Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thoughts On the Metal Gear Series

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes came out last Tuesday, and I bought a copy. However, I sent my Xbox 360 off to get reballed and it hasn't been returned to me yet. So, I'm going to take a look back at the series and some of my thoughts about it. Massive spoilers for just about every game follow, so you are warned.

Kaz didn't get to be on the North American box art. Poor Master Miller.

I think the first game I actually played in the series was the NES version of Metal Gear, which is honestly fucking horrible. As always, the Angry Video Game Nerd sums it up pretty concisely. I didn't have a PlayStation at the time the game came out, and I found out about emulators and started checking out every game I was curious about. Metal Gear left a bad taste in my mouth, and I felt pretty asleep about the franchise from that point on.

Unfortunately, I was a Gamecube owner when it was a modern console. Everyone goes apeshit over the Gamecube now, but owning one at the time was a fucking nightmare. Roughly two good games came out a year if you were lucky. People love the Gamecube now because they can just go back and buy all of the good games in one fell swoop and get a lot of play out of them. Being a Gamecube owner at the time was a slightly shameful experience. One of the good games that came out was a remake of Metal Gear Solid called Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. It's basically the exact same game with redone voice acting, and it uses the engine from Metal Gear Solid 2. Personally, I think it's a pretty excellent remake that does a great job of proving just how well designed the original game was. Even with the updated game mechanics, it's still the same core experience.

This was a reason for me to stop playing Dreamcast in 2004.

One other thing that was changed with the Twin Snakes was the cutscenes. Personally, it doesn't bother me one bit. Things get a little bit Matrix-y at times, but it changes nothing about the game. If you look at forum discussions between hardcore MGS fans though, they think it's blasphemy. You'll see things like "not true to the character" or "absolutely ridiculous." I say fuck that. This is a series where people can be turned into cyborg ninjas and turn completely invisible. That's without mentioning a character sewing another character's arm onto his own cut off limb and hypnotizing himself with nanomachines to become that person. Having gone back since and played the original PlayStation version, it's sort of a toss up in my opinion. The original experience is important to have, but the Twin Snakes will suffice.

Which... speaks to how fucking insane the story can get. All of the games have some bizarre, outlandish element. It doesn't make the stories bad, but it does make the individual stories of the games a bit less impactful. The games are all carefully plotted, but the story can feel a bit thin in some aspects. I mainly feel it can be a bit thin because of how Big Boss is made to be the greatest soldier and how Major Zero wants to use him as the face of the Patriots, going so far as to use one of his clones (Solidus) to become the president of the US. The part that confuses me about this is that Big Boss is made out to be a huge hero. I've never quite understood if this was something that was limited to military circles, or if this was public knowledge. Is Big Boss supposed to be sort of a classic war hero who is well known and gets parades? Wouldn't someone notice that the president looked exactly like Big Boss if this was the case?

One clone too many.

I always thought the whole Solidus plot was a little stupid. Solidus becomes president, orchestrates Shadow Moses (the events of MGS), then gets publicly revealed in a book, goes into hiding, organizes a terrorist cell, then shows up with some crazy fucking power armor and dukes it out with Raiden on top of Federal Hall. In fact, fuck Metal Gear Solid 2 in general. It's not a bad game, it's just not a great game either. It's a radical shift in tone from MGS, and there are articles that staunchly defend the game's storytelling (I have read all that). Frankly, I don't think Kojima is that clever of a writer. I think fans can do a lot in terms of creating a meaning and legacy for a game when there really isn't one. Somewhere along the way Kojima got twisted into some master storyteller who sets up incredible plots.

Speaking of Kojima's writing, it's a bit odd and I sort of wish he had someone who was a native English speaker to let him know when shit was getting a bit too ridiculous. In particular, naming a character Hot Coldman. Hot Coldman. Hot Fucking Coldman is basically the man who set the events of the series in motion. In Peace Walker, it's revealed that he set up the plot to kill The Boss. Other than that, what the fuck does Ground Zeroes mean? There's a lot of other strange uses of language and weird character names that sort of break immersion (naming someone Dr. Strangelove?), but I'm drawing a blank for the others right now.

While MGS2 was a misstep, Metal Gear Solid 3 was excellent. The jungle stealth added a great twist to the series, and finally seeing Big Boss in action was awesome. MGS3 avoided most of the bizarre plot points, and set up the origins of a lot of future aspects of the series. The moment that sticks out the most in my mind is the death of The Boss. Being a Metal Gear game, there was of course a lead up to the moment in the form of many cut scenes. Then the moment came...

Big Boss (then Naked Snake) stands over The Boss, aiming at her. I let it sit for (what felt like) a few minutes, thinking it was still the cut scene and Snake was just hesitating. Then I realized that I had to pull the trigger. The Boss was an interesting character, but having to actually pull the trigger made me more invested in the character. It made me feel shitty, and it made Snake's anger at LBJ and the government as a whole at the end of the game a shared emotion. 

Though this does bring up another issue with the story as a whole that I have. There's nothing in MGS3 that indicates how Big Boss goes from being the character that he is in this game to the guy who goes bad in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2. Peace Walker doesn't really do anything about that, either. Big Boss sort of disowns The Boss when the AI that's based on The Boss sacrifices itself, but it still doesn't indicate any massive change in his character. I really hope that Metal Gear Solid V addresses this fully. 

Speaking of Peace Walker, it's an excellent game. The stripped down controls make the game a joy to play, and the way missions are broken up makes it easy to hop into the game quickly. I suppose this is since the game was designed for the PSP, but it works just as well on the console version that's in the MGS HD Collection. If I didn't know it was a PSP game, I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it. It definitely has lower production values than the other games (comic style cut scenes), but it's a really excellent game. Building Mother Base is a lot of fun too. I mostly only got into it because it's really hilarious to attach the Fulton device and see the soldiers get sucked into the air.

Somehow, no one made a GIF of how they get immediately pulled into the air. It's hilarious.

Anyhow, Ground Zeroes and the Phantom Pain are smacked right between Peace Walker and Metal Gear. Let's talk about the real Metal Gear. The real Metal Gear is actually a really awesome game. It's included in MGS3: Subsistence and the HD Collection. The real Metal Gear was actually an MSX game, not an NES game. It seems like it would have been possible to just do a straight port to the NES, and I'm really not sure why they didn't; the graphics are basically the same and it's not a complicated game. I haven't actually finished MG or MG2 yet, but they are definitely worth playing if you don't mind going back to the 80s to play some games (you shouldn't, it's no different than watching an old movie, really).

In summation, MGS is a damn fine series. I didn't discuss MGS4 because I've never had a PS3, so I just read a lengthy plot summary. While it is an excellent series in terms of gameplay and design, the story does have some oversights. The individual pieces of the series are greater than the sum of its parts, but that doesn't really dampen my excitement to get my 360 back to check out Ground Zeroes. Ground Zeroes is apparently a pretty short experience, but I also doubt that'll dampen my excitement for The Phantom Pain.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Personally, I'd say you aren't missing out much on MGS4.