I love the world of Metal Gear. But despite the realistic philosophical underpinnings and complex pseudoscience that goes into generating the advanced nanotechnology, AI masterminds, and cybernetic advancements, let’s not pretend that the games are always enjoyable to play. Granted, there’s a market for stealth enthusiasts, from Hitman to Thief to Splinter Cell, and yet there’s a reason that each of those series has gotten progressively more action-oriented: true stealth games are very slow, and who has time for that? I like my sneaking to be faster-paced and more arcade like, as with Mark of the Ninja, and not the tedious (and oft-reloaded) nonsense that’s made playing Metal Gear games a frustrating love affair. There are brilliant sequences and boss battles, and then there’s camo-matching, snake-eating, sniper-hunting insanity, and the latest entry, Metal Gear: Revengeance (produced by over-the-top Platinum Games) feels like a triple-shot of espresso from start to finish.
There are neo-Western duels between piston-powered high-frequency blades and a chase atop a train; there are wall-running and bird-flying expeditions through missile and wreckage filled corridors. The boss fights require you to master the mechanics of Raiden’s time-slowing ninja sword (particularly the match against Sundowner and his explosive shield), especially on the higher difficulties, and even casual encounters are filled with plenty of variety, thanks to an excess of moves and, ala Mega Man, a series of alternative weapons built from the corpses of your foes. This isn’t to say that Revengeance is perfectly paced–Chapter 5 feels flung together, and the first section of Chapter 7 is nothing you haven’t seen before–but by keeping the gameplay fixated on high-speed action, sitting down to listen to the Codec ramblings of your allies is a lot more bearable. Moreover, this newest title doesn’t deprive stealth fans of their bread and butter: it just sends it largely to the sidelines, as a series of optional goals or VR missions. (Talk about appeasement!)
Finally, by switching the core mechanics from stealth to action, boss battles are no longer stuck in the middle ground in which Deus Ex: Human Revolution found itself, unsure if it wanted you to be tactical or aggressive about the forced fights. You can fight giant robots, dismantling them piece by piece, and even fights against super-powered villains like Mistral and Monsoon take place over a series of instances, rather than sticking to one set of patterns or a single environment. Mashing buttons, which works to some degree on the lower difficulty mobs, isn’t an option against bosses (who can easily counter your moves); making good use of sub-weapons and your ninja skills is the key, and fast reaction times–as opposed to methodical movement–is what carries the day. Here’s hoping that the open-world Phantom Pain at least provides the option for anti-stealth fighters like me–and, more importantly, that it boasts the sort of battle mechanics that allow for boss fights at least half as cool as these.