A grim examination of war profiteering, or the whacky adventures of a man and his robot dog? Actually, it's both.
Imagine a game that tells a story about a power hungry American corporation sending assassins into a formerly unstable African nation to murder its inspirational new president, because the new era of peace he had ushered in is economic poison to those who profit from war.
Now imagine that the same corporation makes these profits by manufacturing cybernetics and robotics for private military forces, and they have decided that a cost-effective way to do this would be to abduct poor street children from developing nations, surgically remove their brains, then train them to be killers in virtual battlefields before installing these newly-trained brains into the bodies of robotic soldiers.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it?
Nothing is too big for Raiden's sword.
Okay, now toss in a few more elements: a robot dog that likes the chat about ethics and philosophy, a wise-cracking street kid who sounds like he was voiced by a Jamaican Yardie, a hero with a high tech sword that can cut almost anything, including his enemies, into dozens of little pieces, and a big bad guy who tries to assassinate the US president with a giant robotic spider.
Are you confused yet? Well, enjoy it, because that is the mental state Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance will prompt in you when you play it.
MGR was created by a Japanese gaming dream team, with the action game maestros at Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Vanquish) making a swordplay-filled spin-off from the usually stealth-based Metal Gear Solid franchise, under the supervision of MGS boss Hideo Kojima.
They seem a strange pairing, with Platinum being best known for non-stop action brawlers and Kojima being famous for his slowly-paced stealth gameplay, driven by deep, complex storytelling. The end product of this blessed union is a game that is both fun and challenging, and equal parts disturbing and ridiculous.
Take the sequence when the player-controlled character Raiden infiltrates a secret underground research laboratory and discovers that they have been abducting children and removing their brains. In one scene, Raiden walks into the storage room, where rows and rows of brains with eyeballs attached are stacked in transparent jars.
As Raiden realises what he is looking at, all of the eyes suddenly swivel to look at him. It was one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen in a game.
In another sequence, one of the game's many villains decides to show Raiden what a hypocrite he is for murdering hundreds of guards. As all of the guards are cybernetically enhanced, their brains are networked, so Raiden is allowed to hear exactly what they're thinking.
In the next fight, it is hard to concentrate on what you are doing, because it is impossible to ignore pathetic pleas like "He's killed all my friends. I don't want to die, but I need this job!" and "The war took my wife and kids. I've got nothing left to live for now." It's seriously unnerving stuff.
This pushes up uncomfortably against the game's over-the-top hyper-violent action. Raiden wields a futuristic sword that can cut through nearly anything, and he uses it to lop off his enemies' limbs, slash them in half to get at the cybernetic modules inside their bodies, or to just go crazy and julienne their bodies into dozens of tiny slivers.
In other bombastic action sequences, Raiden runs down the side of a clock tower while dodging debris thrown at him by a four-storey-tall giant robot, chops the leg off another giant robot and uses it as a massive club to crush its body, and uses the stream of rockets being fired from an attack helicopter as stepping stones, running through the air and slicing the chopper in two with his sword.
I don't know how they managed it, but the action stays over-the-top and fun, while the disturbing aspects of the story never lose their chilling aspect. The two elements should completely cancel each other out, but somehow the whole package works, as silly as it is.
True to form, Platinum has created a challenging game for lovers of difficult but rewarding gameplay. After an unsuccessful start on normal, I went back and played most of the game on easy, but veteran Platinum fans are going to love the crushing difficulty of the higher levels.
The key to doing well is learning how to parry. There is no straight-out block in MGR, but instead an active parry system that requires you to anticipate your enemies' attacks and swing your sword in the opposite direction. If you time it well, your opponent will be thrown off-balance and will be open to attack.
Between missions there is an enjoyably thorough upgrades system that lets you select from a small number of optional weapons and tweaks your gear and skills to suit your playing style. After a full play-through I only unlocked around 75% of the options, so there is plenty of room for mixing and matching.
The game also looks amazing. Raiden himself is a heavily-armoured cyborg, and the intricate detail on his armour and weapons is a joy to behold. Enemy designs are wonderfully imaginative, with several of the bosses being particularly memorable.
If you're a fan of the MGS series, there is plenty to love here, despite the shift in playing style. Many characters from previous MGS games make cameo appearances, and there are several cute inside jokes about hiding in cardboard boxes and distracting guards with girly magazines. While truncated slightly, Kojima's love of near-future technology and geopolitics is also here in abundance.
That said, you don't need to have played any of the adventures of Solid Snake and friends to enjoy this new chapter. As a stand-alone game it is easy to follow and enjoy.
If you just want to have a load of fun with an over-the-top action title, switch Metal Gear Rising to easy mode and just have a good time. Those looking for something more challenging can try out the higher difficulty levels, but be warned, they are seriously unforgiving.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez