Transhumanism; the improvement of the human condition through biological or (more commonly) mechanical means. Recently transhumanism with regards to military applications came under the spotlight. In the report published, augmenting human beings to be better soldiers is against their basic rights, and that by effectively weaponizing the human form, those involved would lose their identity and become little more than tools. No longer seen as people with lives and feelings and emotion, but as weapons with a shockingly degree of disposability. War will have changed – MGS4’s battlefield control made real, so to speak.
The philosophical implications of transhumanism are similar as well, with the replacement of the core pillars of the human form being replaced by machinery, are transhumanists still, well, human, and if so at what point do they cross the line.
Story wise, what may seem a simple tale of post-MGS4 war mongering, that is a tale where the war economy collapsing with the fall of the sons of the patriots system, is in fact a look at the effects of war on the people who fight it. With the world now free of the interconnected battlefield control system in the form of SoP, soldiers are once again a lone being, though the war economy is now in a recession which sees a lot of people out of work; if there is no war to fight then there are no need for warfighters. With most PMCs now being decommissioned, the few that do remain are split between standard PMCs and security firms. Maverick security – the firm Raiden finds himself allied with- acts as a security detail, employed to the president of an African country recently recovering from a civil war. A rival PMC – desperado – subsequently launches an attack on the president, in the grand scheme of things trying to reignite the war economy. It’s during this attack that Raiden is gravely wounded, losing an arm and an eye, leading the way to being even further enhanced as a cyborg.
On a trail of rivalry and justice, many characters start to question Raiden’s humanity, and one mid-game section even switches the morality, really hitting home the possibility that by becoming the cyborg ninja cutting and taking his way through the world that Raiden has become no better, worse even, than those he is trying to stop. By becoming more than human he has in fact become less than human. Ties to Metal Gear Solid 2 (Raiden’s debut appearance) also litter the storyline. Most prominent of these throwbacks involves Raiden’s childhood as Jack the Ripper – a child soldier. I don’t want to give too much away, but this backstory becomes an important point on the game, and intertwines with the questionable humanity that is modernday Raiden.
As for the gameplay this is very much a platinum game. All told by the end of the game there’s a sense of power and precision that honestly very few games have ever managed to capture, especially with some of the undeniably fantastically exciting set pieces designed to test your mental flexibility. This is by the end of the game, however, which begs the question about the beginning. To be brutally honest, Revengeance does a terrible job of teaching you any more than the most basic of actions, leaving the bulk of the combat, combos, parrys and dodges to be learned by simply doing something by accident and then trying to replicate the results. For example I bought a sidestep dodge move during the first real mission of the game, and due to the lack of in-game documentation about how to dodge (a quick Google back before release would even suggest there wasn’t a dodge at all!) I ended up only first using it around mission five because I dropped my controller and grabbed it in such a way to push the buttons in the right way.
Though, to give it a silver lining, this does allow for a sense of personal progression and genuine sense of learning and achievement when you start to experiment and expand your moveset. That isn’t to say the abysmal training and lack of instruction isn’t a major flaw, it’s just that by the end of the game and your subsequent inevitable higher difficulty playthroughs you just won’t care. This is where Revengeance really shines – it is, plain and simple, fun. Right from the opening set pieces involving a explosive battle against a modified metal gear ray to the first phases of the final boss fights (they unfortunately get immensely frustrating and outstay their welcome by the end of it all) you will never stop smiling. The trail of almost poetic destruction that you cut your way through never ceases bringing a sadistic smile to your face, a smile that is only further enhanced by the Zan-Datsu slant.
Zan-Datsu, cut-take, the stab and grab – Revengeance’s major “gimmick” for want of a better word, centres around slow motion precision cutting. By squeezing a single trigger time will slow and allow you to perfectly aim your slashes, similar to Afro Samurai’s precision cutting mechanic but far more fluid and natural, which is handy as by using the Zan part of the equation on just the right spot you will be able to Datsu an enemy’s spine, thus restoring all of Raiden’s health and power bars.
While the combat is excellent, what really shines about the gameplay are the boss fights. Taking place over multiple phases (are bosses are often wont to do), each requires a different tactic than simply hitting them until they burst into a cutscene, though to tell you what would spoil the fun of figuring it out.
Speaking of bursting into cutscenes, this is still a Metal Gear universe game, which of course means people have an insatiable urge to call you for a conversation every now and then. Don’t expect the degree of codec calls from the Snake based games, but be ready to walk slowly down a corridor for a few minutes while an eccentric german scientist informs you of the many uses of left hands. Out of gameplay cutscenes are often more exciting than the Snake based games as well, with the action all throughout being severely ramped up to suit the shift in focus away from stealth (which I have to add is still an option, but when the combat is just this god damn fun you’re more than likely to actively charge directly towards someones line of sight) there’s a sense of excitement to see just what explodes next.
The musical side of the presentation is just as up to eleven as well. The soundtrack is very upbeat and energetic in that way only j-rock ever seems to manage. This is most obvious during the boss fights, where the preceding cutscene will always end with a dry one liner leading to a combat visor snapping shut as the guitar track kicks in, and it doesn’t stop there as it gets louder and more energetic as the fight moves through its phases before finally the vocals kick things into overdrive for the final push. It may not be the kind of music you can stick on your iPod for a bus ride, but I honestly don’t think anything would have suited the situations presented here any better.
Graphically Revengeance, while not hitting the level of detail present in the PS3 exclusive fourth Metal Gear Solid, is a good looking game; even as the action starts to get chaotic and the screen is filled with finely sliced corpses and all manner of flashing colours, it never feels cluttered or unfocused, and unlike some games is always easy to process – a frankly invaluable achievement due to the sheer reactionary timing required.
All told, in a year that has already had the stylish if simple DMC Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance is the hack and slash title that has really set the bar. When the overly steep learning curve eventually gives way to a perpetually rewarding self-experimentation process and reveals just how deceptively complex the combat system can be the game really begins to show that it’s pure Platinum. Couple this gameplay with a Metal Gear story that both stands alone and enhances the core series, and what you get is an experience that will impress both the people coming in for the brand and the genre.