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Five Years Later, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Is a Relic of a Bygone Era

With the recent ports of Bayonetta on Switch and Metal Gear Rising's 5th anniversary, it's a good time to look back on the dwindling character action genre.

Analysis by Caty McCarthy, .

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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Comments 26

  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #1 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    So, I played Bayonetta 2 three times consecutively when I bought it. I played Bayonetta twice. I played Vanquish three times, and I also played Metal Gear Rising like six times, or according to my Steam page, for 37 hours.

    What I love about these games is that, yes, they're short. Like 6-12 hours depending on the game, but they're packed with content. New weapons and combos to try, harder difficulty levels and challenges that require practice, hidden bosses you'd never find on your own. Platinum Games are the best at these types of games. The only game of theirs I can think of that I played through once was MadWorld and even that was still really cool. I have Anarchy Reigns and The Wonderful 101 in the backlog too, but from what I hear those are kind of B-level kind of like MadWorld. That's OK though, even Platinum's B stuff is a blast to play at least once.

    Now, to be fair, I don't think this genre was ever really that popular and I think some questionable game releases had a lot to do with it. A lot of this subgrenre just really sucks.

    DMC releases apparently have varying quality, and everyone lost their mind for the reboot (I liked it). Ninja Gaiden really dropped in quality with Ninja Gaiden 2 not being completely finished (it had all the makings of a classic though), and then Ninja Gaiden 3 and Yaiba happened. Like what the hell? So then Itagaki announced Devil's Third and part of me was like "YES!" and then it was like the worst release on the Wii U by, like, a lot.... so I didn't play that and I don't think anyone else did either because Wii U.

    Meanwhile, Grasshopper was making games that were all style over substance. No More Heroes was cool in 2008 for one run, but I tried to play it a second time and was immediately bored because, hey, I guess gameplay depth wasn't a consideration or something when making the game. No More Heroes 2 was the same thing, some slight refinements, but still not that great and once that initial weird factor was over it was just a boring action game. Killer is Dead? I got 2 hours logged on Steam before I uninstalled it. That game was not just bad, it was gross and normal people should stay away from it. Typical Grasshopper.

    I think it's tough for an entire subgenre of games to survive when really only Platinum seem focused on doing it right. And even then, not everything they release is guaranteed to be fantastic. From 2001 to 2018 can we really say there were more than a handful of these games that really stood out even at release? I don't think so.
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  • Avatar for Sgtkabukimen #2 Sgtkabukimen 4 months ago
    I love those characters and those games. Nowadays a lot of heroes seem so bland and boring.

    Let's not forget Asura's Wrath which was sooo crazy and fun and the weird and beautiful El Shaddai.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #3 MetManMas 4 months ago
    We could certainly use more character action games these days. Hell, I'd gladly take more open world games with battle system influence from the likes of Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta over another thing involving guns and only gu-Yes I'm aware Bayonetta uses guns I mean I'd like less FPS style gun action.

    I think another reason why there's been a drought of character action games is that it costs more to be creative. Crafting and animating demons and killer robots and big giant monstrosities takes a lot more work and money than some asshole with a gun or dead assholes (aka zombies).

    The QTEs can rot for all I care. I never needed or wanted them in the genre.

    Touching on Wolfenstein 2 for a moment, besides horrible people loving and being Nazis in our current day (FUCK THOSE PEOPLE), I think the biggest reason why the game's had trouble selling is its mixed messages. It has important stuff to say, like how evil starts at home and how the people on the opposing side are still ultimately people, and not all are on that side willingly. But it says so in a game where brutal murder is the player's M.O., a game where you can blow off limbs and have brutal axe murder finishers.

    It can't decide whether it wants to condemn horrible violence or to glorify it, and I feel the game as a whole is weaker for not picking one or the other and sticking to it.
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 4 months ago
    Another game I have in the backlog, yet I haven’t played it yet. Too bad on my part considering I have read good things about it.

    And well, I think economical factors plus a shift on gamer habits are what lead to the decline of the character action sub-genre. These games tend to have short campaigns, and while they might be extremely replayable (and the game even encourages that with higher difficulties and the focus on attaining the highest score possible), the fact that they are short just means that a lot of gamers just pass on them on principle. It’s predicated on the logic of “why I would buy a single player game at $60.00 where the campaign only lasts for 10 hours when this Open World game will last me for 50 or even 100 hours”. Sad but true -_-
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #5 MetManMas 4 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon Don't forget Rygar!

    Aw who I kidding, everybody forgets Rygar. Dude was hitting Greek monstrosities with sharp objects on chains in his legendary adventure (in 3D) about 2 & 1/3rd years before God of War. It's not amazing, but it was pretty good for 2002 and deserved better than that one Wii port that turns him into Proto-NieR.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #6 MetManMas 4 months ago
    @docexe Oh yeah, I'm definitely sure that perceived value was another factor in this genre's drought. Not all people are cool with paying $60 for a short game experience.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #7 mobichan 4 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon I agree with everything you are saying here. I'm also a little surprised there is no mention of Viewtiful Joe. I was a big fan of this subgenre 10 years ago. I think the nail in the coffin (for me) was Lollipop Chainsaw. I just couldn't bring myself to finish it.

    But I think the shift to open world gaming trends started when GTA 3 got popular. Pile on the success of World of Warcraft and suddenly publishers wanted anything with a a big open space full of checklists on their release schedule. And this in turn lead to a shift from linear style games that required some skill to open ended games that just let people play around until they were satisfied. I really hope this subgenre is not gone, but it won't ever be the money maker it once was. Hopefully indies will carry the torch.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #8 mobichan 4 months ago
    @MetManMas Rygar was great for its time. Also, Onimusha, Genji, Shinobi and Chaos Legion. What I wouldn't give for an Onimusha remaster collection. It is basically unplayable on an HDTV connection.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 4 months ago
    @mobichan I've enjoyed my fair share of open world games but my biggest issue with them is that they usually stick too close to realism. There's a reason I gravitate more towards the RPG side of the open world genre, it's because I enjoy fighting monsters more than I do Some Asshole.

    Not that there aren't plenty of "Some Asshole" foes in those games, but I likes me some options.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #10 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    @MetManMas I remember Rygar! I never played it though. There were a few forgotten games no one really played back then. I dug Otogi by From Software at the time but no one cared. I think there was also Shinobi that came out around the time of Ninja Gaiden and I think Mark of Kri happened around then too. I don't think any of them from that era are still kicking, but Team Ninja's release of Nioh gives me hope that we might see Ryu Hayabusa back for a proper Ninja Gaiden game again!

    As for Wolfenstein II, I agree I think it needed to embrace its carnage with more glee. Right now I do not think it's a good game and was too leniently viewed by critics when its gameplay systems and level design were complete poop. That stealth system in 2017 was unacceptable.

    I also thought the writing was terrible, and BJ's annoying narration throughout annoyed me. If I wanted to hear cheap poetry I'd go to any small coffee shop in the arts district and listen to someone speak while I sip foamy caffeinated drinks, but when I'm killing Nazis I don't need BJ to wax nostalgic about some dead NPC. I'm killing Nazis in an alternate reality 1960s dude, embrace your murderous glee and just go wild, what the hell is with the contemplation? Stick a hatchet in the head and let's roll.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #11 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    @mobichan Viewtiful Joe was good too! I never played the sequel but the original was one of my favorite GameCube games. I just always forget to mention it because it feels more like a 2D brawler, but it's definitely worthy of inclusion. I never played God Hand either, but I hear that's also one of the better entries, but these are both Clover games, who I essentially view as Platinum these days. It's kind of the same group making the same style of great games.

    I think Lollipop Chainsaw might have also been Grasshopper and if so, yeah, Grasshopper just doesn't do it for me at all. I avoid their games all the time with the exception of Sine Mora. Their action stuff just isn't good.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #12 SatelliteOfLove 4 months ago
    Kojima's continued ability to be both alarmingly stupid/absurd and alarmingly precient/realistic with his plot points will never not alarm me.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #13 Kuni-Nino 4 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon Trust me when I say W101 isn't PG's B-Game. It's unpolished in some respects but it's totally unique and a great game in its own right. All of Kamiya's influences combine to make what could be his most satisfying game.

    Once you wrap your head around its combat, it's sublime.

    Anyways, I was wondering, where does Nioh fall in this discussion? It's a cousin of Ninja Gaiden while propelling the genre forward. I know people compare it to Dark Souls...but I honestly feel it's the follow up to Ninja Gaiden and Onimusha.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #14 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    I thought Nier Automata plays like a bad one of these types of game. Ninja Gaiden for the original Xbox was one of my favs. I picked up Ninja Gaiden Black cause it is one of the original Xbox games that run on the Xbone, and although I haven't finished it, it does play and run great.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #15 Flipsider99 4 months ago
    I think this article has a huge flaw. NieR Automata is NOT a JRPG! It's Japanese, sure, and it has stats and levels, but it's barely an "RPG." Make no mistake, it IS a character action game just like other Platinum games. And it's action combat, although not quite at Bayonetta levels, is really refined and excellent. Very fun to play.

    Seeing as how NieR Automata, a character based action game, is considered one of the big games of 2017, doesn't that kind of throw a wrench in the whole premise of this article?

    I also think Grasshopper still makes great games as well. Lollipop Chainsaw was a very underrated action game, it was quite fun and creative, with a good script to boot. Let It Die is more of Dark Souls-y Roguelike but also excellent in it's own right. Platinum is not the only game in town, Grasshopper has been making excellent character action games for a long time now.

    It doesn't seem like either of these companies are going anywhere. And since Bayonetta 3 is on the horizon, I don't think this genre is anywhere close to dead. Sure, I'd like to see more new blood, and it's a genre that only the Japanese can seem to do well... but with the seeming rise of Japanese games in 2017, there surely seems to be hope on the horizon!
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  • Avatar for Vanderdulpp #16 Vanderdulpp 4 months ago
    It’s only been five years?! For some reason, MGS: Rising felt ancient when I played it two years ago. I still loved it! Just feels so much clunkier than bayonetta or most metal gear games
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #17 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino I haven't played Nioh yet, it's on my wishlist for when it gets a better price drop (I'm waiting, Koei Tecmo....), but to me it does look like a mix of Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden. Level design and the stamina bar definitely scream Souls, but the combat system looks like its own beast separate from Souls.

    I do remember reading this and the success of Nioh hopefully brings us back one of the greatest action series ever https://www.usgamer.net/articles/team-ninja-ninja-gaiden-needs-to-be-in-the-shadows-for-a-whileEdited February 2018 by NiceGuyNeon
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #18 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino Also, I'm definitely eager to play W101. MGR didn't get Bayonetta level reviews but it's one of my favorite action games, so W101 certainly has that potential too.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #19 Mooglepies 4 months ago
    Probably my favourite sub-genre of the last 15 years or so, and I'm sad it's mostly gone away. Even some of the more casual series (God of War, for example) have switched themselves up into slightly different genres in order to survive - I don't begrudge them this but it is a little sad. Still, we get our just rewards for patience every now and then - a new Bayo game on the horizon and DMC5 constantly in the rumour mill in the last year means the future is moderately bright on that front.

    Nioh is a bit of an odd one - while it's clear that the game took a lot from Ninja Gaiden, it's nowhere near as relentless as that series (for the player and the enemies). I would say that lack of constant speed puts it in another category but I think it's likely going to be a matter of personal taste.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #20 chaoticBeat 4 months ago
    I see character action games as middle budget games that still look great and have a ton of character but don't have that infinite-replayability that games have been leaning towards on ps4/xbox one. I think that it has to do with the inflated budgets of current gen games and I don't think it's a coincidence that Nintendo funded Bayo2 and is funding 3. The Switch is more geared towards middle budget games that flourished during the ps2 era and continued into the ps3 era. Personally, I absolutely love Platinum and I'll take fresh ideas and zaniness over tired fps tropes any day of the week. I can't put down Bayo2 currently and I think it's replacing Vanquish as my favorite Platinum action game. It's so stupid and yet beautifully ridiculous. That's an amazing quality of so many of their games.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #21 chaoticBeat 4 months ago
    I think Nioh is a mash up of character action games and Souls gameplay. The plot and cutscenes are definitely stupid and ridiculous (in a wonderful way). There is so much about that game that they could easily fix in a sequel...
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #22 chaoticBeat 4 months ago
    Open world games-as-a-service are like heroin. They provide a fix but they don't give you a rush. It doesn't matter because they got you hooked on it.

    The best character action games are like some kind of methamphetamine mixed with a hallucinogenic. You'll get a rush and trip but it won't last forever. But damn that rush is the best. XD
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #23 Roto13 4 months ago
    And now they've turned God of War into an over-the-shoulder story tube.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #24 VotesForCows 4 months ago
    @SatelliteOfLove I've been thinking recently about Metal Gear Solid 2. At the time I had a big "so what??" to the central threat of information being manipulated on a massive scale. But now we see the evidence of how much of threat that is all around us with the current disinformation wars. It basically led to my hosts here in Britain voting themselves out of the EU.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #25 VotesForCows 4 months ago
    @catymcc This was a great, and really depressing read. I miss these games.
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  • Avatar for YourMomsBestFriend #26 YourMomsBestFriend 4 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon,@Kuni-Nino Not trying to insert myself into your conversation, but I have to share: I had been planning on picking up Nioh for some time, and frankly I think that quality-wise it's worth the full retail, $60, whatever. Well... Not to brag, but unbelievably a couple weeks ago I came across Nioh on clearance at a Walmart in Oregon for $19. I bought all four copies they had, kept one for myself. Then "returned" the other three copies at other Walmarts for $39 and change - each !

    Nioh really does seem to be the closest we will get to another Onimusha, as I believe another commentator on a different thread has previously stated. And what a great series that was... 1 and 3 were good, but 2 and 4 were just all-around awesome. Had so much fun playing those games...Edited February 2018 by YourMomsBestFriend
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