Written for Exeposé Online, published on embargo day.
Unsheathing Raiden’s lighting-spitting high-frequency blade and carving through the head of an adversary cyborg refreshes sword fighting with a grisly intensity. You can leave one-legged half bodies hopping in circles before falling onto the ground like freshly sliced deli salami. The power and precision of Kojima’s E3 2010 ‘stealth action’ tech demo has been stylishly realised, now distilled as a pure, frantic beat ’em up with a little help from Platinum.
The change in developer has means that delicate meat-slicing isn’t the flesh of the gameplay. It’s more the juicy, gooey centre which you unwrap after hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies. Taking Kojima’s vision, Platinum have added their addictive combo-learning, attack blocking hack and slash mechanics, mirroring Bayonetta almost button-for-button. You’ll start with a strong and weak attack mapped to the face buttons and to build up your fuel cells which, when full, let you switch into a time-slowing ‘blade mode’ by pulling on the left trigger.
With 360-degree control of your blade, you can half, quarter or twelve your adversary into equal slices for the next pizza party. For smaller enemies, a single ‘blade mode’ cut means domo origato for Mr Roboto, but for bigger guys, hacking off limbs can force them into hilarious Holy Grail-esque fighting tactics.
Slicing through a weak point activates “Zan Datsu” (or ‘Stab and Grab’ as it’s affectionately called) letting you tear out the cybernetic ‘heart’ of your enemies and crush it with your first to refill your health and fuel cells. There’s a weighty rhythm to furiously parrying and swiping at an enemy before delicately dissecting them and harvesting their ‘organs’.
A lack of aerial manoeuvres and enemies means you can’t ‘juggle’ your foes, at least until you unlock more secondary weapons later in the game. Fights have a tendency to be two-dimensional, particularly as the game likes to hurry you down long corridors. Encounters are best in wide open environments; Raiden can freely jump around from enemy to enemy, stabbing as he goes. It’s a shame that by the second level Raiden is running through sewers, bashing his sword against identical cyborgs.
Seeing the carved meat lie on the floor is unsettling. Even the desensitized shell of person I am felt a little queasy after watching it for the first time. Raiden’s mass slaughter replaces Snake’s ‘knock ‘em out and sneak by’ espionage. In the first level, you’re being charged at by sword wielding cyborgs, and the only way forward is kill your way through – only to then find a giant cyborg (a primary antagonist) slaughter an African prime-minister before your eyes.
With the Patriots AI destroyed, the war economy enters a slump and the PMC’s aren’t very happy about losing a sizeable chunk of income. Raiden, bringer of justice and protector of the weak, is determined to stop the senseless killing. A knowledge MSG4’s story is useful, but Rising implies a lot of the Raiden’s backstory without being overly verbose or patronising.
But don’t be expecting anywhere near the storytelling calibre of other Kojima productions. Unsettling subjects such as child soldiers, moral grey areas and exploitation of vagrants work towards some potentially hard-hitting revelations. Rising almost arrives at twist of Metal Gear Solid proportions, but it’s quickly ignored in favour of getting you to turn more cyborgs into circuit boards.
While much of the story is boils down to an earpiece telling you to kill the cackling baddie set on world destruction, if you look hard enough you’ll find Kojima’s greater themes, especially if you’ve followed the series’ fiction.
Kojima’s ‘stealth espionage action’ elements, however, don’t shine through so well in rising. About a third of confrontations can be avoided completely if you choose to.
Boxes, oil drums and girly mags (albiet replaced with 3D holograms for depth-craving cyborgs) attempt to recreate MGS4’s stealth elements, with the addition of Raiden’s see-through-walls visor. But without the ability to walk, crawl or fire ranged weapons, chopping people up dwarfs sneaking in terms of depth.
Successfully sneaking can be rewarding, but having your cover blown because you couldn’t control your character right isn’t fun. Extravagantly running through a target with a sword is your ‘silent takedown’ option. It sums up Rising’s clumsy and unsubtle stealth experience.
Ignoring stealth and getting into swordplay allows you to upgrade your blade in addition to the weapons you pick up from bosses. Used in conjunction with your blade, they shake up the pace of your attacks. Without these weapons, the first few hours of the game feel very repetitive. The corridor levels pair you against the similar enemies in increasing numbers which kill enjoyment, particularly when difficulty spikes.
Much like Bayonetta, rising gets better on the second playthrough – I only mastered the flow of battle in one of the final bosses. Additional weapons, secret upgrades and VR missions to find will give you reason to dip back in to some levels – but you’ll want to avoid the more tedious missions.
Rising’s swordplay always feels good – it has a combines the feeling of tradition hack and slash with a precision the genre doesn’t usually have.
While the narrative and environments fall flat, mastering the power Raiden’s blade beams with might and style. It’s not a fusion of Metal Gear stealth and Platinum action. It’s a challenging hack & slash with Platinum’s golden mechanics pushed into the world of Metal Gear – but sometimes it just doesn’t fit.
Disclosure: Xbox 360 review copy provided by Konami