The Metal Gear Diaries #29: Old Snake

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, Drebin hooked us up with the information about The Patriots and the fantastic ending of Sons of Liberty was retconned away. Today, we’re going to reach Naomi even if it kills us.

The House

The next area in South America takes us through an extravagant house, while fighting is going on all around. The house is safe, mostly empty, but the sound of bullets echoes in the air. The shift away from only setting Metal Gear inside explicit military bases allows for these moments of domesticity, as you walk through someone’s bedroom, head into a living room and see remnants of real life that war has long since thrown away.

All the games have had moments like this, descending into the second building in Twin Snakesbrought you to an area no longer covered in concrete and metal, but wood panelled and lavish. The long walk to Groznyj Grad took Naked Snake through food depositories and soldier’s dormitories. And now Old Snake has fought in the high streets and hotels of Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™ and this mansion that was once a lived in home.

Many war games rely on domestic iconography in order to create an emotional core. The most obvious of which is perhaps Modern Warfare 2, where soldiers fight to hold an off brand Burger King and a Gas Station from invading Russian forces. It’s a conflict designed to pull on the (assumed American) audience’s sympathies, with the sight of tanks, soldiers and drones in a suburban landscape drenched in Americana.

This is the most common use of the intimate within war games, a tactic that frames the violence as tragic but necessary, using familiar iconography to create animosity towards the invaders and motivate the player to shoot. Guns of the Patriots, and the other Metal Gear games, do it to point out to the player the absurdity of the acts of war taking place, something I’ve only seen done as effectively in Spec Ops: The Line. This isn’t taking place on American Soil, these moments of intimacy don’t serve primarily to dehumanise the enemies, but instead humanise them.

I expected to enjoy Guns of the Patriots story, but I didn’t expect to keep finding its moment to moment gameplay such a well-crafted element that meshed thoroughly with the themes of the series. I wonder how much that will disappear as the game continues to reinvent itself act after act, but I hope it stays consistent as the game continues to progress into more Boss Fights and Set Pieces.

Choose Your Eyes

The sequence where Snake walks up to the lab is a great example of the evolution of cinematic language that has continued throughout Metal Gear into Guns of the Patriots. All that happens is Snake walks up to a door, opens it, and walks into a lab. And this takes about two whole minutes. But if you press R1, you get a look at Snake’s perspective, and the camera angle completely changes. This added layer, where you can directly put yourself in the eyes of someone peeking around unknown corners, or distance yourself and simply observe their reaction, creates a tension throughout the scene, which is functionally just “a man walks into a room.”

It’s continuing the work that Snake Eater did in this area, where you could press a button to see through Snake’s eyes, sometimes used as a joke to get a peek of EVA’s boobs, or to see The Sorrow giving you extra information and a goofy gag. Guns of the Patriots advances it by limiting it; you can choose to view the scene from Snake’s perspective but this time you don’t have control of the perspective. I can draw a direct line from these ideas in Metal Gear to the way in which P.T. plays with perspective, locking you into animations and taking control of where you are going to look, but making you make the choice to look in the first place.

Metal Gear is not a horror game, but the manner in which it plays with cinematic language and adds interactivity into its scenes demonstrate a remarkable understanding of the ways in which composition and perspective is used to create tension.

I guess the conclusion to this little entry is what everybody was saying last year, the loss of Silent Hills ever existing and PT ever being played by new people is tragic, and I hope the team at Kojima Productions gets to continue elaborating on these ideas somewhere else in the future.

Liquid’s Plan

Hooray! Naomi! It’s good to finally meet her, she was just an animated gif in the first game, appearing on my codec screen. Be good to catch up, see what she’s been up to these days, apart from helping Liquid Ocelot enact a plan which will surely plunge the world into an age of perpetual war?

Well, I guess that does take up a lot of time, not much space for hobbies when forced into the pursuit of assisting someone’s revolution. She starts by filling Snake in on the specifics of Liquid’s plan, the majority of which I had already put together, but puts in some interesting twists on the ideas present.

Liquid was trying to hack into the SOP system, to free his soldiers from The Patriots control. And what we saw back in the Middle East was a success, the soldiers were freed from all forms of nanomachine control – but their minds couldn’t handle it. By shielding the human mind from the effects of war, the soldiers are completely mentally reliant upon the SOP system in order to simply continue functioning.

This has so far been a recurring theme in Guns of the Patriots, the difficulty of fighting against a system on which the very thing you are fighting for has become reliant. They could destroy The Patriots immediately, but the world would not recover from its need for the war economy overnight. The series presents an understanding of how culture functions as a symbiotic relationship between values and people, and demonstrates that no matter how harmful a culture, a value system or way of life may be for the people it is enforced upon, it is still relied upon by those who operate within it.

This plot point is also the continued examination of the idea of The Soldier; almost every Metal Gear character is shaped and traumatised by war in some way, a constant in the Metal Gear universe is that war leaves deep scars that will never heal. So now, the universe has changed to allow anyone to fight and avoid the consequences of those actions, but they can’t be avoided forever. If they are to be free of Patriot control, the soldiers – and the world – is going to have to confront these consequences themselves. And they are too much to bare.

Whilst I’m still grumpy at the reveal of Raiden’s inability to handle his past once he acknowledged it, it fits into the themes that Guns of the Patriots is dealing with. The world’s wars are essentially fought by armies of early-Sons of Liberty Raidens, trained by artificial means, with no instinct or experience to help them on their way. Raiden’s inability to cope without his constructed reality foreshadows these soldiers inability to cope without their nanomachines.

So the question becomes: how does Snake fight against an evil that has become so engrained within society that to remove it would tear the world apart? How does Liquid rebel against The Patriots when The Patriots control is absolute?

The answer to the second question is simple, and to me, extremely sad. Upon seeing that he cannot free his soldiers from the control of SOP, Liquid decides he will merely take control of SOP from The Patriots instead. With the structures of control established in the world, Liquid sees no difference between destroying them and taking over them. Each way he gets his revenge, each way he gets his war.

I like to think that Solidus wouldn’t have done the same as Liquid. Solidus is the most sympathetic of all the mastermind bad guys in the series – well, The Boss technically is, but her tragedy is brought about by her success rather than her failure, making it a completely different beast, so I’ll say Solidus fills that role in me for now. His aim was to disrupt The Patriots’ control of the economy, to spin off territory their control as America once did from The British. If he had control over the fate of the world would he choose to allow SOP to continue? Would Snake?

I get the feeling these are the questions that are going to be answered at the end of the game, these are the real meat of Guns of the Patriots. And I’m ready to see it play out.

Ageing

Snake stands in front of a full length mirror, examining his aged body. Naomi simply gasps, shocked at what she sees in front of her.

But the thing is, Snake’s in pretty good shape. He’s Old Snake, yes, but his muscle tone is good, his body isn’t withering away and breaking down. This moment stuck out to me because it captured the honesty of what scares us about ageing. What’s horrific about Old Snake to Naomi – and to us – isn’t that he’s mutating or genetically wrong or anything so complicated. It’s that he’s mortal.

When we see Snake, his OctoCamo removed, his bare skin looking back at us in the mirror, we are reminded of the inescapable nature of death in a way more powerful than any of the abstracted moments of killing in the game.

And it scares us.

*

Well, we met Naomi, and it ended up being a far quieter scene than I expected. I guess there is a lot of exposition to get through before things can truly kick off.

Next: we’re going to find out just what the hell is causing Old Snake to age so fast. I mean, I already know, because I’ve been on the internet in the last seven years, but let’s have a cliffhanger here.