The Metal Gear Diaries #25: Nanomachines

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 up with Drebin and decided that we’re going to need his sweet sweet cool awesome super sexy fuck yes guns in order to make our anti-war critique. Metal Gear is a strange house of cards that falls down if you have to explain it to anybody. Today, we’re going to finally meet the informants!

Cover Shooter

Holy shit, a Metal Gear Solid game just had a cover shooter sequence. I waited for my squad leader to move through respawning banks of enemies as we stopped at perfectly arranged cover points in order to have a shootout. What is happening?!?!

I feel like this cements my reading of Guns of the Patriots, at least in its opening act, as a response to and critique of Modern Western Trends in game design. The Rat Squad suck, but they fill the role of your cool power fantasy team in a Call of Duty or what have you. You progress down the stairs and fight these waves, and it’s certainly fun, but it’s numbing in a way, it doesn’t have the tension or the physicality of the moments of slow sneaking.

I’ll have to look, when I’m finished with the game, into the design process for Guns of the Patriots. I know Ryan Payton was brought in to mold the game into something that would be more marketable in the west – which the game itself is clearly aware of in the way it frames its story, it’s not suddenly switched its focus without calling attention to it. But I don’t know how early that happened, or what a modern Metal Gear game would have looked like without this assistance.

And whilst I’m definitely curious, I know there are some things we just can never know.

The System

There’s something about Snake and Otacon consistently bemoaning The System (capital S) in order to mean a specific thing and not just banging out conspiracy theories about the extent of The Patriots control that is hilarious. Metal Gear always opts to name its ridiculous nonsense, but nope, one of its many outlandish sub-systems gets to be called The System because that’s what the writers decided.

The game links these nanomachines that Meryl and her team wears to the VR missions that Raiden got all his experience from (not really, but you know). With each game, the experience of The Soldier matters less and less, they’re crafting the human beings they want and denying their agency or autonomy. Snake was grown in a lab to fight war, and Big Boss would surely find that idea as repugnant as Snake finds the idea of VR Training, and now nanomachines.

For as positive as Metal Gear is about the progress of technology, and make no mistake it definitely is positive about that, it is critical of the ways technology can be used and co-opted by those with power in the status quo. Because the technology, the nanomachines and the ID system, they aren’t the villains in Metal Gear, The Patriots are.

Doctor Octopus

Holy shit what are those?! Seriously, I walked down a street and then these… things just came out of nowhere and destroyed the rest of the rebels. They seemed to be Gecko-like in design, they had the tendrils that Gecko use, but two of them were clearly women, whilst the others were clearly drones? Who knows, I’m sure they shall explain soon enough.

What is interesting is just how much more use of silence that Guns of the Patriots makes. The first game was nothing but people standing in rooms and talking back and forth at one another for the entire duration of their scenes; we have come a long way in the series cinematic language in the last decade.

Base Of Operations

It has taken me sixty whole minutes to make it through to the door into Liquid’s base. The extended stealth sequence, from the road, to the yard, to the tents, is when Guns of the Patriotslets you know that after all the strangeness that it’s been throwing at you: this is still very much a Metal Gear game.

There’s a base in front of you, an objective to get to, and nothing between you and legions of guards patrolling the place. When Guns of the Patriots goes hard on making a Metal Gear sequence, it goes all out, leading to an intense sequence which teetered on the edge of disaster multiple times. I fought a wave of re-enforcements, snuck around another wave, and made it through to the door.

In previous games, I’d never feel willing to engage in combat in this way, I’d always want to wait it out, either run away or stealth, but Guns of the Patriots can be played like a shooter, if so intended. And it’s honestly a really fucking good one, when approached that way, because the stealth elements give it a versatility to its encounter design that isn’t allowed for in most other third person shooters.

I’ve barely started, but already I think I’m going to play this game again when I’m done. I really love this gaaaaaaaame.

BROTHER!!!

Well damn, that happened.

What that is, I have no clue whatsoever. But it’s certainly something to do with the Nanomachines. Liquid Ocelot (I can’t keep up) has found a way to turn the System (capital S) that enforces the Patriots’ control against itself, and use it to buy him the room to carry out his master plan. But we don’t get a look into what it is, he mostly just walks around in silence being all menacing, and showing off his newly grown hair.

But as with the earlier scene, so much happens in silence – and with strange sound mixing as well – that it feels more surreal than straight up impactful. It should be a moment of propulsion, a moment where the rug is pulled out from under you, yes, but one where you also stand up, cheer and get ready for the rest of the game. But what they go for instead is this incredibly effective feeling of the loss of control, and the heartbreaking image of a dying Snake struggling to even raise a gun.

I want to know what Akiba’s deal is, too! His uselessness had previously been just a part of his character, just a recurring joke to illustrate how ineffective this team really is, but he’s the only one able to operate here – meaning he must be immune to nanomachines, right? That’s the only explanation I can think of at this stage. There’s been nothing explicitly said about whether that’s even the cause of Liquid’s attack, but nothing else make sense, so I’m going to run with that assumption.

If Akiba is immune to the nanomachines, that puts him as a Raiden-type character, someone used to illustrate the effect and dishonesty of the nanomachines the same way Raiden illustrated the effect and dishonesty of VR training. It makes him far more explicit as a player insert character, framing him as the true face of someone who knows about war only as a simulation and a program – completely inept and consistently useless.

Naomi’s here, too! Everyone from the first game is back, apparently, save for all the Bosses you killed and like, Mei Ling I guess. But I’ll bet she’ll find a way to show up somehow. Guns of the Patriots is already a remarkably dense game, existing both as a collection of things you remember from other games, building off of those in strange ways, and introducing a thousand new concepts in order for there to actually be a plot. There’s just so much stuff!

But despite being bad now (or always? I remember coming away sympathetic to Naomi even though she almost killed me), Naomi saves my life with an injection, and the screen fades to black.

What is going on? Will we ever know?

Act One

The first act of Guns of the Patriots is a strange thing. There’s so much going on, a thousand juggling balls in the air, and yet it all feels so strangely sparse. It gives me the space to sneak around, to walk through warring streets and take my sides, to poke and prod at its systems and find out where the edges are.

It’s also surprisingly low stakes for now. I know this is eventually going to be a fight for the fate of the world, but as it stands, we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on. Liquid hasn’t really done anything other than kill a few soldiers, there’s been no move for world domination, and the prevailing feeling is one of confusion more than excitement.

Not that I’m not excited, I just mean in regards to the game’s tone and the effect it has. It is at once conventional and unconventional, exactly what I expected and the complete opposite.

But I’m having a great time.

*

One act down, four to go! The coming acts are surely not going to take up the amount of ground as Act One has, because so much of the early sections of these series is engaging with and documenting my reaction to the core of the game. And that’s not going to change, so it’ll just be Plot Point after Plot Point as we go!

Next: we begin the second act, and find out just what the hell is going on.