The Metal Gear Diaries #26: Sad Dad Simulator '08

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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 Act One of the videogame Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. This time, presumably, we will move into Act Two of said videogame. Though, given Hideo Kojima, even that might be a misguided assumption.

In The Air Tonight

Oh, hey, we begin with the Mission Briefing put right into the middle of the story mode, thus raising the question: why on earth didn’t I see it before Act One? I went from live action eggs straight into Snake back in the Middle East. And given how crucial some of that information was, I must have just missed it or skipped it or done something wrong. But I can’t remember now, and it’s all in the past.

This mission briefing subplots of Sunny trying to cook eggs for everyone are really sad. There’s something tragic about magical computer wizard orphan wanting nothing more than to cook for her adoptive parents (I assume Otacon is basically Sunny’s dad at this point), and then being really shit at it. And both Snake and Otacon are so bad at dealing with this! They can’t talk to her about it, they can’t eat them, so they just kind of pretend to not be insulting her in a way that hurts her even more than if they had been honest.

It’s actually a really apt look at how dysfunctional family dynamics are able to form and how growing up with certain types of well-meaning parenting can leave deep emotional scars and trust issues but, BUT, now is probably not the time.

I hope Sunny cooks her eggs one day and shares the biggest hug with Otacon. I hope they live happily together in a farm somewhere developing only the coolest technology and then Snake comes by every Christmas to hang out and drop by gifts. I hope Guns of the Patriots is secretly a sad dad sitcom. It basically is. This cutscene was longer than an episode of Louie anyway.

The mission itself is in South Africa, and we’re going after Ocelot’s base. I’m sure that we’re definitely going to stop him this time for reals, and there will be no complications or twists whatsoever. I do think Naomi’s message to Snake is real though, I don’t think that element of this whole scheme is specifically a trap, because Naomi’s too cool a character for that. She’s morally grey but her motivations are consistent and in the first game she had acted out of love for Gray Fox rather than blind hatred for Snake.

Plus, something as simple as “she’s lying” doesn’t seem like enough for a Metal Gear twist, even though every single Metal Gear twist has just been on a variation on “everyone is lying to you tho.”

It was also cool to see Campbell’s house! He lives in a ridiculous mansion in America in the 1920s, it looks like, with the chairs from the Matrix. I’m looking forward to when he and Meryl have it out, he’s so affected by her even caring about him that he doesn’t even mind that her reaction is one of anger.

So much of the drama in Metal Gear comes from people’s conflicts with their ancestors, with this link in genes and circumstance between people not being strong enough to carry understanding and truth. Even if it isn’t literal, the conflict lines of Metal Gear so often fall between parent and child, Big Boss and The Boss, Big Boss and Snake, even the unforgivable clusterfuck that is the backstory of Otacon’s family! And Campbell and Meryl’s conflict occurs in this same way, the child has a need and cannot understand why the parent is unable to fulfil it, whilst the parent is heartbroken at their inability to explain.

In many ways, this idea was the emotional core of Snake Eater, as it took Big Boss on the journey from child to parent, from betrayed to betrayer, we see that line play out uninterrupted, the line which continues through everything in the series.

There’s definitely space for a more pointed critical read of Metal Gear’s text from this angle, probably from someone who understands the theories of parent/child relationships and how they’re portrayed within art better than me. But I think it’s interesting at least, for a series so concerned about the interconnectedness of the human race, the way that we “pass things on,” that the conflicts are almost all about those closest to each other being unable to pass things on.

Which is what makes Guns of the Patriots so sad. Snake is coming to the end of his life, and he’s out of place, his reluctance to hook up to the System comes from a principled place that the audience understands, but to Meryl he’s just an old man stuck in his ways, unable to see the changing of the times.

If only there was some way for these characters to bridge this gap, this gap that separates them from all those close to them. Why did Meryl try to take needless revenge on Snake? Why does Meryl keep thinking of her father, why does Snake stand at Big Boss’ grave, and why does Sunny keep trying to cook for Otacon when all this brings them is more distance and pain?

Same answer as ever. They need the eggs.

(I am not even a little bit sorry)

La-Lie-Lu-Li-Lo Airlines

One hilarious thing about the briefing is just how long it takes them to come to the conclusion that Liquid Ocelot has found a way into the SOP system and is using it against The Patriots. It’s actually the first time The Patriots are really talked about outside of that initial SOP briefing, and acts as a nice refresher for what Metal Gear is actually about.

They talk about the pain Liquid must be feeling, being forced to submit to being used by The Patriots as he builds up his plan. They’re incredibly sympathetic – as Metal Gear always is – to the desire of its obvious, human antagonists, who want to break free of this oppressive system of control. But Snake and the others understand that the world is how it is for a reason, and to take out The Patriots and their entire System would mean to upend society as it is known.

And maybe after the smoke has cleared, something beautiful will be built in the ashes of whatever is left, but Liquid doesn’t want that – he wants the chaos, the perpetual war, somewhere where the Soldier will always have their place.

The core ideological tension in Guns of the Patriots, as with Sons of Liberty, isn’t stopping a bad guy from destroying the world. It’s being caught between these two extremes and attempting to find a way to live with the dissonance. But the difference here is that Guns of the Patriots is the ending, and I know it is as final an ending that you can reasonably expect from Metal Gear. Whereas Sons of Liberty ended in this beautiful ambiguous place of Raiden having the tension revealed to him, and finding the things he cared about to keep living for in a world like that, there’s no way that Guns of the Patriots will do the same.

Which begs the question: how does this end? I know so much, but I have no idea where when forced to make its final choice, where Metal Gear ends up landing. Do they try to take a third option and completely defeat both Outer Haven and The Patriots? Does the world end completely free of tyranny and everyone goes home happy?

I can’t imagine a world in which that is the case. This is going to be messy. And I want to know how.

No Shit The Vampire Didn’t Die

Snake, he’s a Vampire. Do you know what the core principle of vampire mythology is? They don’t fucking die! You going to tell me that in a world in which the possessed hand of your dead clone brother has taken over the body of a cool as hell cold war spy, you’re shocked that the vampire survived? I shake my head, Snake. I shake my head.

And he’s working with Dr Octopus from earlier in the game! This could get very interesting, by which I mean will certainly lead to a two hour series of cutscenes in which the motivations of all twelve competing factions are revealed one after the other and my mind will just melt into goo in the best way. I’m ready for it, give me this Metal Gear. Your time is now!

I wonder what purpose framing Snake for this attack serves at this stage. The Patriots have already tarnished Snake’s legacy, he’s a legendary soldier forced into hiding and now thought a terrorist who fights against the world’s order of things. He’s not a popular person, and the only thing I can think of that framing him achieves is to implicate the UN in this attack. Unless it’s far simpler and just gives the Soldiers on guard a reason to shoot at you as you show up?

Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. If I’m asking the wrong questions, don’t tell me, just enjoy how off base I am in all my assumptions and lines of enquiry, because by the time you’ve read this, I’ve known the answers for months.

Act One, in its environmental design, was a riff on the modern military shooters of its time, with the buildings and streets, with the war taking place around you, and with the Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™. Act Two begins with a clear homage to Snake Eater, as Snake crawls through the natural environment, animals moving over him as he blends in.

I wonder how much Guns of the Patriots is going to be re-inventing its gameplay ideas every act? I know we’ve got one coming up that is basically a noir chapter, so I’m very very excited for that one. But I know nothing about South America as a location in this game, it’s not appeared in advertising or been talked about much in places I’ve been listening.

Let’s press these buttons.

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Act Two has begun! Who knows how many posts we’ll have at this rate. I am never, ever, everwriting about a game in this much depth again. It’s a fun ride but it’s exhausting as all get up.

Next: a sneaking mission!