The Metal Gear Diaries #21: And Introducing, David Hayter

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 completed Snake Eater, and now we sit on the edge of a game I feel like I know everything about, but have been told that I know nothing about. Playing Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is going to be an experience of separating truth from lies, of seeing the collision of expectation, assumption and reality all play out as this cultural object I knew only second hand finally becomes a real thing that I understand.

So here we go, let’s begin as we always do, and start the journal into understanding the end (well, kinda) of Metal Gear Solid.

Mission Briefing

What shocked me about the ending of Snake Eater was just how damn tidy it was. There really aren’t any loose ends; America got the Legacy and so The Patriots now control the entire world, the last of The Wisemen Council died in the 30s. It’s only a cliffhanger because we’ve not seen The Patriots be defeated, but defeating The Patriots has never, ever been the point of Metal Gear. Big Boss is the character who tries, as does Solidus in 2, and they’re the villains. It’s a series about navigating the tension of trying to be a human being in a world in which you have so little agency or control.

So that leads me to wonder: what is this game? I know it goes back to Shadow Moses, I know you fight Big Boss at the end, I know there’s a big happy ending and a wedding at the end, I know REX fights RAY, I know fucking everything. And yet, like Matt tells me, I know nothing. I don’t know what the plot could be, because there’s nothing really left hanging. Yet, going into Guns of the Patriots I was convinced it was going to be just beginning to end epilogue on every unresolved plot point.

And maybe it will. I’m expecting a return to Sons of Liberty’s meta discussion, more of Kojima giving the player what they say they want but in the shittiest way. You want to be Solid Snake again? Fine, he’s old and dying now though, does that mesh with your fantasy?

Plus, this is a sequel to Sons of Liberty, a game defined by its pre 9/11 critique of America, yet also a devastatingly prescient post 9/11 critique. But I can’t imagine a game with that pointed a political statement could be made in 2008, at least not in the same way. Not only had 9/11 happened, but so too had the Iraq war, the conflicts in Afghanistan, and the continued expansions of PMCs into what was previously state-fought wars. All of these are elements that complicate and dramatically change Metal Gear’s politics on war, and I wonder if any of these will be confronted and addressed in the game.

But we shall see. Now that Snake has finished smoking, it’s time to begin the game, and fight the Guns of the Patriots.

See you on the other side, soldier.

Starring David Hayter, As David Hayter

What the fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

No, seriously, what the hell? That’s amazing. That opening was a-ma-zing. Why on earth does Guns of the Patriots begin with the goofiest live action interview with eyepatch wearing David Hayter? Who can say! Is there any other reason than “because it’s fucking amazing?” You know, probably not, but it is, and I’m glad.

If I was to read theme into that, it’d be Kojima getting angry at everyone misreading his creative work, and god I hope that’s the intention, because there’s really no better avatar for Kojima’s audience tension than a man in an eyepatch going “I didn’t say that.”

I’m onboard. Where are we going, Guns of the Patriots? Take me on your journey.

War Has Changed

“Huh I wonder if they’re going to address the changing nature of warfare in the last decade?” he asked, oh so innocently.

The imagery of Guns of the Patriots’ opening is pointed in a way that I have no idea how it got away with. It begins with a voiceover about how War is now an industry, how wars are fought in places far away from those with power for no other reason except to keep the cycle going, whilst two opposing factions destroy an Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™. Whether they do name it later is irrelevant, because that’s how they got away with it: this kind of imagery was everywhere in games in 2008, and it still is everywhere to a lesser extent. Metal Gear is just using it to make the world’s least subtle critique of American foreign policy rather than sell jingoistic fantasy. It’s remarkable how much Metal Gear just looks like all its ideologically bankrupt contemporaries from a distance.

The opening itself is bizzare, and it’s very… un-Metal Gear. Even Sons of Liberty, which was a textbook case of fucking with expectation, very clearly operated on the same framework as the game that preceded it. Sons of Liberty was almost cel-shaded, it was beautiful in its stylistic choices, but this just looks like a videogame. And whilst that certainly makes some of its critiques stronger, I miss the days when a Metal Gear game had some real colour in it.

Also, the lack of spinning items? Weird. I feel wrong. The items need to spin otherwise how will I know that they’re items? Come on, think this through! It’s such a strange direction to take the series design wise, because Snake Eater was a step towards abstraction. It was a game designed to achieve immersion through unrealism, but Guns of the Patriots has that late 2000s Realistic Video Game aesthetic all over and I have to say, I am not a fan.

Another weird gut reaction? Everyone sounds a little wrong. Granted, I’ve only heard Otacon and Snake, and Snake’s now Old Snake so that makes sense, but Otacon has sounded radically different in every single game I’ve heard him in, and he’s the same actor each time! It doesn’t make any sense! Anyway, I immediately press the select button and there’s no codec (at least yet) so this is basically the worst game ever made.

It’s strange to me how little context has been established, though. The first three games each had two introductory briefing sequences! And here we’re just in some country, running around, watching weird mass produced human-legged Metal Gears jump around with zero reason given as to why we’re there or what on earth is going on. It’s interesting, but I do feel like I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here. I just have to trust the game and go with it, because it will fill me in eventually, I’m sure. It can’t not, it’s a Metal Gear Solid game, I’ve played and loved three of them already.

I’m sure it won’t steer me wrong now.

Death

Snake is dying, and there’s nothing he can do. The conversation between him and Otacon about trying another doctor is truly heartbreaking to me, these two characters that we love and who love each other having to confront their mortality in this really subdued way. It’s honest and real, an underplayed moment in a series which is so often full melodrama.

Otacon and Snake’s relationship is one of the most feel good buddy buddy teams in games so to see it so strained and sad like this is just, man, it chokes me up to see. If this is the way that Guns of the Patriots is going to introduce itself then I’m in for a far more subdued and emotionally raw time than I thought. This is meant to be the bombastic finale!

Campbell shows up and gives us the closest thing to a briefing that we have; Liquid Snake’s in Unamed Middle Eastern Country™ and we’re going in to stop him. The game is real stingy with information off the bat, maybe it’s going to be parsing out its exposition in a more refined manner than it has in the past? With each game it’s moved further and further towards a story hinged by emotion rather than mystery, and everything about this intro continues this trend.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the graveyard. The graveyard scene from Snake Eater was heartbreaking itself, so bringing the series back to that visual context is great, and centres Snake’s relationship with Big Boss. These characters are take so much of the burden of what their mentors did to them, and all they have are fading memories to remember them by, so much information they were unable to pass on. And soon Snake will be a memory too.

What will they say about him when he’s gone?

*

I have nothing but questions, but none of them are burning. What’s Liquid up to? What’s happened to Philanthropy? What on earth is happening with The Patriots? This is Metal Gear, why is everything so restrained and sad? If David Hayter is turning in a performance this great as Old Snake why the fuck do they recast him? Should I order Pizza tonight?

Only some of these questions will be answered as we continue, but that intro got my hooked in a way I didn’t anticipate. Guns of the Patriots is a real game that I have played with my hands, it is not a thing that only exists through expectation and inferred information, and it’s both exactly and nothing like I expected.

Begin the mission, Snake. One last time.

Next: a video game?!?!?!