Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Metal Gear Revengeance: Sound and Fury

One of the best things about a console generation changeover is that new technology is always more expensive. The newest system will be the most expensive and the new games will be full retail price almost without exception. Conversely, the previous generation is mostly a way for the company in question to make whatever extra money they can, so the consoles and a number of games usually drop in price (if they haven't already.)

So any time a console generation hop comes along, it's worth looking at the previous generation for any games you always wanted to play, but never got around to. You can very often pick them up for a fraction of their original MSRP, and they aren't any less fun now that they're cheaper or on "outdated" technology. Point of fact, some games can be even more fun knowing that you purchased them on the cheap!

Two games I purchased as part of the "last generation fire sale" were Lollipop Chainsaw and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Lollipop Chainsaw was a fun, dumb little game. Not at all worth full retail when it came out, but absolutely worth the $20 I paid for it (and arguably alright at the $40 mark.) It told a silly story in an endearing, tongue-in-cheek way, the game knew it's gimmick well enough to keep stepping things up as you progressed, and it didn't outstay its' welcome (or kill the joke) by being too long. Not a game I'd recommend to most people (you have to really dig the humor style to get any value out of it,) nor one that I'm likely to revisit much if at all, but it was fun.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has made more of an impact on me. During my original playthrough of the game, I was consistently frustrated, so I had kind of a bad taste in my mouth as I went through it. I played the game in two separate sessions separated by a decent chunk of time, and one of the biggest downsides to that is when I came back to the game I totally forgot out you parry/block Revengeance. Not being able to block and/or only being able to do so randomly made the game quite a bit harder in some places, and it was all due to user error (and inability to double check the controls via one of the many resources I had available.)

The other issue I had was less on my end: Revengeance has a few mechanics that feature prominently in some boss fights. Most notably: parrying and the Zandatsu mode.

You can get away with not being able to block/parry well (or at all) in the first half of the game. The enemies are mostly meatbags for you to chop through, and the ability to refill your health after every kill (assuming you're on point with your Zandatsu cuts) allows you to make up for lack of any real defensive measures. Even the first boss is easy enough to just chop your way through.

Starting with the 2nd boss, you're going to have a much harder time surviving the fights if you can't block/parry well, and I'd venture to say that it'd be extremely difficult to beat the final boss of the game if you couldn't block/parry well (assuming you could even make it that far.)

I managed to get into the flow of the block/parry mechanic well enough that I could keep up with the attacks in some of the harder fights, but it was definitely a challenge. Blocking/parrying in Revengeance is trickier than your average defensive move in a character action game, and therefore it's also harder to consistently get it right. Combine that with moves that are designed to be hard to defend against, and you have some deceptively tricky fights.

The other thing that drove me nuts in a few places was what I'll call "mandatory free-form Zandatsu." Zandatsu is something you do often in Revengeance, and I think I did it the way a lot of players do: use the slash buttons to perform horizontal or vertical slices as necessary, instead of using the right joystick. It's way easier than using the joystick, and it gets you through pretty much every Zantastu situation you run into.

Then you run into one particular boss fight, and you suddenly need to use the right joystick to make relatively precise Zandatsu cuts in order to be able to win the fight. This was pretty difficult, and it took me a few tries to really get used to what I needed to do in order to finish the fight. Running into that roadblock on a boss fight was pretty frustrating.

After that, you don't run into any more situations similar to that until you hit the final boss. During that fight you end up having to do a set of sequential, free-form Zandatsu cuts, and if you fail any of them you instantly die. Its not quite as bad as it sounds (you get items that instantly revive you if you die,) but you only have a limited number of those, this sequence repeats until you complete it successfully, and you can't beat this boss without going through this sequence at least once (you may need to do it twice; I've forgotten the specifics.) Similar to the previous experience, I was very frustrated when I ran into this wall, and restarts due to death here probably added another half hour or so to my play time.

The main reason those two issues were so frustrating is because when Revengeance works, it works. The action is silky smooth and super-responsive (not at all surprising given the pedigree of it's developer, Platinum Games,) the story is pretty entertaining (standard Metal Gear fare spiced up with Platinum Games trademark crazy,) and the music is astoundingly well produced. Its a pretty short game that is none the less a rock solid action game, and it's all the more impressive when you realize that Revengeance is basically a "never game."

You can read about the nitty-gritty details of the game's development on it's Wikipedia page, but the short version of the story is that Revengeance is the game that was made out of what was almost vaporware. Platinum Games was called in to help finally get the game into a playable, fun state, and they did it using their unique brand of action game know-how. Anyone familiar with the video game industry is probably familiar with how often a near-death game ends up being released in a good state (very rarely,) so it is all the more remarkable that Platinum Games was able to produce such a solid game in such a tight time frame. Many of the negative factors in Revengeance can be tempered or overlooked entirely when viewed from that perspective (at least in my opinion.)

Going back to the music for a bit, because I feel like it's one of the greatest successes of Revengeance. Unlike a lot of other action games, Revengeance does a fantastic job of ramping the music up or down based on what's happening. During low-key sections, the music keeps the game moving but isn't too intrusive. In combat, the music is the backdrop to the chaos, adding another element of urgency and impact to everything that happens. During especially noteworthy fights (bosses, new enemy introductions) the music ratchets up yet another notch by kicking in vocals that supplement the action (but also don't supersede anything going on.)

It's all done fairly organically, and it's something that you may not even notice while you're playing the game. But of all the elements of Revengeance that stuck with me, the music made such a profound impression that I ended up buying the soundtrack. To put that into perspective, I have purchased exactly one other video game soundtrack in my life (the Final Fantasy IV Piano Collection; a soundtrack for a game that hit me right in the childhood,) so this soundtrack definitely made an impression.

What is most remarkable to me is that I don't think either component works without the other.

The music behind Revengeance is exactly the type of music I should hate: an electronica/nu-metal/dubstep blend topped off with lyrics that alternate between nonsensical and adolescent (at best.) If you had told me I'd be listening to this soundtrack on a loop, based on type of music I'd have laughed in your face. Divorced from the game experience of Revengeance the soundtrack succeeds at being very intense and high octane, but it does so in a pretty transparent way that I think would be very, very hard to relate to.

Likewise, I'm not sure Revengeance would be as remarkable as it is without the soundtrack bolstering it's greatest moments. The action is very good on its own, but like a lot of Platinum Games work the action is more of a vehicle to experience something else. In the case of Revengeance the action weaves in and out of being cinematic (in ways that are much less obnoxious than the way other games try to do it,) so without a solid (or in this case, awesome) soundtrack backing that up I think a lot of the better moments in the game wouldn't really work.

Examples in both directions:

   - I really want to recommend the Revengeance soundtrack to friends of mine that might enjoy the energy of it, but I'm 90% sure that it won't really work without having the game as a callback. The reason I get so pumped up during "Rules of Nature (Platinum Mix)" is because I have flashbacks to the fantastic Metal Gear Ray sequence in the Prologue. The only reason I don't break into laughter at the cheese of "The War Still Rages Within" is because I can relive the relief and satisfaction I felt while that song played during the end credits, with me awash in the post-victory afterglow of having completed the game. Without those associations, I think the soundtrack fails to crack "neat but mediocre."

 - After completing Revengeance, I almost immediately started up a new game on the next higher difficulty. Part of that is because that's just what you're supposed to do with a Platinum Games character action game. Part of that was because I wanted to see if the skills I'd developed in the last half of the game would result in a better play experience the second time around (so far, it certainly seems like it.) But more than anything else I really wanted to re-experience the prologue fight with Metal Gear Ray because of how well presented that fight is. I can't think of another game in my long history of playing them that made me want to replay the prologue - the section I'm usually aching to get past as fast as possible - and the soundtrack is almost totally the reason for that.

To sum up: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a very, very good character action game. It is available for pretty cheap on PS3 and 360, and Konami even ported it to PC at the start of this year, so if you want to play it you probably have a system around that can. If you're a fan of other Platinum Games action games, it's a no brainer, and if you're a general fan of action games it's a very fun way to spend 7-8 hours (or more if you're willing to try out the higher difficulties.)

While you're playing, make sure the music is turned up, and drink deep the excellent soundtrack. After you complete the game, I highly recommend picking up the soundtrack which is listed as "Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Vocal Tracks)" (amazon.com link) to maximize the experience, and let you relieve all the hypest moments from the game whenever you like.

Also: be prepared to fall in love with Jestream Sam. That character is way more awesome than he has any right to be. In any other game, he'd be the trope-ish, half-assed character that I hate, but Platinum Games has a magical way of elevating those characters and making them instant favorites.

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