The Metal Gear Diaries #22: The Cutest Damn Robot

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 begun Guns of the Patriots, and walked down a road for about two minutes. Now, the screen has faded to white, and announced that it is time to begin ACT ONE: LIQUID SUN…

Sunny Side Up

Who is this girl making Eggs? What do the numbers mean? Why is she talking about Solidus? What is going on? How is there so much Live Action nonsense in this game? Is it the best game ever made?!?!

Probably.

Codec

I miss the old design of the Codec. This makes more sense as a piece of visual design for a communications system, but as in Snake Eater, you lose something by not being able to see Snake’s face. The original Codec design clearly framed its interactions as watching a conversation between two people, this design shifts your perspective and puts you in Snakes shoes. Otacon is looking into the camera, talking directly to you, the player.

Metal Gear has always addressed the Player Character as if they were the player, when it came time to give instructions or tutorials, but this change – which began in Snake Eater and is exacerbated here with Otacon being fully animated – is a step further. It’s probably fine, because whilst it makes the Codec less dramatically viable, I assume it’s not like we’re going to have any serious reveals taking place in Codec conversations anymore. Those days are long past. EvenSnake Eater was light on the Codec.

They set the state of the world a little here, most of which still has to be inferred from the thematic monologue Snake gave at the start of the game, but it seems like PMCs are the order of the day, and wars just kind of happen and no one questions why? When war is something done for profit, then like Snake says, war becomes routine. Otacon even acts surprised at the use of Geckos in the area and says that so many of those robots are outside the area’s “War Price.” Continuing the motif of Metal Gear’s commentary being the most pointed and the least subtle, here directing its ire at the idea of a military-industrial complex that exists outside nation states.

It’s strange heading straight from Snake Eater to this, because Snake Eater is so explicitly about the idea of nationalism, focusing on the fight between three nations to see who will control the fate of the world. But those nations had goals, things to fight for, purposes that drive them. War was an awful means to a selfish end, but finally Metal Gear comes to the place where War is its own self-perpetuating end. It’s a strangely cynical place for an always earnest series to start its final entry.

My goal seems to be to reach Otacon, who’s waiting down the road. This is clearly a tutorial segment, he’s going to hand over the Mk II, which will allow me to view maps and battle data, which means more cool UI. The UI in this game is both great, and achingly 2008. I enjoy it a lot.

I’m surprised that I don’t seem to actually know my objective. I know my next goal: I have to get to Otacon, but I don’t know why or what that leads to? It’s such a deviation from the norm in terms of Metal Gear structure, this is a series that lives to give you lists of objectives and sub objectives, to give the player the feel of taking on a mission. Maybe that’s coming soon, because I’ll be surprised if this game structures its play by moment to moment goals coming in over the radio.

Is this… just going to be a videogame? Is that what’s happening here?

Level Design

Yes, is the answer. Huh.

It’s remarkable, playing these in quick succession, just how vastly different each games sense of play is from each other. Guns of the Patriots level design philosophies, at least in this starting area, feel so much more conventional than those from the games that came before. Which leads me to wonder how much of that feeling is me being ahistorical – game design in the AAA space hasn’t changed that much since 2008, yet pretty much up until that point it was constantly changing. When Metal Gear Solid was released, the commonly held ideas for how to make a 3D game did not exist, let alone how to make a military shooter with a stealth focus.

Perhaps this discomfort that I feel, which I perceive as the series abandoning its gameplay concepts for more conventional ones, comes from my own lack of understanding of the evolution of 3D gaming? I’m completely ready to admit that! I’ll throw my hands up if its true.

And the best/worst part of this is that my immediate reaction is both a “hmmm this feels like Metal Gear is losing its identity” and “this is the best Metal Gear has ever felt ever.” Guns of the Patriots feels so smooth, it is a perfectly balanced engine at the moment, getting the feel of slowly crawling through a warzone, emphasising every small movement and giving Metal Gear a sense of physicality it has never been able to achieve.

I snuck my way through the areas without being spotted, without engaging an enemy, and without firing a single shot. The series has always been one which encouraged slow movement and progression, but never has it conveyed the feeling of moving slow like this before. I’d stub my stick forward in the bushes in Snake Eater, jitter it back and forth to find the perfect hiding place. Through these ruins, I move smooth and slow, always in control of my momentum, letting go and finding a new camouflage.

Still, I do think the immediate takeaway is that the level design is the least interesting that it has ever been, but probably for good reason. After Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear moved away from the idea of a singular space that is traversed through multiple times and builds up familiarity with the player. Without that idea, and with the next story point always the highest priority, of course Metal Gear’s level design tends to a single funnel with a couple of alternate pathways for every area.

I’m playing on Normal again this time, I think I missed that aspect of Snake Eater, so I’m going to be in for a slow playthrough, and this is literally only my very, very initial impression of the gameplay, I’m curious as to how it changes when I get access to the Mk II, and the maps and modes it is apparently going to provide.

One big complaint though: oh wow items are so hard to find, they’re like pixels just scattered on the floor, that’s an abstraction they should not have removed.

Look At That Thing!

OH MY GOD!!! The Metal Gear Mk. II is the cutest thing, seriously, it’s a walking dancing tiny portable Otacon that keeps Old Snake company on his mission. It’s adorable, this whole thing is adorable, I want one I want one.

The sadness of Otacon and Snake’s situation manages to come through in this incredibly cute interaction, however. There’s the sense in every single dialogue that this is the last time they’ll ever have this interaction, this is the last time Snake will get briefed by his friend, this is the last time Otacon will hand him a new invention. The voice acting is so much more human and soft than it has been before, the rhythm of Metal Gear’s sound completely changed with the budgetary and technological hikes that come with being a Big Deal Videogame Franchise for a decade.

I like that it took like twenty minutes for Solid Snake to get his Kurt Russell eyepatch. Can’t not give that protagonist the eyepatch, otherwise it might be too subtle that your character called Snake is a reference to Escape From New York. But these gadgets all seem incredibly cool! I’m glad I have a tranquiliser pistol now, I’ve only interacted with one soldier so far, and I took them out with a single shock from my Stun Knife. Long may my non-lethal approach to this game continue!

And apparently we’re just going to move from objective to objective and only then will we be given the next objective? It’s fine, it’s probably better writing, because Guns of the Patriots is so less concerned with the mysteries that its building (there are questions, but there aren’t any mysteries right now) than establishing an emotional context and tone. And those are things far more important than expositional plot dumps, but this is Metal Gear! It’s a series that has matured from entry to entry and nailed down the things that it wants to achieve with its writing and themes, but it still feels weird when these previously core elements are jettisoned, even when that is very much the right choice.

*

Guns of the Patriots makes a strange first impression, but not at all a bad one. It feels better in the hand than the games that came before it, and the emotional weight it places on Snake’s character underlies the cynical state of the world in a really nice way. It is that emotional hook that grounds the world just getting worse and worse with its war as central to Snake’s character as someone who’s been doing this too long, fighting against this seemingly unstoppable downward spiral of progress. It’s what turns it from just nakedly cynical into something more heartfelt and sad.

Next: we’re going to go meet the informant! And probably more stuff will happen? WHO KNOWS! METAL GEAR! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!