Konami’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance [sic] starts off on a bad look, introducing in the very title what is arguably the most useless portmanteau word ever devised in the English language. “Revenge” and “vengeance” are, after all, synonyms, so the combination scarcely expresses anything new, does it? It’s the morphological equivalent of a mash-up of a Britney Spears track with a “live” performance of the same track. This kind of thing does not amuse the crew at Left Gamer Review, although we did graduate high school before the “school reform” craze took hold, and thus underwent an exposure to books that is hard to live down.
MGR is the ninth major title in the now-legendary Metal Gear series, which debuted in 1987 [sic!] and deserves much of the credit for introducing stealth into the video game mainstream. Especially since Metal Gear Solid 2 blew past the limits of what people thought was possible on the PS2, the games have been renowned for their technical excellence–and their strikingly baroque plotting. MGR, for its part, breaks almost completely with the stealth framework of the Solid subseries, while following–albeit more modestly–in the tradition of technical strength and story strangeness. The result is a fine, anodyne action game soaked in a narrative oddly harmonic with its unfortunate title: an over-complicated expression of a rudimentary idea.
MGR takes places a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, after the fall of the all-consuming Patriots conspiracy, an event that seems to have solved more or less zero of the world’s problems. In particular, swarms of cybernetically-enhanced mercenaries manipulated and controlled by private military companies (PMCs) and servile governments continue to stoke the fires of endless global conflict. Raiden, our skinny and notably hairless blonde friend from MGS2, has taken up with one of these PMCs; we catch up with him providing security for an African prime minister as his motorcade is fallen upon by a rival PMC that has, shall we say, “major concerns” about his peace policy.
Actually the Africa plot doesn’t make much difference–sorry Africa!–since it’s just the jump-off point in Raiden’s quest for (sigh) “revengeance.” After a thorough ass-kicking in the “dark continent,” Raiden gets another round of cyber-surgery and chases his quarry, the PMC Desperado–who turn out to be just one part of a greater corporate-government conspiracy, natch….
The big feature of the improved Raiden is the ability to slow down time around a weakened enemy and slice him into bits with your cyber-ninja sword; slice in the right place, and a button press will have you rip out his cyber-spine and crush it in your hot little cyber-hand, instantly refilling your cyber-health. If it sounds excessive, it’s because it is, although it’s also pretty fun, especially since the developers have done a pretty nice job of being “true to the slice.” That is, Raiden can slice along any diameter of the circle, and the enemy is actually cut along that line; slice again, and the new cut is superimposed on the original cut. It’s nifty game physics, and more impressive than the typical practice of having enemies expire in a few cookie-cutter ways, regardless of how or where you hit them.
Outside of the slicing mechanic, MGR plays very much like other “modern button-mashers” like God of War or Asura’s Wrath. In particular, MGR shares these games’ penchant for “crazy” boss battles. It’s not as ridiculous as Asura’s Wrath–where you’re literally throwing planets and supernovae at one another–but strikes us as somewhat more careless than God of War. Kratos does plenty of impossible stuff, of course, but there do seem to be some general limits to what he can do; a big part of the amusement in GoW boss battles is watching Kratos get around his limits through a series of (admittedly implausible) improvisations. Raiden, on the other hand, sometimes pulls a move out of his pocket that’s glaringly inconsistent with what the player has experienced so far. For instance, he can run right up the side of a building during a boss battle–but a large part of the game involves him working through a building from the lobby to the top floor. So why didn’t my man, you know, just run up the side and cut through a window? Because he wasn’t sufficiently “angry” to invoke his super-powers at that point? Riiight.
We should also point out that MGR commits the grievous video game sin of repeating bosses. Admittedly this can sometimes be done creatively; here it is not. It is pure filler. There might have been some legitimate excuse for this back in the days when games came on floppy disks and cartridges. Now there is none.
And anyway, if Konami was truly hurting for DVD capacity, maybe they could have excised some of the long cut-scenes? Now LGR is more tolerant of cut-scenes than the average gamer–hell, some of us even liked Xenosaga–but MGR’s are mostly boring discourses on the same played-out debate: “the strong must dominate the weak” versus “the strong must protect the weak.” (Which are, incidentally, quite compatible ideas.) One of the later bosses even says, “You’ve heard enough long speeches at this point,” which alas is but another manifestation of that weird postmodern belief that being ironically self-aware of one’s faults makes them OK, since the declaration by no means indicates the end of long speeches.
To take the thing more seriously, though, the Metal Gear series has always been, in a somewhat contradictory but characteristically Japanese-game way, against war and violence. The series has also been increasingly willing to point the finger directly at the United States: the “War on Terror” is regarded with regret and dread by all the “good guys” in MGR, and the final boss engages in an extraordinary “anti-American” rant that suddenly reveals him as a somewhat sympathetic, albeit quite cracked, character. This is perhaps vulgar anti-imperialism, but as someone once said of vulgar Marxism: 90% of the time it’s true.
But all this raises a very good question: how do you convey the message that war is bad in a game where enjoyment is derived from war-making? We think that only Spec Ops: The Line has answered this question correctly by saying: “Take away the enjoyment.” As we pointed out in our dialogue on Spec Ops, Metal Gear–and not just Metal Gear–tries to have it both ways, delivering awesome combat gameplay, graphics, and sound while talking at you about the evils of combat. There’s something inescapably preachy about the experience, in the classical sense of the fornicating preacher who thunders against sex.
If you’re a big fan of this genre, or a die-hard Metal Gear nut, by all means play MGR; otherwise it’s a entirely fine but mostly forgettable experience, with a touch too much moral hectoring thrown in.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.