Friday, 31 January 2014

Metal Gear Rising (Platinum Games, 2013)

Once again, Platinum Games have crafted a perfectly-pitched action game that balances challenging mechanics with spectacle and reward.

Clad in the livery of the Metal Gear Solid series, Rising drops the series' trademark stealth in favour of running, jumping, and slicing.  Swords are everywhere, fetishised absurdly. Swords powered with electricity. Swords propelled from their scabbards by rocket power.  Enemy bullets are mere inconveniences to be brushed aside, military hardware a nuisance to be turned into cyborg fuel.  Traditional ninja, samurai and feudal codes of honour are filtered through a bloody spray of sci-fi manga ultra-violence.

Here Platinum have honed the feel of movement and action to an art. Everything feels accessible, natural, powerful. The way Raiden, anti-hero and franchise mainstay, moves, runs and jumps is a pleasure in itself. Feedback on enemy hits is tactile and satisfying. Parrying an incoming blow, and the accompanying blowback is immensely pleasurable.

The fundamental tenet of the game requires you to plough through legions of enemies; weakening them until you can activate 'Blade Mode', a slow-motion zoomed-in cutaway, where analogue sticks represent the freely aimed arc of a sword swipe. Targeting key points of your foes despatches them instantly, yielding a health boost. Effective action is encouraged; a successful player will rarely need the game's sporadic health pack handouts, as managing health becomes secondary to keeping the enemy encounters coming; dispatching them as swiftly and stylishly as possible. 

Extra weapons and abilities add diversity and encourage experimentation, however they're minimal in a genre often overstuffed with technique. Memorisation is less crucial in Rising than flair and reflex.

With such competent, player-driven combat propelling the action, Rising is able to deliver an unrivalled sense of empowerment, each peak of conquest swiftly followed by a trough, as a new enemy type, or expertly placed hazard blocks your way. The encounter design keeps things constantly fresh, consistently intriguing.  Platinum are kings of the set piece, the opening section providing a digest of the absurd destructive spectacle yet to come, to be topped many times over before the credits roll.  Yet no matter how wild and maniac the action, the player is still firmly in control.

Rising drops franchise lore sparingly (although Snake himself is conspicuous by his absence) Cutscenes, skippable, indulge the labyrinthine sprawl of the Metal Gear storyline,  the trademark codec conversations present but largely optional. The story draws a typically convoluted tale of future war,  monster cyborgs, political ultra-corruption and personal redemption. Tongue-in-cheek, but unlikely to be watched fully more than once.

Platinum Games have, if the rumours are true, under incredible pressure crafted a superb old-school actioner in cutting edge clothing. Endlessly rewarding, perfectly-pitched, if a better action game comes out, chances are they'll be the ones who made it.


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