Is there anything more rewarding in video games? The act of imagining something — a scenario, an attack, a technique, an outcome — and then realising that, by the force of your will, or skill, you can make that thing happen.
In Metal Gear Solid Rising I can 'slice', I can 'cut' — but how much can I slice? What can I cut? How can I use this ability? Can I imagine something, and then make that thing happen by slicing?
I can remember a handful of perfect moments in video games — Taking out lights in Splinter Cell for the first time, and realising that the resulting darkness allows you to sneak past guards. I remember discovering that, if I shot guard's radios in Metal Gear Solid 2, they couldn't call for back up.
'I wonder if...'
You ask yourself that question. If a video game gives the right answer, it's a beautiful thing.
I had been intrigued by Metal Gear Rising since it was first announced, and that intrigue was intensified by an E3 demo showing Raiden, the protagonist, delicately slicing a watermelon into several different pieces. It got my brain ticking over, it got me wondering — I started imagining what was possible with such a mechanic.
I wondered 'if'...
And then... silence. My questions, everyone's questions, remained unanswered. Then Platinum Games got involved. I wondered if the concept of slicing would get lost in the bluster of frenetic action the studio had become famous for. I loved Bayonetta, loved it. But I started asking myself the wrong questions — negative questions — I wondered if the game I imagined Metal Gear Rising could become would be replaced with something that removed the possibilities I had previously dreamed of.
"It's a little bit like Skate," says the man doing the demo. I suspect he's just dropping the name of a video game that I love.
"It feels a little confusing at first, but then it all clicks."
But this isn't the case at all. I push L1, time slows down, Raiden goes into cut mode. I can now aim precisely where I want his samurai sword to cut. It doesn't feel confusing at all; I don't need to wait until it 'clicks'. Metal Gear Rising feels like the most natural thing in the world.
Having seen demos — gameplay demos, the first E3 demo — I had an idea of how I thought Metal Gear Rising's slice mechanic should work, and it was a tremendous relief when it felt exactly as I'd hoped it would. Better even. Precise, sharp, tangible, malleable. It felt tremendous. I loved it instantly.
In Metal Gear Rising you control the flick of the sword. Flick the right stick to ready it, let go and it flies in the opposite direction. You can be deliberate and precise with your strokes, or spam a superb flurry of strikes and feel amazing.
It's a mechanic that encourages performance, and that's what's so special about it. Time slows down, for a few seconds you're safe from the hordes of enemies in the periphery, you're allowed to slice and dice however you please — the pacing is yours to control.
Then time speeds up, you get to see the results of your handiwork — the object you were slicing, be it machine, wood or flesh, accurately reflects the punishment it just took. Limbs fly off, cars get cleaved in twain, watermelons reduced to perfect square cubes. Metal Gear Rising gives you that incredible feeling of competence. You are the master of violence, and your handiwork yields perfect results.
I get the distinct impression that before Metal Gear Rising was passed over to Platinum Games, the slice mechanic was already rigid and in place. Most likely Platinum was brought in to fill the blanks, to create the game that would be built around the performance aspect — the nuts and bolts of it.
They chose wisely.
Metal Gear Rising has a simple combat system, at least at first glance. It has heavy attack/light attack dynamics, it has jumps, it has parries — so far so generic — but it feels seamless, and when you add the slo-mo slicage as a point of difference the whole system just feels like an incredible slick package.
Time will tell if it gets tiresome, but I doubt it. Platinum Games is masterful in its ability to make simple core mechanics feel endlessly repeatable. Bayonetta's Witch Time, Vanquish's Slide Boost — Platinum is the best in the business at stretching unique characteristics to their limits and providing brilliant playgrounds in which to exploit them.
Whilst playing Metal Gear Rising I asked myself a lot of questions.
'I wonder if I can chop the legs off enemies and keep them alive?'
I'm a sadist, and a terrible human being — but yes. The answer to that question was 'yes'.
'I wonder if I can chop a car in half?'
'I wonder if I can scythe the base of this Ferris Wheel and have it fall over and take out those enemies?'
Incredibly, the answer to that question was also yes.
'I wonder if I can chop this bridge down?'
'I wonder if I can take this guy's arm off?'
'I wonder if I can slice and dice a Helicopter?'
'I wonder if...'