"Oh, that's the Raiden sword-slicing game." For the last few years that's been Metal Gear Rising's perception. After its well-received debut at E3 2009, Revengeance made brief yearly E3 appearances, but was never able to equal the excitement of its debut. Perhaps that's because the game experienced a few development hiccups along the way, but what's a Metal Gear game without some waiting?
Metal Gear Rising isn't a sequel to Metal Gear Solid 4 (although at one point it was supposed to take place in between games two and four), but it does exist in the same universe, carrying along themes of mechanically enhanced human cyborgs and creepily human artificial intelligences.
Revengeance stars Raiden, the sword-wielding half cyborg, half ninja whose appearance in the other Metal Gear games served as an exciting fan-favorite cameo. His acrobatic fighting style and superhuman agility are definitively the stars of this action spinoff.
Those expecting something more in the vein of a stealthy Solid Snake adventure need not apply. But that's never been the selling point of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. While it nails the Metal Gear mainstays, sound effects, presentation, and general layout, it plays nothing like a traditional Metal Gear Solid title.
In fact, it seems like Rising has a tough time conveying that, especially early on. You're told you can sneak by enemies to avoid having to fight, but Raiden doesn't have the stealthy chops of his buddy Snake.
Luckily for you, Raiden possesses a diverse skill set of deadly slicing and dicing, including what can be called the game's killer app: Blade Mode. A few seconds of slow-motion one-to-one swordplay anarchy, Blade Mode is just like Fruit Ninja -- but instead of fruit, you're chopping up bad guys and military robots.
Blade Mode allows for precise cutting, letting the player position strikes in a full 360 degrees. Raiden's sword basically acts like a Lightsaber, completely dicing and cauterizing anything in its path. The colorful ballet of dismembered limbs and shards of objects make for some impressive visuals, and the game rewards you if your timing and aiming are just right. Pulling off one of these "Zandatsu" finishing moves is difficult, but very satisfying.
It's safe to say that some of the action in previous Metal Gear Solid titles is over-the-top, but nothing seen before in the series comes close to the kind of insanity packed into Revengeance. A lot of that is because over-the-top slash-'em-up action is something the team at Platinum Games, a venerable all-star team of veteran Japanese developers, has a knack for cooking up (see: Bayonetta).
It's here where Metal Gear Rising's accessibility may come into question. Rising's story is tough to stay interested in and doesn't accomplish much of anything in terms of creating an incentive for players to press on. Instead, Revengeance's difficulty and challenging move execution are where the game's appeal lies. Even then, it's probably a title more for the hard-core action enthusiast who craves the 25-minute-and-up boss battle.
I found myself frustrated with Rising's occasionally quirky camera, which can pin you in a corner. Combine that with a relentless mini-boss with a nasty repertoire of combo attacks and you're as good as dead. At times I questioned Rising's control scheme, especially the decision to make weapon changing a difficult menu to bring up midfight. It can also be too difficult to use specialized items (like grenades and rocket launchers) during some of the chaos.
The game's visuals are ultra-sharp and the action rolls out a silky smooth better-than-most frame rate. You're bound to catch a few sequences that make your heart race (or eyes roll) and those who get really good can bring down the house.
CNET verdict: For the hard core
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is filled with a lot of great action, but it may not resonate with casual gamers. Rising demands razor-sharp reflexes and timing, not to mention the game's difficulty may surprise some unsuspecting novices.
On the other hand, Revengeance is sure to satisfy hardcore action fans, especially those who live for a challenge. That said, outside of some deliciously chaotic moments, Rising can dip into some mundane environments and repetitive objectives.