Anyone who saw Raiden slice a giant robot in half during Metal Gear Solid 4 instantly wondered what it would be like to play the game as a cyborg ninja. Good news, people: that's exactly what Metal Gear Rising: Revengance is all about.
Set years after the end of Solid Snake's fight against the Patriots, Metal Gear Rising (or MGR) picks up with Raiden, now a cyber-enhanced, peace-keeping PMC soldier escorting the Prime Minister of a foreign nation. Things inevitably go wrong, Raiden gets beat down, and the bad guys get away. Cue transformation scene: Raiden's given a brand-new cyborg body, complete with eyepatch and high-heels.
From the moment the cutscenes start, it's obvious that this is a Metal Gear game: technical terms, acronyms, and wartime philosophy is laid on thick. On one side, it's not going to win over new players who weren't fans of previous games' dialogue heavy cutscenes; on the other, it's exactly what fans love about the series.
But the story isn't the focus of this demo, it's the gameplay. Platinum Games' distinct style is all over this game, and anyone who played the studio's previous efforts will feel right at home - fans of Bayonetta will notice quite a few similarities. Give MGR some credit, though: while it owes its heritage to Platinum's previous games, there's more than enough here for the game to stand on its own.
First, the basics: MGR uses the tried-and-true Light Attack/Heavy Attack combo system, and it works almost exactly as it did in Bayonetta. Stringing combos together leads to extra damage and a higher score. However, there are two aspects of MGR's core combat that stand out as unique: dodging and parrying. As strange as it sounds, dodging is relatively non-existent. Maneuvering is based around the Ninja Run, which will automatically send Raiden barreling over the environment or deflect bullets back at their shooters, but there's no button dedicated solely to avoiding damage. Instead, the game heavily encourages parrying. Attacking at the right time will block, or if your timing is perfect, push the enemies back and open them up for a vicious counterattack...and that's when things get interesting.
Through a successful parry, quicktime event, sneak attack, or just holding the trigger, Raiden can enter Blade Mode: a brief moment of slow-motion (similar to Bullet Time) that gives the player total control of Raiden's famous sword. It's works exactly as advertised: cutting with Raiden's blade is quick and precise, and slicing both enemies and the environment to pieces is child's play. To be completely honest, using both of the analog sticks in tandem to move the camera and slice takes some getting used to, but once you wrap your head around it, it's unlike anything you've ever played (mostly because no one played Afro Samurai).
Blade Mode is further bolstered by zan-datsu (Japanese for "cut-and-take"), which rewards players for slicing precisely. While in Blade Mode, certain targets will appear on the bodies of enemy soldiers; slicing these targets reveals their spine-like repair unit, and will instantly refill Raiden's health. Considering that standalone health pickups are rare, hitting these moving targets quickly becomes second nature. Finally, while not present in the demo, slicing the left arm of opposing soldiers will eventually lead to upgrades for Raiden's suit and sword.
On both the PS3 and Xbox 360, MGR is quite the looker. Environments are detailed, and the enemies and effects both look amazing. Raiden and his blade are the real stars of the show, with an outstanding amount of detail present on Raiden's cyborg suit. Blade Mode is instantly recognizable, and the amount of information displayed without crowding the display is something to be commended. Granted, there were a few hiccups in the demo: there's an awkward pause in an early cutscene, which ends up knocking the audio off-sync, but it quickly corrects itself. Otherwise, the games look nearly identical.
If you were worried about Metal Gear Rising: Revengance's gameplay, don't be. Once you really get into combat, utilizing Raiden's swordplay and mobility, everything just falls into place. There's never been anything quite like Blade Mode; that alone is reason enough to give the game a chance. Despite everything that has happened during the game's rocky development cycle, Metal Gear Rising is shaping up to be unlike anything you've ever played.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengance launches for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox on February 22, 2013.