There are three things we’ve come to realise while writing this preview for the latest Metal Gear outing from Platinum Games. First, we still can't type "Revengeance" into a text document without hating ourselves – it's not a word, it isn't cool, it sounds dumb. Second, we’ve learned that we’re okay with Konami releasing a canonical Metal Gear game that plays nothing like a traditional entry in the series. And third, we’re not entirely convinced by what we’ve seen of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance so far.
Set four years after Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the game follows Raiden's journey as a technologically enhanced, PMC-contracted killer for hire. He's definitely the hero of the piece, but there's a really dark edge to him as first seen in MGS4.
The preview build playable at Eurogamer Expo centred on demonstrating the cutting power of your blade, as well as out-and-out combat and setting up a few story beats. There's been a war in a non-descript country, with Raiden and his sponsors sent in to wipe out terrorist forces causing havoc in the area. It would seem that these unpleasant activities are being carried out by a terrorist group called Desperado Enforcement LLC.
You'll have already noticed the comparisons that could be made between this and MGS4's narrative themes. Economy driving conflict, technology and its place in humanity, self-sacrifice, power and corruption – Rising looks as if it will continue to touch on all of these points.
There are other hallmarks of the wider Metal Gear series to be found too. Character design is west-centric, the supporting cast are clearly keeping something hidden from Raiden, and the UI has the orange glow of recent MGS releases. There are even a few in-jokes that series veterans will adore, including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual gag featuring a coffee mug with a "!" embossed on it.
But that's really where the comparisons stop, because this isn't Tactical Espionage Action, it's Lightning Bolt Action. Play feels much closer to the work of previous Platinum Games titles than Kojima Productions. This is the world of Metal Gear presented through the hand-to-hand combat freneticism of Bayonetta, with the rapid changes of pace seen in Vanquish.
Revengeance is faster and more violent than previous series entries. You rush from area to area, charging through with comparatively reckless abandon when put up against Snake's adventures. Raiden has a few instant-kill moves at his disposal when he sneaks up on enemies, as seen while stalking foes in the ruined township of the demo, but for the most part you square up to them face on. Square and Triangle look after light and heavy attacks, and holding L1 puts you into the much touted Blade Mode, where anything can be sliced in twain.
The standard combat is solid, though it needs work before release. Wailing away on enemies can be fun, but the parry system that's been implemented is extremely difficult to time, and you often feel overwhelmed by the bad guys as they gang up on you. You can then flick into Blade Mode for some bullet time cutting fun – and in turn be rewarded with boosts to your performance. Doing so switches the camera to a much closer angle though, and it's often difficult to gauge the distance at which you need to be from your opponent for the arc of your sword to reach them.
It's this Blade Mode that will prove most divisive amongst players, and we sit on the undecided side of the fence on this particular mechanic. On the one hand, it's a system that can make you feel God-like. It really is satisfying to be able to slice an object – almost any object – in the game, at any angle, and to have that object split accordingly. In the VR training section of the preview, which briefly demonstrated its potential, there was time to try it out at a leisurely pace and play about with slicing – for example – the very tip off of a traffic cone.
But in a mission you don't have this luxury of time. As stated above, it's difficult to judge the length of your blade, and this is exacerbated by needing to act quickly in combat. It's also unclear as to what sort of damage, if any, your sword is doing to an opponent, often leaving you open to a counter-attack.
Assigned to the right analogue stick for precision cutting, we experienced multiple occasions where our input for "slash this guy's face off" simply didn't register, and worst of all there were times when we’d be pushed out of Blade Mode automatically, back into a normal viewpoint. The frustration here is that the game would then assume that our "slash this guy's face off" input was a request to swing the camera down so low that the game would focus entirely on Raiden's posterior in the middle of a battle. Which wasn't that helpful, all things considered.
When these things happen, and in turn you're given a working over by opposing forces, it's easy to feel completely helpless. A game about playing as Raiden – the most powerful character in the Metal Gear series – shouldn't make you feel this weak, but in its current state it does it a little too often.
However, there's still plenty of time for Platinum Games to make a few control tweaks and dampen our concerns. The story and style is shaping up to be as ridiculously engaging (and engagingly ridiculous) as it has ever been, and the power that Raiden can wield when given a little room to breathe is stunning. We'll find out how the full game fares when Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance launches early next year.