The Metal Gear Diaries #31: Getting The Band Back Together

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 took out our first boss, and now we’re heading off in search of one Naomi Hunter. Onwards and away!

Tracking Naomi

Huh, this is a really unexpected but welcome little set piece. Raiden gives us a call – he’s a Ninja now, you see – to explain the basics of tracking to veteran Alaskan Dogman, David Snake. What follows is an understated sequence, created through extrapolating elements of Metal Gear’s play to a logical confusion, something that these games have been incredibly good at in their set piece design. Instead of searching for explosives, or avoiding enemies, I get to use the Night Vision Mode to track footprints through a maze, and make my way to find Naomi.

What I liked about this was that it changes a moment of narrative urgency and intensity into one which forces the player to take a contemplative approach. You can’t go and find Naomi by chasing after her, you have to take your time, be careful and ensure you’re not going the wrong way. There are traps laid out along the way, as well as both helpful and funny secrets to discover; everything is set up in order to encourage me to be part of the space. I think Snake Eater was a turning point in the series, as was changing the camera and removing the radar, because everything done since has had a greater emphasis on simply being within a space. The first two games had excellent spaces, but were cold and mechanical – even the beautiful and vibrant Big Shell – which served a purpose, but often made interactions feel like the abstractions that they were.

Act Two, with its greenery and greater emphasis on open, natural spaces and far less corridors, streets and stairways has been this game’s callback to Snake Eater’s sensibilities, with Act One acting more directly as a commentary on modern military shooters and western design sesnibilities. I’m sure Acts Three, Four and Five will be just as divergent in their presentation, and also, I’m told, way, way shorter. Apparently I’m way over half way through Guns of the Patriots, or at least I would be if I skipped all the cutscenes.

Which I’m not going to do.

Crop Circle

OKAY WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT

SOMEONE TELL ME

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Drebin And The Escape

Well, Act Two certainly is reaching a climax! After the calm, almost sedate section of tracking, in which the narrative time pressure is completely removed from the player, the plot just explodes; Snake shoots Vamp in the head, all the soldiers had a meltdown, and Drebin shows up to take everyone away! All aboard!

I don’t know why Vamp is working with Liquid Snake, and I don’t know if this is ever going to be addressed – he’s from Dead Cell, he’s actually got very little to do with the goings on of the plot in the series, apart from the fact that he just happens to still be alive, so he’s gotta be worked in somehow. I remember when we first run across Vamp at the beginning of Act Two, I thought that maybe there was a third party involved that I hadn’t heard about, but that’s pretty clearly not the case by now. So hopefully at some point Vamp will give a long ol’ monologue and explain just what the hell is going on, because I’d like to know, thank you!

The way this action beat plays out just emphasises how much Guns of the Patriots pacing is different when compared to the prior games, although things had always been moving in this direction. Less emphasis on Codec calls and lengthy monologues – though the latter are still incredibly important – and more moments of excitement within its cinemas. So much of the series is about information, knowledge being shared between characters, interpreted and re-interpreted in the passing; nearly every moment of intensity or excitement within the first two games was about the gaining, losing or re-understanding of information.

This changed with Snake Eater, primarily in the escape from Groznyj Grad, which is a nod to the escape sequence from the original game but far more comprehensive. As greater technology has been available to play with, the games have become far more ambitious in the way they play with cinema, and with this change of focus comes a massive change in how the stories are structured – which is compounded by the act structure of Guns of the Patriots. We’re two fifths through the game, and already we’ve reached a cathartic climax of a sort, the stage has been set and all the pieces are moving into place. This series began with Snake on a Solo Sneaking Mission, and at the end point, it’s him and all his buddies stuffed into a jeep and running away together.

Which is a common storytelling trope in final entries – and I don’t care how many numbered Metal Gear games exist after this, Guns of the Patriots is a god damn finale – the moment where the busywork is dealt with and everyone’s together for one last ride. It’s the escape from Jabba’s palace of the Metal Gear series.

I’m surprised Drebin is so active in the goings on here, because a) he’s one of only two new characters and b) he’s the individual within the story that represents the War Economy, and is far more complicit in it than Snake or even Meryl, who’s bought into the system just as much as Drebin, except lacks Drebin’s self awareness about how awful it clearly is. I’m glad he’s getting a lot of play, because What To Do About The War Economy is basically my favourite part of Guns of the Patriots, but I didn’t expect Drebin to ever explicitly play the hero.

But he does! And we get a cool escape sequence, and no answers whatsoever, but a lot of Gecko’s do get shot. Plus, we get to ride out the way we came in, which is great and completely recontextualises your relationship with the space. Far more than Groznyj Grad’s escape, in which you drive in circles around the base and then make your way into areas hitherto unexplored, this escape makes tangible the scope of the slow progress that you make as Solid Snake. In a series which focuses on the limits of any one individual’s agency against various crushing systems of control, it was nice to have a moment where you just rip through a couple hours of hard human sneaking in just a few minutes in a machine.

Say Hello To Raiden

At long, long last, Raiden shows up as more than just a voice on the Codec! Hooray! And he’s more machine than man now. Just by being around games twitter the last few years, I knew that Sexy Cyborg Raiden was a thing, but I didn’t realise the sheer extent of his cyborg-ness. The series has had Cyborg Ninjas before (Metal Gear is fucking nonsense), and they’ve had a defined aesthetic, one far more suit than exoskeleton. But Raiden’s been through the wars, I don’t quite know exactly how or why, because when we left him he was fine.

I’m still not sure how to read all the stuff with Raiden, I talked before about how frustrating this plot line appears to be, but that it fits in with MGS4’s focus on how removing the systems that are causing you harm doesn’t actually end up well for people, just see every single SOP soldier when the system is shut off. So while I’m anxious for now, the game hasn’t steered me wrong yet, and I’m ready to go along with this. I do know, however, that I’m way more invested in the character of Raiden than almost anyone else would have been. Playing these games in a row, in 2015, creates an incredibly different experience to playing these at release. At the time, all the focus on this game going in was on Solid Snake, would he die? Would he live? What does it mean for Solid Snake to even be capable of ageing and dying? What does that say about our heroes?

Those conversations, which I wasn’t part of but remember occurring around me, focused far more on Solid Snake as cultural icon, which is certainly the largest and most obvious impact Metal Gear Solid had on games as a whole. But that was 2008, entire series have played out arcs from excellent to atrocious since then, and games are in a completely different place. So while my reactions to the games, the things that I focus on and consider important, are totally valid, I understand that they’re very specifically brought about by me being me and now being now.

This is all to say that I understand I may be setting myself up for disappointment, and I realise I’m placing importance on areas that may not have been central at the time of creation.

Anyway, I’m glad Raiden’s here!

The Market

It’s such a short scene, Snake running from one side of a Market to the other, before another parade of cutscenes begin, but it actually takes time to show collateral damage, and give some much needed humanisation to the spaces that this war is taking place in. Big Shell crashed into Manhattan, but Manhattan was empty until morning, and so much of the crash scene ended up being cut due to 9/11 in order to downplay the implication that these fantasy wars are having a real and measurable impact on outside human lives.

But here, we see a road, we see people selling, buying and living life, until Gekko’s land and they all immediately disperse. This is the first instance in these games in which we traverse an area outside of a war zone, and I think it’s an important step for Metal Gear to take in the humanising of its world.

Getting Out Of Here

Well, Naomi’s dead. As she entered the helicopter, she took a long look at Otacon with the most doey eyes the cell processer can handle, and making eyes at Otacon is almost certainly a death sentence for any individual! But then again, there is a marriage at the end of this game, The Comedie Of Metal Gear, so perhaps Naomi’s going to be the one that make it and her and Otacon will fly off into the sunset! Which I assume is actually what happens, because I can’t think of a single other heterosexual pairing in these games between two characters who are currently alive. Outside of that scope, I guess Big Boss could show up, make out with Ocelot in order to bring back that personality and banish Liquid Snake forever.

After a rare two seconds of heterosexual tension, the pendulum swings back the other way and we get Vamp throwing off his shirt and having a knife fight with Raiden. I’m not being glib, by the way, I think the homoerotic tension that finds its way into Metal Gear’s fight scenes is a large part of why they work (and also a cultural read based on the fact we read Men expressing emotions as G A Y). There is always a mutual respect between combatants in the series, and the objective is very rarely just “fight the guy and win.” Vamp wants Raiden to beat him, to finally be able to kill him and set him free from his immortality. The dance-esque fights of Metal Gear’s fight scenes are so often the physical expression of one character’s emotional yearning and need for something from another character, something made never more clear than with everything about The Boss and Naked Snake in Snake Eater. But aside from that specific relationship, the characters of the series are almost entirely men, and that’s where the tension comes in.

Anyway, that tangent on Metal Gear and Sexuality could easily be an article itself, and maybe I’ll write it one day, but this act isn’t over yet. Oh god.

Snake and Raiden make it to the helicopter as Vamp watches them go, ominously telling Liquid that “we need the original,” which I assume is how Big Boss is going to factor into all this. Vamp gets a very Saturday Morning Cartoon moment as he goes “it’s all part of the plan,” just to let you know that this is going somewhere.

As our crew fly away in their helicopter, we get to see Raiden’s blood for the first time, it’s all fucked up and white and gross. It’s the most jarringly inhuman part of his current character, and it’s genuinely affecting to watch him splutter and squirm as he does here. Guns of the Patriotsrevels in putting its characters in situations of powerlessness, on removing the illusion that these people are invincible heroes that exist for us to pour our dreams into. It’s a nice continuation ofSons of Liberty’s examinations of how games let us be the hero, and what it means to want that and to have that wanted from you.

And then he passes out, and we get a nice stinger line, giving us the hook for the next act and quite possibly the worst character name in a series which uses bad character names as fuel.

WHO IS BIG MAMA?

Act Two

Guns of the Patriots is in a strange place at the end of Act Two, in that while the stage has been set and we’ve had the information delivered in terms of just what is happening to Snake, there’s no real extreme urgency? I’ve no idea what the next chapter is going to be, and I’ve no idea how things get to any real sense of conclusion.

All we have at this point is Find Big Mama, and who knows what on earth that actually means! These first two acts have been far more busy than that of the games that came before it, which used the Prologue chapter to great effect. But here, lots more has happened, but it’s all been either groundwork or peripheral stuff, or things that merely serve to raise more questions. Nothing as propulsive as Liquid sinking the Tanker or The Boss turning on Naked Snake has occurred in this game, despite the fact that certain characters have had what feels like entire narrative arcs.

This act itself was an interesting shift in style, almost entirely ditching what little angular design existed in the First Act in favour of wide open spaces with multiple sides warring against each other. It continued to focus its encounters in such a way which emphasised the dehumanisation of your fellow soldiers, showing the player as complicit in this system of violence. From a Middle Eastern Warzone to a Poor South American Country, the locales are spot on for a jet setting western military game made in 2008, and I really appreciate that Guns of the Patriots doesn’t deviate from its roots and move towards a more acceptable and western design without making commenting on that a primary focus.

I assume the game ends at Shadow Moses, and I know one chapter that follows is essentially a Noir Movie, so hopefully that one’s next! I hope it’s just shady people talking and smoking, delivering reveal after reveal, so we can finally understand what Guns of the Patriots is.

Conclusion

Well, that was another long one! That’s what happens towards the end of acts, things get bunched up and take a little longer to get through. Who knows how much longer we have in this game, I’m 2/5ths through the acts, but I must be further through the actual game than that, because it’s the densest thing ever made!

Join me next time as we search for Big Mama, and continue our way through Guns of the Patriots