The silly portmanteau is the prelude to a starring role for Raiden, the formerly feeble stand-in for Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2. Following the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, which turned him into a twirling killing machine and redeemed him in the eyes of bros everywhere, the fair-haired cyborg works for a protection outfit called Maverick Security Consulting. Their first presidential client in Revengeance is butchered and thrown off a moving train, so I wouldn't recommend them.
After an ignominious defeat, Raiden's body is rebuilt with augmented strength, a pristine cyber-butt and a critical reliance on electrolytes, which must be absorbed from glowing enemy spines (unnaturally). It sounds gruesome, but extracting power cords in battle is a clinical process in the mind, and a brilliant hook for an action game.
This process is electrifying in motion for a few reasons: Manipulating the cutting plane in the heat of battle is a reflex and skill that develops with time; the visual and audible feedback are explicit when you've hit your mark, making it feel more intuitive and rewarding when you cut someone open in a flash of time; and while the process limits your situational awareness it recharges you completely, empowering you to be aggressive and attempt it again and again.
While you're learning it, Zandatsu eradicates monotony in combat by offering a break in the flow – a moment of zen in the chaos. Raiden's rapid movements are built for unbounded offense, and even his reliable parry is initiated with a forward thrust in the attacker's direction. As soon as slashing veers toward indiscriminate, Zandatsu introduces a sudden burst of concentration on one target – though more can become spineless in one motion if they're close enough. Tougher enemies (like helicopters) must be stunned first, or have their limbs precisely detached before Zandatsu becomes possible. Eventually, the cybernetic soldiers exhibit a stubbornness on par with the Black Knight in 1975's "Monty Python and The Holy Grail."
Some spectacular encounters are extrapolated from the basic fighting mechanisms in Metal Gear Rising – including a boss that avoids your swipes by splitting himself into a stack of cold cuts – but there's an inescapable feeling that the game is, if not too short, much too thin. Environments are insipid, level layouts feel like they alternate between loading-camouflage funnels and generic open spaces, and Raiden's slow walk-and-talk during cutscenes feels like a plodding play for padding. The only thing worth calling on the codec is your robotic canine companion, and even then you only do it in the hopes of coaxing out a "Hello? Yes, this is dog."
The tuning on harder difficulties is also suspect, since the weapon upgrades during your first run seem to outpace and nullify the following increase in challenge. Stranger still, the story eventually provides you with a freakout mode for Raiden if his fuel cells are fully charged. When activated, he can temporarily cut through anything with just his regular attacks, thereby flattening the game's addictive rhythm.
Still, the crux of combat holds Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance together despite its structural problems. The game's priorities are right, and cutting through cruft and seizing the core of the experience is a better result than the opposite end of the spectrum – a cluttered game that buries its heart in busywork. That's right, Fruit Ninja knows what's up.
This review is based on a retail Xbox 360 version of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance provided by Konami.
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