"This is not a stealth game," Platinum Games' Atsushi Inaba said of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. That's certainly true.
Rising is the latest in the traditionally stealth-heavy action game series, and from what I saw and played of the game, it's almost unrecognisable as a Metal Gear game. Moreover, the references that do exist to past games -- from stealth segments to watermelons -- are mostly played for laughs. That's certainly not a bad thing, but it does mean that Rising will be an interesting and possibly divisive entry in the long-running Metal Gear series.
Let's start with the stealth, which is typically the beating heart of a Metal Gear game. In the E3 demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, protagonist Raiden enters a compound full of soldiers. It's a setup familiar to Metal Gear fans, who would logically expect to sneak up on these soldiers and dispatch them one by one.
Raiden does this, to an extent -- he enters the compound and proceeds to dispatch enemies one by one. But he does so in manner so simplistic as to seem humorous. Enemies are just oblivious to him -- he runs forward, sword in hand -- players can't adjust his stance or move slowly -- comes up behind them and with a button-press, rams his sword through their back. There's nothing more to stealth than this, and no way to take down an enemy other than to sprint up behind them and perform a loud, gory kill.
Inevitably, Raiden gets spotted, and the trademark "Vrayrp!" sound effect plays, accompanying an exclamation mark over any remaining enemies' heads. But it's just window-dressing, it's there for show. In past Metal Gear games, the exclamation mark was a dreaded sound; it meant you had failed. Here it indicates that it's time to get to the good part: the wicked swordplay.
And it is indeed wicked -- combat plays out much like fighting in Bayonetta with the katana, all super-fast combos, quick parries and killer finishing moves. The biggest new feature is "Blade Mode", which is a twist on Bayonetta's slow-motion Witch-Time. To enter blade-mode, players simply press the L1 button (I demoed on a PS3), and everything goes into super-slow mo. I used the right thumbstick to direct Raiden's sword, setting the vector for a flurry of sword attacks that, awesomely, slice enemies into so many cleanly divided chunks.
Since blade-mode can be triggered with a button-press, it lacks the rewarding feel of Bayonetta's witch-time, which required a perfectly timed dodge to instigate. All in all, combat has a different feel from Bayonetta, but I didn't have enough time in the demo (and didn't face tough enough bad guys) to really get a feel for it. But like all Platinum games, it feels fast, punchy, and satisfying.
The clear focus on action does serve to make the game's "stealth" sections feel all the more joke-y. In fact, I couldn't help but notice that all of the "Metal Gear" elements in the game are reference humour; they were played for laughs. Rising seems to be a game that doesn't hold its source material as sacred. (Though for all its enjoyably high-handed crusading, on some levels even core Metal Gear games don't take themselves all that seriously.)
At one point in the training mission, watermelons are set all around for Raiden to slice. At another, players come across a cardboard box, beneath which cowers a soldier, ripe for the sword. The joke here is clear: In this game, you do not hide under boxes; your enemies hide from you.
The story is being handled by Metal Gear creators' Kojima Productions, and as creative producer Yuji Korekado described it, will be tighter, with shorter cutscenes, but will still have just as much of a story emphasis as, say, Metal Gear Solid 4. It will also be more approachable for newcomers.
"One thing that we want to make clear," Korekado said, "is that the objective for Rising is to tell a self-contained story that people who had not played Metal Gear up to this point could just jump in and get up to speed really quickly and enjoy the game on its own merits rather than having to rely on knowledge from past Metal Gears." He did say that there are characters from past games that will make an appearance.
So, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance feels like more of a riff on Metal Gear than a proper Metal Gear game. But hey, that's OK, mostly because it's a stylish, fun riff. It plays and feels like a Platinum game, and I mean that as a high form of praise. It may not make every Metal Gear die-hard happy, but I'm actually looking forward to enjoying a different side of the Metal Gear universe.
Plus, you know, it lets you slow-mo-chop a helicopter to bits with a sword.