The Metal Gear Diaries #1: Currently Existing Technology

I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before. I have a lot of gaps in terms of what I haven’t been able to play, owing to the fact that until 2013, the only two consoles I’d ever owned were an Xbox and a 360. And while I don’t like to put a lot of stock in the idea of a canon, I do at least personally want to fill in as many important gaps as I can, because there’s immense value in knowing the history.

Which is where these posts come in! They’re far more informal and less crafted than my usual writing, mostly because I don’t intend to write a True Critical Analysis of these games. A thorough analysis of any one MGS game would be a book in and of itself, this is just a place for me to write down my immediate reactions and get my thoughts down onto paper, in a manner more readable than twitter. They’re written as reactions, not recaps, so I’m going to be referencing moments from the games as if you, the reader, have played them too. Which is to say, don’t read any of these before playing Metal Gear Solids 1-4 unless you want to get spoiled.

So please, enjoy the Metal Gear Diaries, the document of my finally diving into the world of Metal Gear (read: “Metal Gear?!”) We start with the oft maligned remake of the 1998 classic, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

Mission Briefing

It’s been a long time coming. I first tried to play Metal Gear Solid towards the end of 2014, and fumbled at the original psone version. I’m bad at stealth games at the best of times, and I wouldn’t describe MGS as accessible by any means. On top of that, Matt recommended I play The Twin Snakes instead, because it’s a little easier to approach, and the cutscenes are extra ridiculous. After all, that’s why I’m there, right?

I know The Twin Snakes has a lot of detractors, whose main reasons against the game are:

  1. The addition of the first person camera into a world not designed for it makes the game far too easy.
  2. The re-done cutscenes add in matrix flips and indulgent cinematography that was never present in the original game, and take away its identity as a more grounded predecessor to MGS 2.

Luckily, neither of these two criticisms are a big deal to me – I know enough about MGS 2 to know it is at least an inversion of the first game, if not the living embodiment of a middle finger to a fanbase. In a world where I am going in with the rug already pulled out from under me, I’m deciding to take the easy route.

Now, although I’m coming to Metal Gear Solid for the first time, I’ve picked up a relationship with the series by osmosis, and the information that has seeped into my brain means I’m approaching it from a… strange perspective. For example, here is an incomplete list of things I know about the series. These may or may not be true, and even if they are true, finding out how my assumed context differs from the real textual context is going to be half the fun.

The games are direct sequels to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2, and work with the assumption of familiarity with various story beats I went and read up on (Big Boss’ betrayal and death, Snake’s relationship with Gray Fox and the general post-cold war state of the world).

  1. In 1 and 4, you play as Solid Snake, a clone of Big Boss, who is slowly dying due to, well, being a clone.
  2. Raiden is the protagonist of 2, his entrance comes after an introductory level with Snake that people had assumed beforehand was the location for the entire game.
  3. 2 ends in the White House, the president is an AI and there’s a grand conspiracy going back to the founding fathers? There is going to be such a gap between what I think the ridiculous ending of 2 is and what it actually is, holy shit.
  4. In 3, you play as Big Boss in the 60s, it has a bond theme, and you have sex on a dead bear.
  5. In no particular order, the series ends with: a fight between Snake and Big Boss, a fight between Rex and Ray, a crawl through an irradiated corridor, a wedding on a runway and a sad Snake in a Graveyard.
  6. War has changed.
  7. Nanomachines

Right. Now that’s out of the way, it’s time to put the disc in and begin the game.

Tactical Espionage Action

Well, we’re off to a fantastic start. The game’s opening is exhausting, and persumably sets the tone for what to come. It’s a cutscene that plays before the title screen, a five minute long lore-dump, explaining in detail the situation, the characters, the location and your goals in the game. On the one hand, it’s a terrible way to impart information, it expects the audience pay attention to reams and reams and information before they’re even given anything resembling an emotional hook.

On the other, it’s an incredibly honest way to do so. Common wisdom in writing (specifically western screenwriting) would dictate the information to be condensed, simplified and packaged in jokes and references. The Twin Snakes doesn’t give a fuck about that. In its opening moments, it lays out exactly what you’re in for with no concessions or apologies, and it’s down to me to come along for the ride.

Whilst I’m completely onboard for the odyssey of ridiculousness that is the story, playing it is a different story. The Twin Snakes is not a difficult game, in fact I’ve made it incredibly easy for me to play. Yet, it is an unforgiving one. The main reason comes down to item placement in this early segment – I’ve passed through areas without picking up key items multiple times, so I’ve resorted to playing the game with a guide. Which is fine – I don’t think its design is bad at all, these early areas are setup to become familiar to the player, essentially puzzle rooms to solve. But such a design is not congruous to touristing through the game. And make no mistake about it, that is exactly what I’m doing.

There are moments, as I push into the base, when I tranq a guard, take cover, and sneak up on another, where I feel the game clicking. The movement has a fantastic tangible feel, the rapidly expanding set of gadgets provides an immediately obvious feedback loop which I can feel hooking into me. I think it’d be cool to play future games on a more challenging setting and engage with the stealth more.

Basically, I think I’m starting to ‘get’ Metal Gear.

I Have No Name

THERE IS LIVE ACTION IN THIS GAME AHHHHHHHHH

I just took out Revolver Ocelot, who I feel comes really early into the game for a boss fight? I’ve only really been through four rooms, so even though I’ve been playing for a good few hours, I don’t feel like I’ve made that much progress. Maybe this just indicates the game is designed with greater accounting for the length of its cutscenes in level design than I assumed it would have. Also, I’d just assumed that MGS was around 30-40 hours long, and these are all probably a completely baseless assumptions that I just picked up through a weird untruth osmosis.

Anyway, what I really want to say at this stage of the game: I love that The Twin Snakes is able to have a mysterious cyborg ninja doing a thousand backflips, and a live-action clip of nuclear-waste processing with a completely earnest anti-war monologue in the same very cutscene. The combination of goofy genre nonsense and earnest thematic content is delightful to me, and oh so rare from a western context (just see how well Jupiter Ascending did). I don’t really have a read of what the themes are exactly yet, except generally anti-war and anti-nuclear, but that’ll become clearer as I go.

A lot of that has to do with the plot, which seems to be completely eluding characterisation – save for a very few brief hints towards motivations – for mystery. I’m barely three hours in, and already the plot has ballooned from an (already complex) infiltration mission, to a web of questions seventeen miles wide. It’s honestly a testing form of plotting, assuming my desire to know the answers and see a payoff will outweigh my need for emotional connection in the short-term, but I have faith it’s gonna stick the landing.

If it doesn’t, well, you all lied to me.

Vulcan Raven

Fuck me, that Tank Battle was excruciatingly hard. Is this game just going to be a series of increasingly impossible boss fights that seem to be built for a completely different game than the one I’m playing? I hope not.

Anyway, I did win, even if it took me ten thousand tries. The only thing to add at this stage: Meryl and Snake do not have very interesting banter, and their kinda flat interactions lead me to hope that isn’t the central relationship of the game.

Right, back to it.

One Of My Japanese Animes

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. I knew Metal Gear was packed to bursting with military codenames, three letter acronyms and I always assumed Otacon was just another one of them. I had no idea it was the name of adorable nerdboy Hal Emmerich and stood for Otaku Convention! I had no idea adorable nerdboys would even have a space in the game where every man speaks with increasingly gruff militarism and every woman is down to fuck always and forever.

At least, I hope he’s an adorable nerdboy. He could easily be a gross nerdboy, I don’t exactly have the context yet to know the particulars of Otacon’s nerdboy nature. But for now, I love the dynamic between him and Snake. Snake’s hyper-masculine angry soldier persona bounces perfectly off of Otacon’s terrified but affable character.

Otacon’s introduction comes alongside Snake’s first honest-to-god human moment, when he’s terrified that Otacon’s going to die on him, just like the DARPA chief, and ArmsTech President Baker. It’s the first real hint that there’s real purpose to Snake’s role otherwise as a tropey 80s movie action hero. I had no doubt there would be – the things I’ve heard about 4 specifically, as well as the amazing Nuclear trailer for 5, show that MGS is focused on the idea of The Soldier as a construct, and the emotional effects of those put into situations of war.

Snake’s humanity is juxtaposed against the reveal that Cyborg Ninja is in fact Gray Fox, a former member of FOXHOUND, who allied with Big Boss in Zanzibar Land, desperate for a fight to the death with Solid Snake.  The victor doesn’t matter, Gray Fox doesn’t want revenge so much as he wants the war to be over, but has no way to leave it, mentally speaking.

It’s great to see Metal Gear Solid open up, thematically and emotionally. I feel like I’m reaching the parts of the game somewhere between setup and payoff – the mysteries themselves are still there, growing steadily more complex, but it’s now got the space to allow what it’s about to really seep through.

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This introductory post of The Metal Gear Diaries is a little longer than I intended – I feel somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 words is a good amount for an update, it feels weird writing in such a stream of consciousness style. It’s scary, writing without a net like this! I hope everyone’s enjoying these posts because if we’re only up to the introduction of Otacon in post one then there’s going to be here for like ten weeks.

Next: we’re going to barrel into the second half of Metal Gear Solid, and see what awaits us in the depths of Shadow Moses.