The Metal Gear Diaries #38: What Was Old, Is Now Old Again

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 found out that Liquid was making his way to Shadow Moses Island, and proceeded in immediate pursuit. This time, it’s time to reach land, in Act Four: Twin Suns.

OH SHIT

AHHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

ahhhhAHHAHHHhahhHAHHAHAHHH!!!!

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming. They straight up just put a level of Metal Gear Solidin this game. And while I played Twin Snakes for this quest, I’ve played a fair chunk of the PSone version, and loading up the Heliport area without any explanation whatsoever: yep, that’s the good shit. That’s the good shit right there. Ugh, it’s even got the PSone Game Over screen. Heck and damn yeah.

Its inclusion has two obvious reasons: one, to make everyone remember Metal Gear Solid and get a real sense of nostalgia for the place to which they are returning. And two, to show how much the series has changed in just one short decade. After all, it’s been eight years since Guns of the Patriots came out and it doesn’t seem that old, does it?

For the first time, in this PSOne segment, I entered the building through the vent on the ground floor, rather than sneaking through the longer one on the catwalk. Who doesn’t go through the catwalk? I mean seriously, come on, it’s the way to go.

And then Snake wakes up, and implies that he dreams about Shadow Moses all the time. I’m glad that the game takes the time here to remind us that our nostalgic, warm memories are actually Snake’s nightmares.  We get to enjoy the game and associate it with cool fun stealthy times, but the characters are tortured by these experiences, without fail. Our games do not come consequence free.

Welcome Home

And then it happens! After getting the MkIII, and walking through a terrible blizzard, Snake arrives at the Heliport again, only now it’s old and decrepit and empty. “The Best Is Yet To Come Plays” as you walk around the Heliport, with excerpts of dialogue from the original game scattered around the locations. But the environment and item locations are identical.

It’s a victory lap of sorts for the series, and now I understand why this isn’t the final act. It’s here to give this moment between player and creator, to acknowledge the series and its growth and the way it’s changed. Snake is almost irrelevant in this empty Heliport, the one time the game lets the player forget that they are playing this very specific character. Continually, Metal Gear reminds you that it isn’t about you as a player, and you’re inhabiting the body of someone specific – the way Snake stops sometimes and coughs, literally everything about Sons of Liberty. But now it’s just you, the space and the music. An indulgent moment, yes, but one that after all this time, I think has been fully earned.

A Sad Sight To See

Man, seeing Shadow Moses so wrecked and empty sure is affecting. You end up running through the first act of Metal Gear Solid in little over a minute, the rooms once full of guards and enemies now patrolled by laser-sight drones. Devoid of their original purpose, removed from the people inside of them, these rooms become haunting metal shells through which you must pass as a ghost.

It fits in with the pattern of how Guns of the Patriots has been invoking its nostalgia, always immediately subverting it with an element of sadness, never quite giving you what you want. Like Snake, Shadow Moses is old and broken, barely hanging on to be brought to your television screen today. These are people and places that belong in the past, and you get the sense that you’re transgressing by the very act of playing through them.

Last Time

Hahahahha, the comedy of errors that is the world’s greatest soldier and his closest friend and confident trying to reach and then unlock a single door, but getting confused because once they used a different door.

This is the goofiest game.

Otacon’s Office

Ugh, Snake and Otacon’s first meeting getting a big and elaborate callback is designed to hit me. That’s the moment that I went from “hmmm” on Metal Gear to “okay, this might be something,” and now here we are – *takes a giant breath and yells to the sky* – THIRTY-SEVEN ARTICLES LATER. Oh dear god, what have I done, save me from this, save me from myself.

Until Snake Eater came along and blew everything out of the water, Otacon and Snake was the core relationship of the series. It sure as shit wasn’t Meryl and Snake, and I’ll be damned if anyone’s gonna latch on to Jack and Rose. No, the series was Otacon and Snake, each ridiculous in their own way, bouncing off of each other like only best friends can. Despite being a set-up for a deliberate subversion, when I think of “classic Metal Gear,” I think of the tanker level from Sons of Liberty. I think of Otacon and Snake.

And so it’s fantastic that they finally get some chance to banter here. The lack of focus on the codec interactions has meant that Otacon has got short shrift outside of the super serious briefing sequences, there’s no time for them to joke, there’s no time for them to goof. But in this final calm sequence (because at this point, once things start kicking off I don’t think they’re going to stop til the end), the game comes back to that idea of classic Metal Gear, that idea that only really existed in people’s false memories of the first game before the Tanker made made that idea real. Otacon and Snake, on a mission, teasing each other.

Naomi

Hey! Then they find Naomi on a surveillance camera and finally have a discussion about why she’s betrayed them. I loved Naomi’s character in the first game, and I loved how Snake accepted her hatred of hid, understanding and forgiving it implicitly. It’s just how things are. So while Otacon is angrier at being used and more in shock, Snake is okay with Naomi’s betrayal, trusting that she has her own reasons and is following her own belief.

Plus, her actions don’t make sense with the information they have, and if there’s one thing that Solid Snake is good at, it’s going along with whatever until somebody explains that he didn’t have all the information and in fact everything is different! The man’s been betrayed more times than he’s had birthdays at this point, and I’m not even exaggerating with that.

So off we go, to find Naomi and Vamp, to stumble upon the secret of Shadow Moses and stop Liquid or whoever the actual final bad guy of this game is.

*

This act has been really empty so far – which is totally purposeful, but I can’t help but miss actually playing some Metal Gear. There’s no guards to sneak past, no items to find (Drebin’s shop has really changed what items mean in Metal Gear), only drones that swarm upon spotting you and are all but impossible to hide from.

I assume Guns of the Patriots was on fire when it was released, because it’s an incredibly ambitious game that feels so small when the truth of it is revealed. Act Three’s city map is enormous, but completely empty and devoid of anything but one guy to follow. It doesn’t surprise me that a game like this would fall victim to an overreach of ambition, I bet that every single Metal Gear game is an overreach of ambition in some ways. But while the first two acts established a new core approach to the play, without that it just feels like Not Quite Metal Gear and that’s a shame.

Because apparently, I have affection for Metal Gear as a stealth game just as much as I have affection for it as a nonsense delivery system. But now let’s head off, further and further into Shadow Moses, and see what lies in store…