As we sit on the outer edge of a stark white preview room somewhere within Kojima Productions’ Tokyo Midtown office and play Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Raiden doesn’t seem like much of a problem. He’s lithe and responsive in his movements; he’s stylish and deadly in his attacks. But Raiden is a problem – or at least he has been.
Introduced as the surprise star of Metal Gear Solid 2 on the morning of its US release, Raiden started life as the punch line in a grand Hideo Kojima joke. You wanted Snake: cynical, dependable and experienced. Instead you got this effete blond rookie who looked downright delicate in a combat suit, and who turned out to have an unsavoury past as a child soldier. He was an ideal avatar for the series’ hallmark theme of glorious suffering, perhaps, but he wasn’t the one the fans were expecting.
Metal Gear Solid 4 twisted things the other way. Cybernetically enhanced and gifted with a glittering metal blade to complement his glittering metal jawbone, the pale boy had become a ninja, and now people wanted to play as him. This time, however, you couldn’t. He was on the wrong side of the cutscenes, and his best moments left you drumming your fingers on a DualShock while he chopped up Gekko mechs and enacted gymnastic bloodletting on a massive scale, even after both of his arms had been lopped off.
Kojima Productions conceived Rising, then, as your chance to play those cutscenes. But even that didn’t initially go to plan. Unveiled as Metal Gear Solid: Rising at E3 in 2009, it promised a blend of stealth and action built around a free-cutting mechanic that would mean Raiden’s katana could slice into almost any object he came across. That might be the torso of an enemy cyborg; the supporting column of a townhouse; or, in a memorable end-of-trailer aside, a series of watermelons. The posters promised ‘Lightning Bolt Action’, and free-cutting seemed to be key, seemingly allowing for a fleet-footed fighting game blessed with knife-point precision.
The curse of Raiden struck, though, and Kojima Productions’ action-adventure, much like its star, had to confront death to emerge stronger. The team were struggling with the stealth elements and free-cutting, and by 2011 the game faced cancellation.
That’s when Platinum was offered a swipe at it. “I approached Mr Kojima at a party,” explains executive director Atsushi Inaba. “I asked him how the game was going, and there was no response. The second time I bumped into him, it was another party, and Mr Kojima approached me and asked whether we wanted to make the game. It was very informal, and I thought it was a joke,” Inaba laughs. “The third time we met, it was another event, and he asked our studio head if he could set an actual meeting, then he asked officially if we could make the game. We didn’t have much of an opening at the studio, but we felt we had to do it. Not for Kojima, necessarily, but because of the impact it would have [on] the world.”
Reborn with a neologistic subtitle, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is now looking surprisingly coherent for a project that has Kojima Productions handling the narrative and the cinematics, and Platinum tackling the design. The bespoke stealth elements have been ditched for an approach that initially feels like classic Platinum thinking. With no sneaking to get in the way, Metal Gear Rising is built around a combat system that’s muscular and elegant, containing all the launchers and air juggles you’d expect from a game directed by Kenji Saito, the lead programmer of Bayonetta. Raiden has a wide and a strong basic attack (sometimes fighting with his sword clutched between his toes), plus an array of combos that have more than a hint of Bayonetta DNA to them.
Metal Gear Rising’s now-revised story drops Raiden into a war-torn African state as part of Maverick Security, a friendly private military company (PMC) that’s in the country to aid its redevelopment. With sinister rival company Desperado Enterprises moving in to destabilise things, there’s plenty of room for loopy cinematic conflict.
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