TL;DR – To make a long story short: utterly baffling, sometimes brilliant, sometimes hilarious, and altogether like a person with Multiple Personality Disorder. In other words: a Metal Gear Solid game created by PlatinumGames.
To tell the long story: the demo did not impress me the first time at all. Not that I hate Metal Gear or hate PlatinumGames! MGR:R felt like an anemic version of Bayonetta with a nifty little cutting feature. Blade Mode, while satisfying and definitely able to show the capabilities of next-gen systems to bring the act of cutting objects to NEW HEIGHTS (seriously, huh), did not exactly light my fire. I’d rather the mechanics engender their own sense of satisfaction and joy rather than some miscellaneous assemblage of action-adventure parts. You can parry in Bayonetta too – it’s not like MGR:R does anything new other than grafting the Metal Gear logo onto a pure action experience.
Due to the urgings of some friends, though, I found myself playing the demo over and over again trying to cross that seemingly intangible hurdle of “enjoyment”. By jove, I sure found it. There’s an elegance and perfection to the central game mechanic that, unlike Bayonetta, takes the whole of combat to a new level. At the same time as you chop away at one enemy, you’ll need to look around for other enemy attacks AND parry them with perfect timing to get a counterattack. Fail at the timing and Raiden (the player character) blocks and flinches – in a fast-paced situation, this makes enough time for a host of enemies to swarm your position and destroy you. Succeed, and times slows, allowing you get to cut up enemies in Blade Mode; cut the right indicated part, and their robot spine plops out. Press the appropriate button prompt to rip it out and refill your energy and Blade Mode meter to full. Because of how easily you replenish life, the game designs its enemies accordingly. Because of that difficulty, parries becomes your friend. Not that you can’t dodge (and trust me, the game will teach you to use the dodge moves), but parries stay as the foundation of your ground game in every fight and battle.
Although a simple change to a Bayonetta/DMC style combat system, the game’s designed around the parry for better or worse. It compensates by making enemies quick, powerful, and prone to surrounding you. Every encounter becomes a tense situation, requiring you to pick out the most dangerous foes and parry them accordingly (and, hopefully, with the right timing). Think of each encounter as a puzzle with a solution – thank goodness the game doesn’t make you pick exactly the right pieces. Some enemies die to parry counterattacks; others parry you back. Still other attacks remain unparryable (not a word, but whatever), forcing a quick dodge or movement away from the enemies. Rest for a second on your laurels, and you’ll more than likely die. On higher difficulties, you’ll need to find the fastest way to get enemies into Blade Mode without dying or leaving yourself exposed. You’ll find yourself jumping into Blade Mode for a quick second, going for an accurate cut and voila! – instant death. Quick Blade Mode switches and aimed cuts almost give you that same first person shooter sensation of the perfect headshot; multiple Zandatsu prompts from a perfectly timed cut only add to the fun.
Unfortunately, the camera becomes a constant foe on the way to victory. In a wide open space with enemies on the ground? You’re as good as gold – well, if your reflexes stand up to the test, anyway. How about enemies in the air? Perhaps this comes down to personal preference, but the camera seems positioned too close to Raiden in most combat situations. By this I mean: you’re attacking an enemy on the ground, you get wasted by an air enemy you didn’t know was even there. Using the radar helps, but doesn’t fully compensate when every air enemy uses the same machine gun sound; it’s hard to differentiate when no visual indicators present themselves. The camera especially fails during any indoor encounter within a tiny room. Granted, this only happens a few times total in the game, but when the camera’s swooping around for reasons unknown, prepare for damage!
Or not. As far as Normal goes, the game gives you a huge number of breaks. Health powerups lay around everywhere, along with refills to the Blade Mode meter. You’ll take damage, sure, but you’re usually a cut and a Zandatsu (i.e., context and slash sensitive button press after killing something) away from full bars all around. I imagine this provokes better play on higher difficulties, given the damage enemies already do. Play on Hard or above and you’ll find enemies have more health, take out more damage, and certainly last a long while. Further difficulties (up to the punishing Revengeance) change enemy layouts, patterns, and speed; most encounters end if the player gets hit once or twice. Punishing? Certainly! But that’s the name of a game about a cyborg “samurai” – look for perfection, and the true game emerges. That doesn’t forgive the camera issues, certainly, but a player can overcome that obstacle by playing well. Since the game encourages memorization and patterns, that’s not as much a problem as a major publication would think. It’s obvious that Easy and Normal aren’t the intended difficulties for the game, which means most people will never encounter that zen level of perfection – they exist for new players and “Metal Gear” fans whose arcade action sensibilities dulled from years of watching forty-five minute cutscenes.
There’s plenty of those too, owing to the Metal Gear penchant for pontificating and philosophizing about war, the military-industrial complex, child soldiers, private military corporations, and nanomachines! However, the game doesn’t take itself as seriously as a mainline game; rather, a sarcastic and entirely ironic tone emerges at points. I honestly laughed-out loud at certain points in the game just from the sheer absurdity occurring onscreen. I thought throwing a god into the sun was over-the-top, but the end of this game just takes the cake with the unbelievably cheesy and stupid final boss character. Apparently this is canon; apparently Metal Gear fans should get their money back. Also, much yelling at characters to stop talking when you could easily fix the problem immediately with a sword slash.
But there’s still some good stuff there for the Raiden fans. Everyone knows at this point about Raiden’s child solider past, and here we get to see him deal with it. You might even see Jack the Ripper if you look closely enough as the game continually beats into your head its central theme – are you killing people because of justice or a higher ideal, or simply because you enjoy it? It works on multiple levels, both straightforwardly and ironically for the player/Raiden, much like MGS2’s mind-bending manipulation plotline. Give it a little credit pass the cheesy one-liners and the faux-cool aura of Raiden (eyepath OH) and you’ll find some food for thought. Just ignore the insanity of the final boss and you may find yourself thinking for a split second. Should one spill blood to save innocent lives, and does intention mean anything? If Scripture has anything to say, it is thus:
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. (Matthew 10:34-35)
Whether or not we wish to see it, conflict will come to us sooner or later. Our response, regardless of our past, can either exacerbate or end said conflicts. These are the difficult decisions one needs to make. Raiden wants to defend those like himself – children turned into soldiers and manipulated from birth into combatants. He makes the sacrifice to commit heinous acts of violence to save others. Is this admirable? Is it not? These questions always keep a Metal Gear fan questioning their own actions in the game (see: Metal Gear Solid 2, which is quite similar to this in its themes of violence and manipulation). That it rejects a Darwinian, atheist, or evolution-like answer involving “memes” goes to the game’s credit, I suppose. That it works in a high-octane sports car like MGR:R speaks to a level of care and confidence in two clashing styles.
So, why less than five stars? To put it simply, the scoring system and replay give some mixed messages. MGR:R gives you tons of stuff to collect and find, but they seem like tiny modifications to a relatively short game. Added difficulty provides some challenge and necessity to master, but there’s only a few enemy types all in all. The scoring system, while good at giving you an indication of the task at hand, sometimes makes other elements arbitrary in the combat system. For example, why have combo variety when it only counts hits rather than variety? Why the stealth elements if they’re completely unnecessary (you’ll want to fight for scoring purposes anyway), and why hostage stuff added onto a combat game? Even if it has a particular brand attached, that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn bare bones versions of what people played before! At least you can skip cutscenes on subsequent playthroughs (which is nice, given we’re in the Metal Gear universe). These weird little flaws and relatively short length strike me as a game that went through a somewhat troubled development cycle, taking the form of certain games rather than their content. It’s no Bayonetta, is what I mean.
But it might be your Bayonetta! While I don’t love it like Hideki Kamiya’s masterpiece, there’s plenty of meat here if you go in with the right expectations. Namely, a unique action game with that signature Platinum Games style and a whole lot of game mastery.
Four Stars – A great game, only limited by a few key flaws that prevent it from reaching the upper echelons.
To understand the scoring system, see our Review Policy.