Around the midway point of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the game’s lead character—an asexual cyborg wearing a Mardi Gras wig—commandeers a motorcycle and speeds off into the desert. He eventually encounters a villain who has apparently been standing around in the middle of the desert, pacing back and forth, waiting for the wig-wearing cyborg to arrive. Before they can fight, they must talk. That’s one of the immutable laws of the Metal Gear universe—all potential combatants must engage in a lengthy, important-sounding conversation lasting no less than five minutes before they can fight. They must puff their chests and exchange a string of blowhard platitudes. “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but man cannot stay in the cradle forever,” goes one such platitude. And another: “Expose someone to anger long enough, and they will learn to hate.”
Characters in every Metal Gear game have been traveling to places for no discernible reason and saying important-sounding things to one another for more than 25 years now. This going-nowhere-spouting-nonsense moment is the bedrock upon which the polarizing series has been built. I’ve never had the stomach for it.
Unlike previous Metal Gear games, Revengeance aspires to cut loose and have a good time. We know this from the goofy portmanteau in the game’s title. We know this because when Raiden the cyborg needs a disguise, he dresses up as a mariachi—hold your snickers, please—complete with an oversized sombrero. The Metal Gear games have always purported to be the thinking man’s shooter, celebrating observation over action, rewarding stealth over gunfire. Instead of asking you to rescue a princess, Metal Gear drops you down a rabbit hole of paramilitary conspiracy theories so convoluted that only the most patient of gamers can make sense of it. Revengeance wants to be the catharsis that punctuates this string of the wordiest, most self-indulgent video games ever made—the keg-draining graduation party at the end of your Metal Gear University education.
At the start of the game, Raiden is working a security detail for the prime minister of an unnamed country. When the prime minister’s motorcade is ambushed, Raiden tears off his civilian clothes—his discarded suit floats through the air in slow-motion, because another law of the Metal Gear universe is that anything discarded must float off in slow-motion—revealing the beeping-and-booping, uber-ripped cyborg body that’s been hiding underneath. From here, Raiden embarks on a send-me-a-postcard journey that stretches from Denver to Pakistan on a quest to thwart the plans of a group of bad apple cyborgs. From what I could glean from the exhaustive exposition—like all Metal Gear games, Revengeance says a lot but manages not to tell me much of anything—the cyborgs are growing children in laboratories and using their excised brains to build more cyborgs.
Over the course of the game, many characters will contact Raiden via the invisible cell phone that’s implanted in his ear. There’s Boris. There’s Kevin. There’s Wolf. There’s a German doctor who is known as “Doktor.” They feed Raiden a steady stream of superfluous information, telling him where to go and what to do. If you should choose to ignore every word of their “advice” and continue to 1. run forward, and 2. swing your sword wildly at whatever enemy the game puts in front of you, you’ll be fine.
Whenever the chatty supporting characters do finally shut their damn traps and the enemies arrive, Revengeance comes close to being the good time that it aspires to be. It’s the kind of action game that lets you pull off incredible feats with only a button press or two. Hold down one button and not only will Raiden bolt across the battlefield like a horse startled by a pistol, he’ll also automatically deflect all incoming bullets with his twirling katana. Nice. The game’s strength is the way that it makes complicated things—cartwheels, preternatural backflips—look and feel easy. Even novice players will find themselves zig-zagging through crowds of enemies, performing gymnastic moves while leaving a trail of dismembered limbs and in their wake.
Revengeance introduces a nifty slicing technique: By switching to an over-the-shoulder point of view, you can essentially draw your sword slices on the screen. Push up, down, diagonally, etc. and Raiden follows suit, carving your target into hundreds of pieces. Should you get carried away, as I did on more than one occasion, the game will eventually step in and inform you that whatever you are cutting up is “destroyed”—as if you needed to be told this. Whenever this happens, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I know it’s destroyed, but give me a few more seconds to destroy it even more.”
On the downside, there are annoying “press this button…NOW!” micro-games and bland environments to contend with. And the writing is as tin-eared as ever: In the final throes of a battle against a formidable enemy, Raiden says the unfortunate line, “Your memes end here!” Worse, there are moments when Revengeance feels like it has suddenly decided to take over for you and play itself. Suspiciously spectacular things happen in the game—Raiden will suddenly go on what feels like an unprompted killing spree that has almost nothing to do with whatever buttons you happen to be pressing at the time. These moments leave the player in an unpleasant gray area where you’re left to ponder if the game, like one of those helicopter parents, has decided to step in and cut up your dinner for you.
I limped my way through the previous four games in the Metal Gear series—two of which qualify as miserable slogs. After feeling hamstrung by the series’ byzantine control schemes and endless bouts of fortune-cookie dialogue, being able to run, jump, and slice up bad guys like deli hams, as I did in Revengeance, proved to be the exhalation that I’d sorely needed. In its best moments, Revengeance threatens to fly completely out of control, to become the slam-bang action game it longs to be. Yet whenever the game teeters on the cusp of becoming a full blown bacchanal, the fussy lore of Metal Gear, like a buzz-killing nun, shows up to sober everyone up and to keep your good time in check.