Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Metal Gear Solid: A Retrospective, Part 3

Miss anything? Part one here, part two here.

A Name from Long Ago
Temperature Tango – Suspicion and Deceit –
FoxDie revealed – Snake gets tricked –
Fox intervenes – Sacrifice – Snake destroys Rex

It’s an inevitable fact that upon beating a game a dozen or so times, some sections of it are going to get…well, boring. Mostly, these are informational bits—I mean, who watches a tutorial for a game that you’ve already beaten and understand the mechanics of? Nobody, that’s who. It’s not necessary, right? You know all the information already, what’s the point in going over it again and wasting your time?

It was this completely logical thinking that led me to wasting a whole lot of my time.

Last time we checked in, I had just blown a ravenous varmint into kibbles and retrieved the PAL key. The key is actually three keys, responding to different temperatures levels. So when the key is hot, a terminal accepts it, and when it’s cold, and when it’s room temperature. Pointless? Yes. Nonsensical in the long run? Yes. A contrivance to create backtracking to pad out the game? Yes, yes, and yes. But we’re stuck with the hand we’re dealt, and my hand is a particularly bad one, because I skip the cutscene where Otacon explains how the key works. It’s all exposition, after all, and I’ve beaten this game so many times, why should I listen to information I know like the back of my hand? Turns out I know the back of my hand less thoroughly than I thought. 

What happens is I run up and turn the key “hot” first. Makes sense: this whole section is tedious and the “hot” bast furnace is by far the farthest away; I want to get it over with. 

Right away I suspected something was wrong, because the Codec conversation I’d anticipated didn’t take place. Maybe I was misremembering, I thought. I spend twenty minutes making my way up to the blast furnace, and another five waiting for the key to get hot, then I rush all the way back to the command office and try and insert the key. No dice. I’m flabbergasted. I try again. Rejection. What’s going on? Is the game broken?

Then it hits me, like a snake sinking its fangs into my leg, with all the pain and nausea that comes with it: you have to put the keys in order: room temp, then cold, then hot. Which Otacon explained to me in the cut scene that I so dismissively eschewed watching.

Yeah, had to leave the game a little while. Not to mention waiting another fifteen minutes for the key to get back to room temperature so that I could do the cursed contrivance correctly. But I’m not bitter or anything.

This whole PAL key fiasco is just busywork at its most inglorious anyway. It’s by far the most banal, irksome portion of the game, and as I mentioned before, it doesn’t make sense logically: I mean, what if a situation went critical and Metal Gear Rex had to be activated, immediately? What, are you going to spend fifteen minutes getting the key alternately hot and cold? And with what? Are you going to send it by courier to the inexplicable freezer and then to the furnace? Are you going to have a little hair dryer in the command room? We'd all be dead by then. Safeguards are one thing, but then there’s making something so safe you cripple its very function.

It’s the same with the Codec. Throughout this interlude, Master’s been calling Campbell and Snake with his suspicion that Naomi’s a spy with some other hidden nefarious purpose. Then Campbell finds Naomi sending encrypted messages from the sub, corroborating Master’s claims. Naomi gets locked up, and then secretly calls me. This is probably the most important call in the game: it’s where we learn about who Naomi is: how Frank Jaeger/Gray Fox/Cyborg Ninja rescued her when she was a child, raised her, and how crushed and bitter she feels toward Snake for killing him in Zanzibar. She also describes the FoxDie virus: what it is, how it works, and that she has, in fact, infected Snake—although her feelings toward him have now become somewhat more complicated. As usual, all this takes place on a black screen with green cutouts of the characters faces, lessening the emotional impact.

But let me posit that there are perhaps some limitations to the medium video games that are absolutely unavoidable? Gameplay is interactive storytelling, but there are only a couple of kinds of interacting you can do: for character driven games, as an example, you can have the player character be in first person, or you can have the player character be in more omniscient third person. But paradigms are inevitably going to sacrifice something towards the overall mission of player interactivity, even if it’s as paltry as dynamism; by that I mean you can’t have a frantic, highly edited action sequence at a juncture of player interactivity, because it removes the player from the equation. Confuses and disorients them. This, therefore, is a sacrifice on the altar of interactivity.

Meaning that if you’re going to make a third person tactical espionage video game, with a one-man infiltrator sneaking upon a highly guarded nuclear warhead storage facility/WMD research center, you are going to have to separate the emotional core from the player itself, because there’s nothing, emotionally, for the character to “interact” with. Snake finds Otacon, for example, because he needs him—but the two had no prior relationship before the game, and while their friendship is the founding arc of the game, the emotional center—that is, the characters that Snake has a relationship with—at the start of the game are, by necessity, a hundred miles away in a submarine. It’s completely logical: one man infiltrator is going to have a support team off site somewhere. But what it sacrifices is that same emotional core. It’s easy to have a game with a one man infiltration story: I mean, there’s barely any interactivity considerations you have to go in with. The one man is the player, and therefore anything the story requires will have to be done by the one man, and therefore the player. But the game wants more than that: it wants interactivity and a deep, thoughtful, emotional story. The only way it can figure to do this is to have these emotional moments on a black screen with green cutouts; the incongruity of the two, therefore, is a sacrifice on the altar of interactivity. When gaming truly solves the dissension between its emotion and its practicality is when I think the form will truly have “arrived” as a medium of narrative art. It’s come close, but it’s not quite there yet. Maybe it never can be—I mean, just like a film can’t fluidly give you the inner workings of a character’s mind the way a novel can. But here’s hoping.

The PAL thing takes, literally, an hour—okay, maybe only if you make the atrocious mistake I made—but even if you didn’t, it takes a few minutes for the key to “change over,” meaning, first timers, that you’re literally going to be standing in the freezer/blast furnace, doing nothing, for an indeterminate amount of time. So, you know, unload the dishwasher, make a sandwich, finish that research paper. Me? I got through a good amount of The Brothers Karamazov (Note: It was okay. –E). 

Of course the tedium does serve one critical function: it lulls you into a false sense of security, so that when you insert that last key and the computer cheerfully announces that you have, in fact, activated Metal Gear Rex, you jump out of your seat in shock and alarm.

A lot of people apparently figured out Master Miller was Liquid long before the reveal, but I remember it legitimately shocking me the first time I played this, way back on the little Windows PC. And all I can say is: you better have gotten that gas mask.

In one swift stroke, and one of Kojima’s better writing moments, all the hints and threads from the game come to an astonishingly succinct and effective conclusion. Liquid tells you about the real DARPA Chief—the body that was thrown in with you in the cell—and how Ocelot accidentally killed him before being about to torture the code out of him. How Decoy Octopus then disguised himself in a ruse to get the code out of you. And, finally, how they planned to “let” you through the base, thinking you were advancing, but in reality only getting closer to activating Rex for them. It’s a wonderful turn, not only for the storytelling, but for the game logic as a whole, completely dissuading any doubt about even someone as legendary of Solid Snake making it as far into the complex as he has—“Huh?” says Liquid. “You didn’t think you made it this far by yourself?”

That brings up the question of whether the FoxHound minions were holding back and letting Snake kill them, but honestly? It’s plausible. If Sniper Wolf was anything to go by, the whole group were looking for a way off this mortal plain anyway. The only ones without some kind of death wish were Liquid and Ocelot, and lo and behold, who’s left standing at the end.

Liquid informs me helpfully that I’ve served my purpose and that I may die now. The doors lock and the place fills with gas. Like I said: gas mask. Never would have thought it would come in handy this late in the game, did you? Item scouring, people.

 In a nice fit of logic, calling Otacon gets me out of the room lickety-split—it’s a simple matter of him overriding the program keeping the door shut, and then I run outside for the final confrontation with Liquid and his two hundred ton nuclear tank.

Liquid jumps into the cockpit after a quick conversation about FoxDie, Les Enfants Terribles (the science project attempting to make clones of Big Boss that created Snake and Liquid), and Liquid’s misunderstanding of how genetics work—recessive genes do not work that way. Although, in all honesty, it probably works. It doesn’t really matter that recessive genes don’t make you “genetic garbage” or anything (as proven that it’s actually Snake that has the recessive genes, spoiler alert), but when you’re erstwhile father tells you they do, at some point you’re going to start to believe it.

Liquid activates Metal Gear Rex in what is still one of the most awesome preludes to a boss fight ever: 

I mean, you can just feel the power, and the majesty, and the terror that this machine would strike into the hearts of foes. Honestly, we can’t pass by this point without mentioning just how well designed Rex is; its form has become almost a staple of the video game culture. It’s a perfect synthesis of form and practicality. It doesn’t have the flash and verve of, say, the Transformers or Gundams, but it doesn’t need to. In a world that places an emphasis on “realism,” no matter how stretched, praise must be given to the designers for the fact that Metal Gear Rex actually looks plausible, like something that maybe, possibly, could in some universe be constructed one day. I mean, it never will, and it is probably im-possible—but it doesn’t look like it is, and that’s what matters. Like I said, a harmony of awesome and logic. 

Oh my God, what did…did it just shriek?

Kojima…I just…I can’t...

Snake: How do I stop it?


(Chaff grenades miracles: 5)

Yes indeed, my friends: our ever-faithful explosive radar-masking device comes through one more time in the clutch, providing the sure fire way to win the first round of this fight against the walking behemoth. Chaff grenades completely bamboozle Rex’s raydome, the device that provides feedback for its virtual interface. Hock a chaff, move out of Rex’s line of fire, shove a Stinger missile right up its power couplings. The idea is to take down the raydome, thereby forcing Liquid to open the cockpit and attack you using mere eyesight alone, allowing you to place a well-aimed Stinger right between his eyes.

You finish this first half of the battle, but it appears to be all in vain, and our hero is doomed to have his guts smeared across the hangar floor courtesy of one giant metal boot, when suddenly out of nowhere, Gray Fox descends to save him.

There are cases when suspension of disbelief can be stretched to places that it otherwise would not be able to go. It’s a hard task to accomplish, and it ultimately hinges on how effective the aggregate parts of the story in the moment are.

In this case, Fox has all but destroyed the raydome, confusing Liquid for the moment. He’s firing blindly and desperately, and this gives Snake and Fox the chance to talk behind a convenient bit of cover. Now there are a couple of things you have to accept with this scene:

  1. Snake and Fox are perfectly okay standing there having a long conversation while a two hundred ton nuclear-equipped walking battle tank is firing at and around them.
  2. Liquid will be blind until the exact moment that Snake and Fox finish their conversation.
It strains logic at the basest level. The scene construction, however, is so good, so heartfelt and well-played, that the contrivance is easily forgiven. This little scene from when Fox saves you to his ultimate death is simply perfect in every emotional way, and to do that it had to sacrifice story logic; in this case, it’s okay, because the tone and set up called for it.

Gray Fox: Hurry! Get away!
Snake: Gray Fox!!
Gray Fox: A name from long ago. It sounds better than Deepthroat.
Snake: So it is you...
Gray Fox: You look terrible, Snake. You haven't aged well.

It’s the dialogue that really carries the day here. Unlike the Wolf scene, the impact is not supported by the scenery—I mean, it’s two guys talking behind a metal crate, in a metal hangar, with a metal robot firing at them. But the voice acting, and narrative flow, is so superb that it makes up for the lack of aestheticism. Fox explains to Snake about why he came back, and in a heart wrenching moment, about Naomi’s past:

Snake:         Fox, why? What do you want from me?
Gray Fox:   I'm a prisoner of Death. Only you can free me...
Snake:          Fox, stay out of this. What about Naomi? She's hell bent on taking revenge for you.
Gray Fox:   Naomi...
Snake:          You're the only one who can stop her.
Gray Fox:    No...I can't.
Snake:          Why?
Gray Fox:    Because I'm the one who killed her parents. I was young then and
                    couldn't bring myself to kill her too. I felt so bad that I decided
                    to take her with me. I raised her like she was my own blood to
                    soothe my guilty conscience. Even now she thinks of me as her
Snake:          Fox...
Gray Fox:    From the outside, we might have seemed like a happy brother and
                    sister. But every time I looked at her, I saw her parents' eyes
                     staring back at me... tell her for me. Tell her that I was the one
                     who did it.

It really hits you right in your gut, and highlights once more why I like Greg Paulsen’s voice for this character so much. The gravel gives every word such weight and pathos; you feel his regret and anguish for what he did to Naomi, and how her eyes remind him so much of the parents he killed.

Fox then sacrifices himself, basically, to destroy the raydome once and for all, in one of the best one-liners ever conceived by any creative work, ever:

Gray Fox: A cornered fox is more dangerous than a jackal!

In the end, Fox gets what he wanted all along: death. Oh, God, this death scene is just so tough, especially given the fact that, despite how gruesome is, it’s the only the Fox truly wanted: to be free from the hollow shell his life had become. It’s a sobering moment, and it tears you apart in so many ways: you feel bad for Fox, terrible for Snake, anger at Liquid. It gets you amped up for the final confrontation. By the end of this scene, you are very much ready to kick Liquid back to whatever hell he came from.

And you do. It’s tougher, because since Fox has destroyed the raydome, Liquid has opened the cockpit, meaning for once, our chaff grenades fail us. But really, it’s about timing the attacks and moving when you have to. Oh, and when he shoots the homing missile things, run towards Metal Gear Rex, not away or side to side. Towards. Yeah, it makes more sense when you play, just trust me on this one.

Finally, finally I get one good shot off and Rex collapses, and blows to shred with the best explosive effects 1998 could muster. Really though—it’s a pretty tremendous amount of booms going on here; kind of makes me question the plausibility of Rex functioning in any capacity in Guns of the Patriots—but that whole fight was awesome, so I’ll ignore it. 

With that, Snake gets hurled against the side of the hangar, and all fades to blackness.

Explanations – A Final Battle – Jeep chases –
FoxDie, redux – A Purpose to Live –
Snake rides into the sunrise – A last twist

You know, I never quite caught on to the fourth-wall breaking Kojima got up to in the fire-shrouded conversation between Liquid and Snake. I mean, in the immediate moments afterwards, you’re watching Liquid through Snake’s POV, meaning for all intents and purposes Liquid is looking at me, the player, as he rebukes me for enjoying the killing and destruction:

Liquid: Ha! You lie! So why are you here then? Why do you continue to
           follow your orders while your superiors betray you? Why did you
           come here? Well... I'll tell you then. You enjoy all the killing, that's why.
Snake: What!
Liquid: Are you denying it? Haven't you already killed most of my comrades?
Snake: That was...
Liquid: I watched your face when you did it. It was filled with the joy of battle.
Snake: You're wrong!
Liquid: There's a killer inside you... You don't have to deny it. We were created to be that way.

I’d never really noticed that before this play through, but after Spec Ops: The Line I’ve become far more attuned at looking out for such affectations. It’s just funny to see a game from fourteen years ago saying, however bluntly, the same things about video game players that Spec Ops did in 2012. Timing is everything in art, remember, and Metal Gear Solid came out in a time before the ultra-modern, ultra-realistic, graphically superior military shooter, and so its prescient message probably slipped by most people.

I have decided that a great drinking game can be made of this series as a whole. We’ll call it the “KID,” or the Kojima Info Dump. Take a shot whenever Kojima spends fifteen minutes going on long bouts of exposition to tie up all the loose ends he didn’t telegraph very well throughout the rest of the game. I mean, seriously, I think it happens in every single game in the series, with Guns of the Patriots being by far the most notorious.

In this case, the info dump is one long bout of exposition regarding Les Enfants Terrible, FoxDie, the Pentagon, nuclear weapons, and genetic testing. It goes on for far too long and is far too…shall we say lackadaisical? To be a twist. It means little to the audience because there’s not a singular point to focus on. We already knew Liquid was Snake’s brother, and that just left the details to explain why. But details are hard to make into a good twist because a twist, simply by implication, is a quick moment where an unexpected turn is taken, the exact opposite of a twenty minutes speech by a video game antagonist. I mean, Liquid starts talking about asymmetry in nature, for crying out loud. Is this really the time, at the climax of your story?

Mercifully, mercifully, it finally ends, and the game ramps back up as Snake contacts the Colonel. Liquid’s heard about a bombing run authorized by the Pentagon, and Snake wants some answers. Campbell confirms that a bombing run has been ordered on the island, but that, even though he’s a figurehead, he’s still in operational control of the mission, that him countermanding the order will delay that bombing and buy Snake sometime. But just as he’s doing this, Campbell is suddenly interrupted!

There’s something cold and clinical about this twist. Jim Houseman, defense secretary oozes with the smug superiority of the righteous bureaucrat, so enchanted with his rectitude that he cannot see any other viewpoint:

Houseman: I see. Oh well that's okay... You two are an embarrassment from the 1970's. Our country's dirty little secret. You can't be allowed to live. Well, the bombs will be dropping soon, and you two have a lot of catching up to do. Farewell.

Not to mention his voice actor is just sublime.  Unctuous, disaffected, dismissive. He’s going to bury Shadow Moses, and he simply does. Not. Care.
With time against us Liquid plays out the final stage in his revenge fantasy. He’s got Meryl tied up off to the side on top of Metal Gear with a bomb next to her—wait, how in God’s name did he—you know what, never mind, fight scene coming up.

Can I make it plain to all you guys how tough this fight is without embarrassing myself? It’s one of those battles where the rust becomes apparent when you step into it. If you haven’t beaten the game in a while, odds are decent that on any higher level, you’re going to die at least once; not to mention you can’t “take your time” because of the handy-dandy bomb Liquid’s activated.

            DEATH #5
As expected, I fall to him once. It’s not really the controls as much as the pattern of Liquid’s behavior. All you do is run around and hammer the O key, except you can’t, because if you hammer the O button and you miss your punch, you’re going to catch a roundhouse kick to the gut.
Then his tactics switch. At first he just stands there and lets you wail on him; then he begins shucking and diving, so you have to adjust your game plan. The worst however, is when you get him down to about half health. He starts charging you with this rodeo-like shoulder tackle and it hurts. You get smacked with this thing and half your life bar is just gone. Bam. If you hear him grunt  run as fast as you can in a diagonal direction and do not let him hit you. This was the big mistake I make in the primary confrontation. After I do, I resolve to get back in the swing of the fight and use the lessons I remember about combatting Liquid to defeated him on my second go.


There’s nothing to really say about each of them either. It was just an AI from 1998 outwitting me. I mean…seriously. I’m not misleading you people, I have beaten this game a dozen times. This is not my first rodeo. So how in the armpit of Godzilla did I manage to die against Liquid five times in a row?

Thinking on it rationally, and being removed from the play through for a good length of time, it was the charge that got me. Yeah, the exact same charge I warned you to watch out for. I just kept running right into it. Or underestimating just how slow Snake is at getting out of the way. Then I started to get frustrated, and if there’s one thing you must never, ever do in a Metal Gear Solid game, it’s get frustrated. When I finally chilled out and was more patient was when I knocked his blonde butt over the side of Rex’s dead hulk. So Liquid dies. Again.

Now at this point the narrative splits depending on what you decided to do during the torture sequence. If you were a complete tool and submitted because it was too hard or you wanted to get the Stealth or some such, you discover that Meryl is dead, and Snake laments that everything he becomes close to dies. If you have a shred of human decency and fight through the torture, then Snake runs over to Meryl and discovers she’s alive, and they share a badly placed and pixelated bit of romance. While the storage facility is set to blow. Whatever.

It’s here that we see the scene I mentioned way back in Part One, where Otacon volunteers to sacrifice himself so that Meryl and Snake will have a clear shot out the door, and that Rex and all its specs will die with him. It’s a tender moment between the two, a culmination of their new friendship and a narrative conclusion to Otacon’s arc, and I really do prefer it to the ending where Meryl dies and Otacon’s the one to drive you out of the storage facility. 

Not to mention that Meryl’s rather large role in Metal Gear Solid 4 legitimizes the “Meryl survives” ending as canon. So there.

Meryl leads you to the jeeps you’re going to use to escape, and inadvertently runs right in sight of a surveillance camera (a surveillance camera!?). The last action bit begins. I mount the gun in the back of the jeep that actually starts and blast through the checkpoints and waves of genome soldiers, who for some reason after the death of their leader and upon the inevitably of their imminent doom are not fleeing for their lives. Or at least letting me go. That’s some heavy-duty training regimen those guys must have gone though.
I make it past the checkpoints and appear to be home free when suddenly—behind me—gasp! Liquid! In a jeep! With a machine gun! “Not yet, Snake. It’s not over yet!”

Actually, Liquid, it is. I’ve killed you at least three times now. At this point, it’s just obnoxious.

            DEATH #10
So you have to blast away at liquid in his jeep, and as throughout the game he’s very adept at taking multiple hits from a fifty caliber machine gun to his chest. Be reminding that at this point I have precisely two rations and that’s all. Liquid gets some shots off, lowers my health, depletes my rations, and then the perspective turns so that Liquid’s now pulled up alongside me and I have to fire at him sideways.

This little bit is tough, not because of the game challenge, but because the firing here is buggy as all get out. You will swear that you are shooting right into Liquid’s head, and nothing  happens. Then he’ll hit you, knock your sights off, and you’ll have to readjust just in time for him to hit you again. It’s annoying and badly coded—or maybe I’m just incompetent, who knows—and I die.

Unlike our bout of fisticuffs, thankfully, on the next go round I’m able to kept a steady stream of high intensity metal hurling at him, and as the light appears at the end of the tunnel, both our jeeps lose control. When the smoke clears, Meryl and Snake are trapped under the jeep; Liquid comes from around the jeep. I just love Snake’s line here:


I’m not sure if this is a bad line reading from David Hayter or what. Here I am having fought and failed to kill this guy for half a game, and in the worst position imaginable, all Snake says is a rather languid “Uh-oh.” The reading works, actually, because it gives Snake this sort of debonair aura, but it’s still funny. 

Or maybe Snake was just at ease because he read ahead in the script: Liquid, beaten and battered, draws his sights upon you, point blank range. “Snaaake,” he growls. “Snaaaake.” An odd churning sound fills the score. The camera flashes to Snake, to Liquid, zooms in. The colors mute. Liquid spasms in agony.

Liquid: “FOX?!”
Snake: “Die.”
Me: Squeeee!

PICTURED: "The Liquid" new dance craze? Must remember to investigate further.

Now there’s a cool moment. And thank the Lord, because my word the ending is so saccharine it’ll give you diabetes. Campbell contacts me and tells me that he’s okay, and that the President has put the Secretary of Defense under arrest. “Early retirement.” Snake asks Campbell to retrieve Otacon, and Campbell says there’s a snowmobile under the cliff in a cave for us. This is all okay. Campbell puts Naomi on. Naomi talks about FoxDie, and Snake lies to her, and tells her Frank told her to move one with her life and forget about him. It’s touching and understated and a very complex decision. Then comes the sugar. All five hundred gallons of it.

Okay, it’s not so bad. Basically Naomi voices over and tells Snake that his genes don’t define him and that he should live his life as best he can, while he and Meryl climb down to where the snowmobile is located. Meryl and Snake talk about living, and Meryl finds a bandana, which Snake says to keep as a reminder—of what, Snake? The terrorist attack that almost got both of you killed? (Note: Wait a minute—how is Meryl walking? Didn’t she just get both knees blown out not five hours ago? –E) And why is this random bandana that you randomly found on this random snowmobile? Wouldn’t a more effective memento, if you’re going to have one, be something that you carried with you through the whole ordeal? Your cardboard boxes, perhaps? Oh, wait, this thing will give me infinite ammo on my next playthrough. Carry on.

With that, Meryl and Snake—who has revealed his name as David—as in David Hayter, and no, that was not intentional—ride off into the Alaskan dawn, and thus ends one of the greatest videogames ever made.

Or does it?

The after credits stinger is one of the best, most shocking moments in my gaming life. It is simply sublime, because you have completely forgotten about Ocelot. Like, that he even existed. You hear his voice start up with a telephonic, almost eerie echo over the background of METAL GEAR SOLID in white on black, and it hits you—in your very soul. You have forgotten about Ocelot. And now you’re curious—nervous, even. You know something is going down. Something big:

"Yes, sir. The entire unit was wiped out. Those two are still alive...

The vector? Yes, sir: FoxDie should become activated soon, right on schedule...Yes, sir, I      collected       all of Rex's dummy warhead data...No, sir, my cover is intact. Nobody knows who I really am...Yes, the DARPA chief knew my identity, but he's been disposed of.

Yes, the inferior one was the winner after all. That's right: until the very end, Liquid thought he was the inferior one. Yes, sir, I agree completely. It takes a well-balanced individual such as yourself to rule the world. No, sir, no one knows you were the third one, Solidus. What should I do about the woman? Yes, sir. I'll keep her under surveillance. 

Yes, thank you, goodbye.

Mr. President... "

It’s chilling in the best possible way, and is, really, the best possible way to end this game, about war and death and life. Not with an unabashedly happy ending, but with a caution: there is satisfaction now, but with humanity, always, always, the battle rages on.

In Summation

Metal Gear Solid is today heralded as one of the greatest games of all time, and one of the most landmark. It more or less established stealth gameplay as a viable genre, and its ruminations and themes, even its ham-fisted monologues, introduced players to a depth of emotion and implication that was rarely seen in games before. Partly, of course, it was due to the setting. The PSX era was the first where games could have something even approaching the verisimilitude of real life, with aesthetics and fully voiced characters and scripts and narrative commitment, and Metal Gear Solid took full advantage of all the tools available at the time. It even invented some. Never before had such a cinematic flair been melded with gameplay so well, and while this technique has come under its own criticism in recent years, you cannot deny that it opened up whole new realms with how to portray video game narrative. It didn’t have to be static, and it didn’t have to be uncreative. You could, in fact, create your own narrative techniques for games to push a story forward.

Players were swept away by this story and its characters. We fell in love with Shadow Moses Island. With Campbell, Naomi, and Mei Ling. We adored the host of villains, so creative and fleshed out. We reveled in the story, the twists and turns. We felt for the honorable shaman, and the traumatized Wolf. We rooted for the timid but steel-hearted scientist, the green (and verbose) but brave warrior. And we cheered, most of all, for the weary, broken, and lost soldier, who with our help found his soul again. 

Metal Gear Solid is a seminal moment in my personal history, just as much as its sequel, and is living proof that man will forgive flaws as long as an emotional connection is forged between the characters and audience. I care about Solid Snake, and I care about his universe, and thus I can put up with the maudlin and the unsubtle, and the incomprehensible and the lame. And the best part is? It’s not even close to over yet.

Until next time,

Mr. E

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