The Metal Gear Diaries #40: Mount Snakemore

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, after a disappointing Boss Fight, we reached Metal Gear REX and finally defeated Vamp. Now, he lies dead on the floor, and we’re about to reach the end of Act Four…

Naomi

:’(

After defeating Vamp, Naomi comes in to explain everything, and sacrifices herself for… well, seemingly no reason, other than the fact that it has to happen in order to wipe the slate clean so the next generation doesn’t have to inherit the fucked up world these people have created. Her being alive at all is a result of these nanomachines she created, she is literally kept alive by her sins. Which is the most Metal Gear melodrama, making a thematic thing literal, but what the heck, the scene works well enough, I’ll roll with it.

It’s heartbreaking to see Otacon cry again, because he does have a habit of getting into these situations, he’s like some kind of unstoppable fridge machine. And then something weird happens – he quotes Snake back to him, referencing that Sniper Wolf cutscene again: “I don’t have any more tears to shed,” and gets back to work. It’s played as Otacon’s final growth out of being this person who can’t hold onto his belief in difficult circumstances, but it’s weird because that line in the original was put there to emphasise Snake’s inhumanity.

You should have tears to shed, Snake’s just lost his through a life of war. Snake gets into REX joined by two mini-Snakes, people who have based their character development on this broken, tragic protagonist. They’ve fallen prey to the very hero-worship that Sons of Liberty  and for the most part Guns of the Patriots seems to be about. But I think, in its moments of nostalgia for Metal Gear’s earlier days, Guns of the Patriots falls prey to that hero worship just as much as it undermines it.

Metal Gear!

And then you are controlling REX! You’re in REX! It’s happening! Metal Gear?!

This sequence is actually really awkward to play, but that doesn’t matter. By making REX a real thing that can be controlled and harmed, he certainly loses some of the power he once had as this unstoppable object, but again that doesn’t matter too much. This moment is here because it has to be, because it is cool, because fuck it this is the last one of these and you’re going to get in a Metal Gear. You’re going to get in the Metal Gear. (Please ignore all prior Metal Gears and the fact MGS is technically the third game).

The way it gives REX power is by bringing in Gekkos, enemies you were desperately pushing back not five minutes ago, and allowing REX to cut through them like a knife through butter. These Gekkos blow up in just one blast from the turret, the catwalks they stand on coming down with them. REX’s destruction is limited now that it’s more than an imaginary risk, but the construction of the scene actually does a good job of conveying what REX might be like as, well, a dumb as hell Walking Tank.

BROTHER ON BROTHER!

Oh shit.

Oh shiiiiit.

Shit shit shit it is ON.

Liquid shows up in Metal Gear RAY, and then suddenly it’s a REX v RAY, Solid v Liquid fight. This game is pretty goooooood. My favourite thing about the way this starts is that Guns of the Patriots’ aesthetic is the greyest and dullest of the Metal Gear games. Metal Gear Solid has that blocky, PSOne charm, Sons of Liberty has Big Shell’s colour and vibrancy and Snake Eater nails the muddy jungle feel. But Guns of the Patriots looks like a video game, because this game was made in 2008 and having an art style was forbidden by law. And into the grey and dull world, bursts goddamn Metal Gear RAY straight out of Evangelion or something.

It’s just extra hilarious to watch the absolute peak moment of Metal Gear’s anime bullshit play out in 2008 Video Game aesthetic.

The fight itself is clunky and kinda bad but who really cares, so are all mech games (NB: I have only played Armored Core don’t @ me). Guns of the Patriots has embraced the fact that it’s no longer about playing it anymore, it’s about sitting back and relishing in this climax that you – that is you, the audience, you – so richly desired. But I – that is me, Jackson – can’t help but keep thinking about how nobody wanted to make this game, and how that seems to have informed so many of the creative decisions.

I’m sitting here waiting for the game to pull the rug out, to reveal its endgame. What’s going to happen as we head inside Arsenal Gear for the second time? Aresnal Gear is basically a hologram cyberhell inside, so I’m looking forward to that being represented in the Guns of the Patriots’ aesthetic.

There was a brief moment where I genuinely thought Liquid was dead with the Fox… DIE callback, and the game would shift to revealing the bigger villain. I don’t know why I’m so focused on the idea of Liquid not being the real final big bad of Metal Gear, whether it’s my expectation for Big Boss to show up at the end or my need for the game to turn its attention to the Patriots and the more systemic themes of Metal Gear’s world. The series has grown so much from Metal Gear Solid’s family squabble, and whilst it makes sense to bring it back down for the final entry, it feels more than a little dishonest compared to what came before.

But then I remember, nobody wanted to make this. They’re doing the best they can to just get this game out the door without being actively on fire. It’s weird how much I know about the end of this game and how much I feel at a loss.

WHERE IS THIS GOING?!?!!

Raiden’s Sacrifice

Secret funniest moment: bringing back the King Kong argument as a sweet, romantic flashback. Has there ever been a less convincing, more asinine and terrible scene of relationship building? How do you live in New York and not know which building was in King Kong? How do you work as a tour guide and have this debate with a random stranger and then fall in love with him?! Howwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww?

Context aside though, Raiden cutting off his arm and then sacrificing himself was a shock because one: shouldn’t Sunny die? Isn’t her being alive connected to his heartbeat or something? That did happen right, I’m not just making up the plot of these games as I go along, because you know I wouldn’t put that out of the question, this could all be my fever dream. And two, and this why this move makes sense: Raiden’s the player! Of course after everything, after throwing away his life for Snake after Snake already freed him from that, he would sacrifice his own life in order to further Snake’s journey. With this moment, as Raiden watches Snake and slips away into the water, Guns of the Patriots returns again to subverting and portraying the unhealthy nature of hero worship.

As Raiden dies, his last thoughts are of Rose, of the real world and the life that he gave up on to continually chase this ideal of being Solid Snake. If Raiden’s use in Sons of the Patriots was to highlight the dishonesty of an audience demanding a sequel, here he’s used to highlight how video game franchises never end and their audience can never accept a cathartic ending. Instead of taking the catharsis that comes from a art and folding that experience into their lives, audiences chase that same experience again and again and companies are more than happy to give it to them. Instead of Snake being someone who – like a fictional character to us – exists to impart information and teach us something, to Raiden Snake is someone more important than him, someone he must protect and enable against his will if he has to.

Now, I know Metal Gear Rising: Reveangance exists and takes place after Guns of the Patriots, so who the hell knows what’s going to happen – he’s clearly not dead dead yet. But Raiden’s arc so far in this game has continued some of the most beloved and discussed elements of Sons of Liberty, and is in some ways far more pointed with its critiques of the audience.

Act Four

I miss the part where you play Metal Gear. The first two acts of this game set Guns of the Patriotsup as a culmination of 10 years of growth for the stealth design in the series, but it hasn’t been able to keep that up after the second act. I know I’ve complained about it, but it’s sticking in my craw, and I think it’s a shame.

However, that aside, walking through the frozen wreck of Shadow Moses was incredibly evocative, equal parts indulgent and reverent of the series’ history and condmening that very indulgence. Which is hypocritical for sure, but it is the core hypocrisy of this game and if I couldn’t get past that then I’d be here forever.

What am I talking about, I’ve been here forever already. Set me free, Snake. Set me free.

*

Here we are. Standing on the edge. The final act of Guns of the Patriots lies ahead of us, and it’s probably only fifteen minutes long in gameplay and four hours long in cutscenes. We’re coming up on the end, everybody, thank you for taking this ride with me! Next time, Act Five will begin and we’ll get a sense of the endgame that awaits us upon Arsenal Gear/Outer Haven.

Let’s take that leap together. All good things must come to an end.