You can slice almost anything in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Palm trees. Enemies. Metal staircases. Anything, except for that damn white cat that does backflips with every sword sliced their way. It's all sliceable—and it all feels ridiculous in the process.
Metal Gear Rising is a Metal Gear game technically, starring Raiden, the bait-and-switch star of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Metal Gear Rising takes place in the distant future of, um, 2018, four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, making it the last entry in the chronological canon of the Metal Gear series. As someone who's hardly played any of the Metal Gear games aside from dabbling in a couple, this throughline is still lost on me. And by most accounts—mechanically, tonally, but maybe not narratively—Metal Gear Rising is its own zany thing, never held back by the series name plastered in front of it.
If anything, the Metal Gear name propels the game forward into its nonsensical beats. It's still a game about politics too, only instead of a deep military conspiracy, a U.S. Senator is hellbent on "[making] America great again," among other nefarious deeds.
And it had a troubled start.
The game was first unveiled at E3 2009 under the name Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Before even that, the game was teased during a panel at the 2009 Game Developer's Conference by Hideo Kojima. Metal Gear Solid: Rising had a different design element than what PlatinumGames' version of it would bestow: the game still had stealth, though it was theorized as a different sort of stealth than previous games. Instead of hiding under tables or in cardboard boxes, Raiden would have been able to quietly and quickly stalk foes, and then slip out of sight acrobatically.
This vision fell apart over the years. The only real glimpse people got of the game for some time was of Raiden slicing watermelons. In late 2010, the game was quietly cancelled by Kojima Productions. In early 2011, Kojima met with PlatinumGames producer Atsushi Inaba, who he later asked to work on the game. PlatinumGames' vision for Metal Gear Rising couldn't have been more different. Gone was the dream of players being able to avoid combat entirely; gone was the original idea of acrobatic stealth. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance defiantly became just like any other character action game, and honestly, was probably all the better for it.
Metal Gear Rising was released five years ago on February 19, 2013. It came towards the end of PlatinumGames' reign over the character-action game genre, three years following the action-shooter Vanquish and four years after the first Bayonetta. It was prime time for PlatinumGames, who owned the genre with their games' signature silliness and propensity for action. While Metal Gear Rising fell more in the middle of Vanquish and Bayonetta (it was neither as fast as Vanquish nor as mechanically deep as Bayonetta), the game still paved its own path to adoring fans, whether they were already invested in the world of Metal Gear or not.
A lot of that, I think, comes by way of its humor and attitude. The bosses in Metal Gear Rising are all insane and improbable, but they stick out in your mind over its short and sweet campaign. From an early battle on top of a speeding train to a gigantic American senator-piloted Metal Gear shouting, "Fear the wrath of the USA," Metal Gear Rising feels at once too-crazy and, weirdly enough, politically prescient.
Metal Gear Rising envisions a parallel, alternate history from our own. In this world, cyborgs run aplenty. Government officials are corrupt. (Not that crazy to imagine, actually.) Swords are a practical weapon against guns. And in Metal Gear Rising, the chief antagonist is an American elected official: a senator, to be exact. The villainous Senator Armstrong is as evil as can be, hoping to destabilize the world to ensure his own path to eventual presidency and beyond. While he may not be as dimwitted as our own current president, he's just as glaringly evil. If anything, he's just more cartoonishly obvious, considering the whole nanomachines and harvesting orphans' brains to create cybernetic super soldiers thing.
After half a decade of other more realistic-leaning games, the ways of the absurdity of PlatinumGames and beyond has seemingly faded away. We catch glimpses of the genre from time to time—hell, even a Bayonetta 3 is on the horizon, after the first two games were recently ported to the Nintendo Switch—but by and large, goofy character action games are no longer commonplace. The once painfully macho God of War series is opting for a gritty father-son tale for its next installment; Ninja Theory shied away from the ways of DmC's tongue-in-cheek humor to make the tonal-opposite in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice last year, and so on.
Metal Gear Rising feels like a game that could only live in its bygone era. Quick-Time-Events are now frowned upon relatively widely, especially as some games notably ended anticlimactically with them in recent years. Character action games, whether they bear a sense of playfulness or not, frankly don't connect with mainstream audiences anymore. The games that sell best typically all bear similar trademarks: open worlds, guns, and a grimmer atmosphere. When a game strays from that clear cut path, it risks not performing well, as evidenced by Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus' recent sales.
For a time, character action games like the widely beloved Bayonetta, the cult hit Killer is Dead, and yes, Metal Gear Rising, were the cream of the crop. It was a race of action, jesting, and most importantly, style that helped propel games to the top. Metal Gear Rising traded in somberness and the occasional satire for full-blown edginess, complete with its guitar-heavy soundtrack that made it seem like Jecht from Final Fantasy X was on the scene somewhere. It was the Doom (2016) soundtrack before nu-Doom surprised shooter fans all around. Metal Gear Rising, like so many character action games, was confident.
Folded together, Metal Gear Rising was a complete package. It was short, sweet, and to the point—rubbing shoulders with the best action games of its era. Under a different stewardship, as with the upcoming Metal Gear Survive, Metal Gear Rising could have flopped and be seen as a disgrace to the moniker it shares a name with. But the opposite is true: Metal Gear Rising may not be a pure, stealth-heavy Metal Gear game, but it earns its forbearer's name with its dense political narrative and dedication to the Metal Gear lean.
Metal Gear Rising wasn't the nail in the coffin for the character action genre, but it was pretty damn close. In the years following it, the genre wound down. Bayonetta 2 eventually released on the Wii U as an exclusive title, and gone with it went the character action genre of the late 2000s. Developers known for the genre, including PlatinumGames, went on to make other games less in line with their former mantra. PlatinumGames in particular developed a slew of so-so licensed games and the terrific JRPG Nier: Automata (though its core action was nothing to fawn over). In the future, Bayonetta 3 will pounce onto the Switch, reviving the character action genre with its arrival for a short time.
Action games will always come and go. But that subset of action games with a usually-cheeky hero or heroine are no longer releasing alongside one another, taking cues from each other as they pave their own particular ways, as was the case with the reboot of DmC (the Devil May Cry series one that Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya began) that felt heavily inspired by the likes of PlatinumGames and beyond. There was a conversation going on in the industry between the unabashedly fun character action games, as if Bayonetta, Raiden, Dante, and dozens of others were winking at each other as they kicked up deadly combos. And then abruptly, that conversation ended, and a new one of games vowing to attain hyperrealism and vast open worlds began.
We may never get the constant trickle of character action games as we once did in the 2010s and beyond, but at least we won't forget the games that sliced their own way to our consoles and PCs, as Metal Gear Rising did five years ago.
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