Version tested: PlayStation 3
You expect downloadable content to add to the main game. But for the first hour or two of Jetstream Sam, Platinum's campaign prequel for the superlative Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, that new content feels hard to find. Every environment and enemy features in the main game and the songs are familiar. A few new cut-scenes seems like one hell of a way to use a 2.5GB download. There is a big addition, of course: Sam himself.
Sam Rodrigues is Revengeance's most fabulous enemy, a cocky Brazilian with a fighting style halfway between jiu-jitsu and samurai - backed up by a smile that could slice a tank in half. The boss battle against him is classic, a desert duel for the ages. Jetstream Sam is a prequel explaining how and why he ended up working for the bad guys. It's one long chapter that takes Sam from sewers to the top of a skyscraper, with three boss battles and five VR missions interspersed, and as in the main campaign each difficulty setting changes up the enemy numbers, placements and types along the way. You can, if you're really trying, run through this in significantly less than an hour, but to talk about it in these terms would miss the point completely.
The focus of Jetstream Sam is in giving Revengeance players a new toy, a playable character who bears little relation to Raiden. Anyone who buys this will have finished the main game and so be in possession of a powered-up cyborg ninja with multiple weapons and a moveset that enables constant aggression; to play as Raiden is to always be on the attack, dashing from foe to foe in a flurry of deadly blows and perfect parries.
So what does our smiling assassin have going for him? Well, good looks for a start, along with a sweet HF Muramasa blade. The comparison to Raiden, obvious as it is to make, obscures things a little because Sam's moveset and new abilities demand a total change in style. The downsides: he's slower to move and attack, plus his window to pull off perfect parries is shorter. But Sam's dodge is faster, with less recovery time, he can taunt enemies (more on this later), and he can charge attacks for serious damage.
Charging attacks isn't a matter of a single move. Sam has a variety of 'quickdraw' attacks that can be introduced mid-combo and powered up before release. So here's the deal. Sam is less mobile, and more reliant on dodging, but if he gets a few seconds' breathing room to charge up an attack, he can destroy almost anything. Playing this style is about finding a few seconds' silence amidst a storm. In such details is the overriding philosophy of Jetstream Sam; this is an expansion for the masters, the players who can pick their openings and execute with precision.
The charge mechanic is so unlike the core combat of Revengeance that it took a long time to sink in - at first, I thought the quickdraws were flashy finishers, as with Raiden's pincer weapon, but you should be using them all the time. And Sam's moveset is full of different options for getting a charge in, with the types of quickdraw ranging from a classic samurai hip-slice to ground-dashes and air dives (all part of different combo strings). Damaging enough on their own, quickdraws become absolutely devastating when combined with Sam's other speciality: a cheeky taunt.
On Normal, Jetstream Sam is tough, Hard is a nightmare, Very Hard is brutal, and Revengeance wipes the floor with you
There's a lot of old-school Dante in Sam, not least his double-jump and air-dash, but taunting is what really seals the deal. A quick press up on the d-pad and he'll enrage nearby enemies with a number of quotes, adopting an arms-wide-open stance that can be dodged or parried out of. Enraged enemies start glowing red, becoming much more aggressive and also weaker to Sam's attacks. In theory, it's textbook risk/reward design but, this being Platinum Games, the risks and rewards are squared - enraged enemies are real killers, attacking incredibly fast while causing chip damage on block, and I don't think it's possible to execute a perfect parry on them. So as well as making the enemies tougher, you're surrendering a specific counter-attack ability. On the plus side, Sam's blade now goes through them like tissue paper (even with standard swings), and a fully charged attack will set up almost anything outside of bosses for some cutting.
The change in style also means a change in difficulty. This is much, much harder than Revengeance. On Normal, Jetstream Sam is tough, Hard is a nightmare, Very Hard is brutal, and Revengeance wipes the floor with you. The enemies are familiar but much more aggressive, and boss fights are completely reworked; Sam's fight against Blade Wolf makes it look like Raiden was fighting a puppy. Their new moves make a difference, especially in the case of the Gekkos, but the real change is in how quickly and regularly all enemies attack Sam.
The recycling of assets doesn't bother me as much as it did on the first play-through. Then, you're looking for the new stuff and disappointed to find only familiar environments and foes. (Sam even jokes about it at one point, something that all developers feel compelled to do in this situation and that never fails to bug me.) The more you play Jetstream Sam, though, the more you appreciate how much has changed under the hood, until it comes to feel like an entirely different game from Revengeance - and yet, and yet. At £8 this is towards the higher end of DLC pricing (unlike the previous VR Missions pack, at £2), and there's nothing new visually but Sam himself, some cut-scenes and a few enemy animations.
No new enemy types, environments, weapons, or even a song? It leaves an awful lot resting on the shoulders of our Brazilian friend. Whether you love or hate Jetstream Sam will largely come down to how you play Platinum's games - they are experiences designed to be mastered and replayed, offering subtlety and depth that other beat-'em-ups can't compete with. But that's not the whole story.
Platinum's best work also packs the wow factor, a surface sheen and love of spectacle that means simply playing through is a pleasure, never mind mastering air juggles and multiple charge combos. That is a great strength, and because Jetstream Sam's environments and enemies are so familiar it doesn't quite have that freshness. In terms of substance and style, the man himself delivers. But with just one or two surprises along the way, this could have been spectacular.
8 / 10