The mess that is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance starts with its name, which has to be one of the most awkward game titles in recent memory. Can we just call it Metal Gear Rising? I mean come on, "Revengeance" isn't just extraneous, it's also too extreme of a bastardization of the English language to take seriously.
Beyond that, this is a game that bears almost no resemblance to previous entries in the long-running Metal Gear action-stealth series, which has amassed a legion of fans since its 1987 debut. If only that was, ahem, Rising's worst crime.
Bad writing and voice acting, uninteresting linear environments, camera problems, dumb enemies and nonsensical action that is also insanely difficult to combine into a game that is thoroughly un-fun and a chore to get through. It's enough to send you scrambling back to older games in the series, to get the sour taste of this one out of your mouth.
Intended as a spinoff from the main series, Rising stars Raiden, a cyborg ninja in the employ of private military contractor Maverick Security. He's been an erstwhile ally of long-time series protagonist Snake, but now he finally gets his own time in the spotlight.
Raiden's mission sees him on bodyguard duty to an African dignitary, who's pushing for peace in his region. Rival army-for-hire Desperado Enterprises, however, thinks universal harmony is bad for business, so they stir things up by taking out our hero's charge.
As a former child soldier in Liberia, Raiden is shocked to learn that the bad guys are brainwashing kids to help carry out their schemes. Like any good Stallone movie, his mission to stop the evil mercenaries isn't just business – it's personal.
He's helped in his quest by several allies who communicate over the Codec video conferencing app, one of the few connections to other Metal Gear games. Among these are Boris, the imaginatively named Russian representative of Maverick, and the equally imaginatively named Doktor, a sort of James Bond-ian Q, but German.
The chatter between characters is ham-fisted and cheesy, with more than enough machismo and gravelly voices to go around. (Okay, maybe it is like other Metal Gear games?). The terrible lipsynching doesn't help.
Unlike other entries in the series, Rising requires virtually no stealth. It's a button-mashing hack-and-slash game along the lines of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta or even God of War. Raiden must slice and dice his way through a horde of cyborg enemies, all the while gaining experience points that can unlock new ability upgrades and weapons.
Sure, he can sneak up on enemies and take them out with a single button push, but this only serves to show how stupid the artificial intelligence is. With his clumsy cyborg feet, Raiden positively stomps around like a metallic elephant. This theoretical impossibility of sneaking up on people would make him the world's worst ninja, if it weren't for the fact that all of his opponents are clearly deaf or brain dead.
The central fighting mechanic of the game is Blade Mode, a slow-motion state that – once activated – allows Raiden to slice specific body parts. In doing so, he can chop off sections of enemies that give him more experience or health recharges.
Long-time Metal Gear developer Kojima Productions gave up on the game back in 2010 because it wasn't sure it could make that central concept interesting. Platinum Games eventually took over, but Kojima's fears ultimately proved correct. The slow-mo slicing mode is inaccurate and unwieldy, leading to just as much button mashing and frantic thumbstick wiggling as regular combat.
Those regular fights, against nameless cronies, are perhaps the most interesting part of the game. It's in these skirmishes that Raiden gets to kick butt, showing off his flips and whirling katana skills. Combat eventually gets simple, though, once you figure out that his ninja slide move is pretty much unstoppable.
Battles shift in tenor, however, when it comes to level bosses. Whether it's a cyborg panther or Samuel Rodrigues, the head honcho samurai bad guy, the difficulty ramps up significantly. And I mean significantly. I spent hours getting trounced in boss battles (on medium difficulty) before figuring out enough of the particular opponent's attack patterns to finally squeak by. Some people will find this hugely satisfying – I found it extremely frustrating.
Topping these boss fights off is the ludicrous soundtrack, which shifts into high-tempo Euro-Asian Power Metal that Yngwie J. Malmsteem would be proud of. Having to listen to these grating, nonsensical songs over and over while trying to beat the bosses is an entirely new kind of hell, an achievement Platinum Games shouldn't be proud of.
The fights aren't helped by camera problems. Unlike other hack-and-slashers that take a wider view of the action, Rising's camera focuses tightly on Raiden, making it hard to see his surroundings. Locking on to bad guys also means you end up fighting the camera's orientation, which is doubly frustrating.
In between the regular and boss battles – and sometimes in the midst of them – there are the incomprehensively over-the-top set pieces, like when Raiden jumps from one airborne missile to another in order to chop an attacking helicopter in half. It's pure anime cartoon action, which is woefully out of place in a story involving war-torn Africa and child soldiers.
On a mechanical level, these sequences also combine with environments that are tightly laid out and scripted to constantly remind you that you're in a game, and a pretty silly one at that. You may find yourself in an impressively rendered city, but invisible walls keep you on the game's well-worn path and away from any sort of exploration. There's zero immersion here.
Much has been made of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance's length in the run-up to its release. Developers were forced to address the issue after an early reviewer posted a photo claiming a completion time of five-and-a-half hours. Platinum explained that the game's counter doesn't include cut scenes and only tracks the fastest play-through of each chapter.
The cut scenes, believe it or not, are relatively short for a Metal Gear game. But I can certainly attest to the developer's explanation. While my official play-through time was about seven-and-a-half hours, all of the above factors made it feel much, much longer. And not in a good way.