seem that useful. However...
There are three side weapons you get, and their uses are obvious enough - staff for crowd control, pincer blades for fighting small numbers of strong enemies, magnet katana against airborne enemies. The last one has the ability to pull you towards an enemy which is cool, but it's move list is near nonexistent. Despite the obvious uses for the other two, there's still a good deal of room for experimentation. Using a side weapon takes the place of the Strong attacks for your sword, so there's actually an advantage to only using the sword.
Switching between side weapons is something of a nuisance. You have to come to a complete stop, bring up the item menu, switch, then go back. It breaks the flow of combat, and it's completely unnecessary. Why? Because down on the D-Pad has a useless purpose - using health items. They're used automatically upon reaching 0 health, so they could have used that for switching weapons on the fly. The potential for combos would be significantly increased as well.
The block/parrying system has gotten a lot of flack for being too hard, and it is poorly explained if you don't go through the tutorial. You move the analog stick in the direction of the attacking enemy and press square at the same time to block. If you do this at the last possible moment, you'll parry. It's an odd set up, but it can be gotten used to easily.
There is one legitimate problem with the parrying: It's too easy. The window is so long that anyone who's not an embarrassment to the gamer community will be able to get it 90% of the time, and most attacks are slow enough that you have more than enough time to block.
Aside from that, the system is good; combining block and parry means that learning the exact moment to parry doesn't involve trial and error, and pulling off a parry is always satisfying to do. Winning a "parry war" feels great too: enemy cyborgs will sometimes parry your parry, then you have to parry their counterattack to continue, or block which will end it inconclusively. Parrying 4-6 consecutive hits causes you to win, and the enemy is then vulnerable to a finisher.
Dodging plays second fiddle to blocking, but it's still very useful and I couldn't imagine playing without it. After the first level, you can start buying moves, and it's available under the moniker offensive defense (or is it defensive offense?). You press the jump and attack buttons at the same time, and you'll backstep and slash an enemy at the same time. You can also move the analog stick left, right, or forward to change the direction.
The Blade Mode mechanic had plenty of hype behind it, and it works without any real problems. If you don't have a full fuel cell, it can be used for precise slashing but is rarely useful. If you do have a full fuel cell - they're filled by attacking enemies -, you'll go into slow motion and assuming your enemy is unarmored, can either precisely dismember it, or chop it into bits of confetti. Most enemies require a certain amount of damage to be done before they can be dismembered, and they only become vulnerable one limb at a time, indicated by a blue glow.
Aside from being a unique gameplay mechanic, Blade Mode is also quite the technical feat. You can cut multiple enemies into dozens of pieces, and the framerate almost never drops below 60. You can also cut up a lot of objects in the environment, but it's something of a missed opportunity - bringing a bridge down on top of an enemy just moves them a few feet, and there are almost no opportunities to use environment cutting to your advantage.
You'll want to try to cut off parts of enemies quickly, to disable certain attacks. If you hit an unarmored enemy in a specific spot, you can tap circle to do Zandatsu. Zandatsu involves grabbing the electrolyte spine inside cyborgs and Unmanned Gears to fully heal yourself and refill your fuel cells. Early in the game, when the fuel cells you use to power it are few, it also adds a layer of strategy to the combat - do you cut off the leg that just became vulnerable, or wait until the torso is vulnerable so you can do Zandatsu immediately? That said, Zandatsu needs a nerf in the sequel, having every enemy be a health pack makes the game too easy.
At a certain point in the game, you gain Ripper Mode. It uses your fuel cells and can only be used when they're full, and your attack power is greatly increased. You cut through armor with ease, and dismember enemies as if you were in blade mode. It's an auto win against enemies that aren't bosses, and it's too powerful. While you don't have to use it, the game was designed with the developers assuming you would, so you need to be great to get through Very Hard or Revengeance without using Ripper Mode.
Speaking of difficulty, MGR has five setttings. Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Revengeance. Easy and Normal are very easy, and action game novices should start on them. If you've got any experience with the genre, start on Hard. If you're an overconfident b*stard, start on Very Hard or Revengeance. The first three just change health, damage, and the competence of the AI, while Very Hard increases all of those and brings in stronger enemies earlier.
Revengeance is Very Hard, but enemies do very high amounts of damage, and parries do insane damage. It's actually easier than Very Hard if you're good at parrying, so it's not so much a "Dante Must Die" as a "Heaven and Hell." That is to say, it's not the ultimate challenge, but a gimmick mode. It was a smart idea to have a mode that drastically increase the risk and the reward for parrying, and it's fun to play on.
QTE's are used somewhat excessively. Although the Zandatsu QTE and the finishers in boss fights are fine, grab moves or being stunned result in having to rotate the analog stick. Not for a moment, but for several seconds. It's breaks the flow of combat and drags on too long, although you shouldn't get stunned often once you get good at the game.
The enemy variety isn't insufficient or impressive, and some of the enemies are downright annoying. One is based around stunning you, and there's a lot of hate for Mastifs that I don't understand. A lot of enemies have machine guns that do completely infintesimal damage, and serve only to keep you from getting S Ranks. Because getting the No Damage bonus is necessary, a single bullet shot from an off screen enemy could keep you from getting an S Rank.
And enemies will attack from off camera rather often. By default it focuses on Raiden, and it zooms up too close to get a sufficient view of your surroundings. There are also several enemies who have a jump attack, and if you aren't locked on you won't be able to see them as they come down from the stratosphere. They might have started the attack on camera, but they'll spend the majority of it off.
The boss battles are generally fantastic. Most have multiple phases, and they each have a good variety of attacks. They also make excellent use of the soundtrack, with the lyrics synced with the action in many cases and always in the finisher, and the instrumental playing in the earlier parts. The end of the first phase of the battle with Metal Gear Ray is a good example, and that's just the first boss battle. On the downside, the Sundowner fight was weak and the game starts feeling rushed after that point.
The final battle has the distinction of being the most ridiculously awesome thing in any game I've played. I don't want to spoil it, so you'll just have to take my word for it. It also references MGS2 and makes fun of MGS4, and the actual boss fight is a great challenge. A four phase battle against an enemy with a huge amount of health and a wide variety of moves, and it uses every aspect of the games combat - if you suck at any one, good luck beating him. This is what a final boss should be.
He comes pretty soon. If you play on a lower difficulty, you should reach the end within six hours. I started on Very Hard, so it took me 15 hours - the last four of which were spent fighting the final boss.
*This review has not been edited to address Raidens dodge-attack move.
7.75, I couldn't parry the unblockable attacks.
The Jetstream Sam DLC
On a basic level, the gameplay of the Jetstream Sam DLC is the same as the main game. You have your sword, you fight with square and triangle, you have Blade Mode and Zandatsu, etc. However, there are a number of differences large and small that make it so playing as Sam is a distinct experience, and that trying to play like Raiden won't even get you past Hard.
Strong attacks are replaced with charge attacks, so instead of your second method of attack being the different in speed and damage, your two methods of attack (normal and charged) are fundamentally different. Charged attacks don't just have more damage, but instead have two completely different moves. A full charge turns the attack into a different move, while anything else is a varyingly powerful version of the same attack. His moveset is well made, with a strong variety of moves that all feel useful, but there is one odd weakness - he doesn't have an air combo.
Sam also has a smaller parrying window, a double jump, a dodge that carries him farther and loses the "offensive" part of offensive defense for the sake of balance, and trades Ripper Mode for a game-changing taunt. The enemies attacks are all significantly faster, and the three returning bosses have completely different attack patterns than in the main game, as well as some completely new attacks.
The taunt is the most different part of Sam's playstyle - enemies take and deal more damage. While that sounds like a standard "risk=reward" mechanic, the enemies gain an offensive bonus that changes your defensive strategy - parrying doesn't completely stop damage from a taunted opponent. It greatly reduces it, but it adds up quickly on VH and REV.
While Raiden is about constant offense, Sam focuses on dodging and looking for a moment of calm, where he can launch a devastating taunt-boosted charge attack. I'd recommend waiting until the latter part of a first playthrough or a second playthrough to try taunting seriously, once you've gotten used to the other differences.
The fights are for the most part more balanced than in the main game. Since you don't have Ripper Mode, the developers didn't plan on you having it, and none of the necessary battles are unfair .
The difficulties and rankings are more balanced as well. Hard is actually somewhat challenging, Very Hard is... very hard, and Revengeance actually feels like a step up from VH. I haven't tried Normal or Easy. No Damage is no longer necessary for an S Rank, as long as you do everything else perfectly.
The boss fights are great. They take the one the worst, the easiest, and best bosses from the main game, and improve upon each of them. The first is no longer a showcase for the games mechanics (albeit an awesome one), but an actual battle. The second is harder on Hard than in VH or REV in the main game, and not because of health inflation, but because it's genuinely more difficult. The final battle has his strongest attacks weakened, his weak or easily avoided attacks more formidable, and two new attacks.
On the downside, the environments are all pulled from the main game, and the DLC only lasts from 1.5 to 2.5 hours. But action games aren't about fancy environments or length, they're about gameplay. It may be short, but it's got depth enough to warrant multiple playthroughs if you like it. If you didn't like the main game, this DLC won't change your mind. But if you did, your bound to love the DLC. Which is why I'm giving it a 9/10. To top it off, the DLC became free.
Overall score: 8.5
I'm waiting for Black Friday to get this