‘Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’ a cut above the rest

Give a kid a stick and chances are he will start swinging it around like a sword.

Give a former kid a video game in which the main character is a cyborg ninja who uses an electromagnetically charged samurai sword to slice apart his robotic enemies and feast upon their fuel cells and he will cackle with geeky glee. “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” turns the universal love of chopping things up with a pointy sword into one of the most memorable action games of this or any year.

“Revengeance” takes place four years after the end of “Metal Gear Solid 4” and stars Raiden, a former Liberian child soldier who replaced his body parts with cybernetic limbs that gave him superhuman speed and power. What makes Raiden more interesting than the typical action hero is that he has a bit of an inferiority complex and tries to hide it with a gruff voice and some tough talk about his sword being a “tool of justice.” He refers to enemies as “vending machines” and calls himself “the reaper,” but he is quick to defend children who are in danger of becoming victims of war like he did. He must go toe-to-toe with a team of rival cyborg mercenaries, each of whom has a tragic backstory they will explain via a lengthy monologue before a battle in true “Metal Gear” fashion.

The “Metal Gear” series has always been a bit of a self-parody, inspired by pop culture postmodernism, Cold War anxiety, and a cheeky insistence on using as much real-world science as possible to explain ridiculous plot elements. “Revengeance” is pretty silly at times, such as when Raiden dons a poncho and sombrero to “blend in” in Mexico, but the way the characters wink at the camera as if to say, “Yes, I am a video game character” makes for some subtle jokes within not-so-subtle jokes.

While the “Metal Gear” series practically invented stealth combat video games, “Revengeance” focuses more on fast and furious melee combat, the highlight of which is Raiden’s zan-datsu ability. Zan-datsu allows him to temporarily slow time and make precision cuts to sever enemy arms and legs and rip out their power source to refuel his own reserves. Of course, enemies must first be weakened by regular strikes before they can be finished off, so Raiden will have to parry enemy assaults and strike when they are off balance.

The combat feels fresh and exciting, and performance evaluations after each encounter both chastise the player and encourage improvement. Like most action games, slaying bad guys in “Revengeance” nets the player money they can spend on upgrades, which come in handy during the game’s several impressive boss fights.

“Revengeance” also features a “ninja run” that is as simple to execute as holding down a button while moving. This allows the player to automatically slide under and hop over any obstacles in his path, as well as pull of some context-sensitive shenanigans like using a barrage of missiles as stepping stones to cut down a helicopter in midair. Is it over-the-top? Yes. Is it fun? Absolutely.

Graphically, “Revengeance” won’t turn too many heads, but the fact that Raiden can literally slice a 20-foot tall robot to ribbons and whirl to face another foe without a moment of lag is incredible. No gamer should take for granted just how much work went into the physics for this game, but by the time they reach the last boss, they will. Fences, crates, enemy soldiers -- no matter which way you slice it, it comes apart in a convincing (and often gory) way. It’s a technical feat that never ceases to impress.

Like most action games, “Revengeance” can be beaten in around 10 hours. While there are plenty of unlockable missions and goodies to collect, the real incentive for a second play through is the addictive combat.

“Revengeance” has it all: sharp controls, a very sharp sword, interesting characters that crack wise in a parody of our potential paramilitary future, and more jaw-droppingly-awesome moments than you can swing a sword at.

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