By Nathan Grayson on January 14th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.
Metal Geaaaaaarrrrrrrr?!?!?!?! On PC? This particular collision of worlds – masters of espionage infiltrating the home of spyware, cyborg ninjas running amok in cyberspace – isn’t unheard of, but it’s far from the norm. Then again, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t your average Metal Gear game. It dispenses with stealth almost entirely, favoring combo and counter-heavy action over tippy-toeing and mullet-rocking. But does the extra helping of over-the-top insanity gel with Metal Gear’s, er, also insane (but in a different way) universe? And how does the long-awaited PC port hold up? Here’s wot I think.
If only Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance were more like its robo-chainsaw-wolf companion, who I’ve nicknamed Raidog (or Logic Dog, for longer/more descriptive). For all the game’s bluster, he is a calmly sauntering embodiment of well-timed humor and restraint. Don’t get me wrong: I’m of the mind that Metal Gear wouldn’t be Metal Gear without its many fearless cannon balls into lunacy’s deepest waters; when I advocate for restraint here, that’s not even what I’m trying to discuss. Rather, Revengeance’s problem is that it’s so very loud and meandering and insistent on itself that it sometimes forgets to check and see if the player’s still having a good time. Despite being a pretty great game overall, I sometimes got the impression that Revengeance didn’t really give a damn about me.
Large, bloody chunks of the combo-based actioner are outrageously enjoyable, but the first 40 minutes or so are a slog. Painfully forced exposition abounds, precious few playable moments are book-ended by lengthy cut-scenes (some of which look like they’d be really fun to, you know, play), and – most damningly – the game teaches you damn-near nothing. I mean that, too. It is inexcusable how little a game with such rewarding mechanical complexity attempts to clue you into any of it.
One of the first bosses is basically impossible if you haven’t mastered blocking/parrying, which is actually super easy to learn; Revengeance just explains it horribly and doesn’t give you a safety-wheels-on trial run. I ended up having to alt-tab out, pop open a web browser, and hunt down a Care And Maintenance Of Your Badass Cyborg Ninja manual on YouTube. I know Metal Gear is a famously meta series, but somehow I doubt this is what Kojima and his collaborators at Platinum had in mind.
VR missions helped me wrap my head around a few mechanics, but they were hidden and existed more for the purpose of offering additional challenges than playing sensei to my increasingly annoyed pupil. Further mechanics were equally obtuse, with unlockable weapons and attacks difficult to understand until I had purchased them, and save-anywhere functionality barely mentioned.
All that said, this game’s basic building blocks are, in fact, brilliant – a lightning-laced tornado of bone-shearing violence and perfectly timed subtlety. Blocking and parrying (both of which are triggered simply by timing-based pushes of the same button/analog-stick combo) are extremely physical, with successful counters turning my brain into a screaming adrenaline geyser. I’d wait until the last possible millisecond before an attack connected and – BOOM – blockslashdecapitation in the blink of an eye. I got so into doing it just right that my thumb still aches from how hard I continually shoved the analog stick. It’s a good pain, though, and the purple blister blossoming beneath my skin a trophy.
Revengeance’s other core pillar of wonderfully inspired design could have turned out its most gimmicky. In short, you can squeeze the left trigger for a spritz of slow-mo that allows you to slice and dice in any direction. As you’ll notice in the video below, this can be used on pretty much anything. Shelves, tables, doors, vending machines, traditional Japanese memorabilia, elevators, melons, etc, etc, etc.
But, as with blocking and parrying, it’s a powerfully physical action, both in the way hacking like a butcher gone mad feels and in the devastating results depicted on screen. Moreover, it’s often timed as a dual finishing attack/health recovery mechanic wherein you tear out and crush men’s spines, which results in a surge of emotions so primally satisfying that it should be classified alongside illegal drugs, the voice of the narrator from Bastion, and videogames.
The game’s easy-to-learn (once a YouTube video tells you how, anyway), hard-to-master approach to complexity only expands outward from there. Secondary weapons bolster your arsenal of pretty pricklies at a nice clip, and each adds a new dimension to your move set. Think of Raiden as a human blender and each new weapon as a different setting, always complimentary to your sword. That said, I do wish I was able to map secondary weapon switching to a quick button press, as opposed to manually making my way through a menu every time.
Maybe it’s blasphemy, but I prefer DmC: Devil May Cry‘s approach to multi-weapon combat, with a grip of either trigger producing its corresponding weapon until you let go. Actually, I think it used the concept better in general, making each fight into a sort of puzzle only well-timed weapon switching could solve. Revengeance, at least on normal difficulty, doesn’t give every weapon the spotlight quite so effectively. They’re still useful, but not quite as crucial. But hey, it never hurts to have options.
Combined with generally solid enemies and wild (though sometimes overlong) boss fights, you’ve got a recipe for some truly excellent moments. I went blade-to-blade against baddies 50 times my size and chopped them down like the world’s angstiest lumberjack. I tore out three people’s nutrient-rich spines. At once. I cut down more jerkwad grunt soldiers than I could count on a hundred hands with a polearm made out of… a hundred hands. It’s a long story, but not really. More often than not, Revengeance is big, loud, and stupid in all the right ways. Sure, the storyline gets unbearably preachy in places (yep, it’s still Metal Gear), but even that doesn’t eclipse the pure, dumbosterone-fueled spectacle of it all. And even the plot has its moments. For example:
There are, however, places where Revengeance abruptly decides it knows best, player agency be damned. I found its treatment of stealth especially puzzling. On one hand, playing life-or-death peek-a-boo has always been a Metal Gear staple, but on the other, Revengeance opens with Raiden hefting a building-sized nuclear tank over his shoulder and hurling it into the sky end-over end. He is a goddamn comic book super hero, is what I’m saying. This is a man who probably wouldn’t hide from Godzilla, let alone a few guards who will (literally) fall to pieces in his presence.
So when the game came up with increasingly contrived (and often annoying) excuses for me to avoid combat altogether, I was equal parts confused and bored. That breakneck pace I’d been eating up, slurping each spine with a contented belch? Ground to a whiplash-inducing halt. Thankfully, those occasions were rare, but stealth was always an option, and my allies wouldn’t stop badgering me about it. I started feeling guilty because I was fighting people in an action game. But systemically, taking the quiet route didn’t make much sense. Sure, I could skip encounters, but it was an awkward, slow process, and I got fewer rewards. Game, meet narrative, narrative, game. Please get to know each other better.
Revengeance loses its footing on a few encounters as well, preferring “epic” scale over attention to minute details that constitute fun. Some of the more basic enemy types tend to be placed in ways that annoy and infuriate more than they challenge. Or, in short, fuck you sewer gorillas. I hope your designer gets stunned repeatedly in a corner at a horrible camera angle until they beg for the release of sweet, irritating death. Also, boss encounters are multi-stage affairs, and a couple sail right past their sweet spots and into, “Ugh, this again?” territory. And then there’s the final boss, who I’m still not entirely sure wasn’t just some cruel joke. In terms of ungodly unfair attack strategies, he constitutes one of the more abysmal failures of a game-capper in recent memory. His placement in the story is a love-it or hate-it kind of thing (you thought everything else Metal Gear ever did was goofy and self-referential? Prepare yourself), but I don’t think I’d play through that encounter again if someone paid me. Er, again.
The game’s other problems are less physically gargantuan in nature, but no less worth mentioning. The camera is a ponderous, uncooperative beast, and it conspires with some confined (and frankly, boring) levels to lose track of the action, which by comparison is a frantically wriggling fish. This fact is especially disappointing given that the PC port could’ve been used to at least clean up this much-maligned aspect of the console version. But sadly, no dice.
Beyond that, however, the PC port is serviceable, if not particularly spectacular. Obviously, a controller is a must here, as this genre reaaaaally wasn’t built with mouse-and-keyboard in mind. You can try, but I don’t recommend it. Graphically, it looks sharp though not mind-blowing – well, unless you’re hoping to exceed 1080p. Resolution is, for the time being, locked curiously low, but famed Master of Vision and Illusion to The Disillusioned Durante has claimed it can be easily circumvented. Right now he’s hoping Platinum will opt to simply patch it out themselves, but we’ll see.
We do get some free DLC to kinda make up for it, though. Story-based mini-episodes Jetstream and Blade Wolf provide solid though heavily recycled diversions, and you get 30 bonus VR missions on top of that. While Revengeance’s main game isn’t particularly lengthy (I beat it in about six hours), this package contains good value for its $29.99 price tag. Also, Blade Wolf lets you play as Blade Wolf, heroest of the heroes and chainsawest of the wolves. End of story.
It might seem like I’m really down on a lot of this game, but I’m actually not. I just can’t help but complain about Revengeance’s lows because they contrast so starkly with some brilliant (though poorly explained) base mechanics and positively amazing moments. I think a few precision-targeted snips here and there would’ve made for a much stronger experience, but Raiden and co still pack serious punch where it counts.
Revengeance isn’t quite an action game for the ages, but it’s madcap, deceptively meaty fun while it lasts. So then, the age old question: Metal Geaaaaaarararararararaaaaar?!?!?!?!? Yes. Metal Gear.