I use a controller to play my console ports these days. Sure, modern ports are usually good enough that you can wrangle the mouse and keyboard into some semblance of an acceptable control scheme (unless they’re Dark Souls), but I do think they lose something unless played with a controller. Most of the time my controller is used for Spelunky Daily Challenges, and while that’s pretty much the opposite of a chilled out experience my hands come away from it feeling rather relaxed – limber, almost. By contrast after playing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for an hour I physically have to uncurl the fingers of my left hand from their claw-like grasp because I’ve been clutching the controller so hard, such is the intensity of this game. It’s pure distilled action from start to finish that takes the developer’s experience with action games (Revengeance was made by Platinum Games, who were previously responsible for the reputedly-excellent Bayonetta) and Hideo Kojima’s wonderfully off-kilter Metal Gear Solid universe and pursues the resulting combination to its logical conclusion to produce something that’s almost beautiful in terms of how insane it all is.
Revengeance has not ever heard of the phrase “over the top”. Everything about it is absurd, even its name; however what you need to keep in mind here is that “absurd” is not the same thing as “stupid”. To be sure there is a lot of stuff in the game that is stupid, but then one of the reasons that Revengeance strikes me as incredibly console is that it isn’t afraid to be stupid if that leads to a boss fight where you beat a giant robot to death with its own severed blade-arm. It’s a different approach that’s not usually seen on the PC, and Revengeance is at least knowingly stupid, chuckling along with the player as it breaks the fourth wall several times and gently parodies its own source material. The last Metal Gear Solid game I played was Sons of Liberty ( which was over a decade ago now that I come to think about it) but even I can tell Revengeance is taking the piss, as well as the opportunity to have your cyborg ninja engage in some truly ludicrous boss battles.
The cyborg ninja thing itself is an example. Lots of games have cyborgs. Cyborgs are clichéd now. Similarly, lots of games have ninjas. They’re one of the biggest clichés in gaming. A cyborg ninja as a concept should be a super-cliché, something I’d expect games developers to have done to death years ago because it’s the definition of a videogame hero, and yet casting my mind back I can’t think of a single game past the 16-bit era that’s done it at all. Maybe I’m not playing the right games, but I think it’s telling that Revengeance looks at the idea and instead of thinking “No, that’s too much, a cyborg ninja would be too powerful as a player character,” it just goes “Fuck it, let’s do it,” and then proceeds to execute it so well I’m wondering why the hell it’s taken me so long to play a game like this.
This specific cyborg ninja is former Metal Gear Solid 2 protagonist Raiden, who at some point between now and then has undergone a full-body cybernetic swap and now kills things in ridiculously gory fashion with a high-tech nanoblade that can cut through pretty much anything in the game. The prologue has him in a more or less human-looking chassis, but after events he swaps it out for a much more machine-like cyber-body complete with metal lower jaw and an Adam Jensen-esque combat visor that snaps in place during boss battles (and which becomes something of a running joke throughout the game). Raiden’s character design is one of the many high points of Revengeance; it’s a sort of fusion of stereotypical Japanese anime visual style with some of the more advanced prosthetic limbs you see, but the thing I like about it most is that Raiden does not look like a typical videogame hero. If anything he looks like the villain, with plenty of sharp edges on his armour, glowing red eyes and claws on his hands. Considering the number of people he slaughters during the course of the story1 this is entirely appropriate.
There’s a significant amount of depth to Revengeance’s combat system. Raiden gets the usual Light and Heavy attacks that can be chained together to perform combos, launch people, air juggle etc., but that’s pretty advanced stuff. For chumps like me who struggle to get through the game on Normal the major things to get the hang of are parrying and Blade Mode. Blade Mode we’ll get to in a bit because it’s Revengeance’s signature feature and deserves more than a couple of sentences, but parrying essentially functions as a block/counter system. Parrying is performed by holding the control stick in the direction of an attack and pressing the Light Attack button; every enemy attack has a parry window and if you parry during this window you’ll block the attack and (usually) all of the damage, while if you parry at just the right moment you can perform a parry counter on an attacking enemy. This all sounds like the bread and butter of action games, but while in something like Batman: Arkham Asylum there’d be some obvious flashing icons above an enemy’s head so that you’d know when to do the counter Revengeance thinks that’s far too generous. Instead you have to rely on visual tells from the enemies themselves to know when to block – and believe me, this is far easier to describe than it is to do.
If you can get those tells down, though, you can use your sword to parry most attacks in the game, and by “most attacks” I mean “giant robots trying to stamp on you” and “people throwing armoured cars at you” because you’re a cyborg ninja and why the hell not? If you can get the timing right and pull off a parry counter the game will go slow-motion for a second or two; this is your cue to activate Blade Mode where the game zooms into a close up and prompts you to accurately target a sword slash to neatly bisect an enemy along a target weak point. The tech behind Blade Mode will create two new physics objects after the cut, which will then flop to the ground after you exit slow motion – but that’s only if you’re being restrained; with a full Blade Mode timer you can perform dozens of cuts, slicing an enemy into so many pieces that your computer will visibly start to chug as it struggles with all the bits.
I’m very impressed with Revengeance’s use of Blade Mode. The conceit for it is a great one, and at its most basic level it’s used as a vastly more interesting version of scenery destruction/finishing off enemies for powerups. It’s against the tougher enemies and bosses that it really shines as an actual gameplay mechanic rather than a slightly different way of killing people, however. Once you’ve weakened a tough enemy with regular attacks parts of them will acquire a blue overlay, which can then be severed using Blade Mode. This (usually) degrades their combat ability and it’s possible to take an enemy out of the fight completely by severing all or nearly all of their limbs and weapons, which gets a little bit horrifying when you’ve done it to one of the humanoid cyborgs and they’re dragging themselves along the ground with their one remaining arm trying to get away.
The boss fights are a slightly different story. Revengeance’s boss fights are the marquee moments of the game and – in my opinion, anyway – the apotheosis of the boss fight as a videogaming concept. It’s possible to make the argument that Revengeance is actually a series of boss fights punctuated by twenty minute segments where you practice the skills needed to win them, especially since the first one happens about two minutes after you get out of the opening cutscene. Each of them has a particular gimmick that has to be overcome that’s pitched in such a way that it tests your mastery of one or more of the combat mechanics, and when you finally get to the end boss Revengeance doesn’t feel like it needs to hold back any more and hits you with everything it has in a marathon smackdown where the only chance you have of surviving is to dodge, parry, evade and target your Blade Mode strikes correctly. Usually you just have to hit one target with a Blade Mode cut, but the last few boss fights will require you to hit three or four with a single strike as Raiden tries to pry open armour or slice apart some colossal piece of scenery that’s been hurled at him. Since there is a timer on your Blade Mode which is constantly ticking down as you try to angle the cut correctly it’s actually fairly tricky to do, and an excellent addition to the game’s stock quicktime events.
(Although to describe them as quicktime events is doing them a real disservice. Other games have quicktime events where you punch a guy in the face. Revengeance has quicktime events where a helicopter is firing a stream of missiles at you, and Raiden jumps from missile to missile to reach the helicopter and cut it into bits with his sword. I know which one I’d rather play.)
While I’m talking about the boss fights I should mention Revengeance’s soundtrack, because the last time I played a game with a soundtrack this ridiculous was F-Zero GX2. It’s not something I think I’d ever listen to outside of the game, but it is absolutely appropriate in how cheesily overblown it is. Every single boss has their own theme music, and Revengeance does some clever iMUSE-esque dynamic stuff where it gradudally ramps up in intensity as you progress through the phases of a fight until finally — amazingly — actual lyrics kick in for the climactic final phase. This also happens to be the part where the boss fight itself goes into overdrive and everything starts exploding, and the effect is absolutely fantastic. When you’re trading blows with a boss while that music plays over the top it feels like you’re in a proper duel to the death. When you figure them out and get into a rhythm of parry-counterstroke-parry-dodge and kill them without them ever touching you, you feel like a god. I laughed out loud during several of the boss fights because everything was just so perfectly pitched; I don’t often play games like this, and now it seems like doing so in the future would be a waste of time because everything else would fall short of what’s been achieved in Revengeance.
Now, the catch. Aside from the camera, which is woefully bad for a game released in 2013, the number one problem with Revengeance is that it makes bugger-all attempt to explain any of that stuff I just described to the player, or any of the more detailed nuances of the combat system. For example, sometimes an enemy will glow orange or yellow while they’re winding up for an attack. What does this mean? The game never tells you, but it’s really important for not having your face pounded into the ground because orange attacks can be parried, while yellow attacks can’t. Not only is this a crucial difference that’s completely undocumented, but I certainly couldn’t tell the difference between orange and yellow attacks in the heat of the moment and so took to dodging them rather than attempting to block them. The dodge move itself has to be purchased by the player via the game’s upgrade system instead of being available from the start, which led me to believe it was an ancillary combat feature when in fact several boss fights are built around you being able to dodge their attacks.The more detailed use of Blade Mode took several failed attempts at a certain boss to figure out because up until the point Revengeance hadn’t asked me to do anything more complex than flail wildly at an enemy using the quick stroke buttons. Most games spoon-feed the player information and come across as far too hand-holdy as a result, but Revengeance goes too far the other way and ends up being borderline impenetrable. Even now I’m not sure if that “depth” in the combat system I mentioned is a simple result of the game not telling you how to play it and making you figure it out for yourself.
Fortunately we live in the age of fan-made YouTube videos that plug this gap by doing what Platinum should have and actually doing a step-by-step demonstration of how Revengeance works. If not for those then Revengeance probably wouldn’t have gone down quite so well with me, and it’s definitely a huge flaw in its otherwise immaculate structure that most people won’t even find these third-party guides, but I was able to patch over it and have a hell of a lot of fun with the game. Because at the end of the day, Revengeance is all about fun. It’s about spectacle. It’s about turning every single dial up to eleven. It’s not even a power fantasy, because I guarantee you nobody ever dreams of having this much power. It’s one of the silliest games I’ve played in the last couple of years and it turns this to its advantage by approaching everything with a knowing sense of humour. Revengeance might not be for everyone – and certainly not for anyone who attempts to play it with a mouse and keyboard – but it’s one of the finest console-style action games to make the jump across to the PC, and if that sounds at all like it might be your thing then I highly recommend you pick it up.
- They’re supposed to be cyborgs themselves, but a large quantity of red fluid fountains from their bodies under arterial pressure whenever you cleave them in twain so I think we know that’s just something the developers are telling us to make us feel better. ↩
- Where they’d done inexplicably rockin’ theme music for every single one of the 30+ racers in the game. ↩