At no point in Army Corps of Hell’s development was it destined to be a great video game. Maybe it would have been given a pass in the conceptual stages, a heavy metal driven hell spawned Pikmin-ish strategy offering that would loosely utilize the Vita features. The idea, if nothing else, is sound.
It’s likely questionable whether or not the Vita discussion even happened at first. Army Corps of Hell’s bleeding, smeary visuals are more in line with a generation past, and probably were. Square Enix likely saw the writing on the PSP’s dwindling wall part way through development, and shuffled this one uncaringly onto the Vita.
PSP, Vita, DS, whatever. The game never stood a chance. All of the demonic charms, if that’s a relevant term all things considered, never quite understand if they’re comical or not. The decidedly giddy minions, mushy little troll-like beings, hop into combat at the will of their master, or the press of the right trigger. Guess it depends on how much imagination you have. It’s as if the developers played Overlord and found the idea hilarious without ever understanding why.
You can think of Army Corps as a third person shooter, loosely at least, that dabbles in crowd control strategy. An on screen HUD places the location of the troll-y hoard, they swarm en masse, and bloody death ensues. Add in multiple types of creatures, from magic shooters to the more direct spear stabbers, and you have a general mix to choose from dependent on the situation.
The problem? That situation never feels as if it’s changing. For all the power-ups gained from leveling, this horned demon still floats around aimlessly, troll things do their work, and the nightmarish foes barely change their tactics, just their ability to palette swap themselves. One level they may push with heavier numbers, others they barely exist. This drudges on for hours of arduous, boring, and non-tactical gameplay, as if the crux of the idea is so stunning, you’d never want the variety. Shockingly, most people probably do.
While it feels arbitrary to say so, Army Corps is better suited to a digital SEN release, nothing more. Trimmed of its bulgy, ungainly fat, maybe there would be something here. While fit for those short bursts of portable play, leading down a path to retail means stretching the title so thin, there’s nothing left to chew on. Even with multiplayer (co-op demon slaughtering only), Square Enix keeps it local, as if unleashing this to fester on the internet would be an insult to the technology. In other words, they did the right thing.
Coming away from the “experience,” this launch effort situates itself as an ugly 1980′s stereotype reborn. It’s a vision of everything conservative parents feared, from demons, hellish locations, and grinding, headache-inducing metal themes. How horrifying. Who knew the only true nightmare to come from all of that controversy over hair bands would be a Vita title that is reaching for what little credibility it can offer?
Built with cybernetic parts, the previous laughing stock of the Metal Gear universe – someone who ran through the end of Metal Gear Solid 2 as a pixelated nude – has been formed into a mass murdering ninja. Raiden is no longer flowing locks and good looks; his jaw is invincible steel, one of his eyes is lost, and his cyborg fitting is all intimidation.
Despite the capabilities to ransack Metal Gears by uprooting them by their legs, Raiden is a fallible hero. This is not just a physical detriment, even as he is obliterated by a rival to the point of losing limbs in Metal Gear Rising’s opening salvo. Raiden is also unstable mentally, part of a private military firm and following orders until the reality of the situation sets in: Legally, people are using children for experimentation. The player spends the next five minutes with a limp, stumbling Raiden, haphazardly swinging his sword in desperate self defense, his head down and his motions crooked.
Rising works a balance, and despite coming from the heart of developer Platinum Games, this remains the brainchild of Hideo Kojima. With a central rock in Raiden, the rest of the narrative is a kooky, wearily woven story of erupting political power, America’s ideals, Patriotism, and the rights of humanity. Somewhere, this undoubtedly connects to previous franchise installments.
In the thick of nonsense lies a heart, mixed with wildly abrasive humor that just veers off color enough to have impact. Some of it is sexist, and some of it glances an eye towards technology. Despite walking androids and super human samurai cyborgs, the mystifying orientation of a USB cable still poses a problem in this near future scenario. Rising’s finale concerns a hulking US senator punting Raiden like a football, an unseen crowd cheering affectionately for a glimpse of an American pastime.
It all comes down to war as an economical boost, a way to create jobs and manipulate a public thirsty for conflict. Even after Rising’s seven or so hours of thrilling sword play, chances are you will want more. Maybe in the middle of all the nonsense, this undeniably Kojima script has a point.
Fluidly built to maintain a stable 60fps with densely packed, contrasting visuals, stylish flairs are everywhere. Raiden’s beautifully flowing momentum as he spins a bone slicing blade never conveys a loss of control. Whipping out combos is sensationally satisfying, Platinum adding an edge with Blade Mode. In the midst of an attack, the game slows via the trigger without breaking the overly precise methodology, letting the player hack away at limbs of opposing cyborgs via the right analog stick. Shattering impact unveils interior power sources that keep Raiden alive, or left arms which are weirdly considered a currency.
Rising has a tremendous amount of technique. The stock tutorial is woefully inefficient or explicitly a failure of explaining even basic systems. The game puts the player in motion for their own discovery with a loss of potential appreciation. Centralizing the combat flow is a parry system, a swiftly executed button/stick combo that rejects and creates an opening. Often, the backfire of a failed strike will reel opponents too far for standard strikes, but those aware can utilize the capabilities of a “ninja run” for slide techniques or additional weapons to fill in the holes. Rising does come together, although without the immediacy of most action games.
Platinum’s games are overly enthusiastic, the likes of Vanquish over eager to insert the player in the middle of the fray. Rising wants to watch the world burn. Raiden uses missiles directed towards his head as steps, crumbles buildings, explodes helicopters, and thrills because he can. Stealth slips in with sometimes questionable sight lines, but failure of the unseen only means more aggression which Rising excels at. Something could be said for trying to utilize children as an emotional grounding method amidst all of the absurdities. Often, it feels cheap, yet also serves to strengthen a lead character and his purpose. This is a hero in a mixture of bad choices who still puts people first.
Although often out of place, even with a lock-on feature, the unwieldy camera does not sour the enormity of the challenge. Cinematic angles force perspective and seeing Raiden hack away at something stories high is an effective means of distributing the fights without settling into gross repetition. Rising lets fights breathe, even in the center of conflict, with lengthy (sometimes long winded) diatribes as combatants taunt. Build-up is celebrated as a tension clincher despite being so action driven. Rising takes its time to create villains that while still thin in their character, are presented with individualized charms.
With the genuine sick pleasure elicited from standardized conflicts and a hint of stealth, the boss fights become clinchers for Rising. Sticking to the most classic elements of Japanese game design without any fear as to how vintage that may feel, each of them carry a remarkable array of attacks. All of them can feel different enough to warrant their inclusion, and the ensuing battle is never anything less than a level cap. Wildly flashy with a logic base entirely their own, these struggles are both challenging and rewarding. It comes back to making Raiden feel like a lesser cyborg in a world where others can piece themselves together after being sliced.
Raiden will grow as he uncovers a world teetering with moral choices, pulling weapons from downed foes to further accentuate combat. New moves for a stock sword are one thing while these new fighting choices create radical alterations in the basic brawls. A piercing sai becomes more of a combo joiner as it links strikes, a staff made of cyborg arms adds weight, and a scissor sword is an all-powerful (plus slow), methodical killer. Rising flirts with gunplay including clumsy rocket launchers and wholly satisfying turret moment, but the base never loses affinity for its blade.
Rising closes and leaves the player with increased difficulty modes plus some unlocked VR missions, the latter found when the linear levels break form through hidden walls. It is odd to see the best tutorial material hidden in the corner of an office, as the VR missions are training highlights with some added challenge. Go figure. Some will bemoan the lack of multiplayer as the industry pushes ever forward with unneeded modes, and honestly, one could work here with this glamorous fighting engine. A one-on-one conflict between Raiden and a rival cyborg in a brief chapter six shows what could be possible.
Then, it comes back to polish, and Rising is a (sadly) rare example of clean, tightly controlled action template that is able to focus its energy. Raiden is a rebel here who eventually sheds his superior’s orders out of emotion, so maybe that represents Rising as a whole: Fiercely single player and proud of it despite the norms.