Revengeance revels in the gruesome details of maiming, torturing and killing far more than any Metal Gear Solid I’ve ever played.
There are two levels here. One is the directed narrative: I don’t know if violence in MGS is sanitized or if it’s exaggerated in MGR instead, but they do feel very different. And I’m talking here mostly about the graphical representation of violence, and how it is carried out. In MGS violence, especially when it comes from the villains, has a strong psychological component that makes it disgusting to look at, but that quality is not particularly reinforced by the visual aspect of it all. A killed guard is a body that drops to the ground, and there’s barely any blood involved. In the torture scenes of MGS1 and 2 the torture is in fact represented by abstract arcs of electricity. In MGS3, Colonel Volgin’s worst on screen is a few gratuitous punches, as far as I can remember.
Compare that with these screenshots from MGR.
The camera voyeuristically relishes in the details. (up to an extent, thankfully; I feared it would show us the guard’s beheading but it changes perspective just at the last moment) The violence feels physical, tangible, you can feel your own nerve terminals tingling. And there’s blood, so much blood, even though that’s where the gore begins and ends.
The second level is the gameplay itself. In stealth games, killing is a failure: good players don’t kill anyone, and they’re rewarded for it. A no-kill playthrough of any MGS is something prestigious. Violence is allowed, but discouraged.
In MGR, stealth’s only purpose is to make killing easier. In fact, there are two kind of stealth assassination (from behind and from above) and in both cases the camera stops for a second to let the player take in the view. It’s as if the game was screaming “Isn’t this awesome?”
High-level gameplay consists in being faster, more accurate and more deadly. The combo counters encourage us to slice our enemies in as many pieces as possible. The combat system invites us to maim our opponents in order to render them inoffensive, before killing them. Which I suppose is less gruesome when you think that they’re cyborgs, and those arms and legs could be easily reattached, if those people survived at all… nope, still sounds pretty gruesome.
Their spines are our HP refill, and their left hands contain additional money for upgrades.
Call me a hypocrite, because I think the game is fun and more often than not I get lost in the adrenaline rush it gives me, to the point that I don’t see blood and people but only gameplay systems and a challenge to overcome, and I’m going to keep playing it and enjoying it, but part of me is very uncomfortable with the level of gore it indulges in. Devil May Cry, which is very similar mechanically, doesn’t feel like MGR feels.
Still, I have to wonder: are they really that different? Is sanitized violence better, or worse, from an ethical or educational standpoint? Is MGR just putting on display and celebrating what was already there in other games of its kind, implicitly? Does it make a difference whether your enemies are demons or humans, and if so, what kind of difference? Aren’t demons and monsters simply a stand-in for the ‘other’ anyway?