The violence in Platinum Games’ Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is really quite shocking – genuinely so – and in a way few other games can match. To put it on in front of anyone unfamiliar with what they are about to witness is to elicit cries of “eww,” and “that’s grim.” And yet it isn’t overtly gory. This alone is noteworthy, but it is the way the game deftly manages the sensibilities of its audience without sacrificing the core tenants that make it violent in the first place that must truly be commended.
For someone who typically has no problem with violence in games or film, pinning down exactly what it is that makes me say that Rising contains an aspect that deserves attention is tricky. Blood flows with abandon, sure, but that in and of itself should not immediately mark the game out from any number of titles that similarly offer gruesome imagery. Likewise, the game does not appear to inherently ‘get-off’ on its own violent indulgences in the way a title like Manhunt does for example. However, there is something about Rising’s particular brand of violence that is worth commenting on.
For me, it is that there is a pervasive sense of unease that arises from the gameplay. The act of carving and slicing takes on an uncomfortable quality when you’re offered up the fidelity to actually observe each and every incision. In pinning so much of the gameplay onto a mechanic that allows players to ‘cut at will’ (to use the marketing jargon), the whole of the game-world becomes infused with a viciousness that is hard to shake.
The imagery surrounding the ability to cut things in half is present in everything from the game’s most fundamental design to its marketing campaign. Raiden’s ability to choose the exact angle to slice along feeds back into a loop where precision dismemberment becomes your primary means of health replenishment as well as obtaining pick-ups (in the form of soldier’s left-hands). The narrative, too, is shot-through with this same chop-happy motif. Organ trafficking becomes the backdrop, the loss of limb both the highs and lows of secondary character development. It’s all rather odd and would be incredibly distasteful if not for two key points: the first is that Rising is fundamentally a fun game to play. The second is that it freely acknowledges and facilitates the player’s need to distance themselves from all the butchery.
Gameplay first, then; Rising is a blast to play as games go. Its action is fluid, frantic and tightly designed. By removing a more traditional mechanic for blocking and instead demanding the player remain on the offensive – parrying oncoming blows by attacking yourself in the same direction – gives the combat a brilliant focus. The game gains a kinetic sense of hyper-achievement; as to slip into its rhythm is to feel empowered, becoming death-incarnate to your enemies. When you’re on your A-game, everything just works with Raiden leaping from foe to foe, dicing his merry way to victory. And by turns, get pushed onto the back-foot (even for a second) and swathes of your heath-bar can fall in brutal punishment as enemies crowd around you, dolling out hits that stun and revelling in your poor ability to recover. In this sense, the accomplished gameplay goes some way toward justifying the base-nature of its violent aesthetic, if only for the player rather than the spectator.
But herein lies the second of Rising’s good-points. This may be speculative, but I personally can’t shake the sense that the game both knows that it is rather bleak, and wants acknowledgement for the lengths it goes to allow the player to distance themselves from the violence. Raiden is the character we play as but he is not necessarily our entryway into understanding the world. We are allowed to be put-off by his actions despite being the one pressing the buttons. NPCs comment on Raiden’s distasteful means of dispatch in line with the audience’s (and player’s) potential feelings. This is highly vindicating. Witnessing, or even orchestrating, a succession of horrendous deaths on screen can leave you feeling at odds with the enjoyment of playing vs. engagement with what you’re witnessing (this is more so for the observer as they get no control-gratification). It can leave you feeling rather low. To have Raiden’s support team commenting to that very same effect is therefore a perfect pick-me-up. Raiden is cold and ruthless; the game is as vicious in nature as you suspect. And it’s not just you who thinks so. Everyone involved, it seems, gets to heave a collective sigh. It’s very much a case of: “oh good, we were all thinking it, time to move on, eh?”