Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance tries not to waste a moment of your time. In the 4-6 hours required to complete its campaign, you’ll cross the globe, have sword-fights with skyscraper-sized mechs, team up with an A.I. dog, explore a science facility with a remote-controlled robot, leap over missiles to chop up helicopters, and fight a metaphor for American evil. Rising is as silly as it sounds, and it knows it.
The most consistent issue in Rising is its cut scenes. To its credit, you’re rarely made to watch what you’d rather play, but the story bits, interesting though they are for fans, ultimately intrude on the fast-paced flow of combat. The convoluted plot starts as lucidly as the series has ever been, but spirals out of control almost immediately: the assassination of a recovering country’s leader sends Raiden, a cyborg ninja, after a terrorist cell that’s kidnapping kids and infiltrating America’s political infrastructure.
The geo-political lecturing seem engineered specifically for fans of Metal Gear Solid 4’s melodrama, but it doesn’t connect well with the action. Ultimately, the conversations and character cameos are pure fan-service that everyone else can skip without missing a beat. The relentless act of actually fighting terrorists is what matters here, and there’s little need for motivation when the action is this fun.
Rising propels players toward a boss battle every 45 minutes, introduces new enemy types regularly, and unleashes waves of cyborg soldiers to slice with a sword. This is a tight action experience without an ounce of fat, and Rising’s pace is just as quick as its technical melee combat. The Metal Gear series traditionally relies on stealth and silenced weapons, but the moment-to-moment action of Rising is an aggressive and elegant alternative.
The light and heavy attacks have a natural chemistry that makes every sword slash feel empowering, so combat never feels like you’re budgeting quick but weak strikes vs. slow and strong ones. Each combo flows into the next with grace: lifts, knock-downs, stuns, spin-kicks, aerial juggles, and other specialized attacks feel as fantastic as they look. Raiden’s exaggerated acrobatics lend a hypnotic sense of style to each attack, especially as you unlock additional moves with earned currency. By the end of the campaign, and as I began my second run through it, Raiden felt like a balletic badass, using his heels as often as his hands to wield his weapon. Seeing that style is as much a reward as the satisfaction of brutalizing an enemy with a flurry of katana hack-and-slash, sliding underneath someone, redirecting attacks, canceling combos, or letting loose in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s hook: Blade Mode.
Once Raiden slays enough cyborgs, he can briefly enter the time-slowing Blade Mode and slice his sword in any direction, instantly killing (or severely wounding) nearly anyone with precision strikes. The results are often uncomfortable and/or hilarious. You can chop off legs, decapitate someone at the eyes, and turn weakened enemies into various, disgusting pieces with a flick of the right stick.
Blade Mode is a fun, sadistic parlor trick, but it’s more than a cheap and easy way to win. Slowing time plays a strategic role in combat. Bisecting cyborgs reveals their fuel-filled spines, which Raiden can rip out to replenish his health. Blade Mode also plays a defensive role, which turns a silly finishing move tool into something more skill-based. Cutting protects Raiden from incoming objects (choppers, missiles, other ridiculous things), and wrecking an enemy’s weapon prevents them from using it. Slicing certain special enemies’ appendages also plays into the upgrade economy, giving you bonus currency to unlock more health, weapon power, and more complex combo arrangements, all of which carry over into a new game plus that holds even more blade types, costumes, and other secrets to discover. Everything feeds into making you feel like a talented combatant who’s truly earned satisfying improvements.
The only thing that really holds back Rising’s combat is the secondary weapons. Killing bosses allows you to acquire their staffs and swords, but switching to a secondary tools come with a catch. Alternate weapons replace one of your two normal attack buttons, which neuters katana combos. On top of that, alternating between two weapons doesn’t flow together as well as the evolving sword strikes. Switching from one to the next in the middle of a combo has a disjointed feel, a bit like interrupting yourself, as though your new blade wasn’t built to work in tandem with the sword. Despite the cumbersome transitions, these extra weapons strengthen Rising’s variety.
The erratic camera poses additional issues as well. Rising is such a fast-paced game, with wild combat that encourages unpredictable attack patterns, that it can’t always keep track of Raiden in the thick of battle, especially when large-scale bosses eat up most of the on-screen real estate. Unless you’re acutely aware of your next move, Raiden can get lost in his own chaos from time to time. Having to come to a complete stop before changing from grenades to a rocket launcher, or a heavy blade to a faster crowd-control weapon is another inconvenience that’s antithetical to Rising’s go-go-go mentality.
Rising’s troubles are rarely enough to derail the incredible momentum of an always-entertaining, action-oriented Metal Gear spinoff. Whether or not you have ever enjoyed Metal Gear, this is a must for anyone who appreciates melee-combat. It’s simple, fast, and clean, with enough supporting content like additional weapons and secrets to encourage a campaign replay - or more, if you find yourself obsessed with the idea of a no-kill run.