Thursday, December 12, 2013

Notes on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Quick notes on Metal Gear Rising

·        How you interpret Chapter 5 is kind of insightful into how different people play and think of games differently:

To someone who is more interested in the narrative, which is at that point hitting peak tension, the escape from Denver is basically filler. They could’ve made it smooth sailing to the launch site, but maybe the designers needed an extra 15 minutes or so of gameplay[1], so that got thrown in.

For some players, it might be seen as a rare instance where the game forces you to backtrack instead of taking you somewhere new, so their complaint would be similar.

On the other hand, for action game devotee, they notice that each of the four fights in the area, but they aren’t incredibly difficult fights, so they might see it as simply a few short set-pieces wherein they can bust out and do freestyle gameplay.

. . . I wanted to turn this into a short thing about how I hope game criticism will be able to refine itself soon enough where people have clear approaches to how they do things, but honestly, I’ve got nothing.

·         Metal Gear Rising has the best game soundtrack of recent memory. I’d also go so far as to call it some of the best metal released on 2013.

·         I love how the bandana Raiden uses to cover his cut eye (more on that below) has a hexagon pattern on it that visually recalls the aesthetic of Metal Gear Solid 2, specifically the game’s opening.

·         I can understand the use of cinematic quick-time events in this game. It all completely makes sense for this game, and frankly, most of them are only examples of “optimized” gameplay. Other methods of killing an enemy will work, but the cutscene endings and such allow you to restore life and fuel. All of that said, I am murdering the designer of the next game I play that makes me mash the joysticks. You know what happens when I do that? I have to take my right hand off the buttons where they should always remain and use my right palm to mash the joysticks and that shit hurts. Yeah. Fuck that shit.

·         It’s interesting given that this game is the possible start of a new sub-series starring Raiden that the gameplay actually has a fair few parallels to the original Metal Gear Solid: Enemy ranges of vision are a fair bit smaller than in the most recent Solid installments, so even if you’re ninja running, sometimes enemies won’t even perceive you.[2] Sound is also no longer a factor when using stealth to approach a target. You can run up literally right to a target’s back and then use the one-button prompt to execute and as long as you don’t touch them then you won’t enter Alert phase.

·         Of course, on the other hand, the fact that this game has stealth, cardboard boxes, or sub-weapons that come from earlier games in the first place might just be the Platinum team showing their dedication to Kojima’s diamond tablets of source material. (Read: fanservice.)

·         Speaking of dedication to Kojima’s source material: the PR leading up to this game’s release sounds like all the usual bullshit you get when you hear that a new dev is trying to preserve a franchise’s artistic qualities.

That said, scriptwriter Etsu Tamari I think really does “get it.” Metal Gear Rising is, politically and philosophically, absolutely 100% a Metal Gear title, and it’s enthusiasm to show that it is makes it possibly the most thematically blunt Metal Gear ever made. It observes and criticizes the relationship between war and capitalism, it examines the relationship between mainstream media narrative and truth, and it questions, more directly and aggressively than any other Metal Gear, the heroic nature of the violence by which the protagonist reaches his ends. And if you didn’t understand any of that, there’s a point where Raiden reidentifies as “Jack the Ripper” and the ending has you beating the shit out of a redditor stereotype named Senator Armstrong: He’s white, he’s rich, he’s a libertarian, and he played college football at the University of Texas.[3] (He’s also without question the game villain of 2013)
·         That said: The rogues gallery of a given Metal Gear title is always interesting in one way or the other, either through strong characterization, or interesting backstory, or both. And always through fantastic boss fights. MGR mostly just has really good boss fights. (And I mean really good boss fights.) Two of the major bosses are introduced right before you fight them, and only one gets to leave an impression. (Monsoon is awesome in so many ways.) Neither of them are particularly strong in characterizations or backstory. The other three appear sparsely and don’t get much development either, including Senator Armstrong and I am serious: why doesn’t this guy get more screentime?! I haven’t loved hating a character this much since I-really-can’t-recall when.

·         That plays into another thing that I can’t really call “wrong” with this game, but I’mma bitch about it anyway: the cutscenes in this game are really short, and in case no one has ever noticed, the length of about every Metal Gear gets sliced clean in half when you skip the cutscenes. Case in point, my final playtime, including watching all the cutscenes and tons of continues was 5 hours. (Which blows my mind because there’s 2 hours of cutscenes in here.)

·         This is partially because, and most people don’t realize this, stealth games are almost inherently action games, just with a different aesthetic.[4] And games that are primarily action-based rather than adventure-based tend to be pretty short, even if you account for cutscenes.

·         Per above, Metal Gear Solid 4 averages about 15 hours a playthrough for me, and around 8 hours of that is cutscenes. So yeah, only 7 hours of gameplay. So basically yeah, Metal Gear games are the definitive stealth games, but stealth games are action games.

·         I cannot be the first person to point this out, but the title is an obvious play on words. It’s not Revengeance it’s “RE: Vengeance”. Vengeance is the central theme of Raiden’s narrative arc, as we come to observe Raiden’s actions less and less through an altruistic and humanitarian lens and more as weakly justified expressions of his own repressed anger.

·         I might write more about this, I definitely should at least, but Metal Gear Rising actually has one of the most surprisingly solid narrative constructions I’ve seen recently. It starts with a character being of a certain perspective, it gently, and then relentlessly questions and deconstructs that perspective, and the character is left fundamentally changed. Its thematic intentions are subversive, but its narrative construction is Storytelling 101.

·         Here’s the difference between Metal Gear Rising and the typical lame bullshit that passes for “moral ambiguity” in most games: most games do “Yeah, vending machines full of blood . . . Take it easy Dracula, they’re still human.” And that would be it. MGR on the other hand starts its story there, thematically speaking, and follows it down a rabbit hole to the point where Raiden, at the end of the game, completely lacks anything resembling moral authority. THAT is subversion.

·         Per the note above, Raiden actually fails almost every single objective in this game. That is not insignificant: He fails to prevent the assassination of N’mani despite describing his work as “security,” and after succeeding to rescue the harvested and unharvested children from the Desperados, he learns that this was a way to distract Maverick and Raiden from Senator Armstrong’s plans[5], and when he goes to Pakistan to prevent those plans from being carried out, the World Marshal PMC uses the attack on the base to make Raiden the villain and use him for the same purpose, his murder of Armstrong likely contributing to that.

·         In addition to that: failing to morally justify the action he takes against World Marshal, Desperado, and Senator Armstrong, Raiden makes a psychological regression back into the ultraviolent persona “Jack the Ripper” that we saw when he was a child soldier.

·         Worth mentioning in relation: the Metal Gear games typically use the loss of an eye to depict a character who is evil or is becoming evil (Solidus Snake, Big Boss), so we’ll have to see where a possible sequel takes that plot thread.

·         Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is definitely my favorite game this year.

-       Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2013

[1] The average chapter is much longer than 15 minutes, but this is a very short game.
[2] “Perceive” is the word I’ve heard used around the Metal Gear fandom used to refer to when an enemy in a Metal Gear game “sees” you outside of their field of vision, and thus they investigate where they spotted you.
[3] Go Razorbacks!!
[4] Deus Ex is mostly an exception, I view it as stealth being the central focus of what is otherwise a WRPG: what’s important is not so much mastering a system of sneaking more so than customizing the ways in which you sneak (or choose not to sneak at all.)
[5] Too long to not footnote: assassinate the President on Pakistani soil, exploiting American nationalism to create a groundswell of support for a second war on terror, which the game states in no uncertain terms has been a complete and utter failure.


  1. Concerning the hexagon motif in MGS:

    I agree about revengeance being spot on when it comes to what makes the series tick. It totally feels like a Metal Gear Solid game, only more condensed, and I was positively surprised because I didn't expect it to match the tone so well and not only reuse what has been already (even if MGS has always been about doing just that to the extreme*, like endless variations on a theme in a 30 minutes classical piece of music), but also carry on the tradition, thus planting seeds for future games within the universe of MGS (for example that Snake is truly obsolete now in this future that is portrayed - if he is even alive that is), while also taking off from the political implications of war and media of the world of MGS before, and creating something new (for example that the Patriots are no longer needed, seeing as how their memes has spread to every citizen already - the panopticon is empty, yet people fall in line simply because they have been taught to monitor themselves into obedience/mainstreamness). New times, new threats, swiping what has been before under the mat, yet keeping it alive at the same time, seeing as precisely this has been what MGS has been about - warriors not finding their place in a new world (ala Fight Club, or the samurais when the meiji era began), or political/conspiratory climates which change the rules of everything you thought, friends turning out to be enemies, old threats turning out to be diversions, etc.

    Apologies for the longest sentence in the world. :P


    1. Thanks for linking that essay, but I think it should come as no surprise that Howell's work is the foundation for how I look at Metal Gear (it should be the basis of any interpretive work on the series, frankly.)

      Also, if you haven't already, look at what I published in June: a full-scale Howell style dissection of the first MGS! (Spoilers: it's just as Postmodern as 2 and 4, people just didn't notice.)

    2. I agree on Howell being canonical when it comes to MGS critique. I read the one on Sons of Liberty back in the day, but didn't realize he wrote the one on Guns of Patriot until two years ago or something, but I enjoyed it almost as much, even if my mind is more difficult to blow these days, seeing as the path to good game critique is wide open by now. :)

      And yeah, Free Will & Defiance is what caught my attention to begin with on this blog. :) (through critical distance iirc)