The Metal Gear Diaries #3: Father's Genetic Legacy

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 surpise 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 definitely, truly, completely killed Liquid Snake. Now, we make our way to the Underground Base, and the final confrontation with Liquid Snake... Wait, what?

If Love Is A Flower, Can A Battlefied Be The Fertilizer?

Sniper Wolf is dead, and I feel strange.

Psycho Mantis' death was affecting, but Psycho Mantis was a monster through and through, and Snake's steadfast empathy towards a fellow soldier contrasted with the horror that Meryl feels (a character who wants to be Snake, but could not be more different from him - which gets into some shitty gender implications but I'm sure Metal Gear and gender will be an ongoing saga).

Here, Sniper Wolf is portrayed as a hero in her own sense, a victim of circumstance, a pure soldier who knew no other way to operate, waiting to be free. And the character accompanying Snake is Otacon, the closest thing the game has to a walking, talking moral compass, It is perhaps the most explicitly sad moment in the game, and I doubt I'm going to see a more affecting one as I progress towards Metal Gear.

As I move into the final act, it's clear The Twin Snakes’ cast is for the most part a revolving door of antagonists which exist in some way to shed light on Snake's character, all of them hinting at the ways that Snake is similar to, different from, superior or inferior to them. The decreased focused on guard-rooms, its focus on setpieces and boss fights have a more potent effect than just smoothing the pacing - they ensure that you're not fighting dehumanised enemies. Apart from maybe Spec Ops: The Line, I've not played a game that falls within the video game military action genre which is focused on the humanity of your opponents, your victims.

On a completely different and less analytical note, fuck Gun Cameras.

Raven In The Cold

My favourite thing about Vulcan Raven's boss fight is the filter they put around the screen. The fight itself - like most of the Boss Fights - is more conceptually interesting than it is engaging to play. Much of this has to do with the addition of the first person camera to a game that is not designed for it, reducing fights to occasions of pointing and shooting. It's no coincidence that the two Sniper Wolf encounters are the best designed boss fights of the game, as with the sniper they were crafted with scope zoom in mind.

But I really like that filter. It's the same idea as Psycho Mantis' references to saved games, but made less explicit in fucking with the player, and is just a moment of playing with the game's form to affect tone and atmosphere. The tiny addition of that frozen filter transforms what is formally a dull boss fight in a Bomberman arena into a climactic confrontation.

I remember talking about how the base is far smaller than it feels, but I think that concept remains true to everything about this game. It's a man walking into six rooms, killing six people, but not before they monologue at him. And yet it feels epic (sorry! I'd use a word that didn't make me feel like crap, but to be fair it is the right word), due to how smartly it frames its encounters and its interactions, but also because of the sheer earnest commitment it has to its own melodrama.

There is one more room to walk into. See you on the other side!

The Twin Snakes

That was a hell of a thing.

The ending of The Twin Snakes Solid is like a seventeen car pile-up of nonsense in which it is revealed that every character you've encountered has been lying for you - and each for completely different reasons. Naomi wants revenge on you, Liquid Snake is Master Miller, the Colonel gets fired, removed, and returns in the space of what felt like a single codec conversation - it is ridiculous.

I loved every second of it. It was a beautiful chaotic release of every plotline that had been building up over the course of an entire game, which seemed to somehow manage to come to a calm conclusion as the credits rolled.

Now, I won’t have time to get to every reveal – there’s simply too many – but I will say that my favourite was everything to do with Naomi and Gray Fox. On the face of it, it’s this eye-rolling twist which reduces this woman in the storyline to a femme fatale entirely defined by the two men in the story, one who she wants revenge on, and one who she wants revenge for. But it’s elevated by Snake simply accepting this development, accepting that he’s been betrayed and injected with this deadly virus, and respecting Naomi’s wishes to do so. It’s my single favourite moment of Snake’s characterisation throughout the game, and continues his respect for Soldiers as people above the actions they have been made to take – whether those actions align with his mission or not.

For a game – especially one so unabashedly a goofy genre story – to attempt to change what is basically a heel-turn into this grand tragedy, where all three characters are trapped by their own circumstance, is a delightful surprise. Naomi’s reveal of her life with Gray Fox led to the even more tragic reveal of Gray Fox’s identity as her parents’ killers, and the gifts he passed on to her were simply his way of trying to atone. These moments then led to the one time in the entire game that Snake doesn’t complete the mission. He refuses to acknowledge my trigger pull, he refuses sacrifice Gray Fox. At this point, Solid Snake is basically legend, he’s spent the entire game talking to Meryl about how a soldier can never hesitate, and when it counts… he hesitates too.

Which is such a hopeful thing. Because at the end of it all, when he walks away, to head back to Alaska and run his dogs some more, you get the sense that maybe, just maybe, he’s going to be okay without a gun in his hand.

I Forgot To Talk About The Twin Snakes

Okay, whoops, that section ended really well and I was about to close this post up before I remembered that I didn’t even talk about the actual end of the game.

I mean, thematically, everything that the ending does is summed up in that final shot and that hesitation, but there is also an entire extra hour and a half of stuff around that to mention, even if it is mostly just allowing a tone to wash over you.

For some reason, I expected Big Boss to turn up. I know that he does, at some point, have a scene with Solid Snake, so the certainty with which Big Boss was continually referred to as dead was strange, because I kept interpreting it as build up before the rug would be pulled out from underneath me. But it wasn’t, it was just these two men, fighting over their legacy as clones of their father.

The whole ‘clone’ thing was very strange, because I think that was meant to be a twist? I mean, I knew Snake was a clone, but the game kind of played like you should have picked up that information by now? It focuses far more on Liquid’s motivation for burning down the entire world – because he doesn’t like his dad. Which seems more than a little childish, and I hope other villains get motivations slightly more nuanced than “fuck this shit.”

Which is a sarcastic way of getting to my main point: Liquid Snake is the only uninteresting character in this game. He’s a villain, there to be the villain, but when the other villains have been granted these moments of pathos, or even moments in which the game refuses to condemn either side as good or evil, Liquid just being “yr evil twin lol” is kind of a disappointing thing to hide behind the final curtain.

However, what his character does for Snake is really interesting. Sealing your personality and fate isn’t what genes do but we’ll roll with it for now, and the idea that the only things separating the twin Snakes is their circumstances and choices justifies Liquid’s whole deal somewhat. It fits in with the game’s general sense of empathy towards its villains, and Naomi’s monologue about how human beings can choose who they want to be.

It’s a surprisingly optimistic final note, that this story of betrayals and tragedy and war is ultimately about how it’s always worth pushing on, it’s always worth it to live. It’s peak anime, and it’s excellent. As the credits roll, I don’t even mind that the entire pile up of bullshit is basically hand waved away as “some character we’ve never met acting alone for no reason,” because I’ll take theme over plot any day of the week.

And then the screen faded back up, and with a few lines suddenly threw open that suspiciously neat bow that tied everything back up.

"Mister President."

*

One game down, three to go!

At this point, I’m onboard for Metal Gear Solid. That cliffhanger line sure is something, but I don’t know where else the series has to go, Solid Snake’s story is pretty much wrapped up. I know Sons of Liberty is meant to be something beyond ridiculous, and honestly I’m not surprised because where else do you go? This game already ends with every single thing you heard for the hours prior being revealed as a heinous lie, and you have to try to top that somehow!

I’m more curious as to whether I’ll like anything that follows. I know the fanbase is split on Sons of Liberty because you play as Raiden, and it’s basically a massive fuck you to fans of the first game? But I know that going in, so that’s not gonna bother me much at all. I’m ready for it to become a real game that I’ve played, rather than something that people have mentioned and referenced and I’ve just nodded along quietly.

I’m excited. I hope you are too.

Next: we begin Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty!