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Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance hands-on: A deeper cut with Raiden

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Early impressions from the first three chapters of Platinum Games' action-packed Metal Gear

The Metal Gear universe may never be the same after Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, perhaps the most unusual, most outlandish — and maybe the funniest — entry in the series yet. Thanks to a collaboration between Kojima Productions and action game specialists Platinum Games, the lightning fast action game starring the cyborg Raiden is certainly its most unique.

We had a chance to play Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance in (almost) its entirety at an event held by Konami in Santa Monica, California, coming to grips with Raiden's approach to combat. Rather than focusing on stealth tactics and silent takedowns, Raiden sprints forward into battle with katana in-hand, slicing away bullets and mincing foes with abandon.

Revengeance starts with a rather straightforward set up: Raiden and his fellow private military compatriots in Maverick Security Consulting are in the employ of an African prime minister responsible for fostering peace in his nation. Things quickly go sour when a rival PMC firm targets Raiden's employer, sending a team of more capable cyborgs and one Metal Gear Ray to kidnap the prime minister and disrupt the peace.

From there, things go off the rails. Way, way off. Platinum and Kojima Productions layer on intense action, compounding explosive, over-the-top set pieces, including one in which Raiden topples the Metal Gear Ray by lifting the massive mech, impossibly, from a single limb and flipping it over — that outrageous move was shown in Revengeance's debut trailer at last year's Spike Video Game Awards.

The action is uniquely Japanese, with Raiden sprinting his way up the limbs of Metal Gears, leaping into the air and performing dozens of sword slashes in seconds, carving through flesh, bone and steel as if slicing through water. Raiden can deflect every bullet from every machine gun with a whirlwind of cuts. Every jump he makes from a ledge results in a dramatic three-point landing. Every action sounds a thunderclap.

The intensity fails to stop there, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance's best, most jaw-dropping moments are best experienced for oneself. (Here's a taste, though.)

The early portions of Revengeance are a gentle learning process, relatively gentler than some of Platinum Games' wickedly fast action games, like Bayonetta and Vanquish. The early chapters are where players learn Raiden's brand of combat. He's built to charge forward, to stay constantly on the offensive, not hide in the shadows.

When using his stock blade, Raiden has two primary means of attack: light slashes and heavy slashes. Light attacks do less damage, but they're also Raiden's method of blocking and parrying incoming attacks. Raiden's heavy attack does more damage while also filling his fuel cells. Only when Raiden's fuel cells are filled can he perform the deadly Blade Mode attacks that slow down time for precise cutting.

It's in Blade Mode when players can perform Raiden's most vicious attack. If an enemy is damaged enough — whether it's a lowly cyborg soldier or a Gekko, the bipedal mechs introduced in Metal Gear Solid 4 — Raiden can slice through a glowing square target, extract a glowing blue spine and crush it in an instant, immediately refilling his health meter and fuel gauge, thanks to the life regenerating nanomachines in each spine.

(Kojima Productions calls this a "zan-datsu" kill, meaning cut and take.)

That killing process is the thrust of Revengeance's thrilling moment-to-moment gameplay: coming upon a squad of enemies, cutting them down, ripping out their spines and regenerating Raiden's power. It's a gameplay loop that is intensely satisfying again and again, made more enjoyable by the variety of UGs (or Unmanned Gears) throughout the game.

Raiden will face familiar mechanical foes like Gekkos and Dwarf Gekkos, while battling new UGs like the Bladewolf, a dog-like mech, and other UGs that resemble water striders and squat Tyrannosaurus rex. Revengeance throws a handful of annoying foes at the player frequently, like the bulky, gorilla-like Mastiff and cyborg PMCs armed with man-sized hammers.

Revengeance's early boss battles are memorable and can be incredibly challenging in the Platinum Games style. In the first chapter alone, players will battle the robot-dog LQ-84i and Mistral, a French-Algerian killer who uses Dwarf Gekko arms as her main weapon.

LQ-84i is a no-nonsense mech with a chainsaw for a tail, a cold, mechanical AI who's somehow easy to sympathize with. He'll test players' patience, as he's the game's first real challenge, the first time players are forced to learn to parry with Raiden. LQ-84i brings a great deal of charm to Revengeance.

Mistral, while aesthetically fascinating, is one of Revengeance's less memorable boss battles. She's a good foil for Raiden and she uses the Dwarf Gekko arms she attaches to her spine in meaningful ways. She's also the source of the first bonus weapon Raiden can unlock. After defeating her, players will have access to her staff, L'Étranger, a pole arm made of Dwarf Gekko arms.

Revengeance trades in the long-winded but engrossing dialogue between protagonist and boss character that Metal Gear is well-known for. Mortal enemies wax politically and philosophically before cutting each other to ribbons. The game delivers enjoyable, sometimes thoughtful, occasionally laugh-out-loud speeches, even early on. Credit to the writers of Revengeance, for they made me laugh often, both with them and at them for their use of goofy humor. I laughed at the jokey references and the goofy situations Raiden finds himself in — it's bizarre seeing a cyborg ninja drive a luxury car on a Denver interstate and even stranger seeing one wear a sombrero.

Debatably funnier is the game's soundtrack during boss battles which is stuffed with screeching metal guitar solos and chunky dubstep. Yes, dubstep.

Between chapters, Raiden can unlock and upgrade his items, his health meter and his fuel cells. Players cash in Battle Points, won by defeating enemies (and defeating them spectacularly), to improve Raiden's performance and unlock new combat moves.

If Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance falls short, it does so in few ways. The game's camera is often unwieldy, slow to keep up with the accelerated action. It's far too easy to lose sight of the giant enemy mech standing right in front of Raiden or see who's firing rocket launchers at him. The game's traditional Metal Gear weapons, like grenades, rocket launchers and homing missiles, and items like the cardboard box, feel like unnecessary trappings. Rarely did I find myself using anything from my inventory, save for health items, because Raiden's speed and skill with a sword are so immensely powerful.

Based on Revengeance's early chapters, the game feels very much a product of Platinum Games, less so Kojima Productions. The combat feels wonderful, the environments oddly oversized, the bosses and secondary characters visually stunning. KojiPro's contributions are clear in parts, but when you, as Raiden, are chopping enemy cyborgs into hundreds of bits with razor precision — the best moments of Revengeance so far — we're thankful Platinum took over.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is planned for release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on Feb. 19 in North America and Feb. 22 in Europe. In Japan, the game will be released on PlayStation 3 only on Feb. 21.

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