For the uninitiated, the Metal Gear franchise is somewhat oblique. Typified by convoluted plot arcs and hi-tech stealth, they're generally games for the patient and inquisitive, not those looking for a thumb-punishing experience of enemy-juggling combos and frenetic melee. Rising, in the hands of Bayonetta developer Platinum Games, is quite the opposite - unsheathing a viciously fast-paced fighting game which might lack longevity, but packs every moment with challenge and brutality.
Finding a fairly closely grouped cluster of high-end scores to settle in, Rising has so far clocked up a comfortable Metacritic rating of 82 per cent on Xbox, with NZGamer topping out the scores with a 97 and Edge marking the bottom bracket with seven out of ten. Sprinkled in between we find a crop of reviews full of praise for a spectacle of violence, tempered by a wish to see more variety.
Starting at the bottom and heading up, Edge's 7 analyses a game of aggression and precision timing, a game which bears the genetic hallmarks of both its Kojima and Platinum ancestry, but is very much the product of a studio specialising in action rather than exposition.
"Given Platinum's heritage, it's shocking to discover that Raiden starts Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance without access to a dodge," opens Edge's piece. "Our protagonist has no Bayonetta cartwheel, no Viewtiful Joe evade poses, none of God Hand's lightspeed bobs and weaves. You'll get one eventually, admittedly, but this is a bold opening statement: Platinum wants you to understand right from the word go that this is not a game of escaping danger, but of facing it head on."
In common with its contemporaries, then, Edge sees Rising as a game which requires a pro-active attitude towards combat, an attempt to achieve the oddly zen-like rhythm of attack-parry-counter which forms the core of the combat experience. When an attack comes in, a well-timed stab of a directional stick towards the aggressor and a tap of square will block that swing, with Raiden's resulting stagger shortened by the proximity of your button pressing to the enemy's strike. Time the block perfectly, and you'll avoid the stagger entirely, responding instead with a devastating counter-blow to your attacker and any other nearby opposition.
"Platinum wants you to understand right from the word go that this is not a game of escaping danger, but of facing it head on."Edge - 7/10
Further to this is Blade Mode: a sort of melee bullet-time which lets players slice and dice enemies or environmental objects. Finish off an enemy with this 'Zendatsu' and you can rip out their spine and drink the health-replenishing nanites which fill it. Obviously.
"Rising's core loop of parry, cut and take is delightful, especially once you start experimenting with it," Edge's writer continues. "Apart from a few heavy combo finishers, all your attacks can be cancelled with a parry; you can whale away on a foe with abandon until the very moment an incoming attack connects. Once your opponent is stunned and you're in Blade mode, you needn't go straight for the spine. You can slice up the head and lop off the arms before reaching for that sweet regenerative nectar."
However, it's here that Rising's brevity comes under scrutiny. Edge clocks the first run, on normal difficulty but paying attention to the length conversational plot devices which litter the story, at five and a half hours, rising to nine and a half on hard difficulty but skipping any plot-developing chats. Whilst it's acknowledged that a certain type of fan will happily return to the beginning more than once in search of that elusive S-ranking, there's not much meat on these cybernetic bones for the casual or non-perfectionist player.
"Yes, you can add to your moveset, improve weapons and extend your life and FC bars by spending Battle Points accrued in-game, but we'd completed the Skills section of the Customise menu an hour into our second playthrough. There are only a handful of moves for the weapons you take from fallen bosses, and equipping them binds them to the Triangle button, taking the place of your regular heavy attack and stripping you of a good chunk of your normal moveset. You're thrown the occasional bone - a new costume, or a stat-boosting wig - but you have no idea when they're coming. There's nothing to work towards, nothing like the Bayonetta bracelet that you'd spend an entire playthrough saving up for."
Camera issues are another bugbear, and perhaps the most serious drawback for Edge's assessor, making combat a chore rather than the joy it can clearly be and frustrating even the most elegant of players.
"While Rising's core combat system is a delight, it's frequently undermined by the worst thirdperson camera we've seen in years...How do you tilt the joystick towards an opponent when you can't tell where towards is?"
GameInformer sees all these problems and more, but settles on a happier conclusion of 7.75 for a game which it feels is a little disjointed and more keen to wow with parlour tricks than any real depth.
"Revengeance capitalizes on over-the-top combat in the vein of Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. Raiden faces off against hordes of robots and cyborg soldiers, chops them into bits with a high-frequency blade, and generally looks awesome while doing so. He fights weird bosses, gains new weapons, and purchases new moves and upgrades. I know all of that sounds perfect, but the pieces don't fit together properly. Revengeance seems engineered to look like a great action game from a distance, only to fall apart upon closer inspection."
"Combat is entertaining, but 'style over substance' is the defining theme. The graphics are fantastic, the moves look cool, and the framerate is smooth, but battles aren't demanding."GameInformer 7.75/10
In contrast to both Edge and the majority of other reviewers, Game Informer's Joe Juba finds little challenge in the split-second judgements of Rising's melee warfare, despite finding the block mechanics clumsy.
"Combat is entertaining, but 'style over substance' is the defining theme. The graphics are fantastic, the moves look cool, and the framerate is smooth, but battles aren't demanding...Blocking is easier said than done, since it isn't assigned to a single button...With practice, you can master this clunky mechanic and make it work reliably, but that doesn't make it good - especially since, with no dodge move, it's your main way of avoiding damage."
Juba's brief review is also not keen on what he calls "The big gimmick, Blade Mode," nor the "absurd" narrative or "weak" story. Despite being a "longtime Metal Gear fan" who counts Bayonetta as a favourite, Juba finds this collaboration falls a little flat, thanks to over-reliance on a fun but limiting mechanic.
"This title isn't Bayonetta wearing a Metal Gear skin; whether you are hoping for a meaningful expansion of the Metal Gear universe or a gratifying action experience, Revengeance falls short. Brutalizing cyborgs and hacking giant mechs to pieces is fun, but the restrictive design and lack of precision keep Raiden from capturing the best of both worlds."
Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann 4/5 review shares some of Juba's concerns, but is less exacting, embracing Rising's inherent silliness as the predictably shallow but enjoyable result of a collaboration between the two contrasting visions of Kojima and Platinum.
"The resulting mix is a game that tempers some of KojiPro's penchant for long-winded cutscenes by flooding it full of enemy cyborgs that are just begging for you to cut them into hundreds of tiny bits while also reigning in some of Platinum's wilder narrative tendencies," opens Gerstmann.
"In short, it's a quick cut through the world of Metal Gear that mentions just enough about thePatriots and the War Economy to let you feel like you're keeping up on the state of post-MGS4 Metal Gear while also filling it full of ridiculous, entertaining combat sequences and, for whatever reason, a whole lot of cursing."
Finding a happy balance of skill and button-bashing luck in the bread and butter combat, Gerstmann is also impressed by the "gruesome" but "pretty cool" free-cutting dismemberment mode, although it's a sheen which wears off once you've seen the same canned animation a few dozen times.
"If you're a value-minded individual that doesn't tend to replay games, Metal Gear Rising will only make you angry."Giant Bomb 4/5
"Off of a perfect counter, zandatsu kills are the same basic per-enemy animation every time, so the better you are at playing defense, the more often you'll see the same things over and over again."
Characterising Raiden's adventure as full of pleasantly "over-the-top sensibilities", Gerstmann also finds issue with the game's length, although he does mitigate that by pointing out the replay value offered to those searching for perfect scores. He's also of the opinion that the story, despite going "in some really wild directions" is too thin for the series' heritage, and warns franchise fans that they shouldn't expect the same sort of narrative depth that they may be accustomed to.
"Even with that in mind, I found Metal Gear Rising to be a thrilling and engaging experience. The swordplay is fun, and it's really fascinating to see the different spots where either Kojima's or Platinum's signature styles shine through...If you're a value-minded individual that doesn't tend to replay games, Metal Gear Rising will only make you angry. But if seeing the state of the post-MGS4 world while slicing your way through everything that gets in your way sounds like a good time, well, that's because it is."
Eurogamer's Rich Stanton, putting MGR:R into the esteemed company of Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta itself whilst clarifying that these contemporaries never "made staying aggressive so fundamentally important to combat's flow."
Stanton is clearly struck by what he calls the "unbelievable spectacle" of Blade Mode, seeing it as part of a combat model which steers clear of the dirty association with QTEs.
"Some may think the Zandatsu strays too close to 'quick-time event' territory, but I don't like QTEs and absolutely adore this. Most crucially, it's difficult to slice accurately under pressure and a clumsy first strike sends bits flying off everywhere. The final touch that makes things click is that a Zandatsu refills Raiden's health and energy. There's no pulling out menus to use Vital Stars in Revengeance, just get a parry right and reap some poor body's spinal cord. The parries and Zandatsus intertwine beautifully, making Raiden a fighter who is not only defined by aggression but kept in peak condition by especial brutality."
Stanton is a gamer who is fond of a challenge, and finds no exception with the higher difficulty levels of Rising, completing runs on both hard and very hard and applauding the precision violence required.
"Incoming attacks are constant, from up close and range, with any one foe capable of destroying a casual defence."Eurogamer - 9/10
"Left unchecked, Raiden is basically a superpower, capable of demolishing anything with fabulous, hard-hitting moves. So Revengeance's challenge is all about keeping him there - and it makes the fights incredible. To play Revengeance is to face a merciless onslaught of enemies that press individually and work terrifyingly well in packs.
"More so than any of Platinum's previous work, Revengeance owes a huge debt to the precision and ruthless aggression of Ninja Gaiden's opponents but - depending on difficulty of course - it eventually exceeds even that level of brutality. Incoming attacks are constant, from up close and range, with any one foe capable of destroying a casual defence. They'll happily attack from off-screen, too, so you have to be quick on audio as well as visual cues."
Eurogamer also sees more variety to the endless combat than other outlets, helped by some stunning environments and breath-taking set-pieces.
"Every battle in Revengeance feels different," Stanton expounds. "Not just because of the mix of enemy types and waves but because they can go so many wildly different ways. Hit that first parry bang-on and you may well slice through everything without missing a beat, flowing from counter to devastating counter and getting it over in seconds. Mess it up and take a boot to the head, and the next thing you know Raiden's on the floor, being pummelled and tossed around like a ragdoll by things four times his size. Get it somewhere in the middle, which is what usually happens, and it's a nail-biter."
In fact, Rising's truculent camera is Stanton's only gripe here, and it's the frustration that yields which keeps Konami's latest from firing on all cylinders. When you're up against it, says Stanton, prepare to be stymied by a few very unhelpful viewpoints.
"If Revengeance didn't have camera issues this would be the easiest 10 I've ever given," he concludes. "As things stand it's still brilliant, staking out new territory in the genre and adapting certain Metal Gear characteristics so well that it makes the competition look outrageously bad. This is simply the ultimate one-man show, worth its ticket price many times over, an experience that improves exponentially as it gets faster and as you get better. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a thrilling and almost flawless fighting game - come get some."