Players assume control of Raiden, a katana-wielding cyborg. He is initially playable in his "Standard Body" form, which resembles the body used by Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 4, but with a more natural looking face. The player can alter Raiden's appearance through alternative skins.
Unlike previous titles in the Metal Gear series, where players try not to be noticed by enemies, Rising is action oriented, focusing on sword fighting and a sophisticated cutting system to fight and defeat enemies. Although Raiden's main weapon is his high-frequency blade, Raiden can wield weapons such as a dagger or a rocket launcher. Other subweapons can only be obtained after defeating the game's bosses.
The game's cutting system allows players to engage in melee combat, as well as to precisely slash enemies and objects at will along a geometrical plane using the "free slicing" Blade Mode. Virtually any object in the game can be cut, including vehicles and enemies, though elements of the environment were intentionally limited to structures such as pillars and walls to better facilitate the game.