Aaron Morales
February 19, 2013 AT 07:35 PM EST

It’s been a long, arduous journey for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The Metal Gear Solid spinoff was originally announced in 2009 starring Raiden, a character once reviled by fans and blamed for ruining Metal Gear Solid 2. After numerous delays, the game was quietly canceled when developer Kojima Productions struggled with the transition from sneaking-based stealth gameplay to crazy katana action. But in 2011, Platinum Games—developer of 2010’s gleefully over-the-top Bayonetta—took over the project, and Raiden was reborn.

Raiden’s redemption began in Metal Gear Solid 4, where the once-whiny, love-sick rookie transformed into a badass cyborg ninja who featured in the game’s most ridiculously cool cutscenes, and continues in Revengeance. It seems as if Platinum’s goal was to match those hyper-kinetic, stylized scenes with actual gameplay. In the first few levels alone you’re racing down the sides of buildings, jumping on rockets and slicing helicopters to smithereens, and you remain firmly in control. Though the game does have its share of button-timed quick time events, they rarely get in the way of the action.

With good reason, considering how fantastic the actual combat system is. Raiden controls flawlessly and has a seemingly limitless number of combos at his disposal, which opens up substantially as you gain new weapons throughout the campaign. You can spend battle points to upgrade your abilities and weapons to cater to your playstyle. While button mashing could get you through the game, there’s a level of depth to be discovered that rivals the best in the genre. Rather than passively blocking enemy attacks, you have to actively parry them, which keeps the pace of battles raging nonstop. The Blade Mode is the most exciting addition: holding the left trigger slows down time and lets you slice strategically in any direction, and mastering it is essential to getting the highest battle rankings. Hitting enemies in the right spot lets you dismember them and remove their power core, which refuels your energy and fuel gauge and looks damn cool in the process.

Where the game falters is its story, which is as inscrutable as every other Metal Gear. Those versed in the series’ head-scratching lore might be able to glean some significance from what’s going on, but the narrative is a confusing tangle of nonsense, with hammy, overly verbose bosses, a trademark of the franchise. The environments and enemies you face grow a bit repetitive, and the camera can spin wildly out of control at the most inopportune of times. The game is a tad on the short side, and there’s not a ton of replay value other than some unlockable VR missions that task you with completing stages in a certain manner, but it’s undeniably fun while it lasts.

By the time you reach the end of the campaign, you should be well-versed enough to battle the final boss. And you’ll have to be, as the multi-stage fight tests all of your abilities. (If you haven’t mastered Blade Mode, start practicing or prepare to throw your controller in frustration). It’s one of the toughest battles this side of Ninja Gaiden, even on normal difficulty. But learning to defeat him is ultimately an empowering experience and a rigorous testing of the game’s robust fighting engine. Platinum Games managed not only to salvage Metal Gear’s entry into the action realm, but it made one of the best games in the genre. Not bad for a spinoff starring a character everyone hated. B+

Follow Aaron on Twitter: @airlinem


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