Still Playing: Metal Gear Rising Revengeance

Anatomy is a very important aspect of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Particularly the spine. I see lots of them on my travels in Raiden’s metal shoes, ripping them out like rotten teeth and leaving their previous owners floating momentarily in a virtual cyborg limbo between sentience and robot hell. Platinum Games has crafted the sharpest ever sword with which I can slice through Kojima’s world of intertextual nods and militant nut jobs and I’m forever indebted. I’ve always admired the Metal Gear series as a platform for indulging its creator’s ideas and ideals, always been happy to be the choir the 45-minute expository-laden cutscene preaches to, but with Revengeance it feels like I’m a participant in the elegantly choreographed chaos of a Metal Gear Solid cinematic.

But even the action game gods behind Revengeance’s mechanics seem to be in on Kojima’s meta-game act: the gameplay holds up a mirror to the intertwining themes of sex and death that have been a mainstay of Kojima’s work since he left Sniper Wolf’s cleavage on show in the bitter Alaskan cold. For me, light attacks in Revengeance are like lover’s kisses, slowly inching that meter towards breaking point until… I peak with Blade Mode, unleashing slow-mo carnage on my floating, flying or falling victim, getting as close and intimate with their body parts as I possibly can before tugging on that spinal cord. If I have to categorise Revengeance in terms of genre – a tricky task for any title even tangentially linked to Kojima – how about this: it’s an “erotic killer”.

It’s the narrative backbone of the game as much as the split-second thrill-kills, however, that warrants further reading. You can’t talk about Kojima’s expanding espionage universe without bringing film and philosophy into it (and, in a poignant example of the snake-eating itself: the very philosophy of film, but that’s for another feature and a bottle of wine).

Kojima’s world of mechs, mercs and moral mazes is superficially typified by the tropes and stylistic stamps of American cinema. There’s Solid Snake, a slender simulacrum of Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken (Metal Gear Solid, MGS2: Sons Of Liberty and, now, Revengeance each directly lift their claustrophobic opening infiltration shots from that film and its best-forgotten sequel) and a gauntlet of foes that draw on everything from The Wild Bunch to Die Hard. Deep down, though, I’ve felt the backbone to Kojima’s canon has always been tied as much to the samurai and yakuza cinema of the creator-director’s native home and it’s in Revengeance, finally, that those influences take centre stage.

The ferocious but honourable and obligated samurai, as portrayed most famously and unforgettably by Toshiro Mifune, is as close to the spirit (and certainly not looks) of our platinum-haired hero Raiden as the gung-ho American sharp-shooter. His roster of enemy bosses is as warped and colourful as the cast of a Nikkatsu yakuza flick – Nikkatsu’s wild-child director Seijun Suzuki’s work arguably an influence on Kojima in pace, use of music and surrealist tendencies – and in Revengeance the corrupt conglomerate World Marshal is as organised and superficially bullet-proof as any yakuza empire of the past century.

Tying into the tradition of the post-war samurai movie narrative, in Revengeance I feel like I’m playing as the archetypal masterless Ronin. The sword for hire living by Bushido but slicing up limbs like it’s a Sunday carvery and there’s nothing but metallic meat on the menu. Each time I’ve played through the game it’s around a third into the campaign where it all clicks. I find myself delivering blink-and-miss light attacks, sprinting around the enclosed areas of combat without a pause for thought or breath. It’s also at this point that the game starts to up the ante in terms of the arsenal, and the alchemic effects of technology on display in both the antagonists’ and your own abilities. Technology in Revengeance is gift to the hero and curse for the villains to cast: it allows Raiden’s lost limbs to be replaced, allows our hero to be reborn stronger and hence brings to mind the niche strand of the magical samurai film (let’s take a moment here to remember Battle Of The Dragons, in which the hero can reattach his decapitated head).

There’s always been an undercurrent of the magical, the supernatural, to the world of Metal Gear, and – to bring my final meta-game reading into play – Revengeance is like the witch’s cauldron; melting and stirring in the core ingredients of Kojima’s work that have previously been papered over, obscured, by an affinity for Americana. It’s the most Japanese of Metal Gear games, then, and the most exciting, daring and dazzling dose of sex and death I’ve ever encountered… I suppose love really can bloom on the battlefield.