Shortly after the beginning of the first mission, the game has its own little Spec Ops: The Line kind of moment, and Raiden totally misses it.
It begins with the cutscene that introduces the mission. Doktor instructs Raiden to slice his enemies open to obtain his electrolytes from their spines. Raiden’s answer is revealing: “They’re terrorists, I was planning on that anyway”.
A trio of cyborgs ambushes Raiden. The end of the fight triggers another cutscene.
Token black character Kevin Washington (who is sitting side by side with token female character Courtney Collins) disapproves of Raiden’s behaviour: “Had your fill?” (a pun on refilling on electrolytes and having your fill of unnecessarily violent behaviour) But Raiden doesn’t seem to catch Kevin’s negative tone, too absorbed in admiring the capabilities of his new body. Presumably like the player is absorbed in the new, exciting gameplay mechanics to care about the consequences of what they’re doing.
Kevin humours Raiden for a minute, but quickly goes back to his point: “And cyborgs are still human. Real, thinking people”. At this point the camera pans over a dead body, in a light version of the “White Phosphorus” scene from Spec Ops: The Line. Kevin continues, explaining that these cyborgs are the lowest of the low, even in the ‘war business’, and they’re far from the ones profiting from it: “They still don’t even count PMCs in official death tolls […] But it makes you wonder…where’d Desperado find these guys.” These soldiers may have been as desperate in the past as their victims are now.
Raiden doesn’t agree: “I’m not complaining. They’re like walking vending machines.” Kevin insists: “Right, vending machines full of blood… Easy there, Dracula, like I said, they’re still people” but Raiden claims the high moral ground: “People who terrorize and take innocent lives for money. They sowed their fate when they took this job. I’m just the reaper”
Kevin gives up: “Damn… It’s a bit cold, Raiden. Even for you.” Embarrassed (or scared?) he tries to move on and not get into an argument: “Let’s get to work. Time to increase the peace.”
For some context on this exchange, it’s important to remember that Raiden grew up as a child soldier. He of all people should know that the simplest soldiers, the ones at the bottom of the hierarchy, often accept these jobs either because they’ve been manipulated, or trained, or drugged, or because they were threatened, or they were poor or for some reason they felt they had no other choice if they wanted to keep on living at all. Like most systems of oppression, the people at the bottom are often in a much more ambiguous area than the ones at the top, and even though they do, undeniably, help perpetuating and spreading and giving power to those systems, describing them only as accomplices, as guilty as the people who actually have power, is too simplistic.
I’m sure the plot will keep commenting on this theme (I’ll be extremely disappointed if it doesn’t), and it will explain that Raiden is overreacting because he hasn’t come to terms with his own past, and in killing those soldiers he’s killing his past self, or something like that. In the meantime, though, this is the ideological justification that supports his enjoyment of violence, and by extent that of the supposed player.
The game could encourage a gameplay that focuses on minimal use of violence. For instance, since these are cyborgs and cutting off their arms and legs is not a permanent impairment, we could receive additional points or money for doing just that: incapacitating them without killing them. Which would also be harder, and so it’d become a prestigious thing to do, like a no-kill run of MGS. Instead, we’re allowed to enjoy the violence, violence far beyond the minimum required to get the job done, because, as Raiden puts it, “My sword is a tool of justice.”