No remake, no remaster – what’s made Metal Gear Rising Revengeance stay so popular for so long?
It’s wild to think that 10 years ago today, I got Metal Gear Rising Revengeance through the door. I sat down at my Xbox 360 and played through the entire game that day. I couldn’t put it down. I got stuck at the final boss – because I was a cocky guy who picked hard for my first playthrough – but defeated him the next morning. At this point in my life I was a fresh fan of Metal Gear. I had played through the entire saga the year before and it took over my life, remaining my favourite series in all of media.
Never in 100 years would I have expected Metal Gear Rising to be the game everyone was still talking, about 10 years later: a game that lives on through forum posts, social media shitposting, and endless memes. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s run it back.
Metal Gear Rising made its first appearance at E3 2009. Metal Gear Solid 4 had just ended the story of Solid Snake, one year prior. It was confirmed that this new game would not be directed by Hideo Kojima, and would instead be his attempt to pass the Metal Gear torch to a younger team as he worked on the portable entry; Peace Walker. Long story short, the project didn’t work out. Kojima and his original team had a free-cutting mechanic sorted, and a scenario in mind; it had the makings of a great Metal Gear title… except that the developers never figured out what the gameplay loop would be.
Enter Platinum Games – the legendary developer made up of ex-Capcom staff who were known for their top-of-the-line action games like Bayonetta and Vanquish. Rather than work up from Kojima Productions’ foundations, Platinum rebooted the game entirely as an action game in its signature style. Rather than making a game based upon the free-cutting mechanic, it was reworked to complement to the action – not overrule it. Platinum also requested that the story of the title be moved to post-MGS4, rather than in between 2 and ,4 to give the studio more freedom.
The new game, now dubbed Metal Gear Rising Revengance, saw Raiden – a mercenary for hire – take on a rival PMC who seeks to destabilise peaceful nations to restart the war economy for their own personal gain in the absence of The Patriots. This rival PMC hosts four captains named The Winds Of Destruction; in true Metal Gear fashion, these four are named after – you guessed it – wind. Mistral, Monsoon, Sundowner, and Jetstream Sam are all equipped with cyborg bodies of their own, each having their own unique abilities (such as Monsoon who can come apart to avoid slashes). Another defining trait was their ability to give shit-eating grins to the camera.
Metal Gear Rising is beloved thanks to its incredible action, amazing cast of memorable characters (and George, but we don’t talk about him) and its bonkers storyline. But there are two aspects, in particular, that have cemented its place in video game history: its soundtrack and the game’s antagonist – Colorado Senator Steven Armstrong. In order to properly celebrate Metal Gear Rising Revengance’s 10-year anniversary, I’ve interviewed the game’s composer Jamie Christopherson (also known for Bionic Commando and Lost Planet 2) and Senator Armstrong voice actor Alastair Duncan (who also leant his dulcent tones to Mimir in God of War and Celebrimbor in Shadow of Mordor).
Christopherson recalls: “I part of a sound company back then called Soundelux DMG, and they got a game trailer in for MGR:R that needed music”. Despite being known as an orchestral composer at the time, “they asked if I could do heavy metal intense music, and of course I said YES”.
Metal Gear Solid, despite being MIA right now, was still a powerhouse franchise back in the early 2010s, and Christopherson was a self-professed fan of the Metal Gear series. “MGS2 had a very big impact with me in all ways, including the music by Harry-Gregson Williams”. He did however realise that following up Harry-Gregson Williams were some big shoes to fill, saying “I was relieved when Platinum said they wanted a different style of music for this game”.
While the whole soundtrack is filled with great heavy metal tracks, the main reason the soundtrack is so fondly remembered is thanks to the vocal themes for each boss, which adapt to the gameplay as the fight goes on. This is given the perfect introduction at the start of the game in which Raiden fights a Metal Gear Ray.
During the finale of the fight, the Ray swings its giant bladed arm towards Raiden, and just as you block it “RULES OF NATURE!!” comes blasting out of your speakers – and it’s liable to send anyone into a fit of pure ecstasy on hearing it. Christopherson agrees. “The way that Platinum games coded the audio engine to have that screaming line kick in when you pick up the giant sword – wow”, he says.
“You can still see how wide-eyed and mouth agape people seem to get when that moment happens.” This adaptive music has gone on to be used in other action games like Devil May Cry 5 and – more recently – Hi-Fi Rush, too.
Each song perfectly encapsulates the character it represents, whether it’s Jetstream Sam’s ‘The Only Thing I Know For Real’ which deals with his loss of identity as he lives his life as a hired sword, or ‘It Has To Be This Way’ which acknowledges that both Raiden and Armstrong have similar personal philosophies but are forced into a fight to the death regardless. “Lyrically, we wanted the songs to definitely be specific to each boss, but with a certain degree of artistic and creative imagery and language”, says Christopherson.
But the music wouldn’t get to sing as much without a cast of characters for it to back up. So let’s talk about Armstrong. You spend the whole game chasing down these cyborg mercenaries; you have your climactic final battle with Jetstream Sam – who demolished Raiden in the game’s opening mission – it’s time to put a stop to Desperado’s plan, and the only thing in your way is… that Senator who appeared in the game for like two minutes earlier? I did not know what was coming. And neither did you, probably.
After defeating Metal Gear Excelsus, Raiden meets Armstrong on top of the fallen mech. Instead of cowering in fear like any normal politician would, he runs straight at Raiden. Metal Gear is known for its monologues, but not often do bosses in the series give them while manhandling the protagonist.
Armstrong effectively recites his entire manifesto to Raiden as the senator batters your protagonist. He tells you that under his regime the people would (and I would like to reiterate that this is a direct quote from a video game released in 2013) “make America great again”. On the nose, no?
Alastair Duncan – when theorising on how the game managed to have so much lasting power – explained: “The characters do resonate now because they actually exist. It is very powerful, to actually be able to play something where you’re playing as a total megalomaniac; and it’s like ‘this is really real, this could actually happen’.
What’s most telling about Armstrong is how good of a politician he really is. Don’t get me wrong, his views are – as Raiden puts it – batshit; but he’s such an electric figure, you get drawn into his monologues thanks to how strong a performance Duncan gives. Which is even more impressive when you consider he didn’t even know that he would be playing the main villain when he auditioned for the role.
“In those days they didn’t tell you, everything was very hush hush”, he explains. “All I knew was that my character was an amoral ‘power-hungry American senator’”. Go figure.
Despite only appearing in the final act of a spin-off title, Armstrong has cemented himself as one of the most iconic characters in Metal Gear history. Duncan tells me at first he had no clue.
“I did it, and it was fun, and it was a great time”. He only realised how popular his character was in recent years. “I started doing Cameos, and the character I’m most requested to do is Senator Armstrong. Which is amazing because it’s a 10 year old game”.
In the years since Rising, Duncan has become a household name thanks to performances such as that of as Mimir in the God of War series, and yet Armstrong still persists thanks to the countless amount of memes dedicated to Metal Gear Rising.
“Armstrong and Mimir now are the two characters I’m asked for most often, and that’s phenomenal”, he explains. While he concedes Mimir is currently more popular, he believes a lot of people will be visiting him at conventions solely for Armstrong. “He’s such an Iconic figure… and Mimir’s just a fuckin’ head”.
Christopherson was also no stranger to the meme culture surrounding his work on Rising. “I was aware of some of the early memes such as ‘Rules of Nature goes with everything’ and then things seemed to sizzle out for a number of years”. Years later someone told him to search for something, and he was shocked by the sheer volume of memes about the title. He told me “I had absolutely no idea the lasting effect that the soundtrack would have – that has been a very cool surprise”.
Metal Gear Rising is a special game to me, it blended my absolute favourite series with my favourite genre of game and somehow pulled it off perfectly. I don’t think we’ll ever see another game like it thanks to the current state of Konami, but I’m extremely happy that we got it in the first place. I can’t think of another game that has remained so prominent in games culture over the past decade, without any ports or sequels.
Here’s hoping we get to see something special for the game in honour of its 10th anniversary today. Even if it’s just nanomachines, son.