Blade Wolf – An Exercise in Managing Disappointment

Blade Wolf

So what do you want to know about the Metal Gear Rising “Blade Wolf” DLC?

You know me: I love this game with a passion. I’ve written about it constantly, talked about it on podcasts in various places, and generally express my love for its wonderful blazing thunder of a system mechanic. It’s a wonderful experience that already sucked up twenty hours or so, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Heck, I even liked the Jetstream Sam DLC, which provided just enough difference in mechanics and a bump in difficulty to make it worth playing a few times – well, excepting the last boss’ horrible glitchiness.

Hearing that the game would allow us to play Blade Wolf – i.e., the robot dog with a CHAINSAW for a tail – lit a fire under me, I must admit. Whether it appeals to my red-blooded American sensibility or just my love of destroying things in digital world – apparently I am an angry person who channels that into video games, if modern psychology has anything to say – this immediately endeared itself to me. Did I ever know that I wanted to play a roaming death machines that makes no logical sense in the real world? No more than I knew that I liked it when giant robots beat each other up. Do I like the idea? Absolutely!

Plus, when you retain a track record like Platinum Games, it’s hard to find yourself with low expectations. This, after all, comes from the same company as Bayonetta, Vanquish, Infinite Space (yep, even that one), Anarchy Reigns, and MadWorld (well, not good to everyone, anyway). They made a stealth-action series into one of the most exciting and skill-based action games of the last decade, excepting their own work. So what should you expect from a robot dog game? Something innovative? Something amazing?

No. What you get for your six dollars and ninety-nine cents feels akin to someone grabbing the money out of your wallet, running five blocks, then returing the money because it came from a Monopoly game. In other words, it’s a total cash-in that deceives you at first glance. It ultimately fails to hold a candle to the other content released – yes, even the VR Missions that I don’t even like very much! It’s just bad all the way around.

In the core game, Blade Wolf looks awesome and does awesome things. So what do you do here? Act like you’re playing a Metal Gear Solid game. Using stealth, Blade Wolf navigates his own set of VR Missions as well as re-used assets in his/her/its quests to understand the concept of freedom. Unfortunately for PlatinumGames, they are not well-known for shoehorning dumb and ill-designed mechanics into their works. This is exactly how Blade Wolf plays.

MGR Blade Wolf DLC Screenshot

Don’t be fooled by how awesome this looks! SERIOUSLY!

To give an inkling: Blade Wolf can hold its own in combat to a degree. However, unlike Raiden or Sam, there’s no margin of error. A few hits will stun Blade Wolf, and given his relatively low stamina that’s not a situation you want. Enemies can destroy you in the blink of an eye, and good luck parrying well at first; they definitely made the timing more strict. His move set for combos feels even more restricting – your primary attack does a simple combo, and your secondary does a wider area of affect. Both leave you completely vulnerable if you miss, with no Dodge Offset to save your bacon. Blade Wolf does have a dodge, sure, but like the parry counter, the timing’s more strict and you cannot use it to cancel attacks immediately. Blade Wolf also uses exactly one sub-weapon, that being the Heat Knives. Completely useless in combat, you’ll find yourself using them on aerial enemies exclusively. That’s because, surprise, Blade Wolf’s combat abilities come at the expense of his speed. He needs to do what we call “Hunt Kills”, which amount to Raiden and Sam’s Ninja Kills. Approach an enemy from behind, press your magic context sensitive button, and away you go.

Now, none of this would necessarily constitute a “bad” experience. Stealth games work great if designed properly – that is, with a system that allows you to know when an enemy CAN and CANNOT see you. Mark of the Ninja did this brilliantly through its graphical elements; Solid does this through its Soliton Radar, which becomes an invaluable device for planning your next move. You have lots of options to distract enemies and move around them without detection. It’s in the series’ blood, and obviously Konami wanted to include some sort of bone for the fans who clamored for a new stealth-action experience.

But, and here’s the key, MGR:R is not a stealth game, and its engine, graphics, camera, and UI do not take this into account when you place a stealth game within it. Imagine my frustration in trying to figure out when an enemy saw me. Sometimes, I’d be completely behind a box or tall object, only to find myself seen. This becomes especially egregious because, unlike in MGS, enemies jump and move between multiple levels at a whim. They’re not separated by corridors or floors, so they can see you from any vantage point as long as they’re looking at your direction.

Furthermore, the camera complicates this in the most extraordinary way. You want to remain undetected? Have fun dying and reloading over and over again. Try memorization, and that MIGHT get you through it without detection. The patterns vary so wildly, and become so hard to see, that you end up with fatigue just by trying to discern a pattern. There’s no distraction, or ways to kill enemies quickly from afar (barring heat knives, but those only work on weak enemies). It’s pure memorization without good options, and it’s egregious in a game that provided so many options in its core incarnation.You can fight enemies, but the game gives you easy S Ranks for Blade Wolf if you 1. aren’t detected and 2. kill all enemies with stealth kills. As you know, this game demands ranked performance, so why fight when it doesn’t want you to fight?

Not that Blade Wolf controls the best either. Question: what’s the worst element to add in a game with a bad camera and sloppy hit detection designed for fighting? Platforming! My God, the platforming in the VR Mission made me tear my hair out and slam some controllers. Yes, it was for an optional item, and the Jetstream Sam DLC does some platforming stuff, but these are TINY platforms. To add insult to injury, our robotic canine only jumps once. ONCE. Even Raiden gets to just twice, and even that’s a pain when you need precision. What in God’s name made them imagine this as a fun diversion? FOR MONEY?

Frankly, it’s a huge disappointment, and there’s no other way to put it. Even the new original boss (which I will not name for SPOILER purpose) barely takes advantage of Blade Wolf’s abilities, and making stealth a part of the fight just begs for trouble – not to mention how unnecessary it feels. This cash-in does not delight me in any way, and I have not touched it since I bought and played it. Who doesn’t want to get excited for something so promising, though? Who wants to temper their expectation? Not me, certainly!

Well, I know the feeling of disappointment from years of video game hype, so it’s not uncommon to me. Still, you can’t help but feel like you got hoodwinked by a bad property simply by concept, brand, or loyalty. In the same way products get you to identify with them as if they were a part of the family, so video gamers get their collective minds into a tizzy over the awesome-ness of something or other. That’s just how it goes.

But we all find ourselves in disappointments at some level, whether from video games or life or people. Everything fails to reach our preconceived notions and expectations of How Things Should Be, a Book By Zachery Oliver. That doesn’t mean they should work that way, but we certainly know how to build up that wall, don’t we? Even Moses ended up like this. He asked Pharoah to let the Israelites go into the wilderness for three days, and he makes their labor harder as a direct result. So, in the most brazen way possible, Moses says to God:

22 Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.”

Remember that Moses didn’t feel any confidence from the beginning – remember that he murdered an Egyptian, after all, and then became God’s messenger. This isn’t exactly light fare. God responds in kind in Exodus 6:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.”

2 God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord; 3 and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them. 4 I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. 5 Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6 Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.’”

Moses doubts Him, but God puts him in his place. It reminds me of Job, almost. God does not make bad choices. We do. We place false expectations on ourselves, on others, and everything else in a way that tailors the universe to our predilections. Yet God gives us second chances to make amends and sets us on the right path, the one of actual reality…with whatever tools necessary. We don’t need to live in disappointment because, hey, we’re told not to live that way in Romans 5:

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

I’m not advocating for a realist approach; far from it. But the idealism comes from God, and not from ourselves. That is the key; without it, we will disappoint again and again. God never will.

Unlike chainsaw wielding robot dogs, however cool they may be.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.