Despite playing through three of the four main entries in the Metal Gear Solid franchise (I could never force myself to get through Sons of Liberty, even after multiple attempts), I can safely say I am not a fan of the series. Not because they don’t play well, in fact the first game holds up well even after 16 years, but it’s the writing, dialogue, and story that I find infuriatingly terrible. Convoluted to the point of meaninglessness, the story uses long, rambling monologues, from characters who have decided to tell their life’s stories and personal philosophies at the worst possible times, to take on big topics like war, violence, and technology with the same amount of subtlety and depth as an after-school TV special. But Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the recent action game starring previously-annoying-whiner-now-cyborg-ninja Raiden, uses basically the same storytelling style, and yet, it actually works. At least, better than it does in MGS.
But why? Surely, the same try-hard-yet-fail-miserably style that Kojima employs in the MGS games would be as equally ineffective in Rising. But it’s not. The difference lies in tone. Metal Gear Solid‘s story, may have some comedy and silliness, but it’s deluged with no-nonsense, serious content. It’s gameplay is rather similar. There are nudie magazines that can distract guards and a large barrel that will make Snake throw up if rolled around in for too long; there’s a guy that can control bees, a lady who miraculously dodges every bullet shot at her, and a ghost that all serve as boss fights; and every major enemy has a silly name based on an emotion or animal, but for the most part the gameplay revolves around slowly sneaking by guards, and using tools and contraptions to distract, tranquilize or murder them and their aforementioned weird bosses. That is to say, there’s not much wackiness to be found in the gameplay. Now this mostly serious storytelling with mostly serious gameplay might actually work, but the problem is that Metal Gear Solid doesn’t do serious well. In it’s supposedly mature, high-minded, thought-provoking dialogue, it just comes off as silly and simplistic. It’s poor use of exposition and world-building is made funny by how seriously it takes itself. So there becomes a tonal disconnect between the story and the gameplay.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance takes the same try-hard storytelling and transplants it into an action game. And not just any action game, but a Platinum Games action game. In Rising, our protagonist Raiden fights a hundreds-foot tall robot, parrying its gigantic “heat blade” with his standard-length samurai sword, before he takes it apart rather easily. And that’s the first level. From there, the ridiculousness is unending. Raiden fights a wolf-robot with a chainsaw on its tail, who then, after being defeated, becomes Raiden’s buddy and a pacifist. Raiden slices people into hundreds of different sections and then rips out their cyborg spines to replenish his health. Raiden, the six-foot-tall cyborg with platinum blond hair and one eye missing, uses a poncho and sombrero to disguise himself while in Mexico. Raiden, the six-foot-tall cyborg with platinum blond hair and one eye missing, drives a Harley-Davidson motorcycle down the open road with an electric guitar soundtrack blaring in the background. Raiden’s standard attack combo involves him attaching his sword to his foot so that he can kick and slice people at the same time. The final boss begins as a giant robot spider piloted by a U.S. senator. It goes on an on. The game indulges in its silliness. It revels in it, and because of that, it succeeds where MGS fails.
Rising features the same overlong rambling monologues, bungled use of complex ideas, and too-complicated-for-its-own-good story as Metal Gear Solid does, but its overall tone is changed by how it approaches its gameplay. The gameplay is laughably ridiculous, and as a result, we’re invited to laugh at the ridiculous story. In Metal Gear Solid, we want to laugh at its silly story, but the gameplay tells us we should be taking it seriously. No such problem occurs in Rising. The game’s outrageous gameplay lets the player know that none of this should be taken seriously. By not taking itself seriously when it comes to the play, players are invited to laugh at the cutscenes, and dialogue, and writing.
Metal Gear Solid has a serious story, but it’s handled so poorly that it becomes funny. Yet, it plays so seriously that there’s a disconnect between how the player sees the story and the gameplay feels. Rising let’s it’s players know that it’s story shouldn’t be taken seriously because the play doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s laughably over-the-top story works because of its laughably over-the-top gameplay. Despite all the accolades heaped on the series, Metal Gear Solid‘s story works best when transplanted to a different genre, where it’s insanity and silliness are allowed to permeate the entire experience. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the best Metal Gear game yet because it knows how to embrace the series’s ridiculousness.
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