The Missing Link in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance: The Importance of Being a Pacifist
UPDATE: During Gamescom 2012, Metal Gear Rising Producer Yuri Korekado announced that it would be possible to complete the new game non-lethally. In this game, it's done by slicing off limbs to disable the enemies, limbs which could hypothetically be replaced because all of the enemies are cyborgs. While hardly a painless method of subduing an enemy, this is definitely a good move from the Rising development team. I apologize for the assumption.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the upcoming Metal Gear relaunch developed by PlatinumGames, tends to promote two simultaneous reactions in Metal Gear fans. The first is a visceral excitement at the content, which looks like an extremely fun and over-the-top action game in the vein of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. The other is a sense of confusion and disappointment, because nothing in this game resembles previous Metal Gear Solid titles. Not only does Rising lack Solid Snake, but it lacks any sense of stealth, focusing on carving the enemy to bits rather than eluding them. However, the biggest oversight may be the lack of one of the series' staple mechanics: the pacifist mode.
Since Metal Gear Solid 2 (which, by ironic coincidence, was also the debut of Rising protagonist Raiden), the series has allowed players to complete the game without deadly force. The first Metal Gear Solid questioned Solid Snake's violent ways by repeatedly having characters ask if he truly was a hero or just a bloodthirsty assassin (including Snake himself), but ultimately, it didn't give players the option to solve conflicts without lethal force. Once "pacifist" runs were enabled, Kojima and his team allowed players to practice what the developers were preaching about violence and warfare. By using tranquilizer darts and hand-to-hand combat, players could complete the missions leaving the enemy unconscious but otherwise unharmed.
Because of the nature of the Metal Gear storyline, pacifist gameplay became so important that the titles actually penalized the path of bloodshed. Stealth missions were meant to avert global-scale nuclear conflicts as swiftly and cleanly as possible, and if the player ended up in a full-scale firefight, it was usually because they got sloppy. Furthermore, Snake had no grudge against any of the enemy troops trying to stop him. They were no more good or evil than any other soldier by virtue of their particular allegiance, and they were ultimately just more tragic puppets of a larger agenda. The real villains of the Metal Gear series were the amoral operators behind the scenes, facilitating wars to suit their own political agendas. To kill the troops, they hired without personal justification would the player complicit with the tragic state of the world. The games pulled no punches in making the player feel guilty over killing, with scenes like the Sorrow's army of ghostly soldiers in MGS3 (an army whose size was dependent on how many enemies the player had killed), or having Snake break down and vomit in disgust if he killed too many foes in Metal Gear Solid 4, all the while hallucinating his evil twin Liquid Snake's accusation that he enjoyed the killing.
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Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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