On paper, the meeting of Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear stealth series with Platinum Games, whose previous output has included the gloriously demented Bayonetta, MadWorld and underrated shooter Vanquish, seems like a curious one. And with Revengeance taking the series closer to the chaotic combat of Bayonetta than the slow-build stealth thrills of Guns Of The Patriots, you might wonder whether any of the Metal Gear DNA would be left in the mix.
From exhilarating start to dizzying finish, Revengeance dispels those rumours with a flurry of tempered steel. It’s a violent, hectic action game, no doubt about it, but it’s also immediately recognisable as a Metal Gear entry. The story centres around Raiden, the silver-haired warrior first introduced in MGS2. While acting as security for the prime minister of a small African country, a group of heavily-armed assassins attack, killing the leader and leaving Raiden critically wounded.
Emerging a few years later with new, augmented limbs and a metal jaw, Raiden heads off to exact revenge on the bad guys who chopped him up – which so happens to include preventing a company called Desperado Enterprises from selling the brains of orphaned children and sparking a new War on Terror. Actually, the story’s much more meandering and convoluted than this, but like the game as a whole, it’s enough to simply hold on by your fingertips and enjoy the wild ride.
Opening VR sequences provide a way into Revengeance’s combat system. Holding R1 activates Ninja Run – allowing Raiden to sprint along, jumping and sliding over and under obstacles like the agile Faith out of Mirror’s Edge. Ordinary attacks are activated with a push of square (light attack) or triangle (heavy attack), while holding L1 activates Blade Mode. Here, time slows down, giving Raiden the time to unleash a flurry of blade slashes – and by moving the right stick, you have precise control over the angle of these attacks, allowing Raiden to hack through doors with a single stroke, or better yet, dice enemies into ever smaller pieces.
Unusually, defence is also activated with presses of the square button, allowing for a fast, instinctive flow to combat; by parrying an attack at just the right time, Raiden can counter with a furious blow, leaving the enemy open to some of those fatal slashes activated during Blade Mode.
Get these attacks right, and you’ll have the chance to pull off a fancy finishing move with a well-timed press of circle or triangle and circle hammered down together; get it right, and Raiden will literally tear the life out of his enemies, providing himself with a full energy boost in the process.
Raiden’s formidable blade is joined by various sub-weapons, which can be picked up and equipped as you progress; these range from sharp implements like a pole arm, which acts as both a spear and a whip, to rocket launchers, homing missiles and grenades.
Put all this together, and you have a simple yet ingenious combat system where every element – attack, defence, counter-attack and finishing moves – all flow effortlessly into one another. What’s more, the range of enemies is broad and imaginative enough to make every encounter feel like a separate mini-game in itself, with each requiring their own tactics.
Opponents range from garden-variety cyborgs, just ripe for building up your energy and ranking, to vast Metal Gear mecha, cyborg gorillas, pesky yet oddly cute tripod drones to some incredibly eccentric bosses, including Mistral, a woman with an octopus-like array of plug-in robot arms.
Bayonetta, released in 2010, showcased Platinum’s ability to craft a technically accomplished and hugely entertaining brawler, packed full of unique battles and unexpected set pieces. Revengeance is clearly cut from the same cloth – and one early dash down the face of a crumbling clock-tower is torn straight from the Bayonetta story book – but it’s a more refined, more forgiving game, which manages to be challenging without the brutally abrupt deaths that earlier title often dealt out.
Revengeance’s fusion of third-person platforming and combat is so smooth, in fact, that it took me a little while to unpick exactly why it’s so addictive and rewarding when other, similar titles drift into grinding repetition. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the constant back-and-forth tension between doing extremely well and doing very badly; one bruising encounter may leave your health dangerously low, but a well-timed blow or counter-attack in the next could allow Raiden the chance to tear the energy-giving viscera out of an enemy and turn the tables again. This constant ebb and flow between danger and torso-smashing victory has the quality of a rollercoaster, and once you tap into it, there’s no other game that can match it.
Hectic and over-the-top though it often is, Revengeance hasn’t turned its back on stealth, either. It’s possible to sneak past guards if you so wish, and certain segments of the game require the careful avoidance of security systems – one of my favourite moments is a brief scene where Raiden jacks into one of those three-legged drones mentioned earlier, allowing you to guide the little squeaky little mecha past guards in search of a computer terminal.
Revengeance is a wonderfully smooth-looking game, too; a certain level of detail appears to have been reduced in places to keep the combat running at a silky 60 frames-per-second, but the quality of Yoji Shinkawa’s character and mecha designs is constantly in evidence. There’s some great music too, with Jamie Christopherson’s metal score providing the perfect backwash to all the ultraviolence.
The only chink in Revengeance’s armour is, mystifyingly, its camera system. In a game otherwise polished to perfection, it’s not clear why this aspect has been compromised; although it’s but a minor annoyance in wide open spaces, during confined ones – like a mission set in the dank confines of a sewer – the camera often clashes with walls and judders distractingly. During fights with fast-moving robots – including a large security droid which rushes at you while emitting great gouts of flame – the camera proves to be the greater opponent, with the viewpoint often proving wildly difficult to control effectively, particularly in Blade Mode, where the camera angle drops to the floor at a sort of Dutch tilt.
This is a relatively minor caveat in an otherwise remarkable package, though. In fact, the whole experience of slashing through Revengeance is so blissfully enjoyable that, when the campaign comes to an end after around six hours, it’s a shame to see the end credits roll so soon. But as a truly great combat game should, Revengeance gives plenty of reasons to play through it again and again; to try out some of the weapons you may have overlooked the first time around, attempt to improve your ranking on each stage, unlock the additional VR mini-games hidden through the campaign, or even just to enjoy the gloriously mad storyline all over again.
Where other collaborations have come across like oil and water – Nintendo and Team Ninja nexus Metroid: Other M for example, or Capcom and Slant Six’s disappointing Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City – Revengeance is an extraordinary meeting of talents.
Kojima is one of the most cine-literate game designers working, and perhaps the medium’s equivalent of Quentin Tarantino. Following this analogy further, Revengeance is probably Kojima’s Kill Bill; a game full of drama, over-the-top action, pop culture references and absurd humour. While its plot has elements of a fairly heavy post-9/11 thriller (and Raiden has plenty of opportunities for existential crisis), it’s also shot through with a broad streak of utter madness.
Revengeance’s swagger is such that even its weaker aspects – a Doktor’s hideous German accent, or a small boy named George’s absurd dialogue – has a knowingly absurd quality to it. This is, after all, a game in which the main character acquires his own K9-style robot pet at one point, and drives into a Central American town wearing a floppy hat as a disguise.
Is Revengeance the finest combat game of this generation? Quite possibly. As one character gleefully puts it, “Give war a chance.” You’ll be so glad you did.
Metal Gear: Revengeance is out now for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
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