It’s one of the coolest games I’ve played in years, but is it Metal Gear? What the hell happened to Raiden? I remember it like it was yesterday; the first time I played Metal Gear Solid 4 when it launched, and seeing cyborg Raiden appear for the first time.
THIS was girly man Raiden from MGS 2? This awesome, cybernetic, Skelator-looking thing that was slicing through Gekkos like they were made out of tissue paper? What on Earth happened to this dude since we last saw him?
After his memorable appearance in MGS4 as more machine than man, I’ve always wanted to revisit the character and learn more about him. MGR is an awesome addition to the MGS universe, and the story, while over the top, is pretty damn cool.
The thing about MGR is to not take it too seriously. The core MGS series has its moments where you think to yourself “WTH did I just see?” but for the most part, it’s a fairly grounded and somber series. MGR takes one part Bayonetta, mixes it with a large dose of Ninja Gaiden, and garnishes the whole cocktail with some MGS lore on top.
With that being said, before we dive into the taters and gravy of this review, let’s address the haters. You know, the ones that have been lighting up message boards ever since the VGA reveal a couple years ago, the ones who have already condemned this game to the fiery depths of Tartarus before having ever even played it. I will say this; if you are a MGS purist, then all the gameplay footage we have seen so far will probably throw you for a loop. I understand; I mean really, what are we watching here? Looks more like Ninja Gaiden than anything remotely related to MGS.
The thing is, this isn’t a Metal Gear Solid game. It’s really as simple as that; it’s not a MGS game in term of gameplay. There is almost nothing about this game that has anything to do with what made the MGS series a legend. The best way I can describe is to think of it like the comparison of the core Halo series vs Halo Wars. There, we had two completely different genres that told stories from one shared universe. That’s the case here; two completely different genres that tell the story of Metal Gear from different perspectives.
But enough preaching; how is the game? Well, like I mentioned at the beginning of the review, it’s one of the coolest games I have played in a long time, and the most fun I’ve had in years. The action is non-stop, the animation is fast and smooth, the controls are simple to learn yet provide just the right amount of depth to move it beyond simple button mashing, the story is quirky yet it fits into the MG universe very well, and the game provides one of the most mindblowing swordplay mechanics ever seen. In short, MGR is a video game, with an emphasis on “game.”
The story begins a number of years after the events of MGS 4. The world has fallen into chaos with cyborg crimes and terrorism running rampant in society. Because the PMCs that were supported by the Patriots have now collapsed, countless rogue PMCs have now popped up, with ties to larger criminal organizations. Employing cyborg technology, these rogue PMCs have become increasingly more disruptive, often sticking their hands into world affairs and manipulating policy and power at will.
[quote_right]Unlike the core Metal Gear Solid games, there is no emphasis on stealth here. Sure there are a few occasions where you must sneak up behind an enemy to snap their neck, but the gameplay is not defined by these sequences.[/quote_right]Raiden is a member of the peacekeeping PMC “Maverick Security,” charged with protecting and saving lives, usually at the expense of these rogue PMCs. The story takes him from a traumatic confrontation in his past to a disturbing plot involving harvesting the brains of children to create a killer cyborg army. Not exactly the type of stuff the Parents Television Council would be happy with.
Armed with his High Frequency katana blade, Raiden carves (pardon the pun) a bloody path of destruction from beginning to end, cutting up anyone and anything in his path. I like to describe MGR as an AC/DC album; throughout the years AC/DC has released album after album of nonstop rock, form the first track to the last. They don’t waste any time with ballads or any other filler on their albums. The moment you push Play, your face is melted off until the very last note. That’s how MGR is. From the very first tutorial level to the end of the game, MGR just doesn’t let up. There are very few situations, if any at all, where I was left with nothing to do. This is an action game through and through.
Unlike the core MGS games, there is no emphasis on stealth here. Sure there are a few occasions where you must sneak up behind an enemy to snap their neck, but the gameplay is not defined by these sequences. It’s all about the hack and slash. The combat mechanic should look familiar to anyone who has played an action game in the last 10 years; X and Y for your primary and secondary attacks, A to jump, and a variety of blocks, rolls, etc. When holding down the right trigger, you engage in Ninja Run, which is basically a semi-permanent “dash” state that also allows Raiden to traverse obstacles with ease.
What makes the combat different is the “ZanDatsu” cut mechanic, or what I like to call “Blade Mode.” When holding down the left trigger, players can take control of the katana in what is being described as “an all-encompassing cutting plane in real time.” In essence, you use the right thumbstick to control your blade, swooshing and swirling as you please and julienning pretty much anything you want into french fries.
[quote_left]There’s never a situation where you’re fighting just one or two. It really shows how much of a badass death machine Raiden is.[/quote_left]One of the taglines of MGR is “Cut anything, anytime, anywhere.” While that’s not 100% true (after all, this isn’t an open world sandbox; there needs to be SOME form of restriction), you can probably slice through 90% of everything in the game. This includes enemies, trees, lampposts, cars, trucks, boxes, crates, staircases, bookshelves, benches, chairs…need I go on? I suspected the stuff you can’t slice through are there to prevent you from entering parts of the game world that were not modeled.
The nice thing about MGR’s combat is that you’re never left wanting for more. At any given time, you’re fighting multiple enemies. There’s never a situation where you’re fighting just one or two. It really shows how much of a badass death machine Raiden is. Even with the stronger enemies like Gekkos or this one really, REALLY annoying enemy type with hammers, you’re usually faced with crowds of them.
It’s a tricky balancing act because you can easily see how situations can become either too easy or too hard, but MGR manages to make each encounter feel just right. You’re never faced with more enemies than Raiden can handle, even if it initially seems that way. Raiden can take it.
Once you’ve gotten most of your combos and buttons memorized, the action on-screen becomes a ballet of death, blood, limbs, and just random chunks of body parts. It’s such a glorious sight to witness. I rarely play any games these days that make me want to whoop and holler with excitement, but blowing through 15 enemies with combo after combo and ending with Raiden ripping out the spine of the final baddie is just SO satisfying.
The final thing about the combat that I want to touch on is boss fights. I love the boss fights here; they are so “old school,” for lack of a better term. Like classic video games of the past, boss battles involve figuring out a pattern, dodging attacks, waiting for an opening, and striking at the right moment. They are certainly no walk in the park, and prepare yourself to repeat them over and over. All of them end with a very satisfying and massively violent QTE sequence that would make Quentin Tarantino blush.
Graphically, MGR is a gorgeous game. You’d be hard pressed to find any games this late in the console generation that don’t live up to expectations, and in that regard, MGR succeeds. Considering the amount of action that can take place on screen at any moment, it’s amazing that the game rarely even stutters. Characters are modeled and animated beautifully, and the environments all look fantastic. The only awkward moments are when you go a little too crazy cutting things up, and some of the pieces behave rather erratically. Not a big deal, and honestly, I probably just shouldn’t have sliced up every single chair in the room.
Sound-wise, there isn’t anything to complain about, but at the same time, there isn’t anything to write home about either. The music is good, the sound effects are nice and booming, given that you have a good sound system, but the voice acting leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not horrible by any means, but some of the characters sound a bit forced to fit in with various stereotypes. And is it me, or does Raiden just sound…weird? Listening to the Doktor talk also got grating after a while, but the good news is that most of the bad guys sound great, if not a little over the top. Hey, that’s not always bad, right?
So, to answer the question posed at the very beginning of this review: Is it Metal Gear? Let’s just say that if Raiden was not the main character but everything else was exactly the same, you probably would not be able to tell me that this is a part of the MG series. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s not a “travesty” to the MG franchise. In fact, MGR gives me hope.
I now know that in addition to the core series that focuses on Snake and Big Boss, we also get a spinoff that is every bit as awesome, just completely different. It’s probably for the best that Kojima and Platinum did not try to copy Snake’s stealth-styled gameplay; it wouldn’t have worked. It’s hard to live up to the standard set by Snake and Co. I think we all got a taste of that in MGS 2 and it left a bad taste in our mouths. As far as stealth is concerned, that’s best left to Snake and Big Boss.
But man, Raiden’s moment to shine is simply put, awesomesauce in a bottle. It’s so much fun, so thrilling, so action packed, and so wonderful to look at that I didn’t even care that it didn’t resemble MGS in any way. In fact, since I am also replaying the MGS HD Collection in my own spare time, it makes the Raiden section of MGS 2 more bearable. I know what’s in store for this young man, and I know that even though he is kind of annoying and whiny here in MGS 2, redemption is but a disc away, and it is quite wonderful. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some trees to cut up.