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 met Raiden, and went up the elevator, ready to tackle Big Shell…
Totally Not Solid Snake
Big Shell is a beautiful location. No longer constrained by PSone technology, but still forced to work within the limits of the PS2 in 2001, the game has this gorgeous stylised aesthetic that I don’t associate with Metal Gear at all. The orange struts, vibrant in the sunshine, upscaled far beyond their means in the HD collection are what you would call my shit. It looks so good.
I was right about it not taking long to introduce elements beyond just re-treading the beats of MGS but with Raiden being the worst throughout them. I honestly can’t believe Kojima got away with making the protagonist an audience surrogate who exists to be incompetent and awful at every single occasion. And then I’m told his audience at the time hated Raiden because he was too effeminate. Which is one of the best examples of both missing the point and proving the point in one swing.
Running into Solid Snake Lt Pliskin, we get the first Live Action footage of the day, in which Pliskin talks to Raiden about how VR Training is no substitute for real war, and works as a form of mind control to numb the public to the realities of war. And then, if the point was just a little too subtle he says “Turning war into a video game. It’s mind control.”
So, that’s pretty good. The quote at the start of this segment linked the development of Nuclear Bombs to the development of the computer, and whilst I don’t know how that’s going to manifest exactly going forward, it’s being invoked in all these meta elements to comment on audience complicity, to reveal the audience desire for war (virtual or real) as something constructed for them, a hollow illusion they have bought into.
Random thought: sorry, can’t hear Vamp’s voice without hearing The Collector from Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m a monster.
1: Fortune’s introductory cutscene was amazing, I can see myself liking her character a whole lot. Sad disaffected bad guys are my favourite kind, please can someone give her a hug?
2: lol Raiden. His response when anything doesn’t go how he exactly expected it to is to get indignant, the contempt the game has for him is ridiculous. If the game has one overriding theme so far it can be summed up as: this isn’t about you.
I have been searching for the bombs for fourty five minutes. I have three of them, I can’t get to one without being spotted, and I can’t find the one in strut A.
My decision to play this game without a guide is biting me in my butt. I have so many regrets.
Anyway I’m just sitting here chuckling to myself how much this is the most Raiden reaction to having to defuse all these bombs. I don’t wanna!
Bombs, Bombs, Bombs
Now that I’ve gotten into the meat of it, I think it’s interesting how structurally different Sons of Liberty is from its predecessor. I’m five hours in, and I’ve only fought one boss, whereas I’ve explored half of the map that’s available to me in Big Shell. It doesn’t have the sense of progression that defined the original, that sense of diving deeper towards the inevitable final goal. Instead, it has you do a tonne of busywork, giving you a series of menial stealth rooms, and not expanding your itemset. Hell, you get a whole two struts in before you even find your first gun.
It’s interesting how this is contrasted by the chatter of Pete and Snake Pliskin, clearly operating on a higher level with Raiden, dealing with far more important business. Again – this is not about you. The game presents its stealth challenges in a way designed to heighten their artifice, to draw attention to the fact that this is what you’re here to do, right? Do the stealth rooms. Enjoy it, rookie.
It almost completely pushes the story away – by Metal Gear standards there have been practically zero cutscenes in the two and a half hours I’ve been on Big Shell. After the pitch-perfect pacing of the Tanker, where it lets you know that it totally could give you a great time if it wants to, Sons of Liberty throws the carrot from the stick. It’s not refusing to answer the mysteries ahead of me, it’s refusing to admit there even are any mysteries.
Certainly, there are arguments to be made about whether this is good game design or not. It’s probably not, but there’s few concepts that inspire less give-a-fuck in me than the idea of “good game design.” The game holds the player in contempt, wasting my time, energy and investment in more ways than one, but at least it’s doing that thoroughly on purpose, in service of the thematic ambitions of the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate out this fall. (I wrote this article in goddamn July).
Fortune Favours The Dead
Well here we go. Apparently immediately after I wrote the last entry, Sons of Liberty was ready to kick into overdrive. If it’s anything like the original, it’s going to be pretty much entirely boss fights from here on in, which makes total sense considering the fact I’ve already been through these stealth rooms multiple times.
Fortune keeps getting better as a character, and fits right into the themes that resonated so strongly to me in Metal Gear Solid. She’s a soldier, born into war, but unable to die, although there’s nothing she wants to do more. The idea of soldiers unable to change their nature as soldiers is a recurring one in Metal Gear, and while I think that might be a little too fatalistic for me (I know, shh), I appreciate whenever it takes the time to show the human cost of war within its characters.
The human cost is never the cost in lives here, although that is certainly a part of it – Raiden is shocked Rose is so okay with him just taking the lives of other humans away from them. Instead it’s more of the inner turmoil of the participants, where no soldier comes out unscathed, and none of them are ever allowed to be free. Fortune is the most on-the-nose nod yet to the permanence of war.
I’m consistently surprised that a game with Evangelion Mechs is commited to inspiring such empathy towards those who have experienced trauma. There’s certainly shitty ways you could read this repeated idea; indulging in the pain of others purely to point and go go “hey, this fucked up!” Given what we all know about Ground Zeroes, this isn’t an incorrect read at all – but so far I’ve found it so far to be on a side where it’s respecting the trauma of the people that it portrays. At least by videogame standards.
Not that that’s a high standard.
The Fatman boss fight took me forever, and then I backflipped off the edge fourty minutes in and had to start again.
I then beat him in five minutes. Videogames.
Fatman’s character is interesting to me because one, I expected them to pump his scenes full of far more fatshaming than they do. There’s still a lot there, but his characterisation focuses more on his complete adoration for bombs, for the purity of their technological design.
He’s kind of not worth talking about in great detail, but I do want to note how Raiden begins to get more and more sympathetic at this point. He’s always been suspicious of military structures (GOD KNOWS WHY THEY CHOSE THIS MAN FOR THIS MISSION), but he’s beginning to gain the confidence enough to act on his own to save more people than he is being ordered to.
Despite being ordered not to, his going to Snake and revealing his mission objectives is a key turning point in Raiden’s arc, I think. I’m interested to see how this manifests itself and what happens to Raiden as a character as we progress – especially outside of the element of his character where he’s a despised audience surrogate. He’s other things too!
Oh, and I mean Pliskin, he goes to Pliskin.
I must be at least half way by this point, right? I feel like I’ve covered quite a bit of ground. I hope everyone’s enjoying my as-I-go reactions, I’m a little insecure that they’re not as interesting as pieces crafted after the fact, but that’s not what these were ever meant to be.
Next: It’s time to rescue the President…