It’s wild to think that 10 years ago today I received Metal Gear Rising Revengeancthrough the door. I sat down to mine Xbox 360 and played the entire game that day. I couldn’t tear myself away. I got stuck on the final boss – because I was a cocky guy who picked a lot for my first playthrough – but beat him the next morning. At this point in my life, I was a new Metal Gear fan. I went through the entire saga last year and it took over my life, remaining my favorite series in all media.
Never in the last 100 years would I have expected Metal Gear Rising to be the game that everyone was still talking about 10 years or so later: a game that lives on through forum posts, social media shit, and endless memes. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s run it back.
Metal Gear Rising first appeared at E3 2009. Metal Gear Solid 4 just finished the Solid Snake story a year ago. It has been confirmed that this new game will No will be directed by Hideo Kojima, and will instead be his attempt to pass the Metal Gear torch to a younger team while he worked on the portable entry; Peace Walker. In short, the project failed. Kojima and his original team had a free-form cutting mechanic and a script at their disposal; it had the makings of a great Metal Gear title… except the developers never figured out what the gameplay loop would be.
Enter Platinum Games, a legendary developer made up of former Capcom employees who were known for their best action games like Bayonetta and Vanquish. Instead of working off of Kojima Productions, Platinum completely rebooted the game as an action game in their signature style. Instead of creating a game based on loose mechanics, it was redesigned to complement the action, not detract from it. Platinum also requested that the title’s story be set after MGS4 instead of between 2 and 4 to give the studio more freedom.
The new game, now called Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, pits Raiden, a mercenary, against a rival PMC that seeks to destabilize peaceful nations in order to rebuild a war economy for their own 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 – the wind. Mistral, Monsoon, Sundowner, and Jetstream Sam are equipped with their own cyborg bodies, each with their own unique abilities (such as Monsoon being able to dissociate to avoid cuts). Another defining feature was their ability to smile for the camera.
Metal Gear Rising is beloved for its incredible action, amazing cast of memorable characters (and George, but we’re not talking about him) and insane 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 Stephen Armstrong. To properly celebrate Metal Gear Rising Revengeance’s 10th anniversary, I interviewed the game’s composer Jamie Christopherson (also known for Bionic Commando and Lost Planet 2) and voice actor for Senator Armstrong Alastair Duncan (who also lent his calm tone to Mimir in God of War and Celebrimbor in Shadow of Mordor).
Christopherson recalls, “At the time, I was working for a sound company called Soundelux DMG, and they got a game trailer for MGR:R that needed music.” Although he was known as an orchestral composer at the time, “they asked if I could do intense heavy metal music, and of course I said SO“.
Metal Gear Solid, while now MIA, was still a strong franchise in the early 2010s, and Kristofferson was a self-confessed fan of the Metal Gear series. “MGS2 was a huge influence on me in every way, including Harry-Gregson Williams’ music.” However, he recognized that following Harry-Gregson Williams was a huge honor to fill, saying: “I was relieved when Platinum said they wanted a different style of music for this game.”
Although the entire soundtrack is filled with great heavy metal tracks, the main reason why the soundtrack is so memorable is because of the vocal themes for each boss that adapt to the gameplay during the fight. It’s a perfect introduction at the beginning of the game, where Raiden fights Metal Gear Ray.
During the finale of the fight, Rey swings her giant bladed hand at Raiden, and when you block it, “THE RULES OF NATURE!!” blares from your speakers – and hearing it can send anyone into a fit of true ecstasy. Christopherson agrees. “The way Platinum Games coded the audio engine to make the screaming line play when you pick up the giant sword is wow,” he says.
“You still see people’s eyes and mouths wide open when that moment comes.” This adaptive music has been used in other action games such as Devil May Cry 5 and – more recently – Hi-Fi Rush.
Each song perfectly embodies the character it represents, whether it’s Jetstream Sam’sThe only thing I know really‘ which refers to his loss of identity as he lives his life as a sword for hire, or ‘That’s how it should be,” which acknowledges that both Raiden and Armstrong have similar personal philosophies, but are nonetheless forced to fight to the death. “Lyrically, we wanted the songs to be specific to each boss, but with some degree of artistic and creative imagery and language,” says Kristofferson.
But the music couldn’t sing as much without the cast of characters that support it. So let’s talk about Armstrong. You spend the entire game chasing down these cyborg mercenaries; you have a climactic final battle with Jetstream Sam who took down Raiden in the game’s opening mission, it’s time to stop the Desperado’s plans and the only thing standing in your way is… that senator who appeared in the game to two minutes before? I didn’t know what would happen. And you too, probably.
After defeating the Metal Gear Excelsus, Raiden meets Armstrong on top of the fallen mech. Instead of cowering in fear like any normal politician, he runs right at Raiden. Metal Gear is known for its monologues, but the bosses in the series rarely give them when processing the main character.
Armstrong effectively recites his entire manifesto to Raiden while the senator beats up your hero. He tells you that under his regime, people (and I want to repeat that this is a direct quote from a video game released in 2013) “make america great again“. On the nose, no?
Alastair Duncan – when theorizing how the game managed to have such lasting power – explained: “The characters really resonate now because they actually exist. It’s very powerful to actually be able to play something where you’re playing like a complete megalomaniac; and it’s like “this is really real, this can actually happen”.
The most telling thing about Armstrong is how good a politician he really is. Don’t get me wrong, his views, according to Raiden, are: horseradish; but he’s such an electric figure, you get drawn into his monologues because of how strong Duncan’s performance is. Which is even more impressive when you consider that he didn’t even know he would be playing the main villain when he auditioned for the role.
“They didn’t tell you anything in those days, everything was very quiet,” he explains. “All I knew was that my character was an amoral ‘power-hungry US senator.’ Go figure it out.
Despite only appearing in the final act of the side game, Armstrong has cemented himself as one of the most iconic characters in Metal Gear history. Duncan initially told me he had no idea.
“I did it and it was fun and it was a great time.” He only realized how popular his character had been in recent years. “I started doing cameos and the character I’m wanted the most is Senator Armstrong. And it’s amazing because it’s a 10-year-old game.”
In the years since Rising, Duncan has become famous for appearances such as Mimir in the God of War series, and yet Armstrong is still going strong thanks to countless Metal Gear Rising memes.
“Now Armstrong and Mimir are the two characters I get asked about the most, which is phenomenal,” he explains. While he admits Mimir is more popular now, he believes many people will attend him at conventions solely for Armstrong. “He’s such an iconic figure… and Mimir is just a douchebag.”
Kristofferson was also no stranger to the meme culture surrounding his work on Rising. “I was aware of some of the early memes, like ‘Laws of nature go with everything,’ and then things seemed to blow up over the course of a few years.” Years later someone told him to look something up and he was shocked by the sheer number of memes about the title. He told me: “I had absolutely no idea what a lasting effect the soundtrack would have – it was a very cool surprise.”
Metal Gear Rising is a special game for me, it combined my absolute favorite series with my favorite genre of games and somehow managed it perfectly. I don’t think we’ll ever see a game like this due to the current state of Konami, but I’m extremely glad we got it at all. I can’t think of another game that has remained so prominent in gaming culture over the last decade without any ports or sequels.
Hopefully we’ll see something special for the game in honor of its 10th anniversary today. Even if it’s just nanomachines, son.