Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Xbox 360)
I’ve never been particularly good at fighting games, free-roaming or otherwise, but I dabble in the occasional novelty game or genuine classic that tolerates my lack of dedication. I don’t think I’ll ever have the chops to play something like Bayonetta properly, for example, but Devil May Cry’s free-flowing cool welcomed all comers. Metal Gear Rising Revengeance pulls off a similar trick, appropriately for a fighting game instalment in a stealth game series. The trick to Revengeance is an accessible but rewarding combat system in two parts.
Part one is how you respond to attacks. Tap block and a direction in the short window between an enemy readying an attack and its impact, and you will either stop the blow or counter attack outright depending on just how late you leave it. That’s enough to make the game tick, making the early game all about watching the enemies’ positions and timing responses. It feels skillful and cool, encourages you to stand your ground in engagements, and it teaches the importance of patiently managing and monitoring enemies.
The game’s then driven into motion by the second part, Zandatsu. A very successful counter or sufficient damage brings up a prompt that throws the game into slow motion and allows you to cut cyborg enemies into pieces and take the “electrolytes” (robot spine juice) within. In addition to shredding enemies into ribbons, this immediately fully replenishes health. This turns your normal response to damage on its head: take too many hits, and the best course of action is to charge into combat in order to pull off a perfect counter attack into Zandatsu, then restore your life force.
This core strategy of simple, productive blocking and health-restoring counter attacks results in a game where you’re constantly encouraged to fight and rewarded for playing intelligently when you’re there. It’s no longer possible to fall into a flailing mess of cheesy combos under pressure; fall back into your basic style of parrying attacks and you will prevail. As a novice who can’t keep on top of move sets this is a really encouraging play style.
It’s a great basis for a game that’s spectacularly mental, taking in MGS4’s war economy themes and telling a story about them at breakneck speed with a cast of rock-opera-level overblown characters.
There’s a lot of Revengeance that could use a little work. It’s not very long for one, with its final few levels being far shorter than the openers. The camera isn’t much cop, which is trouble in a game that’s all about situational awareness and directionality. Some encounters just aren’t much fun, such as a final boss that is uncharacteristically opaque. Yet Revengeance puts me in a fighting game that doesn’t make me feel like I need a training course to play well, which is real progress.
Now I’ve just got to get better at it.