Metal Gear Rising’s existentialism
Posted by Gospel X
Metal Gear has largely been a series that waxes philosophically about life and war. It discusses the futility of war but also the question of what soldiers have left when there is nothing but peace. These ideas are not explored in any great detail, but it is nice to have a series of games that touches on them when many of the top-selling games seem to go out of their way to celebrate war and violence. Then, just to avoid the hypocrisy that plagues many violent films that ultimately are about peace, the Metal Gear Solid series of games allows the player to complete them without actually killing any of the enemies (well, maybe some bosses…) and may even provide rewards for it.
So what is there to explore in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a game that was quite explicitly built around the game mechanic of being able to cut almost everything with a sword?
Konami made the demo available for download this week on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, and now the players have a greater understanding of what is in store for them. This is not a game that can be completed as a pacifist, as there are no non-violent attacks. Raiden, once again a cyborg, slices his opponents to pieces with his vibrating sword – and the player has been granted the ability to control every stroke. This is important because Raiden needs to slice some enemies just right in order to remove and than take in their pack of electrolytes in order to stay alive.
This sounds like a far cry from our Metal Gear games of yesteryear. Raiden, unlike Solid Snake, relishes in being a soldier and killing his enemies. The demo starts with Raiden expressing no concern for the enemy because they are all terrorists. He even goes so far as talking down to a robotic dog with an advanced AI that serves as the first boss fight of the game (and the last fight of the demo) because it has no free will and so does not deserve to live.
And that’s likely where the subtext of the game begins. What constitutes life? The robot dog was not brought into this world naturally, and it had no free will. However, it was clearly sentient. It was even aware enough to know that it could do nothing but follow its programming despite its understated reservations. When Raiden destroys it, was it an act of murder?
The context would suggest yes, it was murder. In an attempt to make the player feel guilty, the dog’s last words are transmitted to you over a private com frequency.
I assume the rest of the game will go further into that, with questions about Raiden’s own humanity as he goes from one objective to the next (as if following some programming) and mindlessly kills any who crosses his path. Raiden himself is a robot, after all, what with his conversion into a cyborg and replacement arm. Presumably he will receive a replacement for the eye he lost as well. At what point does he cease being the man he was and become a robot himself? Maybe it’s more than acceptable that the player no longer has the choice to fight without killing. Part of our own free will has been stripped away. Raiden, and all of us by extension, are no better than robot dogs when playing the game.
In case you were wondering, I found the demo fun to play and continually find “Revengeance” to be a stupid word. At least they don’t say at any time in the demo. Let’s hope it stays out of the main game as well.