METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE COMMENTARY

Published in February 2013 and developed by Platinum Games, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance(MGR) served as a spin off and continuation of the Metal Gear franchise. It stars a secondary protagonist, Raiden, a highly advanced cyborg ninja, who was first introduced in 2001 in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. It garnered substantial media attention by enduring a complicated and messy production process, first created by Konami then passed off to Platinum Games.

MGR is a strong action adventure game whose metacritic score of 80 is not unwarranted. Platinum Games succeeded in their efforts of honouring the established MGS franchise and venturing into untapped action adventure territory. That being said, MGR often holds itself back from being a solid, respected installment by implementing misfitting gameplay mechanics and paying homage to MGS in unnecessary ways. This review covers the game chronologically, so we will begin with the game’s tutorial.

TUTORIAL

The game chooses to open with an optional tutorial system as soon as the player clicks new game from the main menu, presented through the lens of a VR Simulation. I have two gripes with this tutorial system:

  1. It introduces the player to Raiden by following orders from “Doktor”, a character who the player would not have known until roughly 10 minutes into the game. It poses more questions as to who is who and what is happening than answers questions about important gameplay mechanics like the ninja run and the parry system.
  2. The basics of movement and combat could have been explained in the first combat encounter of the game. The AI in the first fight is not nearly punishing enough which makes an in-game tutorial much more favorable. In the video below it is evident that the player slightly knows the controls by moving, and executing both light and heavy attacks prior to the instructions appearing on screen.

I understand the need for an out-of-game, optional tutorial as it diminishes frustration from players who wish to replay the game and don’t want to replay a 5-minute tutorial section, but the solution would be to delay the tutorial until after the opening cutscene, then ask the player if they wish to skip, so the first memory people have of such an ambitious and somewhat contentious project isn’t a VR Simulation tutorial component.

OPENING

The opening cutscene of MGR is very well designed and executed. It establishes the character of Raiden (our protagonist), the location in which our story takes place, what is happening contextually in this world and introduces Raiden’s rival and game’s anti-hero, Sam, all in an efficient and effective manner.

Establishing Sam’s character, and more importantly his strength, is integral to how the game will approach its stylized combat. You’ll notice the very first instance of violence in MGR is committed by Sam where he slices a man in two with a swift strike of his sword. See below:

Figure 1: Sam cuts open a a guard with his katana.
Figure 1: Sam slices open a cyborg guard with his Katana

Not only does this establish what Sam is capable of as a villain but it introduces the player to the severity of the violence they will be met with over the course of the game. Following this cutscene, the player is put into gameplay where the player maneuvers simple obstacles and disposes of easy enemies. However, it isn’t long until they face off against Metal Gear RAY.

The Metal Gear RAY fight is exceptionally well executed because it epitomizes what Platinum Games does so well in their games: empowering the player. It is easy to assume that the player feels a tremendous source of pride when they are capable of tossing a machine as big as a Metal Gear only 15 minutes into the game.

Figure 2: A example of player empowerment after defeating Metal Gear RAY
Figure 2: A example of player empowerment after defeating Metal Gear RAY

This idea of empowerment is inverted entirely when the player faces off against Sam on a moving train only a few minutes later. Once Raiden is sufficiently injured by Sam, the player only has access to one attack, a limp vertical swing. Sam is dancing around a near stationary Raiden and mocks the player. The HUD appears damaged and the screen applies a static filter to show Raiden’s damaged state. This encounter provides a complete juxtaposition to the Metal Gear RAY encounter and teaches the player that they are not nearly as strong as they thought.

 

ABKHAZIA 

The Abkhazia section of MGR introduces new game elements like security cameras, subweapons and item crates. It also introduces one of the most integral combat mechanics apart from the parry and ninja run system- Blade Mode. I found difficulty in learning the ins and outs of how this mechanic operated so I would’ve appreciated a more robust tutorial. The game prompts the player with a potential VR mission to hone their Blade Mode skills after the mechanic is introduced but it’s unlikely that players would be willing to exit the game to practice such a fundamental skill when they could simply advance in the level.

 

MISTRAL

Mistral is the first major boss fight in MGR. For a franchise known for its creative and memorable boss battles, it is dispiriting  to see that Mistral’s motivations for committing her actions are far from justified. Her philosophy of “I am a born killer, so I’m a boss fight” is weak, irrational and doesn’t humanize the bosses to the same degree as other Metal Gear games do.

Figure 3: Mistral's character model boasting a total of 14 arms (for no reason)
Figure 3: Mistral’s character model boasting a total of 14 arms (for no reason)

Apart from her motivations, the fight itself is entertaining and engaging. Each boss fight in MGR tests the players knowledge of the nuances in the combat engine. In this case, Mistral requires players to perform Blade Mode and make precision cuts to sever the handle of her staff. Not only this, but it tests the players basic proficiency within the combat engine like parrying attacks and managing multiple enemies simultaneously.

The boss battle takes place in 3 locations over the course of the fight: the top of the refinery, a long pipe, and a lower refinery level. Surprisingly, the Mistral fight is the only fight to apply this practice apart from the final encounter with Senator Armstrong (albeit to a lesser extent). This is a  squandered opportunity as it adds a substantial amount of intensity and dynamism to the encounters. Freezing Mistral in cryogenic gas then dicing her into pieces is incredibly satisfying and a very rewarding payoff for the fight.

The weapon the player receives from the Mistral Fight is the L’Étranger (French for “Stranger”) a pole arm weapon that replaces Raiden’s strong heel attacks when equipped as a “custom weapon”. It is arguably the flashiest of the 3 custom weapons in terms of combo ability, however it acts too similar to Raiden’s stock strong attacks. This means that the player has no incentive to select this weapon if they have already invested BP into skills that are exclusive to Raiden’s stock attacks. This then leads to the player using their stock attacks and investing further into stock skills until the Monsoon fight. By the time the player receives their second custom weapon, they have no reason not to stay with their stock weapon, effectively making all custom weapons in MGR useless.

A brief video outlining the abilities of the L’Étranger

SEWERS

The sewers section of MGR is a topic of controversy and frustration, primarily because it introduces MGR’s broken stealth system. It it weren’t for how misguided the stealth system was implemented, it would be a fine level. The next section is devoted to MGR’s dysfunctional stealth system, as there is little to discuss regarding the sewers section.

 

STEALTH GAMEPLAY

The primary reason why stealth doesn’t work in MGR is because it doesn’t reward the player. Below you will find the score breakdown the player views after each successful combat encounter.

Figure 4: Combat Report provided after each combat ecounter
Figure 4: Combat Report provided after each combat encounter shows how much currency the player receives for completion and a letter rank.

By taking a stealthful approach to combat, the player can only receive more BP from one category- time, as executing a stealth takedown takes considerably less time than engaging the enemy with Raiden’s normal attacks. The number of Zandatsu’s and kills remains the same assuming the player is facing an equal number of targets in both cases. However it is possible for the player to receive more BP from a non-stealth approach by performing blade mode on certain body parts for extra points. Additionally, the “longest combo” metric provides a much stronger incentive for the player to not take a stealth approach, as the max combo a player could receive in that instance is higher than 1 – the value the player would receive if he/she took a stealth approach. This means that according the game’s scoring metrics, the player is rewarded more for not taking a stealth approach and dispatching enemies with long combos and precise blade mode use.

Even if the math worked out in such a way that a stealth approach rewarded the player more points, a host of players would still opt for an action oriented approach. This is because of one very simple reason- combat is much more fun and engaging than stealth is. There are many reasons for why this is the case but I don’t want to go into further detail because it is already self-evident.

Another facet of MGR’s stealth system that fails is the alert/caution percentage, a staple mechanic in the MGS franchise. In MGR, Raiden is always in one of these 3 states:

  1. Guards have detected Raiden
  2. Guards are looking for Raiden
  3. Raiden has not been detected

The system is weakened by the fact that the game is displaying categorical data (Raiden falls in one of these 3 categories) in a quantitative fashion (a percentage). Almost every instance in MGR in which the player is discovered is likely to engage the enemy, as opposed to hiding in MGS. This is because of the following:

  1. It takes too long for the percentage to return to 0% where Raiden is undiscovered and players get bored waiting
  2. Players usually prefer combat to stealth
  3. It is too easy to be detected again and be put back into the same position

The idea of being detected, a typical fail-state in a stealth game is tossed aside because players are willing to fight.

Finally, the iconic MGS sound effect that signifies to the player they have been detected, convinces the player into thinking they have failed. This is simply not the case. Almost any MGS fan would instinctively connect the alert sound effect to failure . The player has been detected and the goal is not to be detected, therefore the player has failed in advancing through the level. In MGR however, when the player has been detected, (which is frequent) they are thrust into combat and are discouraged from fleeing (i.e the barriers closing off the combat area). Seeing as many MGR players will be coming from MGS, this sound effect makes many players think they have encountered a fail-state when in fact they are simply advancing through the level. This cognitive dissonance confuses players and instills a sense of guilt when entering combat that they really shouldn’t have in the first place.

RESEARCH FACILITY + DENVER

There are two pieces worth noting between the sewer section and the fight with Monsoon.

First, a contrived stealth section involving Raiden controlling a Dwarf Gecko in the research facility. This is one of few cases that Platinum Games did a poor job of changing the pacing and gameplay experience by making the player lose control of a character they love (Raiden) and gain control of an insignificant enemy they would rather kill ( the dwarf gecko). It’s equivalent to forcing the player to play a mandatory puzzle section through the eyes of a Goomba in Super Mario Bros.

Figure 5: The Dwarf Gecko, an enemy universally hated by the MGR community

Conversely, the scene in which Sam instructs Raiden to listen to the voices of his victims as he fights them in Denver stands among one the best parts in the game. In the cutscene, Raiden is apprehensive towards hurting the guards he is fighting upon hearing truths like “I have a family” and “I didn’t sign up for this”. Once the cutscene ends though, the player must engage these enemies or face death and ultimately a game over screen. A few quick taps of the attack button though result in Raiden delivering a merciless flurry of blows that the player would rather have not done. The rules that the player follows and Raiden’s animation juxtapose the actual characters intentions beautifully. Find the video below .

I don’t comment much on MGR’s narrative merits but here is an interesting video I stumbled on explaining the depth of MGR’s storytelling and how it masterfully weaves the games narrative and player experience together (NSFW Language).

MONSOON

Monsoon is the only boss not introduced in any cut scenes apart from the actual boss fight. I believe players would have appreciated some more knowledge about Monsoon because he is a character that is supposed to carry substantial weight in the gameplay experience.

Figure 6: Monsoon, the second major boss, wields dual Sais and can manipulate electromagnets in his body
Figure 6: Monsoon, the second major boss, wields dual Sais and can manipulate electromagnets in his body

The Monsoon fight tests the player’s ability to parry multiple attacks in quick succession. Furthermore, Monsoon’s electromagnetic mechanic prohibits the player from simply mashing attacks as he will always dodge Raiden’s attacks. Unlike Mistral, this fight teaches the player that a slow, calculated approach is required to succeed.

I have very few problems with the Monsoon fight. It sports a great soundtrack, inventive boss design, and an appropriately sized arena. I found Monsoon repeating his telekinetic segment in which he throws helicopters at Raiden creative, if a bit monotonous. Also Platinum Games should have made an effort to introduce and explain the Ripper Mode mechanic as Raiden is permanently in this state throughout the entire battle. It is also counter intuitive to introduce a mode that allows the player to dice any enemy up during a boss fight where the boss can avoid every attack.  The battle ends with a satisfying finisher in which Raiden pummels Monsoon into the side of the World Marshall HQ.

Monsoon’s weapon is disappointing for the reason I stated in the Mistral fight section but also because it lacks any function apart from a stun and a gap closer, two tools an MGR player isn’t in desperate need for.

WORLD MARSHALL HQ

The World Marshall HQ level is well done because it demonstrates the ninja run’s cinematic capabilities, introduces players to an interesting setting – the Japanese Garden and surprises the player with two returning boss battles.

One of the more memorable set pieces in MGR has Raiden running through a collapsing World Marshall HQ, vaulting over obstacles and sliding under debris. To refer back to my point about Platinum Games in the Metal Gear RAY fight, this set piece absolutely epitomizes empowering the player. Over the course of this scene Raiden sprints through a crumbling building, defeats a GRAD miniboss, defeats sliders outside the building, sprints up the side of said building and finally makes it through into the Japanese Garden. Take a look and see. The scene ends at 13:26

The second element this level does well is introducing the Japanese Garden setting. At most the player will spend 30 minutes in this area of the game, but it’s nice to see that the art team developed brand new assets for what could have been more office hallways. This new setting is slightly squandered by providing the player with a stealth section, but it’s the principle of making the gameplay experience memorable by devoting days if not weeks to this new setting that really shines through.

Finally, the World Marshall HQ level pleasantly surprises the player by granting them a rematch with both Mistral and Monsoon. This is particularly interesting as the past 15 minutes of gameplay or so has been strictly devoted to creating excitement surrounding the Sundowner fight. It would have been wise to add more unique attacks or mechanics to these two boss battles as the novelty of each rematch wears off quickly and doesn’t engage the player as it should.

 

SUNDOWNER

Seeing as every boss tests a certain skill, it is obvious that a player’s Blade Mode proficiency is at the forefront of this fight. Failure to cut a specific direction perfectly across Sundowner’s shield releases an explosion, deals heavy damage and pushes the player across the arena. It is a skill that the player must be able to accomplish if they are to stand a chance against Senator Armstrong during the finale so it makes sense to test it near the end of the game.

Figure 7: Sundowner holding one of his two pincer blades and dawning his explosive shield(s)

Sundowner’s first phase in this battle (with his explosive shield) is very tame as he seldom engages the player unless they attempt to break his shield. This is likely why Platinum included a attack helicopter hovering the helipad to keep the player occupied, as Sundowner’s passive combat approach is simply too boring to be considered an adequate MGR boss fight. This is not likely what the player was expecting in this fight nor does it shine the best light on the boss. In every cutscene the player has seen Sundowner in action, he is threateningly quick and strong. This fight deflates the player’s expectations of this threatening Desperado member.

Another misstep in the boss design is the difficulty of the fight declines in the second phase after Raiden destroys Sundowner’s shield. After the shield has been destroyed, the player is put into a standard combat scenario where the usual combat rules apply and players can damage Sundowner without the immediate fear of an explosive retaliation. Fortunately,Sundowner ultimately regains his speed and strength which the player may have yearning for in the first phase.

Figure 7: The player must align their slashes across the squares or face explosive consequences
Figure 8: The player must align their slashes across the squares or face explosive consequences

The sundowner fight boasts one of the most satisfying and cinematic finishers in the game and is executed masterfully by engaging the player in the cutscene through an interactive slider mini-game before delivering the final blow. It engages the player on a level beyond quick-time events which many may have been looking for as they approach the end of the game.

Not unlike Monsoon’s Sais, Sundowner’s weapon (The Pincer Blades) are dissatisfying. They are sluggish in their animations to the point where they can not keep up with the game’s pace so close the finale. It is near impossible to counter with them against boss fights which dominate the remaining two chapters of the game nor can they be used in normal combat scenarios without sustaining heavy damage. I understand having a light and weak weapon (Mistral’s), a gap closer and stun weapon (Monsoon’s) and a slow and powerful weapon (Sundowner’s) in an action game like MGR, but perhaps the order the player receives these is inappropriate for the game’s pacing.

 

PAKISTAN

The only gameplay instance in Pakistan I would like to note is a vivid example of how narrative and stealth gameplay clash. Once Raiden enters the military base in Pakistan, Boris states over codec “Raiden there is no time to worry about the soldiers. Get to the control tower”. Upon hearing that the soldiers are not important, the player will do one of two things.

  1. Ninja run through the enemies triggering a combat scenario. Holographic walls trap the player until they defeat all the enemies.
  2. Use stealth mechanics like the cardboard box or tin barrel to sneak slowly past the guards.

Neither of these options yield what the story requires. If the player takes option 1, they are forced into the combat scenario for the next few minutes effectively negating the urgency of the situation. Should the player take option 2, they also negate the urgency of the situation by sneaking along walls and destroying security cameras instead of rushing to the objective. This is a scenario where poor level design and script writing leave the player frustrated and disinvested in the narrative. See below an example of how both a stealth and action oriented approach fail:

 

METAL GEAR EXCELCUS

The Metal Gear Excelcus fight is well done. I can only find two points worth noting.

First, the fight could have been improved substantially if the Metal Gear was placed further into the pit of debris and have its attacks come at a flatter angle. Often times, the player has to angle the camera has high as possible to view stomping and vertical blade attacks from Excelcus and then take appropriate evasive maneuvers. This steep camera angle makes it difficult for players to discern their location in the arena and may result in getting damaged unfairly by having to look so high.

Figure 9: Metal Gear Excelcus is likely the biggest foe the player has encountered thus far and only prefaces the real final battle
Figure 9: Metal Gear Excelcus is likely the biggest foe the player has encountered thus far and only prefaces the real final battle

Second, integrating blade mode with Metal Gear Excelcus’ blade arm is incredibly creative. The player leaves the boss fight empowered such that they believe they can handle Armstrong with no problems. It is the perfect feeling to instill in the player before the game’s most important and final confrontation.

 

 

SENATOR ARMSTRONG

Fighting Senator Armstrong atop of Metal Gear Excelcus is a very strong way to finish off MGR. The fight tests all of the player’s abilities tested in previous boss battles in an incredibly high stakes environment. First, movement and combat knowledge acquired from the Mistral fight is showcased throughout the fight. Additionally, parrying enemy combos from Monsoon’s fight is required as Armstrong has the highest damage output of any enemy in the game. Finally, intelligent blade mode cutting is vital to inflicting major damage to Armstrong and deflecting his cinematic projectile attack.

Figure 10: Senator Armstrong is the most human boss in MGR, but surprisingly can deal heavier hits than Metal Gear Excelcus
Figure 10: Senator Armstrong is the most human boss in MGR, but surprisingly can deal heavier hits than Metal Gear Excelcus

Initially I was very frustrated by Armstrong’s healing ability as I saw it as a crutch to needlessly extend the length of the fight. It provokes players to naturally attack Armstrong as he heals as at this time in the game, it’s instinctive. To their frustration, Armstrong parrys each of Raiden’s attacks and counters while still healing himself. I believe a better system would be for Armstrong to heal as he performs his cinematic projectile attack, where the player has no control over combat. It would simultaneously decrease frustration towards the healing, and creates urgency and pressure on the player to perfectly execute blade mode cuts on the incoming debris. It would make completing that sequence successfully even more satisfying.

Performing the final zandatsu on Armstrong is likely to be cemented in many MGR players’ minds because of its immense level of satisfaction and empowerment it provides. Zandatsus could not have been performed on any major boss throughout the game and having a special animation for Armstrong’s is something truly memorable. Take a look.

 

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance is a strong action adventure game that treats the Metal Gear name with reverence while still being ambitious enough to be considered an entirely new game. It falls short on poor implementation of stealth mechanics and a weak custom and sub weapon system. However, these mechanical oversights will fly over most players’ heads as Platinum Games has constructed a combat engine and narrative that is simply perfect in so many ways. The studio plays with the idea of player empowerment in clever ways and is not afraid to design a unique mechanic like Blade Mode to truly bind the experience together into a nicely wrapped 5-7 hour Metal Gear thrill ride.

Thank you for you for reading,

 James

 

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