Earlier this week during Spike TV’s annual bro-tastic VGAs, Hideo Kojima formally announced that the oft-delayed Metal Gear Rising had been reborn as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and that the melee combat based action game was no longer being developed in-house at Kojima Productions, but rather by Platinum Games, a developer with a well established pedigree in the genre. The marriage of Metal Gear, which remains one of gaming’s premiere franchises, and Platinum Games, the creators of critically acclaimed action games like Bayonetta and Vanquish, should have caused a tidal wave of excitement within the gaming community.
But of course, this is the internet we’re talking about, and if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to cause nerd rage, it’s change.
Within seconds of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s announcement, message boards, Twitter, and even the official Metal Gear Facebook page were filled with complaints from angry fanboys upset about the change. Even though the game had technically been announced several years prior (albeit in a different form,) MG Rising was always promoted as an action game. Yet for some reason, the combination of the announcement that Platinum Games was developing the game, along with the trailer footage’s resemblance to Bayonetta, seems to have struck a nerve with many a nerd, who began whining that the game didn’t have the stealth elements that have defined the mainline Metal Gear Solid series, and a common claim among these assumedly red-faced fanboys was that Metal Gear Rising “wasn’t a real Metal Gear.”
Never mind that Metal Gear Rising is a spin-off and therefore has no obligation to retain any elements from past Metal Gears, but let’s think about that phrase for a second. “It isn’t being true to the series.” “It’s too different.” “It’s not a real entry into the franchise.” Statements like these, my friends, are what happens when emotional attachment to the past overrides logic and objective reasoning.
Now, I’m not saying Metal Gear Rising is going to be a masterpiece. Personally, I’m still skeptical of the game, despite liking both Metal Gear and Platinum Games, the footage they’ve shown of the game admittedly isn’t very inspiring. But I’m not here to discuss the quality of the game itself, but rather, to take issue with how people have reacted to it; instead of making any real criticisms about MGR based on its own merits (or its stupid name), most fanboys on the internet seem intent on hating the game simply because it isn’t like past Metal Gears. There’s a chance that MGR might be the best or worst action game ever created, but regardless of how it turns out, to a large contingent of these fanboys, it doesn’t matter if the game is great or terrible, all that matters to them is that it’s nothing like the Metal Gear Solid games that came before it, and because it’s different, they spuriously think it can’t possibly be good.
But y’know what? Things change. For better or worse, that’s the way things work, and if game developers didn’t take chances like Metal Gear Rising, we’d all still be playing variations of Pong. Sometimes the changes that game developers implement are good. Sometimes they’re bad. But “different” does not correlate to “worse,” and I can’t help but think the game industry as a whole would be better off if fanboys could just tell the difference between “different but still good” and “bad.”
Take Castlevania for instance. The series had established itself during the 8 and 16-bit generations as a side-scrolling platformer, with some very deeply ingrained tradtions: controls were intentionally stiff and movements were slow and deliberate. The central character was always a member of the vampire-hunting Belmont family (or, at the very least, some dude with a whip,) and with the exception of the NES’s frankly incomprehensible and not-very-good Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, each game was a linear affair that tasked players with walking from the left side of a level to the right. Outside of the previously mentioned Simon’s Quest, each iteration in the franchise only made minor deviations from the formula established by the NES games, but despite that, the games themselves were good and fans were happy.
Then came 1997’s Symphony of the Night, which tossed that formula out the window: the linear, segmented levels were replaced with one huge castle that could be explored freely, and instead of being given a static protagonist to control, SotN gave players Alucard, an effeminate rouge vampire who, unlike the Belmonts of previous games, could be powered-up and customized RPG style. If anything, the game resembled Nintendo’s Super Metroid more than any of the previous Castlevania games, but the game itself was so good that fans gladly accepted the changes and the franchise flourished under the new style.
Despite the massive changes in gameplay mechanics and structure that Symphony of the Night represented, there weren’t any cries from longtime series fans that the game wasn’t “true to the series” or “too different” or “not a real Castlevania game.” I think that back then, gamers and game developers were more open towards experimentation, and the idea that a series was supposed to stay restricted to the formula laid out by early titles in the series had yet to be codified. It’s an open-mindedness that I think gaming culture has sadly lost after years of the industry doing nothing but iterative, safe sequels, and now, when somebody does try to shake up series conventions, just as Symphony of the Night did in 1997 and Metal Gear Rising is presently attempting to do, they’re subjected to whiny complaints and snarky comments rather than applauded for taking chances.
A comparatively more recent example of this is Capcom’s Resident Evil 4. The game was universally critically acclaimed, won most of the Game of the Year awards from the year it was released, sold well, and went on to influence a variety of games that came after it, ranging from similar action-horror titles like Dead Space and Alan Wake, to shooters like Gears of War. Yet despite the nearly unanimous acclaim for the game, there’s a small but vocal minority of Resident Evil fanboys who hate the game simply because it’s nothing like previous entries in the series. While everyone who played the game with an open-mind or without some sort of logic-overriding nostalgia for the older games generally enjoyed RE4, these people continue to hold firm that RE4 was a terrible mistake that killed “their” game.
They generally have no legitimate complaints about the game’s quality, other than the usual stupid fanboy chants of “it’s not like the old games” and “it’s not a real Resident Evil.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not liking RE4 for legitimate reasons; i.e. you didn’t like the controls, the camera, or the level design, etc. But if your only issue with the game is that its different, then well, I guess the only thing I can say to you at this point is “Thank you for letting me know your opinions are completely without logic and invalid.”
That’s a mean (but true) statement that I fear I’m going to be making more and more as time goes on. Again, I’m not saying that drastic changes are always good for a series– see my review of Metroid: Other M for an example of how not to change your long-running franchise — all I’m asking is that gamers keep an open mind when a long running franchise decides to do away with tradition. There’s a lot of gamers out there who need to learn the difference between “still good but different” and “bad.” A game developer’s job, first and foremost, is to make a game that’s good, and that’s all. Whether or not it falls into your misguided definition of “being true to the series” is not (and should never be) important.