I've been waiting to do this one for a while! I played the demo for Metal Gear Rising BEFORE it was on Xbox Live by buying a copy of Zone Of The Enders HD on the 360. That's how BONED UP I was about it. Haha! Sure enough, Platinum Games has once again constructed their own distinct combat experience and then wrapped it up in a typically bananas Metal Gear plotline. But let's talk about this combat already, because it's actually pretty fascinating...for better or for worse.
- Skippable cutscenes! Platinum knows better than to do anything else and it's always appreciated. FYI, I always put this in my combat analyses because NOT being able to skip cutscenes I don't care about disrupts my fun real fast.
- I actually like the simple premise of the game; a good-guy African politician gets kidnapped by a mercenary group because his successful introduction of peace policies have disrupted the war economy. It's still a Metal Gear game and there's lots of dialogue and plot points, but a solid motivating premise harks back to the first and second age when the entire plot of an action game was a simple, motivating idea.
- I don't even have to say it, but Platinum's animations are incredible.
- Impact effects are delicious! They're not at all "thuddy" and entirely "slicey", which is completely appropriate, but most effects artists don't really know the difference and Platinum should be commended for that.
- The mash flow is very strange! I gave on trying to figure out exactly what was happening, but it would appear that different attacks can come out of X button or "Light Attack" presses and that there is a very loose formal combo. It's not nearly as random and weird as it is in Lollipop Chainsaw, but it's still a little confusing. Luckily, the individual attacks that emerge from this input are all roughly identical, and it's more about properly switching from Light Attacks on the X button to Heavy Attacks on the Y button, as the main objective of the combat (which I'll talk about next) accommodates this.
"The game is constantly nudging you to perform this massively satisfying combat mechanic whose very existence compels you to repeat it."
- The main objective of the combat is what makes this game so interesting. The whole idea is to whittle enemies down into low health and then time an entrance into a slow-motion state where you can cut the enemy into countless tiny pieces with your blade. Doing this early means you're only going to disable the enemy in some way, not kill them, and it also means you end up using the precious fuel that powers this slow-motion state. So while you're able to activate this slow motion state whenever you'd like, you don't want to do it all the time. And of course, you're defending yourself during whittling, so this whittling process is dynamic and intense.
- You have the option of chopping with the regular attack inputs OR using the right analog stick to very precisely aim your slices. I didn't really use the latter a lot but I appreciate the option!
- ZANDATSU! There's a mechanic in the game where in that slow-motion sword slicing state (provided you have sliced a specific part), you can interrupt/stop the chopping process to grab the hacked up enemy's cyborg spine out of the air and absorb it, refilling your health and slow-motion fuel. There are 4 brilliant things about Zandatsu: 1. the ideal time to do it is after a rabid and highly satisfying instance of chopping an enemy to tiny pieces, 2. grabbing the spine and absorbing it results in a very stylish and super visceral animation of Raiden smashing the spine in his hands and absorbing all this glowing blue liquid and it's so god damn cool I would imitate the motion with my own hand every single time it happened, 3. performing well in combat and whittling multiple enemies down into a low health state means you can engage slow-motion and perform Zandatsu multiple times in a row and this just takes the coolness and multiplies it by how many times you managed to pull it off, and 4. having it refill your fuel means it's an ESSENTIAL part of the combat flow and you are always incentivized to do it. The game is constantly nudging you to perform this massively satisfying combat mechanic whose very existence compels you to repeat it. Take a look:
- The enemy AI is interesting; none of the bipedal human cyborgs were particularly interesting but fighting the variety of large, animal-like cyborgs was really enjoyable. They're all transforming, speedy, distinct creatures that were fun to tear up in their own weird ways.
- There are secondary weapons that you can replace your heavy sword attacks with, and they run the gamut from bizarre to simple to powerful. I particularly enjoyed the first one you get, which is a long and far-reaching polearm comprised of tiny robot arms stuck together that also functions like a whip. Leave it to Platinum to come up with ridiculous shit like this. While I found the Sai disappointingly simple, it was HIGHLY functional, so it didn't make it into the cons.
- Boss fights were MOSTLY enjoyable! As usual, Platinum gives their bosses an abundance of health, so you can't complete these encounters without your wrists hurting. But they didn't make it into the cons because they really were fun and interesting and I saw some things I've never seen before.
- Stealth is something you can do pretty frequently, and while I'm not really a stealth kind of guy, I appreciate the option!
- There are a bevvy of optional items that I didn't end up using a lot, but still enjoying. They go from simple grenades to EMP's to missile launchers to cardboard sneaking boxes to enemy distraction tools. If I wasn't such a straightforward and simple brute, I would have been using these constantly.
- The major drawback to this incredibly inventive combat flow from mashing to Zandatsu results in an accelerated homogenization of combat encounters! I realize this is inevitable in a game that can't afford dozens and dozens of enemy types, but over time I found the enemy's individual meanings reduced because of the infinitely repeating loop of mashing to Zandatsu. You have these other mechanics that have interesting effects (initiating air game, knocking enemies onto their feet, staggering enemies, etc.), but you are not incentivized to use ANY of them. This brilliant system begs for your focus and it hurts in the later stages quite a lot.
- The camera in this game is abysmal. I can't believe how bad the implementation is here. It rarely sometimes randomly tracks enemies/bosses, but most of the time is doing NOTHING. You have to micromanage it during combat encounters and this is completely unacceptable. Since enemies are so inclined to skate off screen and behind you, you are highly likely to be the regular victim of an off-screen attack you could do nothing about, which totally fucks with your combat rank. This is huge and made me want to put the game down a couple times.
- There are quick time events. :( But instead of pushing the button it tells you to push when it appears, you have to rapidly mash the button it tells you to and I fucking hate mashing like that because over time it hurts my wrist. I realize I've mentioned painful wrists twice now in this analysis (and in previous analyses as well), and I realize this is an "old person problem". But old people still play action games and mechanics or features that result in joint pain need to be abandoned or optional.
- Stopping the action to jam some narrated plot down my earholes is ALMOST as frustrating as unskippable cutscenes. I realize it's authentically Metal Gear but it doesn't change the affect it has on your excited state. LUCKILY, you can fast forward through individual sentences, but they're still there and they're still frequent.
"...old people still play action games and mechanics or features that result in joint pain need to be abandoned or optional."
- There is only one very useful defense mechanic which is awesome! But it's a hardcore, early DMC style mechanic where you have to tilt the analog stick in the direction of the incoming attack and press the light attack button. It looks and feels awesome and is very elegant, but it's in the cons because this is a really difficult implementation. It goes from being just about timing to being about timing and analog stick accuracy. Because of the highly mobile nature of the enemies in the game, I was very frequently punished despite having completely ample timing.
- I'll give you one guess as to whether or not this game made me unlock mechanics or not.
- The last boss fight was one of the most infuriating boss fights I've ever experienced in a game. I spent roughly an hour trying to figure out how to prevent itself from healing, which was preventing me from making any real progress and costing me a lot of time. I eventually had to look up the solution online (which makes me VERY unhappy) because there was no analog in the game leading up to this point for the special trick required here. I don't know why the fuck this happens! Beat 'em ups should not be about figuring things out, they should be about successfully applying skills and shit like this makes me want to throw my controller through a window.
Metal Gear Rising, in addition to being an entirely unique and solid combat experience, is now the go-to reference point for games that successfully imbed enjoyable systems into their combat, turning the combat itself into a game. There is absolutely no reason to not do this for any reasonably technical combat experience, and I don't know why it isn't done more. But it's a triumph here. I had a fucking BLAST chopping off limbs, managing fuel, engaging in slow-motion slicing, and compulsively performing Zandatsu. It's a huge step up from Bayonetta's amazing scoring system that turned the combat into its own game, but because it wasn't required, it is put on the backburner in the heat of the moment. A good technical combat experience is all about putting a lot on your plate and having you skillfully manage this pile. MGR reinforces this beautifully. Check it out ASAP and explore it!