The first Metal Gear game I ever played was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It was an impulse buy from a sale bin at the local Hollywood Video, which was noticeably beginning to go out of business at this point (R.I.P.) I had heard interesting things about the game, particularly on G4TV (R.I.P.). I hadn’t really been exposed to the internet sphere of video gaming yet, so I more or less relied on G4 for most of my gaming knowledge outside of Official Playstation Magazine (R.I.P.) I distinctly remember watching The Sorrow’s boss fight, and all the ways to make the fight easier and not get psyched out by the “Snake is Dead” screen at the end of it, played out on an episode of Cheat! And for the price Hollywood Video was asking I’d be a fool not to have taken the deal.
What followed was both unique and yet a recognizable experience to us all: Metal Gear Solid quickly became one of my favorite game series of all time. Once I finished Snake Eater for about the fourth time I had to get my hands on the other games. And interestingly, I did the same thing I did with the Halo and Witcher games by playing the series in reverse order. Today, on my gaming shelf (which I’m very very particular about) sits not only copies of Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater, and Guns of the Patriots but also copies of Portable Ops and The Twin Snakes (the graphically superior remake of the original MGS game, even though some copyright issue is keeping people from playing that game on anything other than the Gamecube) while a digital copy of the HD Collection sits in my Xbox 360 games library. I even bought Ground Zeroes regardless of the arguably nonsensically high price because I trust Hideo Kojima and I eagerly await the release of The Phantom Pain, even while Konami currently seems intent on ejecting and disrespecting one of their most talented creators.
The Metal Gear Solid games are a mix between themes of criticism of the military industrial complex, fears of a world engulfed in never ending war propelled by corporate greed and unrestricted development of weapons technology, and—oddly—a goofy and irreverently meta sense of humor. It’ a mix of styles that seem like it shouldn’t work but strangely gels perfectly with the narratives presented around our protagonist, Solid Snake. One minute the games are up on their soapbox giving a speech about the horrors of an unchecked private military company developing weapons and turning the whole world into a battlefield and the next it throws you into a boss fight that reads your console’s memory cards and futzes with your television screen. It’s a series whose main character homages a goofy Kurt Russel character from an over-the-top 80s action film and yet is meant to be taken completely seriously by the audience. This is a series that features sentient AIs secretly running the United States like the Illuminati and a flamboyantly bisexual villainous mercenary who is functionally a vampire due to nanomachine technology. Its silly but completely straight-faced about what it is and why you will like it. And I do. I really like it. I love it in fact. I love every minute of the story, every function of the gameplay, and every bad joke and moment of Engrish dialog delivery or dorky voice acting. It’s one of my favorite series and I talk it up to everyone. But this isn’t about those games.
This is about a game that has Metal Gear in its title and features some characters from the main Metal Gear Solid series, but in my opinion is the farthest thing from a Metal Gear game. It’s presentation is alien and ridiculous, twisting the mythos and ideals of the MGS series in a way that turns my stomach. Sure it may have started as an important project or an integral part of the series I love, but the team at Platinum Games it was farmed out to once Kojima left the project turned it into something that is so antithetical to the main series that the mere mention of its name makes me gag and experience bouts of knowingly nonsensical anger.
I speak, of course, about Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. I hate Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance with a red-hot fiery passion and I’d like to tell you why.
1). It’s called “Revengeance”
When this game was still in Kojima’s hands, it was known by the title “Metal Gear Solid: Rising” and was set between MGS2 and MGS4. It was intended to tell a simple story: how Raiden saved Sunny, the daughter of Olga Gurlukovich from MGS2, who was kidnapped and imprisoned by The Patriots. During this story in this cancelled game, Raiden presumably would have gone down a road that would lead him to push away the affection of his pregnant fiancé and augment his body with cybernetic enhancements, effectively becoming a cyborg ninja in his pursuit to save Sunny and fulfill his promise to Olga that he would protect her. This is a story I desperately wanted to see. In fact, it’s a story that MGS4 just kind of presumes happens off screen before it starts. Sunny is safe and living with Otacon by the time that game starts and Raiden is already deep into his disassociation with his family and friends, determined to use the cybernetic implants that are destroying him as a person to help Snake save the world from the Patriots.
But for some reason—purportedly because Kojima just didn’t feel happy with the faster-paced swordplay style of the game—during production Kojima left the project and handed it off to Platinum Games, who reconstituted the game as a more comedic sequel to MGS4 with goofy swordplay, a terrible story, and the even worse title of “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.”
Seriously, that is the actual subtitle that this game shipped with. The game is called “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.” What does that even mean? The original game that started this whole series was called Metal Gear and that was in reference to the huge bi-pedal war machine that Snake spends the whole game trying to stop from being used by Big Boss at Zanzibar Land. Then when the series was brought to the PSOne, the series was re-christened “Metal Gear Solid” both to distinguish it from the original MSX2 game (which has by-and-large been rendered largely unnecessary to play since most of the events within it have either been retconned to death or re-explained in the MGS series) and to include the code name of Solid Snake in the title. It’s a subtle bit of branding that helped separate the MGS series from the original and now unneeded Metal Gear games.
But I cannot in a thousand years understand what the word “Rising” has to do with anything that happens in this version of the game. I mean it takes place AFTER the events of MGS4 (which is a whole can of worms I will go into later in this article) and puts you back in the shoes of Raiden, the main protagonist of MGS2 (spoiler warning I guess?) and a character who has no real reason for any character arc that would be categorized as “rising.” It makes the game sound like a prequel, a piece that is meant to show Raiden coming into his own or whatever. But that isn’t what it does at all. Raiden did all of his character growth back in MGS2 and got another heaping helping of growth in MGS4 as well. The inclusion of “Rising” in the title is an arbitrary way to distinguish the title from the “Solid” games because you are controlling Raiden and using even faster tactics than the MGS games.
However, Kojima already included a way of distinguishing the styles and gameplay elements of each of his games in their titles already. The Metal Gear Solid games are all subtitled with the description “Tactical Espionage Action” while Peace Walker and the upcoming Phantom Pain are both subtitled “Tactical Espionage Operations” to reflect the change up in gameplay between them. Kojima even used this style with his anime-inspired mecha fighting Zone of the Enders games, subtitling them “High Speed Robot Action” (at least on the HD collection re-release).
But all of that is just an argument against the word “Rising.” What about “Revengeance?” That isn’t even a word. Every time I type it into this article my word processor basically scolds me for using grammar and spelling wrong. “Vengeance” is already an overused action movie subtitle; its basically like subtitling your action movie sequel “Revelations” or “Redemption.” It’s lazy. At least, that’s my opinion. But “Revengeance” is not a word that makes sense even in the slightest. How can one take “revengeance?” Did the first vengeance not take? What is Raiden “revenging” in the first place in this game? Cause I can’t seem to make it out. The title feels like the satirical version of the lazy film subtitles I mentioned earlier, but the MGS series was already a satire to a degree. This just makes it goofy and stupid.
Also I mentioned how Revengeance isn’t a word right? It isn’t. It’s just stupid.
2). It Takes Raiden, a Character I Adore, and Ruins Him
Coming off that last section I’m sure you are saying “But hey, Revengeance is a lot more goofy that the main MGS series. Why not give it a goofy nonsensical title to match that tone?” Well, I’m glad you think that way. Unfortunately I cannot reconcile that with how this game presented itself. Mostly because it is following a series that, while featuring humor, is decidedly not a comedy series.
You see, Raiden has always been a complicated character when it comes to the MGS games. He was introduced in MGS2: Sons of Liberty as a huge twist for that game. MGS2 has you start the game as Solid Snake, the protagonist from the first game, but then seemingly kills Snake after the first mission and transplants the player into Raiden’s shoes. It’s a masterful conceit and a shocking twist back when the game came out as it was kept totally secret until release. Fans of the original game were extremely polarized on the issue. While some enjoyed Raiden and the post-modern artistic choice his inclusion and story arc represented in MGS2, a lot of gamers saw Raiden as a huge let down. They were expecting to play as Snake, the incomparable badass from the first game, but instead they were stuck in the shoes of a whiney bishonen dude who is just as confused with his situation as the players were.
But over the course of the game Raiden reveals himself to be part of the subversive and post-modern artistic achievement that is MGS2. Yes, he isn’t Snake. Yes, the whole structure of the Big Shell mission seems suspiciously similar to the first MGS. In fact, that’s the entire point. The whole game has been a simulation of the first game, presenting players with the same things they loved about the first MGS, but twisting them just enough to become a metacommentary on the series itself. Metal Gear Solid 2 was specifically structured that way, and one can see that attention to detail in everything from the story setup to the controls, and even in the environments of the game itself. Kojima was criticizing the first game by anticipating the expectations of the fans of the first game by crafting MGS2 to work as a direct response to the first game. By the end of the game, reality has broken down, NPCs are speaking directly to the player about memes and the trickery of digital media and digital communities. Then Raiden’s backstory is revealed: he was a child soldier in Liberia and had repressed those memories because they were too traumatic. Suddenly the goofy and confused Raiden vanishes, replaced instead by an adult who is haunted by the sins of his bloody past.
By the time we reconnect with Raiden in MGS4 he is almost animalistic and disassociated with all of his family, friends, and acquaintances. He is almost feral. From an outside perspective we can look at Raiden and say “OMG, Cyborg Ninja! That’s awesome!” And yeah, it is. Raiden is super-powerful in MGS4. But in tandem with this power Raiden carries a deep and self-destructive emotional turmoil. He refuses to see Rose, the mother of his child, until his mission is complete and he can get rid of the cybernetic implants that are keeping him alive at this point. Raiden gets seriously hurt in this game and nearly dies several times. But it all wraps up in this scene:
Do you see how beautiful that scene is? Raiden is free from his cybernetics, the Patriots were defeated, and Raiden gets to return to his family and finally meet his son. That is an ending. That is closure. This ending isn’t the vague and open-ended quasi-ending of MGS2 from back when Kojima thought that one was the last MGS game. The final cutscenes of MGS4 are definitive and final on a level that none of the other games can compare to. They go to great pains to shine a giant neon arrow at the game that says “THIS IS THE LAST METAL GEAR SOLID GAME.” I loved this ending because it gives Raiden the happiness he has denied himself since the end of MGS2 and brings his arc full circle from lost and confused child-soldier to contented and excited father-to-be.
And Revengeance ruins it. Revengeance posits that four years after MGS4 Raiden has gotten his cyborg implants back and is employed with one of the Private Military Companies that the last game spent such a long time convincing us were awful corporate murder conglomerates. Then he cuts up a bunch of dudes with a super-katana and wearing a giant sombrero until he fights an evil Politician with agonizingly terrible dialog:
It makes no. God. Damn. Sense. It doesn’t fit with the ending of the previous game. It’s tone is all over the place. It’s writing is nonsensical at best and infuriating at worst. I could go on and on about all the little things I hate about the story in Revengeance, but mostly the biggest issue I have with it is the disrespect it shows to Raiden as a character. Kojima’s writing wasn’t always serious, but when it was it was extremely so. So really the biggest sin that Revengeance commits is taking a character I really loved and disregarding everything about him, everything that made him special and interesting and emotionally effective, in favor of just making a goofy cyborg ninja game. It misses the point that Raiden’s tenure as a cyborg ninja was played in MGS4 like a deal with Satan: helping him with his short term goals but LITERALLY killing him in body and soul. By disregarding that detail they do a massive disservice to Raiden as a character.
3). It’s Cheap, Lazy, and Stupid. But Not the Good Kind.
This is a lesser quibble on my part. Most of my problems with Revengeance have to do with its baffling placement as part of the MGS series and the narrative missteps it makes. I hate that it was posited as a sequel to MGS4, because MGS4 was such a definitive end to the series. Not that I say “series” and not “story.” Yes, an argument can be made that MGS4 was simply the end of Solid Snake’s “story” but not the series as a whole. But it isn’t just that. That ending scene with Raiden is not by any means the only “ending” scene in the game. The final cutscenes of Guns of the Patriots clock in at over an hour of closure on the Metal Gear Solid series. It was the perfect ending. Sure, its existence doesn’t make me dislike any new games set before it, like the upcoming Phantom Pain that purports to be the bridge between Big Boss’s story in Snake Eater/Peace Walker and the first Metal Gear Solid. But it definitely posits an official end-point on the franchise as a whole.
In the end though, I just don’t like Revengeance from a gameplay standpoint either. It looks cheap and plays cheap. It reminds me of the worst examples of cash-in licensed games that populate the darkest and deepest depths of your local Gamestop’s bargain bin, the one that is filled with games that no one wants and Gamestop would more than likely burn in the dumpster outback than make a profit off of. That’s how it felt to me. This game gave me flashbacks to Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball with its lazy and campy presentation, as if the writers think they are the funniest people on the planet for writing a line like “Nanomachines, son” in a sequel to a series that spent hours upon hours of gameplay and cutscenes trying to convince the player of their own agency in the video game and the horrible influence of an unchecked military industrial complex.
I’m not an expert on gameplay or mechanics or anything, that’s just the feeling I get from the game. Don’t get me wrong, I get the appeal of games like these where you can just turn off your brain and play a stupid game where you cut up mooks with a cyborg ninja katana six ways to Sunday before punching Senator Nanomachines in the balls until he asphyxiates on his own idiocy. But honestly if I wanted that, I’d just go play Bayonetta again. And hey, that’s a Platinum game too. A game where things like this happen, and I enjoy it regardless:
Did they have to do this to Raiden? To Metal Gear Solid? No, they didn’t. And that’s why I hate this game. Because it takes elements of one of the greatest video games series of all time—one of my favorite series containing some of my favorite characters—contorts them into the same mold as Bayonetta and produces the ensuing Easy Bake Oven abomination with no realization of what they have done.
Now Platinum, if you really want to make a Kill la Kill video game, go ahead and do that. I feel like your style is much more suited to that. I would even play it.
But I will never forgive you for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.