The Metal Gear Diaries #18: Groznyj Grad, Part One

The setup for these posts is simple: I've never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I'm going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, "Metal Gear?!" They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we took out The Fear and The End, and climbed the greatest ladder in all of video games. Now, we head into Groznyj Grad, ready to complete our mission…

If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The Apollo Program

It wouldn’t be a Metal Gear game if one of the boss fights wasn’t “basically Bomberman,” and the order of the day is more Bomberman than ever. But The Fury is more than just a Bomberman riff, they might be the strangest Boss in a series practically defined by the strangeness of their Bosses.

The Fury gets a little motivational speech! Hooray! (I know I’m the only one that really cares about that ol’ chestnut continuing to show up, but it makes me warm and fuzzy inside). He’s an astronaut that went to space and saw the enormity of the universe, and the sheer dose of mortal terror was enough to drive him, well, furious. Now he devotes himself to ending it all for the good of all mankind. So far, so JRPG villain, so good.

The fight itself is fine – I died a bunch because I’d equipped The Fear’s camo suit and didn’t realise that totally fucks your Stamina gauge (no camouflage is worth that trade off), but after I sorted that out I dispatched him in good time. After The Fear and The End, The Fury was a passable but mediocre Boss, it didn’t cut to the game’s thematic core or engage with any puzzle elements, so it was never going to reach the highs of what came before, simply as a piece of Snake Eater’s game design.

But. But. The Fury has an amazing death scene, ho-ly shit. He raises himself into the air, and begins communicating with Mission Control, and the familiar sounds of spaceship radio chatter play as he blasts into the ceiling and explodes. And then Snake has to escape from the flaming, screaming eternal two storey ghost of The Fury, who collapses the exit behind him?

w… what?

After the ending of Sons of Liberty, I didn’t think it was possible for Metal Gear to surprise me with just how nonsense it got, and it managed to do so in the best way.

What a delightful series.

Welcome To Metal Gear

The entrance to Groznyj Grad is momentous, and it feels like the game is welcoming you home. After an entire game of crawling through jungle, wading through swamp and trekking up mountains, you find yourself in a military base with boxes and sentries and locked doors. I know that Guns of the Patriots final act is a surprise return to Shadow Moses (I’m still grumpy about how thoroughly I’ve been spoiled on MGS4’s surprises), so I’ve not reached the peak of Metal Gear’s final act full-circle moments, but even so it brought a big smile to my face.

And then I started to crawl under crates to take out guards, and I realised that Snake Eater just isn’t built for old ass Metal Gear Solid. Specifically, removing the mini-map completely changes the relationship to the space, and with the third person camera, it’s clunky and awkward to navigate these angular environments, in which line of sight is the most important factor in stealth.

It’s a testament to just how much Snake Eater has improved upon the previous two games from a pure systems perspective, and how through changing the technological context, it gains its own unique identity. To play Snake Eater is to approach a stealth game in a radically different fashion than either of its predecessors, so bringing the design back to its roots does it a dramatic disservice.

Everybody Loves Raiden

Capturing Raikov is so cool. Giving you an objective more complicated than merely “go here” or “shoot that guy” is nice enough, but combining that with another disguise sequence adds even more to the humanisation of the space. You’re not just looking for an NPC patrolling, you’re looking for a specific NPC patrolling, and when you take him out you have to ensure that he is not found by the others. It gives a real sense of persistence and humanity to a space clearly populated by basic AI routines who forget seeing a walking cardboard box next to a top secret nuclear device after ten whole seconds have passed.

Plus, hilariously, the Colonel is clearly Raiden, leading to one of the best exchanges in anything ever:

Snake: “How’s my disguise?”
Major Zero: “It worked. You’re beginning to irritate me already.”
Snake: “This look should make me more popular!”
Major Zero: “I wouldn’t count on it.”

Ahhhh, good times good times. One of the best MGS factoids is that Raiden was designed to be a character with greater appeal to women, a factoid that makes total sense from his character design, but none at all from a writing perspective. Unless they thought women would relate to Rose and want to be the only ones to understand this broken man? Which is based on a thousand gross and awful assumptions, so it’s no surprise that everybody hated him. Only a few lucky people hated him for the right reasons.

I did like Raiden by the end, though. Jack’s gonna be alright.

I’m Lost

I’ve run all around the base, oh no where do I go? WHERE DO I GOOOOOOO?

There isn’t anywhere left for me to –

Oh, nevermind, it was in the locker room all along. I’m good at video games.

What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

Sokolov’s tragedy mirrors Solid Snake’s tragedy, which in turn mirrors Raiden’s tragedy, which mirrors the central tragedy of every single character in Metal Gear Solid: choice, or lack thereof. Those that create these deadly weapons do so with the purest of intentions, and their artistic or scientific desires irrelevant to the whims of the state, just as Snake’s humanity is on the battlefield.

When he says that he’s tired, and he no longer wants saving, it really hit me. Metal Gear Solid doesn’t have characters that simply can’t continue to go on in the face of insurmountable unfairness and heartbreak. Its characters find the thing worth fighting for in the end, they find what they need to keep going, but Sokolov’s situation gives a thought to those that simply can’t make that leap. And really, can you blame him? Like he says, he’s tired.

EVA’s character is becoming more and more interesting by the minute, at last, with her apparently working for Khrushchev, and seemingly planning to double cross you? Who knows how that will actually play out, but I’m glad they’re finally fleshing her out and giving her more than just wanting to fuck Snake really really bad. I’m intrigued and ready to see where her character ends up at the end of the day.

The cutscene itself was harrowing, the level of violence when Volgin batters Snake astounded me, and I was genuinely shocked when it cut to black. Much like the earlier scene with Granin, the game is indulging in the shock value of its violence to an extent that I don’t think I’m comfortable with, but is at least purposeful. Snake’s beating here reduces him to his core, he’s never looked or sounded rougher than at the end of his scene. He is walking out of this mission a different man.

Also strange: an implication that Raikov and Volgin were lovers? Volgin checks Snake’s junk as a way of making sure that he’s an imposter, and says that he knew the colonel better than anyone else. I’d love for Metal Gear to be including queer characters at all (though, the read that Solid Snake is asexual is common and valid, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that here), but it’s not exactly a good faith reveal. It comes across a little bit “ha ha, the evil sadist torturer is also A GAY! Wow!”

But maybe they’re going to expand on this in ways that humanise Volgin’s character? I wouldn’t be surprised, given the respect that Metal Gear has for its villains, but I would be surprised, given the extreme heteronormativity of the franchise thus far. We shall see! I’m lying unconscious on the floor, so maybe this is it for me. Naked Snake meets his end right here and the time paradox becomes real.

*

We have to be coming up on it, now! I feel like we’re just minutes away from the end, but Snake Eater has had such a different pace than the Metal Gear games that preceded it that I have no idea whether we’ll be back once or twice more before moving onto Guns of the Patriots.

What I do know, however, is that I am in for the ride.

Next: torture and sorrow abound!