I’m playing through Metal Gear Ri– no, wait, actually I’m playing through METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE IS A DISH BEST SERVED IN ALL CAPS, and, I really wasn’t planning on writing about it. I dismissed it, based on what others told me, as “just a fun game” with not much else going for it, but I’ve quickly found the seeds of some interesting ideas here and there.
Consider this a sort of diary, then. Also keep in mind that I’m going in blind, so I don’t know if and how much those themes will be explored as the story advances.
Metal Gear Solid games, especially up to MGS3, have a sense of unreality to them, a result of a combination of their campiness, their setting, their characters (especially the villains), the way they integrate magical elements and so on. The themes they are exploring may be real, but on a surface level the plot feels like a blend of fantasy and science-fiction. Even when MGS3 used real footage, real names and real newspapers, it remained somewhat removed from reality, if only because it took place in the past and the cold war is an accepted setting for spy stories à la James Bond.
Stephen Beirne noted how MGS: Ground Zeroes marks an important tonal shift for the series, from campy and weird and fun to extreme seriousness. (I haven’t played Ground Zeroes myself) I suppose MGS4 was already halfway there. Judging from the opening scenes, Revengeance is headed in the same direction as Ground Zeroes, even if it’s not quite there yet and probably ends up closer to MGS4.
MGR begins in a “country in Africa”, lead by black Prime Minister N’Mani, and all this could very well be South Africa and Nelson Mandela, even the flags we barely get a glimpse of resemble the South-African flag.
N’Mani: “Three Years… We’ve come so far in just three short years”
Advisor: “The sign of a strong leader, Sir”
N’Mani: “No. The will of a strong people”
[Scenes from the city. Some kids play football on the street]
The first couple of minutes feel like a scene from Invictus, including that film’s subplot about the security team. At least up until Raiden starts talking about the threat of violence as a deterrent for actual violence. N’Mani is then kidnapped by Cyborgs from a Private Military Company and assassinated in front of Raiden himself. The whole thing is very gruesome, bloody and realistic.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the ridiculous, over-the-top fight between Raiden and the Metal Gear, when Raiden grabs the Metal Gear and throws it away, and also when Raiden hops from missile to missile until he’s on top of the Metal Gear. After that, Raiden runs on a wall and jumps on a moving train, because action tropes. Of course that’s not realistic.
But the tone of the setting is realistic, the tone of the dialogue is realistic, and the unreal element is provided not by magic but by technology, which is considerably less removed from reality. Maybe I’m the one who has grown and changed since the old Metal Gear games, maybe I’m more sensitive to this kind of thing now, but this doesn’t feel like a fictional setting, it feels like a real setting with a couple of fictional elements used to crank the whole thing up and justify the gameplay (and the continuity with the MGS universe). The visuals don’t evoke an imaginary archetype of a jungle, or of a near-future industrial setting, they echo images we see on the news of countries torn apart by war in the present.