“Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” has an interesting history. Originally, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” was going to be followed up with “Metal Gear Solid: Rising”, a game set between “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” and “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, with Raiden as the protagonist. Series director Hideo Kojima was not going to direct the game, just produce it in a more hands-off advisory role, so it was never intended as a main series or numbered entry, in the way that “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker” was is in its early development days. The gameplay and concept of “Metal Gear Solid: Rising” were so different to what Kojima Productions was used to that eventually Kojima cancelled the game, and later hired developer Platinum Games to make “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance”, a game taking some concepts of “Metal Gear Solid: Rising” (mainly Raiden as the protagonist and a focus on blade combat gameplay), while he and Kojima Productions developed “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker”.
Without Kojima or Kojima Productions, what does a “Metal Gear” game look like? Platinum Games certainly delivered something very different, but as the name suggests, that was the intention – it is a “Metal Gear Rising” game, not a “Metal Gear Solid” game. The game is a hilarious, shlocky, fun ride, very different from the main series games, and lacking much of what made them great, but still a very enjoyable experience in its own right.
[Note: This review has a clearly marked-off spoiler section for where the spoilers begin. Plenty of the review is in that section. The next few paragraphs are spoiler free, then there will be a clear marked-off space before the spoiler section begins.]
The game falls into the hack-and-slash action genre, rather than the stealth genres of the other “Metal Gear” games. The combat is quite deep, and a lot of fun once you get used to the mechanics. The game absolutely does not take itself seriously, and frequently pushes itself into ridiculous territory. It has a charming shlocky, campy vibe, both in the combat mechanics, the cutscenes, the music, everything. The biggest falters and issues of the game are when it diverts from its strengths, these fun, shlocky concepts.
The middle hours of the story explicitly reference 9/11 and other real-world events a lot, and it does not work very well. The serious take on political and military subject matter feels like an attempt to emulate Kojima’s storytelling on the “Metal Gear Solid” games, but it doesn’t jive right with the unique vibe Platinum Games made for “Metal Gear Rising”, and lacks the thematic unity and cohesiveness of Kojima’s writing. It’s no coincidence that the game starts firing on all cylinders again around the last hour or so, as the final boss of the game covers these political topics in a much more shlocky, over-the-top, humorous way, as opposed to the overly serious way previous bosses did. Maybe the clumsy political writing in the game comes from documents for from the original “Metal Gear Solid: Rising” concept, but if that’s the case, then I think they definitely should have been scrapped, as the game’s greatest successes are when it acts more as its own unique, humorous, ridiculous affair, lacking the political commentary of Kojima’s games.
Possibly my favourite aspect of the game is the music. It is a delightfully cheesy mix of electronica and metal, and adapts to the gameplay and the player’s actions. During boss battles, riffs will develop and progress, and in more intense sequences, vocals will start to play. What’s more, the lyrics being sung will be directly about the characters fighting. It’s glorious, and always had me excited to keep playing and get to the next boss battle, so I could hear the next song. My playing of the game, the characters in the fight, the cutscenes, and the music all synthesising to produce one fantastic, cohesive, gloriously cheesy experience together, was an absolute joy, and made the boss battles easily my favourite sequences of the game. I laughed out loud at the first boss battle in the game when the vocals kicked in, not out of derision, but out of amusement and joy in how delightful, surprising, and earnestly cheesy the moment was.
Some “Metal Gear” tropes do remain, like extensive codec calls with support characters, and using cardboard boxes for stealth. The codec calls are more akin to the earlier “Metal Gear Solid” games rather than “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, in terms of frequency and length. I quite enjoyed the old-fashioned codec system after having just played two “Metal Gear” games that used them much more rarely. The supporting characters aren’t bad, and are likeable enough, but are nowhere near as memorable or interesting as the side characters in the “Metal Gear Solid” games. The most memorable and interesting side character is “Blade Wolf”, a robotic AI dog, because his backstory is a lot more compelling than the fairly standard backgrounds for the human supporting characters, and he shares an enjoyable deadpan comic chemistry with Raiden.
While I enjoyed the game a lot on its own terms, I do not like the thought of it actually existing in the same continuity, universe, or timeline as Kojima’s main series games. I’ll address why I think this in the spoiler section of the review below, but essentially I think it misses the point of a lot of what Kojima was saying with those games, and outright invalidates a lot of the series to an uncomfortable degree. Nonetheless, in taking it as a non-canon spin-off, I enjoyed the game a lot, and give it three nanomachines, and a football.
[There are a load of paragraph below to prevent anyone accidentally seeing the spoiler section of the review. Scroll down to see it!]
[Spoiler section of the review]
In Kojima’s own words, “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” is a “spin-off”, a “parallel story”, “different from the story I had in mind for what would happen after Metal Gear Solid 4“, and “Platinum Games’ interpretation of the story and interpretation of the Metal Gear world”. It robs Raiden of the family ending Kojima gave him at the end of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, and doesn’t progress any of his character development or themes he grappled with in a worthwhile manner. It pays lip service to the idea of “memes”, but never actually engages with what “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” was saying about memes. The game only ever superficially references the messages of the “Metal Gear Solid” games.
The game being titled after, and ostensibly being about, revenge is baffling, since very little happens to make the player engage with the idea of Raiden seeking revenge. He’s apparently avenging the politicians killed early on in the game, but the player has no real time to connect with these characters, or buy into Raiden’s relationships with them. Later, there’s some connection with Raiden’s past when he discovers the villains of the game use child soldiers, but this is around midway the game, and the game never really develops the idea of him avenging the children; just the idea of him hating the villains and wanting to hurt them.
The game outright regresses not only Raiden’s character development from “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” but his development in “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” as well, in reverting him to his “Jack the Ripper” personality. While it makes for some amusingly cheesy lines (“It’s time to let her rip!”), I found the whole development colossally disappointing, in invalidating and un-writing the vast work Kojima did to give closure to the series and its characters at the end of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”. The fact Raiden’s wife and son do not even appear in the game at all was another shock. If the game was intentionally telling a story disconnected to Raiden’s development, as in, if it was doing something like identifying as a shlocky movie Otacon wrote about Raiden or something (kind of like my personally favoured reading of “Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes” as a VR simulation influenced by Otacon), then I’d be comfortable with these discrepancies, but the game doesn’t do that.
The thought of the world post-“Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” returning to the devestating war economy, of Raiden all but abandoning his family and returning to the battlefield, of politicians implementing inhumane systems even worse than the Sons of the Patriots system…it’s too depressing and out of line with Kojima’s vision for me to enjoy. The game is fantastic when it’s leaning on its fun and shlocky elements, but very unpleasant when focusing on these depressing and incongruous story elements. The reappearance of the character Sunny was enjoyable, and it was great to see that character doing well in life and having some positive interactions with Raiden, but overall, it’s a very depressing world the game sets up. The game does start and end in sequences focusing upon its strengths however, with the first and lass boss battles being my favourite moments of the game.
Well, apart from this moment.
But back to Armstrong – he is a joy to behold. Senator Armstrong talks up political messages like the other bosses, but his vision is so zany, and he delivers it so melodramatically, that it works as shlock, rather than the more depressing ruminations of earlier bosses like Monsoon. Everything about Senator Armstrong works as a character. A politician (a president-to-be even) works great as a foil to Raiden, evoking his relationship and battles with Solidus Snake. Raiden acts as the straight man to Armstrong’s utter comic lunacy, as he raves about nanomachines, kicks Raiden like a football, and puts up a challenging but enjoyable fight in gameplay terms.
Overall, I think “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” is a fantastic time when it’s not trying to be a “Metal Gear Solid” game. I strongly dislike the very dark implications of the story and state of the characters, but I love the shlocky vibe, I love the music, I love when the game embraces just being pure fun.I give it three nanomachines, and a football.