The Wasted Potential of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

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The Wasted Potential of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a weird game, and that is not meant to be derogatory. It’s a spin-off in the much larger Metal Gear universe that’s composed primarily of Metal Gear Solid titles. It stars Raiden, who at this point in time is a cyborg ninja, and discards much of the stealth gameplay that anchored the franchise as a whole for decades before it. Also you’ll control Raiden running down the side of a church’s clock tower dodging missiles being shot at him from a Metal Gear, and then slice that bipedal nuke launcher in half with a very sharp katana within the first five minutes of gameplay. It rules—it also doesn’t feel very much like Metal Gear Solid at that moment.

That’s because it isn’t Metal Gear Solid: it’s Metal Gear Rising. The first—and as of now, only—title to bear that name. The action makes it feel like something other than a Metal Gear game, but it’s everything else within that proves that there was always another way to get the messages of that particular universe and franchise across.

Revengeance isn’t what anyone expected from a game carrying the moniker Metal Gear, but it’s truly excellent in every way. PlatinumGames was the perfect development partner for Kojima Productions, Konami’s internal studio headed up by Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima (and the precursor to the current, independent Kojima Productions Co. that formed when Konami and Kojima split in 2015). Revengeance was first announced in 2009—then known as Metal Gear Solid: Rising—and was supposed to be the story of how a cyborg Raiden appeared in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but Kojima Productions hit pause on development because they couldn’t nail the action portions of the action game.

Platinum’s then vice-president and co-founder Atsushi Inaba told Edge back in 2012 that he saw Kojima at a party and asked him how Rising was going—“there was no response”—and then at a second party, Kojima asked Inaba if Platinum would like to make the then-canceled game instead. Given Platinum’s reputation with action games—the studio was just a few years old at the time, but had already developed some killer (and frantic) action games like Bayonetta and Vanquish—it was the right call to go with them, but the change in developer also brought a significant change in story. Rather than being a game slotted in before the final events of Metal Gear Solid 4, now Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance would be happening after that game: after the game-worthy events of the lives of Solid Snake and Big Boss were complete. It was no longer a Metal Gear Solid game, but was being given a chance to be its own thing.

And it certainly was. The action of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance set it apart from every other Metal Gear game out there, with Raiden slicing the limbs off of enemy mercenaries who were just as cybernetic as he was. He cut down robots with countless slices in slow-motion, and managed to take on an attack helicopter with a katana and won. The option to avoid killing that marked games like Metal Gear Solid 3 wasn’t as present in Revengeance, and that fact was somewhat embraced, both in the gameplay and narrative, in a way that kept this spin-off from betraying the franchise and its ethos surrounding war and death.

PlatinumGames pulled a nifty trick in Revengeance at a time when a number of developers were set on making people feel bad for enjoying the games that they designed. Sometimes that approach worked—Spec Ops: The Line is haunting, for instance—and sometimes things were designed in such a way where all you could do from your couch was shrug and wonder why the developer was picking on you for the behavior they encouraged. (Or you ended up in an Uncharted situation where the story they were telling in cutscenes—the gravity of Nathan Drake’s decision to Kill A Man—didn’t quite line up with the trail of bodies he had left behind him to get to that point.) Revengeance, though, toyed with this convention in a way a Metal Gear game could, even one as heavily focused on action as this.

When one of the game’s antagonists, Monsoon, tries to get inside of Raiden’s head by accusing him of enjoying the killing—and of justifying all of the death by claiming it was in the name of justice, that it “spared [Raiden] of the burden of all of the lives” he had taken—is when it reaches its critical juncture. It’s a moment that feels very much like it’s chastising both you and Raiden for enjoying the gameplay, namely the violence of it, while also setting up something of a “we’re the same, you and I” vibe between a villain who believes this is the way life should be, with the strong (like himself and Raiden) preying on the weak. Instead, within the same cutscene, Raiden turns things around: he does not deny that he’s a monster, but decides he will no longer hide from that. He knows what he is, and what he is capable of, and the important thing is where he directs his now-admitted love for violence and killing: at the kind of people who would give him speeches like this one. Instead of making you feel terrible about the gameplay, Revengeance instead empowers both you and Raiden—it might be an evil, but it’s a necessary one in a world where ninja cyborgs are bought and sold in bulk to wage proxy wars and assassinate politicians.

It’s a hell of a chapter, one that takes you through the mental and emotional toll that all of this killing was inflicting on Raiden, and briefly attempts to make you feel terrible for your own role in it, too, before turning things around in an unexpected way. It’s not just Metal Gear in nature, it’s one of the most Metal Gear things anywhere in that series. From that point forward, it’s clear that Metal Gear Rising was setting itself up to be a successor to Metal Gear Solid: a way to remain in this universe, but to tell new stories from new perspectives, with different challenges both emotional and physical to overcome. Exploring Raiden’s life after (Solid) Snake, with his own crew and missions and separation from following government orders, was a promising potential future.

Instead, Revengeance became a one-off rather than the start of something new, as Kojima and Konami split, and Konami’s one post-Kojima attempt at a new Metal Gear was the underwhelming Metal Gear Survive, which focused on a parallel dimension and zombies. It’s a shame that this is the case for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that Revengeance is excellent. The less obvious one is that the switch from Solid to Rising as the primary active Metal Gear series made sense both alongside Kojima’s own themes about heroes, as well as narratively in-universe.

Consider: Assassin’s Creed probably should have ended by now, given how focused on present-day storytelling it was in the early days of the franchise, with the actions of the past feeding into the present. Instead, since every game at that level is driven by how many units can be sold instead of stories that can be told, Ubisoft kept coming up with progressively less interesting and convincing twists and turns to excuse their decision to keep the series alive: it made for some great (and less than great) games to play, sure, but on the narrative side, this idea of one story being told through other stories has faltered. Then there are series like Yakuza, which simply can’t seem to let their central protagonist Kiryu Kazuma retire and live in peace, even when entire games are wrapped around that idea and a sendoff has already occurred. Sequels are life; sorry, Kiryu.

Sticking with Raiden and Rising, though, wouldn’t have had Konami making any of those kinds of narrative mistakes, and in fact would have further strengthened the decision to keep going after Metal Gear Solid 2. As Trevor Strunk put it in Story Mode: Video Games and the Interplay Between Consoles and Culture, Kojima used Raiden’s introduction and the various reveals about what was actually happening in Sons of Liberty to break down the very idea of a sequel: “…it is this idea that a sequel to a game is—in the reality of the world it exists in—literally a sequel to the original scenario, an attempt to recreate the protagonist by reproducing the events of Metal Gear Solid… the lesson of Metal Gear Solid is that none of that game should have occurred. The message of Metal Gear Solid 2 is that any attempt to recreate the spirit of those events are doomed to end in tragedy, because the repetition of a scenario will never create a better or more useful hero.” Well, no wonder Sega keeps going back to the Dragon of Dojima.

Revengeance allowed for Raiden to fulfill a different purpose than he did in Sons of Liberty, as a different kind of hero instead of as a modular one to be slotted in where needed to prove a fan-angering point. One who could tell different kinds of stories in different scenarios that could feel Metal Gear without being the Metal Gear you had already played. After all, it makes sense for this world Raiden and Snake were created for to continue on after the ending of Guns of the Patriots. Snake didn’t end all wars with his actions—he just put a stop to the one he was fighting, and if there is anything to be learned from his decades-long story, it’s that there’s always another war, another conflict, and the idea of life after war isn’t one a soldier like him gets to think or act on as often as he’d like. There were always more terrorists out there, more proxy wars, more lab-grown-and-built terrors to be inflicted upon “the weak.” Raiden was going to have plenty to do, and now we just have to kind of imagine what any of it was going to be instead of seeing it ourselves, instead of watching him ascend into the role he was eventually broken down and rebuilt for.

Konami has left a Raiden-caliber trail of bodies in its wake as it’s shifted priorities as a publisher and developer over the years, but the loss of Metal Gear—punctuated by the seemingly aborted switch from Solid to Rising—stands out as one of the worst of those deaths. There’s always time to reverse course here—maybe Konami and Kojima can make up enough for Kojima Productions to help guide the overall story direction as they did with Revengeance, or maybe enough developers who grew up playing Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater are out there now, ready to step in and revive the Kojima-less franchise. Too many series live on when they should not, but Revengeance showed there was life yet within Metal Gear, and yet was not allowed to keep living. It’s hardly fair, but then again, fairness has never really been what Metal Gear was about, either.

Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.

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