Love/Hate: PS4

Love

  • The Games – The PS4 has been a massive success and that mainly comes down to one thing: Sony have done an incredible job of cultivating high-profile exclusive games in a variety of genres. God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Gran Turismo, Until Dawn, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Ni No Kuni… I’m just barely scratching the surface, but that gives you an idea of the variety of games available to satisfy various tastes.
  • Social Features – The social features built into the PS4 are possibly my favourite PlayStation innovation of all time. Being able to automatically capture the last fifteen minutes of gameplay and then share videos and screenshots from it is a revelation and instantly made me regret buying an Elgato HD months before the PS4 came out (although I’ll finally be putting it to use with the Switch soon enough when Pokemon comes out).
  • Rest Mode – I already loved rest mode on the PSP and PS Vita, but when it came to the PS4 it was better than ever. Not only can you suspend your progress in games, but the system will download updates while in rest mode, meaning that you no longer have to wait for lengthy updates when you turn on the console!
  • Controller Innovation – Finally, after the questionable PS3 controller, Sony really nailed the changes to the PS4’s DualShock redesign. The sticks feel more precise, the touch pad is awesome, the triggers are great and the overall weight and feel is perfect. It’s easily the best PlayStation controller and I hope that the PS5 only improves upon it.
  • My Favourite PS4 Games – As usual, here’s my list of favourite games on the PS4: God of War, Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, Uncharted 4, Nioh, Metal Gear Solid V, Battlefield 4 and Rainbow Six Siege.

Mixed

  • Remasters Out the Wazoo – Remasters were a thing late in the PS3 era, but they feel far more prevalent in the PS4 era. That said, the remasters we’re getting now are of a much higher quality, with straight-up remakes like Shadow of the Colossus and Resident Evil 2 in some cases, but it makes the industry feel creatively stifled. Hell, many of my favourite PS4 experiences are just remasters, such as Dark Souls and The Last of Us.

Hate

  • Mandatory Paid Online – PS+ was cool when it was an optional service, but having to pay for it every year sucks, especially since the price went up to $80 a year (in Canada). It’s at a point where I rarely play online now so I haven’t even bothered to renew my subscription – it’s just not worth it for me. This sucks though because it means I can’t just drop into a game of Rainbow Six Siege without dropping a big upfront cost to play with my friends.
  • Corporate Interests Have Sucked the Fun Out of Gaming – The PS3 era was just a taster for how bad gaming has gotten in the PS4 era. Major publishers have scaled down the number of games they release per year to a small handful, and seemingly every game we get is unfinished at launch, a multiplayer experience and filled with microtransactions in a transparent attempt to bleed you dry. For most publishers, “fun gameplay” isn’t even a consideration anymore, it’s all about getting you addicted and then extracting your cash. It’s hard to find story-driven, single-player experiences these days and it just makes gaming feel nowhere near as fun as it used to be.
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Love/Hate: PS3

Love

  • Trophies – Probably my favourite innovation that the PS3 brought was the advent of trophies (which, to be fair, were modelled after the Xbox’s achievements system). These things are so addictive though. Basically, as soon as I start a game I head over to the Trophies section to see what trophies I could realistically go for and whether I actually want to bother going for the Platinum.
  • Blu-Ray Player – Like the PS2 and PS1 before it, the PS3 came with a new media format innovation, this time with a blu-ray player. Also similarly, the PS3 was cheaper and better than most blu-ray players at the time, which helped to tip the format war between blu-ray and HD-DVD into blu-ray’s favour. Like DVD’s, the PS3 was my first blu-ray player and was the reason I stopped buying DVDs and made the switch to HD media.
  • Free Online Play – While it was widely agreed that Xbox Live had the more robust and reliable online system, you did have to pay an annual subscription for it, whereas online play was free on PS3. There was an optional ability to get PS+ if players wanted additional perks, but leaving it free by default was honestly the better move, since there really isn’t a good excuse that online play is a paid-for service on modern consoles.
  • Strong Hardware – While the PS3 was thought to be difficult to develop for early in the console’s life-cycle, by the mid-to-late period of the PS3’s stronger hardware was allowing the system to run games much easier and smoother than the comparatively underpowered Xbox 360. In addition, the PS3 did away with region locked games, meaning that you could play games from other regions out of the box (this was good for gamers who wanted to play Japanese-exclusive games, for example). When you consider that the PS3 also had a built-in wi-fi adapter and the blu-ray drive, whereas the Xbox 360 had to get a wi-fi adapter as an add-on, had only a DVD drive, and you had to pay an annual subscription for Xbox Live, the higher cost of the system was actually quite comparable.
  • My Favourite PS3 Games – Not a definitive list of the best games on the system, but my favourite games include: Uncharted 1 and 2, Dead Space 1 and 2, Battlefield Bad Company and 3, Bioshock, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Fallout 3 and Dark Souls.
Mixed
  • PS3 Controller – I’m really mixed on the PS3 controller. On the plus side, they were all wireless by default (another leg up on the Xbox 360, which also required AA batteries on their wireless models) and you could finally connect up to 8 controllers at a time without requiring an add-on peripheral. Buuuuuut… the triggers were really strangely designed and unappealing, the SIXAXIS motion controls were badly utilized and the controllers originally lacked rumble functionality. I mean, at least the controller is better than the awful boomerang concept that we were initially shown, but the product we got is still a real mixed bag without any clearly-good innovations.
Hate
  • Backwards Compatibility Phased Out – The original PS3 release did include backwards compatibility and I did manage to snag one of these models back in the day (although the system eventually died and was unsalvageable, riiiip). However, in order to cut costs, backwards compatibility was cut out in subsequent models. This, in my opinion, was not worth it and has unfortunately weakened the PlayStation brand ever since as a result. Now I either have to track down a PS2 to play older games, or hope that they have been made available as remasters or digital downloads on PSN, which isn’t really reliable at all.
  • The Cost – I’ve already tried to justify the cost of the system a bit, but there’s no denying that the PS3’s initial asking price of $600 was a huge barrier to entry. I snagged mine after the first price drop, but even then it was around $500. This was probably the biggest factor in the PS3’s slow adoption rate and the Xbox 360’s dominance throughout this console era.
  • Network Stability and Security Was Unacceptable – Sure, PS online was free, but history shows that that came with some major caveats. Extended network outages happened far too regularly, including one major outage which lasted a whopping 23 days as hackers breached the network and stole customers’ personal information! This was simply unacceptable and a major black mark on the PlayStation brand for years.
  • System Updates – Throughout its life, PS3 players would often sit down to get into a gaming session, only to have the system reveal that they have to perform a system update before they can get online. These would often take up to ten minutes to complete, leaving you frustrated and potentially not even wanting to play anymore by the time it was complete.
  • The Gaming Landscape Began to Get (More) Corporate – Gaming was changing by the time the PS3 era rolled around. Major publishers were starting to rake in serious cash and profit was starting to noticeably interfere with enjoyment. DLC began to become egregious (probably most offensively with the online pass), pre-order culture kicked off, games began seeing “feature bloat” (such as tacked-on co-op and multiplayer modes that no one wanted or played, which existed only to provide an excuse for cheap DLC), and we saw the start of microtransactions in games such as Dead Space 3. Publishers also began trend-hunting, with Activision riding the sudden success of Guitar Hero into the ground in a couple short years after saturating the market with crappy spin-offs and sequels. Everyone was also chasing after the success of Call of Duty with numerous FPSes which didn’t come close to replicating the same success. This also led to “niche” genres, such as survival horror, starting to become more scarce, while those that remained where “Call of Duty“-fied and stripped of their own identity (see: Resident Evil 6). Basically, gaming was no longer the domain of hobbyists looking to succeed by putting out good products, it was no becoming a calculated profit-making machine.
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Love/Hate: PSP

Love

  • Great Hardware – The PSP was a really great little handheld. It was very well-designed, felt great in your hand and had some great features, even outside of gaming. Having played only Gameboys up until this point, having a wi-fi capable system with an internet browser made this thing basically my first cell phone in terms of its functionality. It was also quite powerful, able to put out near-PS2 graphical levels in the palm of your hand. Compared to its competition, the Nintendo DS, the PSP won the hardware comparison, easily. I also loved that you could suspend games by putting the system into sleep mode, it was such a good feature.
  • Strong Support – People don’t remember it very well, but the PSP had strong support from first and third party developers, and even outsold the Nintendo DS for years, until that system’s cheaper price and stronger support ended up winning over in the end (the presence of Pokemon games certainly helped as well). Still, this allowed the PSP to have a very strong stable of games that you can look back on fondly.
  • PS1 Classics – One of the genius moves for the PSP was to allow you to play PS1 games on the go. Sony ended up releasing quite a few major titles for the system, including Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII (in fact, I had never played FF7 until I downloaded it on my PSP).
  • My Favourite PSP Games – The usual deal: this isn’t a comprehensive list, but here are some of my favourite PSP games. These include Resistance: Retribution, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Ac!d 1 and 2, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Patapon and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (mainly because, holy shit, a GTA game running on PSP hardware!?!).

Mixed

  • UMDs – UMDs were a cool, ambitious concept, attempting to be multi-media discs which would allow you to game and watch movies on the go. Sony tried to get film studios to release films on UMD discs and while there was some support, it wasn’t widely adopted (my PSP came with a copy of National Treasure 2, if I remember correctly). So yeah, they were ambitious, but man do they take up a lot of space for a portable cartridge, they load slowly and the just look so strange. I’ll give them points for trying something new, but I’m not entirely sure that it worked well.
Hate
  • No Second Analog Stick – Why, why, WHYYYYYYY did Sony not include a second analog nub on the PSP!?!?! It’s the system’s most glaring issue and it single-handedly screwed over so many games on this system. The second analog stick on the DualShock had, by this point, become the solution to the camera issues which had plagued early 3D games, but by not including a second analog nub, you immediately put developers back to the PS1 era. Predictably, camera controls became the #1 issue on PSP games, with half-baked solutions abounding (see: Splinter Cell: Essentials, which would force you to stand still and hold another button in order to move and fix the camera in place).
  • Power Button Placement Was Bad – The PSP was designed really well, but there was one glaring flaw (besides the lack of another analog nub, anyway…): the power slider was right were the palm of your hand would be, meaning that it was really easy to accidentally turn your system off. You kind of had to train yourself to not do this while playing, although there was more than one instance where I’d be playing Portable Ops online and accidentally turn the game off mid-match.
  • PSP Go – The PSP Go was a cool concept: basically, a smaller, redesigned PSP which could only play games downloaded to the system. However, it was way too expensive Sony gave this thing basically no support, meaning that it was dead on arrival. I feel sorry for anyone who paid $250 for this thing at launch, because Sony sure as hell didn’t earn your money.
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Love/Hate: PS2

Love

  • Built-in DVD Player – Having a CD player in the PS1 was a nice convenience, but the DVD player in the PS2 was huge. For many people (my family included), the PS2 was our first DVD player and was the reason that we jumped ship from VHS tapes. At the time, the PS2 was a very affordable DVD player and it was a key factor in the success and wide adoption of the format. Hell, my younger brother has a PS2 and still uses it as a DVD player, which says a lot about the importance of this feature.
  • Backwards Compatibility – Another major factor of the PS2’s success is its backwards compatibility with both the hardware and software of the PS1. You could use PS1 controllers with no issues and PS1 memory cards could be used as well (although these memory cards only worked with PS1 games). The fact that you could carry over your collection to a new console generation made the transition more attractive and basically allowed the PS2 to immediately surpass its predecessor.
  • Huge Graphical Improvement – The graphical leap between the PS1 and PS2 era was one of the biggest improvements of any console generation. PS1 games were very blocky and low resolution, but PS2 games were able to smooth things out and start to approximate realistic graphics. Hell, stylized games like Okami and Sly Cooper still look quite good to this day.
  • 3D Gameplay Improvements – By the mid-to-late point in the PS2 era, developers were finally starting to get 3D gameplay under control. Camera issues still plagued a fair few games at the time, but gameplay was finally getting refined and control schemes were starting to become standardized in a manner familiar to the games that we play today. This, of course, makes PS2 games much more playable and easier to go back to today.
  • High-Profile Exclusives and New IPs – Exclusives and new-IPs ruled the roost during the PS2 era, perhaps to a greater degree than in any other era since, making it a truly exciting time to be a PlayStation owner. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, IcoShadow of the Colossus, God of War and Final Fantasy could only be played on the PS2, many of which were high-profile third party exclusives.
  • My Favourite PS2 Games – Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list of the best PS2 games (not by a long shot), but my favourite games of the era include: Splinter Cell (especially Chaos Theory), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Freedom Fighters, Star Wars: Battlefront I and II, Twisted Metal: Black, Shadow of the Colossus, Sly Cooper 1-3, Bully and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.
Mixed
  • Underpowered Hardware – I’m putting this under mixed because it didn’t really matter, but the PS2 was clearly underpowered and missing features compared to its competition. This becomes very clear when you compare the PS2 port of Resident Evil 4 to the Gamecube original, or the PS2 ports of any of the Splinter Cell games to the Xbox originals. Still, the games worked and the PS2’s impressive library basically made this a moot point, because the PS2’s popularity made it the most successful console in history regardless.
Hate
  • Legacy Hardware Issues – In many ways, the PS2 lives up to its name: it’s a follow-up to the PS1, but the system itself doesn’t make any major innovative leaps forward, a fact which really stands out when you look at its competition. For example, the Xbox was built around online gaming, whereas PS2 owners had to purchase a separate ethernet adapter which was expensive and under-utilized (although this did allow couch multiplayer to last for another generation at least). The Xbox also had a built-in HDD, making the necessary purchase of pitifully tiny, 8MB Memory Cards on the PS2 look embarrassing and archaic in comparison. A HDD was made available as an add-on, but it was once again an expensive, under-utilized peripheral which was only really used in Final Fantasy XI. The PS2 also had only two controller ports once again, making couch multiplayer games harder to manage.
  • Glut of Shovelware – The PS2 era might have been the height of cheap, crappy licensed games, as they were very prevalent at the time, as this was an era where the install base was huge and games cost just enough to make that it was worth the investment to make a quick turn-around. In subsequent generations the mobile gaming scene would kill off this market trend (although it carried on over to the Wii as well), but when you go back to the PS2 you’ll notice a plethora of awful games which were shovelled onto the system.
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Love/Hate: PS1

Hey, it’s time for another Love/Hate series! This time we’re going to be going through each of the generations of PlayStation consoles and handhelds! I’ve always been a PlayStation fanboy, having grown up along with each successive system. Hell, I even wrote a defense of the PS Vita when it was becoming a punchline and wrote my review of the notorious DOAX3 on the Vita version of the game for the 200th blog post celebration. So with that said, let’s go back to the beginning and look at the original PlayStation console – what I love about it, what I hate, and everything in between!

Love

  • Genre-Defining Experiences – The original PlayStation was the most successful console of its era at a time when video games were literally entering a whole new dimension of possibilities. Considering the limitations of computing at the time and that 3D game design was basically uncharted territory, it’s amazing how well a number of developers were able to make the transition and provide experiences which helped to establish genres as we know them today. For example, the 3D action platformer was established during this time with titles such as Tomb Raider, Ape Escape, Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and games in this genre have retained most of these foundational elements since. Racing games such as Gran Turismo also play nearly identically to racing games from the PS1 era, just with more glitz and polish. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was also responsible for establishing the skating game genre, which would be hugely popular well into the PS3 era. Survival horror was really established on the PS1 with Resident EvilDino Crisis and Silent Hill, providing an experience which is almost entirely exclusive to the PS1. These are just a few examples, but it just goes to show that the PS1 was a key foundation for gaming as we know it today.
  • CD-based Format – In a time when cartridges were the go-to method for game storage and when CD players weren’t particularly common, the PS1 showed the value of multi-media storage formats. Having game’s played on CDs was a huge benefit for a number of reasons: they were less bulky, cheaper and could store far more data than the competition and they allowed PS1-owners the freedom to use the system as a CD player when they weren’t gaming.
  • The DualShock Controller is the Granddaddy of Modern Controllers – The title pretty much says it all. While the original, analogue-less PlayStation controller was basically just a refinement of controllers of its era, the DualShock set the new standard which has been replicated in all future controllers since (barring gimmicks like the Wii of course).
  • Easy to Pirate For – Sure, this wasn’t exactly an intended feature, but with the cheap proliferation of CDs, the PS1 was notoriously easy to pirate games onto, a “feature” which has only gotten more valuable in the years since support for the console has died. It was also fairly easy to modify the system, such as replacing parts in order to circumvent the system’s region locking features.
  • My Favourite PS1 Games – Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of good PS1 games, but the games that I love and grew up on include Ape Escape, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal 2, Vigilante 2: Second Offense, Future Cop: LAPD and Driver.

Hate

  • Janky Gameplay – The jump to 3D gameplay was a new frontier back when the PS1 came out and while it’s impressive that there are some seriously good games in this era, nearly every game from this era feels incredibly dated and incredibly clunky. Between the low-res graphics, janky controls and (especially) the wretched camera controls that defined nearly every game from this era, it’s really hard to go back and play a significant number of games from this era.
  • Original Controller was Outclassed by DualShock – The original PlayStation controller was fine, but when the DualShock came out it controlled so much better and made the original controller completely obsolete. The fact that the PlayStation One Classic came packed with the original controller was a baffling decision on Sony’s part, because not only was it inferior, but it also meant that huge games like Ape Escape could not be included. The lack of analogue sticks on this original controller also did not help with the camera issues which plagued this era’s games and wouldn’t really be rectified until midway through the next console generation.
  • Hardware Limitations – The PS1 had some really annoying hardware limitations, even compared to its competition. Memory Cards were a particular annoyance, the official ones only had 15 blocks of memory if I remember correctly, but some games would take up multiple blocks so you would fill them up very quickly. You could also buy unofficial cards, but I had one knock-off which corrupted and actually managed to ruin one of my discs! The PS1 also required a multitap if you wanted more than two players at a time, whereas the N64 could have four players at once. This was unfortunate and really cut down on the potential for local multiplayer games such as Vigilante 8: Second Offense.
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Will Metal Gear “Survive” Without Kojima?

I’ll be honest, I’ve been lazy about updating the blog lately. I’ve got about a half dozen posts half-written, but nothing managed to push through and materialize… until now. What could have possibly pushed me out of my lethargy? Trump? Some theoretical voting structure? Theology?
Nope, Konami and Metal Gear of course.

To open the year 2016, I wrote up a series of lengthy posts reviewing each of the main series games in the Metal Gear franchise. I spent a solid month and a half doing my “research” for those articles, so you know that this franchise means quite a lot to me. However, with series creator Hideo Kojima leaving Konami and the series on rocky terms, I’ve basically come to terms with the idea that the series is effectively dead. As exciting as another Kojima Metal Gear could be, I’m totally fine with 25 years of absolutely rock solid games which are amongst the absolute best in the industry. I’m willing to let the series go, for there to be a concrete end.

Naturally, Konami doesn’t see it that way and are ready to milk the franchise until it’s a decayed husk. We’ve already seen the Fox Engine used to “remake” the series’ best game, Snake Eater, into a freaking Pachinko machine, and now Konami has revealed their first original console entry: Metal Gear Survive… and it’s not doing much to get me back on board.

First of all, the premise sounds like it was thought up by someone who didn’t understand Metal Gear, just thought it was weird, and then ratcheted that weirdness up significantly. The basic idea is that you’re a soldier of Militaire Sans Frontieres who, when Mother Base is destroyed in Ground Zeroes, gets sucked into a freaking portal and now has to fight crystal zombies to get home in 4-player survival co-op. What the feth…?

Well first of all, it has to be said that this is a ballsy as hell move, because I’m pretty sure no one wanted Metal Gear Solid: Operation Raccoon City. As much as some people want to dismiss the portals and zombies in this game as being “typical Metal Gear“, I can’t really get on board that. Sure, there were portals in The Phantom Pain, but they were always a silly gameplay mechanic which was clearly intended to be more of a bit of player convenience rather than something which is meant to be canon, in-game technology. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff in Metal Gear, so it can be hard to parse exactly what is real or not, but the portals never struck me for even a second as a thing which is real in its world. Plus, these elements were always on the edges of the game, not the central conceit of the game. Sure, we had to fight “zombie-like” enemies during a handful of boss battles in The Phantom Pain, but I can’t imagine a whole game with them. Again, it feels like someone saw these weird elements in other games in the series and thought that they were central to the experience, rather than in-jokes on the fringes.

I can’t help but feel like Konami is just chasing trends with the entire concept of the game. Open world 4 player co-op is clearly a “desired feature” these days, with games like Ghost Recon: Wildlands really pushing that as “the future” (although Wildlands actually looks like it will be very fun). Furthermore, zombie enemies and survival elements are the game’s other 2 big features, which are 2 of the most oversaturated buzzwords in all of gaming these days. What about this game is supposed to be selling it to me? Aside from the bonkers premise, this game just looks generic and boring, with its only potential selling point being the Metal Gear name.

Making the game even less interesting for someone like me, is there going to be any sort of story to this? And even if there is, is it going to transcend the usual, generic video game zombie survival tropes? Metal Gear is renowned for their rich (and usually insane) stories. Even The Phantom Pain, which was arguably the weakest narrative in the main series, had some pretty fascinating themes at its core – enough so that I somehow managed to spend more time dissecting it than I did for any other game in the franchise. Based on what we see here (4 nameless nobodies killing zombies), I have a hard time picturing anything other than the most shallow story. It’s not exactly the incredible Ground Zeroes reveal trailer, now is it?

I’m not pissed off about this game – like I said in the intro, the Metal Gear franchise is dead as far as I’m concerned, and with the very clear split between pre- and post-Kojima exit, this game is hardly going to ruin its legacy. It doesn’t even look terrible, but there’s absolutely nothing about this trailer that gets me excited in the slightest. Konami is just doing a poor job of trying to win us back after the shit they dragged their fans through. If they want to win us back, this wasn’t the way to do it. Do you know how they could get us back in good graces? Well first of all, finish Chapter 51 of The Phantom Pain and then release it as free DLC. It was already partially completed, so that is not going to be a ton of work, actually finishing the game will boost its legacy and earn you some major goodwill. Then, to ratchet up the workload a bit, take that Snake Eater pachinko machine and actually announce that you’re remaking the game in the Fox Engine for consoles. This gives you a template to work off of and, if you can pull it off, prove that you can make a solid Metal Gear game without Kojima’s oversight. After that, maybe do an original set-story. Hell, Survive might even work at that point if you’ve earned enough goodwill to do your own thing. After that, if you’ve proven that Metal Gear is in good hands, then you could probably get away with Metal Gear Solid 6 and beyond.

That’s really the crux of the issue with Survive though – we straight up do not trust Konami to deliver a worthy experience. The game looks generic already, but I can’t trust that Konami won’t screw it up fundamentally either. You can certainly continue Metal Gear without Kojima, but Konami is going to have to earn our goodwill through blood, sweat and many, many tears.

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Afterthoughts & Greatest Moments

AFTERTHOUGHTS
This has been quite a journey that we have embarked on. It literally took me months to complete all of the games in the franchise and, at times, felt like I had taken on a second job, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience which has given me a new appreciation of the franchise. Seeing how the gameplay has evolved and gotten more complex was very interesting, and actually improved the original Metal Gear Solid in quite a few ways for me (especially the key cards and backtracking which I found annoying in my first playthrough, but which are refreshing compared to previous games in the franchise). I also got to experience a few games that I had wanted to play but never actually got around to – namely, Metal Gear, Solid Snake and Rising.

It was also interesting to get a better look at the Metal Gear story. The franchise is notorious for having a supposedly “incomprehensible” story, but I have always found this to be a ridiculous assertion. The series’ overarching narrative is certainly extremely complex, convoluted and doesn’t make a lot of sense at times, but it isn’t all that hard to follow in each game. Also, considering that the overarching story was made up from game-to-game, it’s nothing short of a minor miracle that the story is as satisfying and reasonably coherent as it is, especially with the numerous retcons which have occurred in each new installment.

If I have time at some point in the future, I might also do a bonus review for the two Metal Gear Ac!d games, as they were both very fun and unique experiences. Other than those two games, Ghost Babel for the Game Boy Advance and Portable Ops Plus for the PSP are both ripe for a potential bonus retrospective… hell, maybe even Snake’s Revenge for the NES as well if I’m feeling extremely masochistic. We’ll see if any of these entries actually happen (I’m long overdue for an entry for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for that franchise’s retrospective series), but perhaps one day. I’ll try not to say “Kept you waiting, huh?” though.

10 GREATEST MOMENTS IN THE METAL GEAR FRANCHISE
Here are, in my opinion, the 10 greatest moments in the entire franchise. They could be cutscenes, or gameplay twists or even epic boss battles: what matters is that they’re very memorable and/or extremely key to the overarching narrative.

Honourable mentions: Sniper Wolf’s death scene in Metal Gear Solid and the Raiden switcheroo in Sons of Liberty.

10) “I just don’t fear death.” (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)

For all my complaining about Raiden in Guns of the Patriots, this fight scene alone made his inclusion worthwhile. The sequence is well set-up: throughout Act II, Raiden is hinted as having a major return and our heroes get into severe peril. Then, when Raiden shows up, we’re not sure what’s going to happen – there’s something different about him, but can he really deal with that many Gekkos? As we soon discover though, he definitely can as we get treated to the most purely entertaining sequences in the entire franchise. The escalation is just fantastic too as suddenly Raiden is not only contending with Gekkos, but the immortal beast Vamp as well. The choreography and direction of the fight are the real highlights – it doesn’t serve a lot of story purpose, but it is extremely entertaining and memorable, to the point where an entire game was made and sold based on this exact sequence. Now that is impressive.

9) Gustava is Killed By Gray Fox (Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake)

Some people might prefer the fist fight with Gray Fox in the land mine field or Solid Snake’s confrontation with Big Boss, but to me there is no bigger story moment in Solid Snake than the death of Gustava. Despite the game’s extremely limited storytelling abilities and her short screentime, Gustava was an instantly-likable character. Her death on the rope bridge marks a major shift in the game’s narrative, as Gray Fox and Dr. Madnar both betray us and the game’s best character dies in our arms, regretting that politics kept her from being with the man she loved. Tragically, we later discover that that man was Gray Fox himself, who unwittingly killed his one true love. This causes Gray Fox’s own death to be somewhat hopeful, and his subsequent forced resurrection to be an even more horrific form of torture.

8) Shining Lights, Even in Death (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

Even if The Phantom Pain is lacking in its narrative, it’s undeniable that this mission is incredibly powerful, and is a skillful weaving of narrative and gameplay mechanics to produce a truly emotional moment. As Venom Snake makes his way through the horrors in the quarantine zone, you might come across soldiers that you recognize – you recruited everyone here, they have all fallen sick, and you need to do something to rescue them. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is no cure and, worse, if something isn’t done, then an epidemic could get unleashed on the world. As a result, you are forced to gun down each and every one of your men. Most of them don’t fight back. Some call you a monster. Some of them beg you to do it, as they salute and hum the Peace Walker theme. Even when you think that you found one survivor, the hope is short lived as they are infected in mere moments. By the end of it all, you know that all of these men and women are dead because of you – by your own hand, because you brought them to Mother Base and in your service.

The subsequent cutscene just makes things even more powerful. Keifer Sutherland justifies his casting with a very emotional and tragic performance as Venom Snake tries to come to terms with his actions, culminating with a fantastic little monologue:

“I won’t scatter your sorrow to the heartless sea. I will always be with you. Plant your roots in me. I won’t see you end as ashes. You’re all diamonds.”

Furthermore, the ending of the game makes this sequence even more of a tragedy – you caused these men to die, but the only reason you were put into this position was because the person that you idolized was using you as an unwitting decoy in order to keep themselves safe. If Venom becomes evil between The Phantom Pain and the original Metal Gear, you can bet that this was a major contributing factor.

7) REX vs RAY (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)

Of all the pure fan service moments in Guns of the Patriots, the Metal Gear battle between REX and RAY is probably the most wildly enjoyable. It serves basically no story purpose (in fact, one could argue that it is ultimately detrimental to the game’s narrative in a few ways), but damn is it ever incredibly entertaining. I don’t think anyone ever expected to be able to pilot their own Metal Gear in one of these games, let alone use one to battle another Metal Gear. It’s a very fun, empowering and awe-inspiring sequence which is so purely entertaining that it’s easy to ignore how inherently silly it is.

6) “This Is Good, Isn’t It?” (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)

Big Boss is still alive. This is a rather insane reveal to work into the epilogue of Guns of the Patriots, but considering that the franchise has expanded to be the overarching stories of Big Boss and Solid Snake, it is even more appropriate to give him the proper send-off in retrospect. While this scene goes on just a little bit too long, it manages to end the franchise in an incredibly satisfying and conclusive way – The Patriots are gone for good, Big Boss finally comes to understand The Boss’s will, Big Boss and Solid Snake are able to reconcile as father and son, and Solid Snake regains his will to live and see out the last days of his life in peace. This is capped off with Big Boss’s final words to Snake as he smokes his last cigar: “This is good, isn’t it?”

5) “You Like Castlevania, don’t you?” (Metal Gear Solid)

I had considered not including this moment at all, but on further retrospection it occurred to me that this was really one of the formative moments in the franchise. For many gamers, having Psycho Mantis tear down the fourth wall and perform his parlour tricks was a massive shock. Suddenly this wasn’t just a normal video game, and Psycho Mantis wasn’t just a normal video game boss. The sheer amount of outside-of-the-box thinking required to both design and defeat Psycho Mantis makes the fight incredibly entertaining. While it has lost some of its lustre due to cultural familiarity eroding away the surprise of it all, it remains a very enjoyable experience to this day.

4) “I NEED SCISSORS! 61!” (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)

The Raiden switcheroo is the usual talking point when it comes to Sons of Liberty, but I recall fondly that Raiden’s naked romp through Arsenal Gear is the game’s real, truly important twist. Everyone knows about the Raiden switcheroo by now, but I imagine that there are still tons of people who will be playing Sons of Liberty and then be completely baffled as Raiden runs around naked, as the Colonel constantly calls Raiden with strange messages and as ninjas start appearing out of nowhere. And how many players put down their controllers in frustration when “Fission Mailed” showed up, before realizing that the game fooled them? Sons of Liberty really starts to jump off the deep end here, and does so in spectacularly, memorably absurd fashion.

3) Old Snake vs Liquid Ocelot (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)

As the final clash between the series’ main hero and its arch villain, the battle between Old Snake and Liquid Ocelot has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it is one of the most distinctive boss battles in the entire franchise, as the two foes brutally pummel one another into submission. By the end, there isn’t even any dignity to the affair – it’s just two tired, old men beating one another to death for little purpose. It’s an incredibly sad and sobering affair which gets drawn out for quite some time, allowing us a chance to take in all of the trials we have been through with these characters.

2) “We Are Not Tools of the Government…” (Metal Gear Solid)

The death of Gray Fox in Metal Gear Solid is one of those major formative moments in a character’s development which can be clearly seen in subsequent games in the franchise. Throughout his life, Solid Snake is used as a tool by those above him, and he constantly fights back against this perception until he is able to achieve it. This moment is also called-back to by Solid Snake as a key part of Sons of Liberty‘s theme of “memes”, as he passes this idea on to Raiden, who internalizes the idea himself. In fact, within the universe of the game, this is likely a meme that was passed on to Gray Fox from Big Boss himself.

All of this in addition to being a very major moment in Metal Gear Solid itself, as Gray Fox sacrifices his life to save Solid Snake and give him the opportunity to destroy Metal Gear REX. In doing so, he demonstrates his friendship with Snake, and tries to atone for his lifetime of sins.

“We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing… the only thing I was good at. But… at least I always fought for what I believed in.”

1) The Ladder (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

…just kidding.

1) “She Was a Real Hero. She Was a True Patriot.” (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The entire ending sequence of Snake Eater is by far the greatest moment in the entire franchise as far as I’m concerned. The showdown between Naked Snake and The Boss is already tragic, with the final trigger pull being a particularly heart-wrenching moment as the player musters up the fortitude to end The Boss’s life. That said, this all really comes into its own in the final series of cutscenes when Naked Snake discovers the truth of The Boss’s “defection”. Her defection was in fact a ploy to get close to Colonel Volgin and steal The Philosopher’s Legacy for the US government. However, The Boss soon realizes that in order to complete the mission and save the world, she will have to not only sacrifice her own life, but be remembered in history with disgrace. Considering that she has spent her entire life in service of her country, including giving up her only child and executing her lover, this is a despicable fate to befall such a noble woman. This revelation plants the seeds from which the rest of the conflicts in the franchise will grow, as her few disciples make misguided attempts to live up to her legacy.

“Snake, listen to me. She didn’t betray the United States. No, far from it. She was a hero who died for her country. She carried out her mission knowing full well what was going to happen. Self-sacrifice… because that was her duty. […] Out of duty, she turned her back on her own comrades. A lesser woman would have been crushed by such a burden. The taint of disgrace will follow her to her grave. Future generations will revile her: In America, as a despicable traitor with no sense of honor; and in Russia, as a monster who unleashed a nuclear catastrophe. She will go down in official history as a war criminal, and no one will ever understand her… that was her final mission. And like a true soldier, she saw it through the end. […] Snake, history will never know what she did. No one will ever learn the truth. Her story, her debriefing… will endure only in your heart. Everything she did, she did for her country. She sacrificed her life and her honor for her native land. She was a real hero. She was a true patriot.”

PERSONAL RANKINGS
1) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – 10/10
2) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – 9.5/10
3) Metal Gear Solid – 9.5/10 (Literally the only reason that I have put this below The Phantom Pain is because it is a far less expansive and replayable experience, although for its time Metal Gear Solid was a SIGNIFICANTLY more important game.)
4) Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots – 9/10
5) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – 8.5/10
6) Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – 8.5/10
7) Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker – 8/10
8) Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – 7.5/10
9) Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – 7/10
10) Metal Gear – 7/10
11) Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops – 6/10

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid V – Ground Zeroes (2014)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the 10th game in the franchise, 2014’s prologue, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes! I actually wrote a review for this game back when it first came out, but in… er… retrospect it was more of a justification for the game’s length rather than a real review. As a result, I’m going to make sure to cover more info on the game itself. How does it hold up now that the price has dropped significantly and with the game being given out for free on a couple different occasions now? Read on to find out…

(For the sake of this review, I used the PS4 version as my benchmark. I can’t comment on the PS3/Xbox 360 versions.)

DEVELOPMENT
Even prior to the release of Peace Walker, Kojima teased the idea of Metal Gear Solid V. His team was busy developing a new game engine which would become known as the Fox Engine. The freedom of the Fox Engine would allow for a fully open world Metal Gear game, a notion which Kojima had been attempting to achieve since Snake Eater. With work on the Fox Engine wrapping up and the next generation of consoles approaching, the decision was made to make Ground Zeroes a cross-generational game.

Prior to the game’s official announcement, Kojima went on record saying that his next game would deal with delicate, even taboo, issues which might not make the final cut in the game or which might be so shocking as to negatively impact the game’s sales. Ground Zeroes was finally revealed in the summer of 2012 through a Japanese trailer which consisted of the game’s opening cutscene. This was also the venue where Kojima announced that the game would be running within an open world setting, emphasizing player freedom to approach their objectives. It would also be available on a very wide release, with the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC all being able to play the game.

Some confusion began to grow as the game’s development continued. A trailer for a game called The Phantom Pain by “Moby Dick Studios” was quickly deciphered to be another Metal Gear game in simultaneous development. After some speculation, it was officially announced that The Phantom Pain was a part of Metal Gear Solid V, causing people to believe that this game and Ground Zeroes were going to be a single game. However, it was later clarified that they would be 2 separate games, with Ground Zeroes serving as a smaller prologue.

The game then began to encounter some major controversy. The long-time English voice actor for the Solid Snake and Big Boss, David Hayter, was replaced by Kiefer Sutherland. Fans bristled at this revelation and threatened to boycott the game, to no avail. Fans also complained about the game’s addition of “reflex mode”, which allows for a chance to eliminate guards after being spotted without setting off an alert, and a fast-regenerating health mechanic, both of which were seen as making Metal Gear too “casual”.

During the game’s initial release, the PlayStation versions received the “Déjà Vu” mission as a console-exclusive mission, whereas Xbox versions received the “Jamais Vu” mission. These two missions were timed console exclusives, which were unlocked for free for both consoles a few weeks after release. Naturally, the announcement about console-specific missions riled up some fans as well.

Probably the biggest source of controversy around the game though arose from Game Informer‘s Metal Gear Solid V cover story. In their commentary, they stated that the game was comparable to the Sons of Liberty demo, but paid for separately. Furthermore, they commented that they had completed the main mission in 2 hours, but some testers had run it in only 5 minutes. These comments caused fans to react extremely negatively, with people claiming that Konami expected them to drop $30-$40 for a demo with only 5 minutes of gameplay. These complaints were fresh in the public’s minds when the game finally released in March of 2014 (although the PC version would not be released until December).

PLOT SUMMARY
In the aftermath of Peace Walker, the UN has requested to inspect Mother Base for the presence of any nuclear materials. MSF initially turned the request down, but Huey took it upon himself to reverse the decision to try to make MSF appear to be a beacon of peace. As a result, Big Boss and Kaz prepare for the inspection by hiding ZEKE and their nuclear warhead, and evacuating civilians and heavy equipment offshore.

However, as they prepare for the inspection, Miller discovers that Paz survived her encounter with Big Boss. She has been captured by Cipher for interrogation and is now stationed in Camp Omega in Cuba. Hoping to rescue her, Chico sneaks into the enemy base, but is captured in the attempt. The Intel team attempts to discover Chico’s location, but after some time a cassette tape is received which contains a distress call from Chico. Big Boss and Miller suspect that the request is a trap, but with the inspection bearing down on them and the sensitive knowledge held by Chico and Paz, they have no choice but to attempt a rescue.

As Big Boss infiltrates into Camp Omega, Skullface, the leader of the Cipher special forces unit XOF, departs by helicopter and then heads out to sea to perform the UN “inspection”. Big Boss witnesses the helicopter convoy heading out and then moves to retrieve the prisoners. Making his way through the base, Big Boss locates Chico and then takes him to the shoreline for extraction via helicopter. Chico laments that Paz is already dead, giving Big Boss a cassette tape of her being tortured. Undeterred, Big Boss heads back into Camp Omega to locate Paz. He finds her in the basement of the Admin building, chained up in the boiler room. He sneaks her back out to the extraction site and then heads back towards Mother Base with the two rescued prisoners. However, on the way back, Chico discovers that Paz’s gut has been stitched up. Big Boss realizes that she has been rigged with a bomb and orders a medic to come inspect her. After a painful surgery without anesthetic, the bomb is extracted and thrown into the ocean.

Contact is soon lost with Mother Base though. When they arrive, they see that the base is on fire and that many of the struts have collapsed. The helicopter lands on one intact strut, which allows Big Boss to save Miller and a couple other soldiers before evacuating. Miller blames Paz for the destruction of MSF, but she stands up and reveals that there is a second bomb before jumping out of the helicopter and exploding. Despite her sacrifice, the blast radius knocks the helicopter out of control and sends it careening into the path of an XOF helicopter, causing the two aircraft to crash and putting Big Boss into a coma…

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
First off, I have to say that in a lot of ways it is fair to call Ground Zeroes a paid-demo, as it really is a stripped-down tech demonstration for the game’s main act. That said, it does have quite a bit of content to experience which helps to justify its stand-alone price point. For one thing, there are 7 different missions in this game which can all be replayed and experienced in a number of different ways. The main “Ground Zeroes” mission alone should easily take up 1.5 to 2 hours to beat on a first playthrough. In addition, unlike many open world games, all of the side-ops are well worth trying out. They all have their own interesting little stories and fairly unique objectives which make them both fun and challenging. For my own part, I have probably sunk at least 8+ hours into this game.

Of course, the “Ground Zeroes” mission is where most of the gameplay lies, and it is thankfully very fun. It is reasonably lengthy and offers a ton of player freedom. While you’re supposed to rescue Chico first, you can actually choose to go for the more difficult approach and rescue Paz first, which adds a whole new angle of challenge and difficulty to the mission. The other side-ops change up the gameplay quite a bit, tasking you with eliminating targets, retrieving intel or even killing body-snatchers.

In terms of mechanics, Ground Zeroes plays similarly to Guns of the Patriots in many ways. The radar and all associated systems have been completely eliminated, meaning that reconnaissance and situational awareness are now crucial to stealthy gameplay. The controversial reflex mode is a major boon in this department – with most of your aids now excised, having that last ditch effort to land a headshot is extremely helpful, without feeling absolutely broken either. Of course, if you’re just too damn “hardcore” for this pansy-ass bullshit, then you can just turn it off. And then eat some nails, presumably.

If you do get stuck in a straight-up gunfight, Ground Zeroes‘ combat is extremely refined. Gunplay is very fun and smooth, not featuring any of the stuttering which was common in Guns of the Patriots. Enemies’ animations when they get hit are notable for how surprisingly good they are, with shots to various parts of the body staggering them in that direction. CQC has also seen another makeover, with standard combat chains actually being a viable option, rather than having to rely on chokeholds and hold-ups to get anything done. You can also steal enemy vehicles, such as a jeep, truck or LAV (which has always proven extremely useful to me when extracting Paz).

Despite the game’s philosophy of providing player freedom, there are some annoying design decisions which go against this idea. Probably most importantly, the lack of ability to customize your loadout is a major problem which hurts replayability. Sure, you get some bonus weapons at the start of the mission when you replay it, but they’re very limited in variety. There’s also just a lack of meaningful weapon variety in general, with nearly everything being procure-on-site. The game also locks its 2 bonus side-ops, “Déjà Vu” and “Jamais Vu”, behind a collectible hunt. This is rather annoying because this locks off a good 30+ minutes of content (for just a single playthrough) which most players aren’t going to bother to unlock. It also doesn’t hurt that “Jamais Vu” is arguably the funnest side-op in the whole game.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
Like most Metal Gear games, Ground Zeroes opens up with a very impressive cutscene which shows off a Alfonso Cuarón-style continuous tracking shot which shows the player around Camp Omega. Here we are introduced to all of the key players, including the enigmatic villain of the game, Skull Face. Most of the story is told in a rather simple, straightforward manner, but the story itself is fairly compelling. A lot of supplementary information related to backstory is sectioned off in the game’s optional and collectible cassette tapes (including all of Paz’s secret tapes from Peace Walker). While it will take you over an hour to listen to all of the tapes, I would definitely recommend that you do so, as they fill out the whole political situation surrounding the game’s story very well, lend it additional gravitas and show the various characters’ motivations. The interrogation cassettes are also rather important as they flesh out Skull Face’s character, especially considering that he is basically a shadowy figure off-screen for the whole game.

Of course, there is one very lengthy and difficult-to-listen-to cassette tape which details the torture inflicted upon Chico and Paz, which features Paz being gang raped by the soldiers, having Chico be forced to rape Paz (with Skull Face twisting it into a sick reward for the boy, who you must remember had a crush on her) and having Skull Face be heavily implied to insert a bomb into Paz’s vagina. The amount of suffering that she endures is unimaginably awful, and the fact that this sequence is an unlockable “reward” caused a fairly big controversy. Claims that depictions of sexual violence were being used as a “reward” for the player were rather overblown, as I’m sure that most players will concede that these are hardly a “reward” at all, but rather plot explanation. You could definitely argue about the necessity of such depictions, but this was one controversial aspect of the game which I think was overblown from people who didn’t actually play the game.

It’s also worth realizing that all of the torture inflicted on Paz ties into this game’s main theme, which revolves around the ethically bankrupt actions carried out by governments. Camp Omega is clearly intended to be a representation of Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and the tortures inflicted on the characters are meant to be a commentary on the moral shadiness of American anti-terrorism methods. The game compounds this idea with its theme song, “Here’s to You” (which was previously used in Guns of the Patriots‘ closing credits). The song is about a pair of anarchists who were executed by the American government in the 1920s, who are believed to have been executed for their political beliefs rather than any actual actions the pair might have committed. The song plays at a few key moments throughout the game, particularly during the opening and when Paz is being tortured by Skull Face.

With these themes in mind, I don’t believe that this game is truly about Big Boss, as it may seem to be at first glance. In my opinion, this game is all about Paz. She is the one invoked by “Here’s to You”, the martyr who is killed by the government, and the only character who has a real arc in the game. In her own audio tapes at the end of Peace Walker she reveals a conflicted desire to turn on Cipher and live as a true student of peace, but those dreams were lost. She also revealed a dislike of Chico, but when the two of them are being tortured she seems to warm up to him a lot. She even comforts him throughout their torture, even when he is forced to rape her and even though she is receiving the brunt of their depravity. She also refuses to break throughout the interrogations until Skull Face presents her with an offer – Big Boss’s life for Zero’s location. Betrayed by her own organization and perhaps looking to redeem herself for her previous actions, Paz sacrifices her own life to help ensure Big Boss’s survival. This is further demonstrated by her willingness to throw herself out of the helicopter at the end when she realizes that they didn’t find the second bomb planted on her. All of the suffering she is inflicted with makes Paz seem like something of a Christ-figure in this game. It’s easy to miss all of these plot points though if you don’t dive into the game’s audio tapes. Without them, this is a simple story about how Big Boss rescues a couple of targets. With them, this is a story about Paz’s struggles, her choices, her strength in the face of evil, and her defiance until the end.

Ground Zeroes suffers a bit as a prologue though. If the purpose of a prologue is to set up the events which unfold in the greater story, then Ground Zeroes is rather inadequate. Judged from this game alone, you’d think that The Phantom Pain would be primarily concerned with the dark side of nationalism/government control, but those plot points are never raised again. The only way that the two are really connected in a meaningful way is that it sets up Big Boss’s desire for revenge, but if you want a really tight narrative (especially in a two-part release) then you should at least try to work in the other themes in the game, rather than just the simple motivations. This is, of course, not entirely this game’s fault, but it is a strange point which makes some of the more fantastical elements of The Phantom Pain more awkward, especially after the extreme seriousness of Ground Zeroes.

All-in-all, Ground Zeroes is a very fun, but limited game. Questions of the length and value of the game persist long after its release. It is definitely a fun experience, but it really does feel like a rather large demo when all is said and done. Luckily, it is also quite cheap to acquire these days, making questions of value less of a deal-breaker for more people. For my own part, I’d recommend checking it out before jumping on board with The Phantom Pain, but be sure to experience the main story and the side-ops for maximum enjoyment.

7.5/10
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Retrospective: Metal Gear Rising – Revengeance (2013)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to be covering the ninth game in the franchise, 2013’s Raiden-based spin-off Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance! After a troubled development cycle and some major fan backlash, would this game manage to prove itself worthy of the Metal Gear name? Read on to find out…

DEVELOPMENT
The original version of the game which would eventually become Metal Gear Rising: RevengeanceMetal Gear Solid: Rising, was announced in 2009 at Microsoft’s E3 press conference. After the praise Raiden had received for his portrayal in Guns of the Patriots, there was a strong fan demand for another game in the franchise with him in the lead role. Kojima actually wanted a game with Gray Fox, but staff and fans pushed him to focus on Raiden instead. The game was intended to bridge the gap between Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots, explaining how Raiden became a cyborg ninja, how he rescued Sunny from The Patriots and how he retrieved the body of Big Boss. A trailer was released the next year featuring Raiden absorbing robotic enemies’ power cells and with a gratuitous amount of watermelon-cutting. According to the development team, the game would allow fast-paced action while remaining a stealth game at the core, with the ability to “cut anything”.

However, the game was quickly finding itself running into trouble as it was simply not working well as a stealth-action hybrid. To put it simply, it wasn’t working at all and by 2011 Kojima pulled the plug on the game, but not before concept work on the bosses and script was completed. The project was then handed over to Platinum Games, of Bayonetta fame. Considering their previous history with fast-paced action games, this was a fantastic move. However, fan reaction was very negative, as the shift from stealth to pure action was seen as betraying the series’ roots. To these fans, the shift in direction had effectively “ruined” a game that they hadn’t played.

Under Platinum Games, the game was retitled, reworked into more of a pure action game and set post-Guns of the Patriots. Stealth was essentially removed except for optional instant stealth-kills and some cutting-based environmental kills that the player can pull off. Platinum Games also upped the game’s framerate to 60 fps, a request that Kojima himself asked for as Rising was originally going to be only 30 fps. It was also revealed that the cutscenes, settings and story were written by Kojima Productions, while Platinum Games focused on the gameplay.

A year after the game’s initial release, the game was ported to PC, the first game in the franchise to receive a PC release since Metal Gear Solid: Integral back in 2000. All subsequent Metal Gear games would receive PC ports as well.

PLOT SUMMARY
4 years after the destruction of The Patriots, the world has fallen into an uneasy state where peace is extremely fragile and the last gasps of the War Economy continue. The remaining PMCs have taken on cyborg soldiers. Looking to support his family, Raiden joins up with Maverick Security Consulting Inc as a private security contractor. He is on assignment providing security for the peace-loving Prime Minister N’mani (of some unnamed African nation) when their convoy is suddenly ambushed by a cyborg PMC. Raiden’s boss, Boris, orders Maverick Security to evacuate N’mani while Raiden dispatches many of the attackers. However, a Metal Gear RAY unit, armed with a gigantic sword, appears and destroys N’mani’s limo. N’mani crawls from the wreckage, but is kidnapped by the enemy PMC’s leader, Sundowner. He explains that he needs N’mani dead and that he wishes to restore the War Economy. Raiden destroys the RAY unit and then pursues Sundowner onto a passing train.

Raiden tracks down Sundowner, N’mani and another enemy cyborg, Sam Rodrigues. Sundowner executes N’mani and then Sam attacks Raiden. Sam proves too capable, slicing off Raiden’s arm and then slashing out his left eye. Sam nearly finishes Raiden off, but backup arrives in the form of Boris and a convoy of armed jeeps, which force Sam to retreat. Raiden is recovered and it is discovered that the enemy PMC is called “Desperado Enforcement LLC”.

Three weeks later, it is discovered that Desperado is involved in a coup against the Abkhazian government led by a local extremist, Andrey Dolzaev. Outfitted with a state-of-the-art cyborg body, Raiden infiltrates into the city of Sukhumi and then fights his way through Desperado cyborg troops to reach Dolzaev and the local Desperado leader, Mistral. He is eventually ambushed by an AI-controlled robot called LQ-84i (aka, Blade Wolf) which resembles Crying Wolf’s exosuit. Blade Wolf attempts to kill Raiden as per its mission directives, but Raiden defeats the robot and shuts it down.

Soon after, he spots Dolzaev and Mistral at a factory. Mistral spots Raiden and blows him a kiss from a distance. Unperturbed, Raiden battles his way through the facility and reaches the top of the plant, where he is confronted by Mistral. She explains that she was an orphan and a child soldier in the Algerian Civil War, and had used war as an excuse to get revenge on those who killed her parents and as a cause to kill. She scoffs at the idea that Raiden fights for justice and then attacks. The pair fight all across the facility before Raiden corners Mistral at a tank of liquid nitrogen. He severs the tank and then freezes her solid before destroying her for good. Dolzeav discovers that Mistral is dead and then blows himself up, taking out a chunk of the factory in the process. Satisfied that the coup is over, Raiden is extracted from Sukhumi. Before leaving, he recovers Blade Wolf’s remains and has him rebuilt and reprogrammed to provide him with mission intel.

Maverick then receives intel that Desperado owns a research lab in Mexico and are connected to rumours of human trafficking. Raiden sneaks into the city along with Blade Wolf and then heads into the sewers to get closer to the lab. After fighting enemy units in the sewers, Raiden encounters a boy named George who claims to have escaped the lab. He tells Raiden that the kidnapped children in the lab were having their organs harvested. Raiden hurries into the lab to rescue the children. Heading further into the lab, Raiden finds a room which is full of cyborg brain casings – the cyborgs Raiden had been fighting this entire time were adults, meaning that the children must have been taken elsewhere.

He then uses a reprogrammed Dwarf Gekko to access the lab’s data terminals, where he discovers a video of Sundowner, the lab chief and another man speaking. They comment on a VR training program similar to the one that George Sears (aka, Solidus Snake) used to train child soldiers in Liberia. Fearing that their cover was blown, the unknown man says that all of the harvested, unprocessed brains and kidnapped children need to be destroyed and the lab shut down immediately, regardless of the cost. Maverick support team member informs Raiden that the unknown man is Colorado Senator Steven Armstrong, a leading presidential candidate for the 2020 elections, and a key member of World Marshal Inc, the world’s current largest PMC. With World Marshal and Desperado working together, trying to go public with the news of their corruption is apparently impossible, as they wield too much influence over the media and would destroy them if they tried.

Raiden then fights his way to get to the surviving children. He finds them locked in a lab as the chief scientist tries to gas them to death. The scientist holds George hostage and tells Raiden that he has to surrender. Calling his rather stupid bluff, Raiden cuts the man down and then rescues both George and the children.

Deciding to take the fight to World Marshal personally, Raiden resigns from Maverick Security and then heads to Colorado to rescue the remaining harvested brains. Boris contacts Raiden and says that he can’t offer his official support for this mission, but agrees to help however he can. Raiden is then pursued through the city by the cyborgs of the Denver police, which he dispatches as he heads towards World Marshal headquarters. On the way there, Raiden is confronted by holographic projections of Sam Rodrigues, who questions Raiden’s motivations. Raiden claims that he fights to defend the weak, but Sam asks who defends the weak from Raiden. He reveals that the cyborgs attacking Raiden are merely doing so to provide for their families, just as Raiden does. Raiden is then forced to fight a pair of cyborgs while listening to their thoughts, and kills them after taking a beating. With his psyche draining, Raiden kills more cyborgs while being confronted with their own humanity, before Sam appears in the flesh, accompanied by another Desperado officer, Monsoon. Monsoon explains that the “weak” cyborgs are used as human shields for the real powers behind World Marshal and Desperado. He also explains that war is like a meme, similar to Raiden’s belief that his sword is a tool of justice. Flying into a rage as he succumbs to bloodlust, Raiden unleashes his split persona, “Jack the Ripper”. In a flurry of violence, Raiden destroys a series of cyborgs and then is confronted by Monsoon. The pair battle, with Monsoon using trickery and the ability to “magnetically” split his body to avoid many of Raiden’s attacks. However, Raiden eventually severs Monsoon’s head and destroys him for good.

Raiden makes his way into World Marshal HQ, where Sundowner informs Raiden that the brains are in the server room. He then fights his way up the building to reach the upper levels, battling through corridors, a Japanese garden and the elevator shafts before reaching the top floor. Here, he encounters AI body doubles of Mistral and Monsoon, both of which he defeats with ease. He then moves on to the server room where he confronts Sundowner, who shows Raiden the hundreds of child soldier brains in World Marshal HQ undergoing VR training. He also warns that in 3 hours time, an event would occur that would rival 9/11 and would resurrect the War Economy.

Not wishing to “damage the merchandise”, Sundowner leads Raiden to the rooftop heliport to battle. Sundowner battles very defensively, but Raiden cuts through his defences before putting the leader of Desperado down for good. Deducing Sundowner’s words about a terrorist attack on par with 9/11, Raiden realizes that World Marshal is planning to assassinate the US President, who is travelling to Pakistan for a series of peace talks. His assassination would reignite the War on Terror and War Economy in the process. They realize that the only way to get to Pakistan in time would be to reach Mach 23 speeds via an RLV spacecraft, which could get Raiden to Pakistan in under a half hour. Raiden commands Boris to see to this and seek help from the Solis company while Raiden and his support team member, Doktor, retrieved the brains from World Marshall HQ.

After picking up the brains via helicopter, Raiden and Doktor are beset by a pair of drones. Raiden destroys them but falls from the helicopter in the process, forcing him to make his way to Solis by ground. He destroys a group of World Marshal cyborgs and then escapes the city on a motorcycle. However, just as he is about to reach Solis, Raiden encounters Sam Rodrigues and Blade Wolf on the road. Sam demands a final duel with his rival and the pair battle. Blade Wolf is confused by the purpose of the fight and is unable to understand why Sam and Raiden want to kill each other so badly. Regardless, the pair battle until Raiden slashes his foe open, killing him. Blade Wolf takes Sam’s ID-locked sword as a memory of his former friend and then the pair continue on to Solis.

At Solis, Raiden encounters Sunny Emmerich, who constructed the RLV spacecraft Raiden will be using. She realizes that they don’t really have time to reminisce, and proceeds with the launch. Raiden arrives in Pakistan with little time to spare. He reaches the air base where the President was scheduled to land and attacks the World Marshal forces guarding it, having already killed the US forces guarding the base. Soon, he comes across Blade Wolf, who has been badly damaged. Searching for the attacker, the ground suddenly gives way and a gigantic mech called Metal Gear EXCELSUS appears, piloted by Senator Armstrong. He reveals that photos of the attack on the base have already been leaked onto the Internet and that people are calling for death to the Pakistani people. Due to the harsh ideologies embraced by the American people, they have become “Sons of The Patriots” and simply need an excuse to reignite the War Economy. Of course, Raiden will have to be eliminated to ensure that this all goes down smoothly.

Raiden then proceeds to fight Armstrong in EXCELSUS, destroying its front legs and then removing one of its gigantic swords, which Raiden uses to slash the mech apart. Annoyed, Armstrong emerges from the destroyed mech and powers himself up, gaining a ton of muscle bulk in seconds. Armstrong then begins to beat Raiden with his bare hands, absolutely pummelling the cyborg ninja and snapping his high-frequency blade in half. Armstrong then explains his true motives: he is looking to destroy America to make it free again, allowing everyone to fight for what they believe in and for the strong to not be held back by the weak. Raiden tells Armstrong that he’s insane and the pair continue to fight. Raiden is unable to cause any meaningful damage to his foe though, due to nanomachines in Armstrong’s body which harden in response to physical trauma.

Blade Wolf then intervenes and provides Raiden with Sam’s sword. A final voice message from Sam reveals that he set his ID lock to expire after an hour and that he wanted Raiden to do with the blade as he saw fit. Armstrong bats Blade Wolf away, but not before Raiden retrieves the sword and then attacks the Senator with it. After an intense battle, Raiden slashes open Armstrong and then rips out his heart with his bare hand. Armstrong collapses and dies as Raiden stands in the rubble.

In the game’s epilogue, it is revealed that the US and Pakistan discuss a unified effort to combat terrorism, implying that the War Economy is still not dead. It is also revealed that George is now working at Solis with Sunny, who recounts that she would not be here today if Raiden had not saved her so many years ago. Despite what anyone thinks, she considers him to be a hero. The children were given cyborg bodies and put to work within Maverick Security. Raiden also permanently resigns from Maverick and declares that he will be fighting his own wars from here on.

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Obviously, Rising plays significantly differently than any other Metal Gear game. Whereas previous Metal Gear games were stealth-based, Rising is a fairly standard, fast-paced, hack ‘n slash action game. Thankfully, it doesn’t try too hard to fit into the Metal Gear mold and tries to do its own thing. For one thing, this game’s violence is super over-the-top, with the first 5 minutes of the game featuring people getting slashes apart and spraying out ridiculous amounts of blood. It also is punctuated by a hilariously cheesy nu metal soundtrack. While these tonal differences might make it seem odd (or even heretical) for a traditional Metal Gear fan, the extremely cheesy and ridiculous tone of the game makes it hilariously enjoyable (and considering that nu metal is known for being excessively angsty and more than a little cheesy, its usage is actually very appropriate).

Rising is also designed primarily around a philosophy of “speed”. To this end, the game has a “Ninja Run” mode which allows Raiden to sprint and automatically vault over objects. He can also slash and slide in Ninja Run which is useful for getting some quick attacks in on enemies. The game also was built around the idea of being able to cut anything, which is well-implemented. While obviously you can’t cut everything, many objects in the environment can be slashed apart, with the cut occurring exactly where the player’s blade passed through the object. It’s pretty damn impressive to see in action, although getting caught on the newly-bisected objects quickly becomes an annoyance. Rising also features a free-control “Blade Mode” which allows you to slash apart objects or enemies with exact precision. Depending on the enemy’s status, you can also rip out their repair units by using Blade Mode, providing you with a power and health refill. As a result, this action is extremely key to your continued success in Rising.

Unlike many action games, Rising forgoes a block button in favour of parrying. Enemy attacks are colour-coded by a flash – red means that the attack can be parried, while yellow means that it is unblockable. Presumably, the decision to eliminate the block button was done to keep players on the offensive and to keep them from turtling up, but it is a very controversial decision. On the one hand, it certainly does force the player to be active and alert, while also backing off when they see an unblockable attack telegraphed. However, it’s easy to miss these cues when surrounded by enemies or if they end up off-screen when they telegraph their attack. The game also makes this more annoying by not featuring a dodge mechanic by default – it’s a skill that you have to unlock early on. Even then you have to hold 2 buttons to pull it off and it’s far from fool-proof, meaning that you’re going to need to rely on parrying anyway more often than not. To make matters worse, Rising does a wretched job of explaining its fundamental gameplay systems. I didn’t understand parrying at all until about halfway through the 2nd chapter when I ran into a parry-dependant boss, at which point I had to learn the system on the fly. That said, once you do understand parrying, the rest of the core gameplay becomes extremely easy, with only a handful of enemy types providing any sort of challenge (basically just Mastiffs as they love their unblockable attacks and usually attack in groups of 3).

In my personal estimation, the combat doesn’t seem particularly deep. It’s certainly better than the rhythm-based, pathetically easy combat which pervades most modern action games these days (eg, Assassin’s CreedShadow of Mordor*, the Arkham games, etc), but I don’t think it’s up to snuff with Ninja Gaiden. Most confrontations are easy as soon as you understand the game’s parrying system, making the core gameplay a very simple game of offence and quick reaction times. Much of the game’s challenge comes from its systems not working correctly though. Again, you could theoretically block every parriable-attack with relative ease if you have reasonable reflexes. However, it’s common that you will miss your cues due to enemies being off-screen, getting being surrounded, or from all the visual chaos that occurs during combat. The camera in particular really sucks in the game at times. I found that it would swing around wildly if you headed into a corner and can make tracking enemies difficult when it moves unbidden. Alternatively, there’s a camera lock-on system, but it has the exact same problems (or worse), swinging around wildly when enemies move quickly or keeping all of your other enemies off-screen. This tends to result in some rather cheap damage as you get caught in an unblockable attack from off-screen. The lack of a dedicated block or dodge button compounds this issue as you can’t even block as a last-ditch effort.

There are also a couple of really strange design issues. For one thing, you can customize Raiden in-game, but if you do so then you’ll have to restart from the latest checkpoint. I’m not sure why this was added, although I think it might have something to do with the encounter-based ranking system. The item/weapon switching system is also counter-intuitive. Considering that the game is all about speed, it’s totally inexplicable to me that it would force Raiden to be stationary before he can switch his weapons or equipable items. It is a limitation which makes little sense and can actually get you killed at times.

Also worth noting are that the game’s environments are extremely unimaginative. If you’ve ever played a hack ‘n slash game before, let me know if this sounds familiar: there’s a level in a ruined city, across moving train cars (straight out of Uncharted 2), a freaking sewer system, city streets, office buildings… even a Japanese garden/temple setting. All of these settings are very basic action game locales, and have been since the SNES days. It would be one thing if they did something to stand out, but the environments are just very noticeably generic throughout the game.

To change up the gameplay somewhat, there are also some very basic stealth segments. They’re typically quite short and optional, giving you the opportunity to one-shot enemies if you remain undetected. However, more often than not, it’s both funner and more beneficial to just sound an alert and enjoy the combat. There’s also a sequence where you get to control a Dwarf Gekko which is surprisingly very fun, but for some reason enemies will shoot at you anyway. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it is a nice bit of disempowerment which had me laughing at my enemies’ feeble attempts to catch me.

Rising is also quite short in length. There are only 8 chapters, but they vary significantly in length – most of the earlier chapters take around 45-60 minutes, but chapters 5 and 6 took me 13 and 5 minutes, respectively. I got to the end of the game after only 2 reasonable sittings, which might have taken me only 5 or 6 hours, tops. With reasonably simple combat, replayability is going to come down to how much you want to play around with the tools you have available. You can play on a harder difficulty, go for a “non-lethal” playthrough (in which you only slice off all of your enemies’ limbs… they’ll live), try to get S-ranks on all encounters, find all of the unlockables and beat the available VR missions if you really want to extend the game’s length.

The game’s graphics are also noticeably a step down from Guns of the Patriots. While this might be disappointing as there is a 5 year gap between the two releases, it is more than made up for by Rising‘s silky smooth 60 fps. This is key for such a fast-paced game and significantly outweighs the slightly mediocre graphics. The framerate does dip occasionally, but I didn’t find that any frame drops that did happen affected the combat significantly. There is also some strange disparity between gameplay and cutscenes, where it can be nighttime in the cutscene and then broad daylight in-game, although this is presumably due to the work-split between Platinum Games and Kojima Productions.

On the subject of cutscenes, they are less intrusive than in previous Metal Gear games. Many action sequences that would have been relegated to cutscenes are now playable, although they do so through quick-time events. I also personally think that the Codec calls are a little too frequent and take you out of the action for too long when they do show up. Rising is also notable for having a ton of optional Codec conversations available – in fact, it easily has the most prominent Codec since Snake Eater.

The enemies in the game are fairly standard action game fodder and can’t really stand up to Raiden in a fight (especially when you factor in the prominence of parrying). Enemies’ visual designs draw very heavily from the technology depicted in Guns of the Patriots, particularly Sliders, Crying Wolf, Haven Troopers and Gekkos. As a result, this visual continuity helps to ground this game as being in the game universe as the Metal Gear games, despite being so tonally different.

The fight against Blade Wolf is the first difficult enemy in the game, although this is mainly because the game hasn’t bothered to teach you its own systems at this point. I posted a link above where a Kotaku writer stated that he, and many other players, hit a brick wall during this fight. I have to agree with him, this fight took me about a half dozen attempts at least before I finally “figured out” the parry system.

After Blade Wolf, most of the bosses become significantly easier. I found Mistral to be quite easy to take down by brute force, especially because she surrounds herself in Dwarf Gekko which drop health pickups every time you kill them. Monsoon was also quite easy, but because he is very rarely open to be attacked, his fight drags on significantly longer than it needed to. You also have to fight both of these bosses again shortly after defeating Monsoon, but luckily the fights are significantly easier.

Sundowner is an enjoyably hammy and douchey enemy, but his fight becomes annoying quickly. He is a primarily-defensive boss, using an explosive shield to avoid your attacks. The only way to avoid it is to use Blade Mode and cut at a specific angle, which allows you to cut off some of Sundowners’s shields. Unfortunately, I would get locked into a combo as he put up his shield, meaning that I would hit it before I even had a chance to use Blade Mode. I had to start using smaller attack chains until he put up his shield, at which point he became much easier (…again, parries).

Considering that he gets hyped up to be your big rival throughout the game, I actually found the battle against Sam to be disappointingly easy. Unlike other bosses, Sam’s battle is basically a straight-up duel, meaning that you literally just have to parry in time to make it through. Defeating him shouldn’t take too much effort to pull off, which is a bit of a shame.

Like most Metal Gear battles, EXCELSUS is stupidly easy in spite of its imposing stature. Like most giant-monster battles in these sorts of games, just attacks its parts which are close to the arena’s edge and avoid its attacks as best you can (constantly using Ninja Run is useful for this). To make things sadder, pairs of Gekkos attack you, but they do so when EXCELSUS shoots a flamethrower at you, meaning that they just get hit by the attack and commit suicide.

However, for all of the simplicity of Rising‘s combat, Senator Armstrong is a freaking annoyance. Nothing in this game will prepare you for the difficulty spike that this guy is. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and declare Senator Armstrong the absolute hardest boss in the entire Metal Gear franchise, and not in a good way. The battle is very long, you have to face him in 3 different stages and he is cheap as all hell!!! It seems that he can break parries with his regular attacks sometimes, he has a ridiculously enormous health bar and his attacks cause significant damage, meaning that if you don’t learn all of his attack patterns perfectly, time all of your own attacks/parries, avoid all of his unblockable attacks and then have perfect Blade Mode mastery, then you’re absolutely screwed. I went into this fight on Normal mode without any health regenerating nanopastes and I literally couldn’t get him down lower than 140%… luckily I knew I was at the game’s end so I just Youtube’d the finale, but this fight was seriously infuriating. I guess you can argue that he’s the ultimate test of all of the skills that you’ve learned in the game, but the fact that he is so much harder than any other test that the game throws at you suggests to me intentionally obtuse game design… it’s up to you whether that sounds like just plain bad design or the best thing ever.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
I’ll be honest, when I booted up Rising, I was expecting an absolutely awful story. While I wasn’t exactly wrong, the game does have a fairly complicated plot which is better than your average action game, and arguably still better than most AAA console releases. That said, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re playing through it, and when I was writing the game’s plot summary it was really striking me how stupid everything was. The main issue is that most of the game’s connective plot tissue is relegated to the hundreds of Codec calls scattered throughout the game. This can cause some pretty jarring plot points to appear out of nowhere, such as when the hell Raiden recruited Blade Wolf or the entirety of Raiden’s mission to eliminate Dolzeav – when he blew himself up I literally said “who the hell was that?” I know that a lot of people really like Codec, but Rising is a strong illustration of why I am glad that it has taken a backseat in modern Metal Gear games. When the plot info that you need to understand the game is excised and told only by pausing the action, something is wrong in my opinion. Furthermore, Rising is a very fast-paced game, so expecting the player to pause the action constantly to listen to static audio is rather counter-intuitive. If you could continue to playing while listening to Codec calls then that would be one thing, but considering that there are literally hours of audio in the game, I gave them a hard pass.

On the plus side though, Rising is a game which knows that it is all about the gameplay, so the weaker story isn’t really that big of a deal in all honesty. The humour and over-the-top moments also help to keep the cheesiness of the story in perspective. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, you heft a Metal Gear RAY over your head and then slice it apart with your sword… and that’s not even the most ridiculous moment in the game. Furthermore, Raiden is the butt of some fairly silly fun as he tries to disguise himself as a Mexican local by dressing in a mariachi uniform. The game definitely has a strange sense of humour, but it keeps everything reasonably enjoyable.

There are actually quite a few unexpected call-backs to the Metal Gear franchise as well. The consequences of Guns of the Patriots factor very heavily into the game’s narrative, particularly emphasizing The Patriots, SOP, War Economy and George Sears. The game also tries to build upon Sons of Liberty by claiming that The Patriots’ memes live on in the form of war… a thematic extension which actually makes some sense, even if it is only half-baked within the plot itself. There are also some unexpected recurring items within the game, such as the Drum Can, Cardboard Boxes and 3D pin-up models, although these are really only useful during the limited stealth segments. I wasn’t expecting this game to have nearly as many references to the rest of the franchise as it did, which actually helped it in some ways to feel like less of an outlier.

Unfortunately, Rising can’t help but trample on Guns of the Patriots‘ rather fitting conclusion for the series just to make the game’s plot work. The ethics in the post-SOP world are fairly shaky, with the peace implied by Guns of the Patriots‘ finale being on the verge of being absolutely destroyed and the War Economy continuing without The Patriots to foster it. The idea that World Marshal and Senator Armstrong are so powerful that the media wouldn’t report on them harvesting the bodies of children is pretty insane though – it’s a huge plot convenience, because obviously somebody would print this. PMCs are also very prevalent still, although I did rather like the idea that cyborg technology would end up becoming a prominent development that would shape the battlefield, especially after Raiden’s heroics became public knowledge.

Unfortunately, the game tries to hit us with a twist by making us question Raiden’s morality. This is a rather tired trope that was attempted by Ninja Gaiden 3 a year earlier, to much derision. Rising handles it a little better (for example, it made me wonder for a moment whether I’ve been slaughtering child soldiers all this time), but I still can’t help but shake my head at the assertion that “You’re the real monster! You love killing people!” “OH NOES, I IS SO CONFLICTED!!1!” It’s obviously meant to be a meta-commentary which is an indictment against the player and the character, but it doesn’t work when you make your villains a bunch of murderous, sadistic, warmongering, child-killing psychopaths… not to mention that the whole point of progression in the game is to enjoy the killing. It’s hard to take someone lecturing Raiden about his morality seriously when he really is fighting for justice… and if he enjoys the killing along the way, who cares as long as he kills these assholes and not civilians? I don’t even care that he’s killing people with families, they signed up to shield the child-murderers and decided to keep fighting.

While the “a murderer is you” angle is annoying, it is interesting that the game explores Raiden’s ideals. From Raiden’s perspective, he protects the weak and his sword is not a weapon, but rather a tool of justice. His foes scoff at this philosophy, but it really is demonstrably true in the game – he doesn’t just go around killing willy-nilly, he hunts after those who have clearly wronged him and plunged an entire nation into conflict. It seems pretty cut-and-dried that Desperado, World Marshal and Senator Armstrong need to get the shit kicked out of them. In addition, Raiden is no longer whining and running away from his troubles for once, which is a nice development. The fact that he fights for justice and to stop other children from being exposed to the regimen which turned him into a bloodthirsty killer is actually quite noble. The story conveniently ignores Rose and little John almost completely throughout all of this though, which is rather unfortunate. Hopefully Raiden’s raking in a ton of money to help support them…

I also noticed that Quinton Flynn’s performance is quite different than in previous portrayals of Raiden. He has given Raiden a significantly deeper voice, presumably to represent his coldness and experience. It makes him sound like he’s attempting to channel David Hayter in some ways as well. He also gets a ton of one-liners throughout the game, but his delivery seems to unintentionally contribute to the rather cheesy tone of the game. Luckily most of the other voice actors put in fairly mediocre performances.

The other characters are a fairly mixed bag. Sam is a very charismatic and imposing rival for Raiden, but his motivations don’t make much sense at all. Sundowner is also an enjoyably hammy villain, I quite liked his scenery-munching appearances throughout the game. Of Raiden’s allies, Blade Wolf is the only one who is in any ways interesting, due to his AI’s very defined parameters and his attempts to stretch those limits. Sunny’s brief cameo appearances are also a major highlight of the game.

Unfortunately, everyone else is pretty mediocre at best. The rest of Raiden’s support team are fairly yawn-inducing, especially the boring doctor named, originally, Doktor. His speeches tend to be long-winded as well which, when considering that 50% of the mandatory Codec calls are probably coming from him, gets annoying. Amongst the villains, Senator Armstrong has to be the absolute most ridiculous enemy in the entire Metal Gear franchise – a US Senator who pilots a giant mech ant, grows super-muscles and then has nanomachines that harden his body and allow him to Falcon punch his enemies? What the actual hell? The other villains aren’t nearly as bad, but don’t have much in the way of personality. I should mention that Monsoon has a fairly cool design though with his magnetic body parts providing a unique challenge in a game dedicated to cutting things. Oh and as there are only 3 female characters in the game, Mistral and Countrney obviously had to be given ridiculously enormous breasts… obviously.

I feel like I have been excessively hard on Rising throughout this retrospective. I did find the game reasonably enjoyable for the most part, but the mediocre combat failed to excite me as I had hoped it would and that final battle with Senator Armstrong left me with an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. I guess this is a really obvious observation, but it’s just my Metal Gear game. I can replay Snake Eater a dozen times and try out different play styles with each new playthrough, but this is a game that I don’t really have a lot of interest in replaying. The “meh” story doesn’t really help matters either, which doesn’t even factor in the fact that it screws with Guns of the Patriots‘ legacy pretty badly. Maybe some people will really enjoy this, which is totally fine, but it just didn’t scratch that action game itch that I have been having.

7/10

*The combat system was easily one of the worst aspects of Shadow of Mordor. I wanted to have some really powerful nemeses who would kick my ass again and again, but the combat was so easy that I was able to dispatch dozens of orcs without risk of taking damage. The only way I could conceivably get defeated would be if there were close to 50 orcs attacking me at once, plus 2 or 3 officers egging them on.

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid – Peace Walker (2010)

Welcome back to part eight of the Metal Gear retrospective. In this entry we’re going to be covering Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the second canon installment on the PSP. With the franchise effectively wrapped up in Guns of the Patriots, would Peace Walker find a reasonable justification to keep the franchise alive? Read on to find out…

(Note, I will be reviewing this game based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3, and will consequently be directing quite a bit of commentary towards the work put into the port. That said, I played the PSP original as well back when the game was released, so I can give some comparisons on how the two different versions perform.)

DEVELOPMENT

Shortly after the completion of Guns of the Patriots, Kojima Productions went back to work on another Metal Gear game. Considering how definitively Guns of the Patriots wrapped up the series, there was some concern about whether another game would be able to justify itself as something other than a cash-in or that it might unravel the series’ narrative once again. Peace Walker was announced alongside Metal Gear Solid: Rising (a Raiden-based spin-off which was going to tell the story of how Sunny was rescued from the Patriots), and it was stated that these two games would essentially be Metal Gear Solid 5, although Kojima publicly considered Peace Walker the true series successor. While Rising ended up languishing and was ultimately cancelled and then repurposed into Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance years later, Peace Walker proceeded much more smoothly, with Kojima at the helm once again.

Peace Walker was revealed to be another prequel game, focusing on Big Boss and the establishment of Outer Heaven. In fact, it sounds to me like Peace Walker and its immediate successors, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain might have been the first Metal Gear games which were made with future installments in mind, as this quote of Kojima’s original vision for Peace Walker‘s story suggests:

“Solid Snake’s storyline has ended with Metal Gear Solid 4. But there’s still a lot more when it comes to Big Boss’ storyline. The Cold War was a time where people, neither good nor evil, were manipulated by various factors, and they became good or evil. The same goes for Liquid Snake, and we’ll get to see just what happened to him.”

Obviously if you have played Peace Walker, then you know that Liquid Snake does not feature at all, but this promise would be fulfilled 5 years later when The Phantom Pain was released, suggesting to me that Kojima had a very grand vision for the future of Metal Gear and for filling in the gaps between Snake Eater and Metal Gear.

Another interesting note about the game’s development is that this is the first Metal Gear game to be specifically targeted towards younger gamers, which saw the game secure a Teen rating from the ESRB. This was an especially baffling distinction for me, because Portable Ops‘ content was no worse than Peace Walker‘s (and in fact, Peace Walker was a lot more frank and juvenile when it came to sexual/suggestive content). This makes me wonder if the split-second decapitations in one cutscene were enough for Portable Ops to get pushed over the edge, which would be rather ridiculous if it was the case. That said, there is an unspoken rule in the ESRB that subsequent games in a franchise will almost always get the same rating as the previous release, unless they intentionally go for something higher or lower. This doesn’t really affect the game much either way, but it was a rather strange note in the game’s development.

PLOT SUMMARY

Having left FOXHOUND and the USA behind him, Snake joined together with Kazuhira Miller to form a private mercenary force, Militaires Sans Frontières. Snake and Kaz are approached by a man named Gálvez purporting to be a professor at the Costa Rican University of Peace and his young pupil, Paz Ortega Andrade. They seek the services of MSF in repelling a CIA mercenary force which has entered the country and is experimenting with some high-tech weaponry. Paz, an idealistic girl obsessed with peace, reveals that she and a friend had been captured and tortured by these forces. Due to the Costa Rican government’s constitutional abolition of an organized army, they are unable to deal with the interlopers and require MSF to get rid of them. As payment, Gálvez offers an offshore base of operations and any support that he can give. However, Snake and Miller both suspect that Gálvez is a member of the KGB, which he confirms when confronted with the accusation. However, Paz is left unaware of Gálvez’s ruse, as he instructs her to play back a tape that her friend had recorded prior to her capture. Snake hears a voice on the tape which sounds exactly like The Boss, causing him to question whether his former mentor is still alive. Gálvez tempts Snake with the uncertainty, succeeding in coercing him to accept their offer for help.

After a short investigation of the CIA mercenaries’ supply depot, Snake is alarmed to discover evidence that they are transporting nuclear weapons into Costa Rica. Snake seeks help from the Sandanistas, a revolutionary guerilla army from Nicaragua that had been forced to regroup within Costa Rica. When Snake arrives, he finds that the commandante of the Sandanistas has been killed by the CIA forces, but his daughter Amanda Valenciano Libre has reluctantly taken command of the remnants. Amanda informs Snake of a CIA base to the north when they are attacked by a gigantic, flying, unmanned vehicle. A flying drone captures Amanda’s little brother, Chico, and they pursue them to try to get him back. A drone also tries to capture Amanda, but Snake destroys it before it can. However, Amanda’s leg is badly broken in the fall and she has to be taken back to Mother Base to recover. She tells Snake of a base in the mountains where prisoners are taken and he promises to rescue Chico for her.

Making his way into an enemy base, Snake rescues Chico and reunites him with his sister. Chico then acts as a guide, providing Snake with the mercenary’s shipping route. However, he warns that the route is guarded by “el basilisco”, a giant monster. Snake heeds this warning with some skepticism and then heads north in pursuit of the nuke convoy. After losing sight of the shipment in a tunnel in the mountains, Snake catches up to the convoy in a garage within the mercenary’s mountain base. By the time he arrives though, the nukes have been shipped out already.

In the infiltration, Snake overhears an argument between Huey Emmerich and Hot Coldman, the CIA station chief in Central America. Coldman outlines the basics of nuclear deterrence theory, where mutually assured destruction will prevent nuclear powers from ever actually using their weapons. The flaw in the theory though is that humans are left in charge of the decision to retaliate, which can lead to an exploitable weakness that doesn’t discourage a first strike. Coldman seeks to have a computer controlled weapon, dubbed “Peace Walker”, that can guarantee a retaliatory strike, thereby rendering first strikes as suicide. However, in order to prove his theory, Coldman needs to make a nuclear strike to prove Peace Walker’s capabilities. Huey is outraged that Coldman is going to use his creation to launch a live nuclear weapon and tries to convince him to stop. Coldman dismisses Huey, forcing the wheelchair-bound scientist to fall down a flight of stairs.

Snake comes to Huey’s aid, recruits him to MSF’s cause and then hurries to catch up to Peace Walker. However, he is attacked by a Shagohod-like unmanned vehicle dubbed “Pupa”. He destroys the Pupa, but not before Peace Walker is extracted via helicopter and taken to the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border for final launch preparations. Huey advises Snake to seek out the main AI researcher on the project, Dr. Strangelove. He also offers to help build a Metal Gear for MSF.

As per Huey’s advice, Snake heads north to seek out Dr. Strangelove. On the way, he discovers an escaped prisoner named Cécile Cosima Caminades, a French ornithologist who was captured when she was seeking out Quetzals in the Costa Rican jungle. Snake soon realizes that she is the one who made Paz’s tape of The Boss, but is surprised when it turns out that Paz and Cécile have never met. Snake sends Cécile back to Mother Base and then infiltrates Strangelove’s lab. Inside he finds the Boss’s horse and Strangelove. Strangelove confronts Snake, angry at him for assassinating the Boss 10 years earlier. She shows him her creation, an incomplete AI reconstruction of The Boss’s personality known as the Mammal Pod. Strangelove goads Snake into trying to destroy it, but Snake finds himself unable to.

The Mammal Pod and Strangelove are from the lab as Snake is attacked by the Chrysalis, the flying AI weapon which had attacked Snake and the Sandanistas earlier. Snake shoots down the Chrysalis and destroys it before heading north to intercept Peace Walker. When questioned on his ability to complete the mission by Miller, Snake insists that he will be able to go through with it and destroy the Mammal Pod, although his insistence is not entirely convincing. After so many years of wrestling with the meaning of The Boss’s defection, Snake wants answers.

Snake pursues Peace Walker to another CIA base, but is attacked by mercenaries and the massive Coocoon AI weapon. Snake overcomes these foes and then makes his way into the heart of the enemy base. Here, he sneaks his way to the Mammal Pod, but hesitates when he has the opportunity to destroy it. He tries to get the AI to tell him why The Boss betrayed her country, but it is unable to answer. Outraged that the AI can’t give him the answers he needs, Snake finally tries to destroy it, but too late – Coldman, Strangelove and the CIA forces surround him and take him captive.

Snake is tortured by Strangelove for the truth about The Boss’s final mission, about whether she was a traitor or a sacrificial lamb. She needs this key information to complete the Mammal Pod’s personality programming. Snake refuses to talk, but Strangelove views his silence as answer in itself. Snake is sent back to his cell, where he escapes using a jigsaw that he had hidden inside a snake-shaped scar on his body. He hurries out to stop Peace Walker’s activation, but is confronted by Coldman, who has taken Paz captive. Coldman announces that, thanks to the interrogation, Strangelove has completed The Boss’s AI and that Peace Walker is ready to be activated. He reveals that the launch target will be Mother Base as Peace Walker moves to relocate to the launch site in Nicaragua. In desperation, Snake tries to stop Peace Walker from escaping, which puts the mech into self-defence mode. Snake causes quite a bit of damage to Peace Walker, but is unable to destroy it as it retreats across the Costa Rican jungle towards Nicaragua. Snake pursues on The Boss’s horse, managing to reach the border before the horse loses its footing and is mortally wounded. Snake puts the horse out of its misery and is forced to end the pursuit as Peace Walker fords the Rio San Juan. Luckily, Amanda is able to gather intelligence from fellow Nicaraguan guerillas about the location the CIA base and passes this information on to Snake. He discovers that Coldman plans to coordinate his launch with the SALT II (strategic arms limitation treaty) talks occurring between the US and Soviet Union at the time, which would be occurring in two days’ time.

Snake infiltrates the CIA base, but is shocked to discover that Soviet troops are occupying it. He continues onwards as MSF forces launch an attack on the base, hoping to provide Snake with support so that he can get to Coldman and stop Peace Walker. Snake makes his way to Coldman and his captive, Paz, but is surrounded by Soviet soldiers and CIA mercenaries. Coldman gloats that he has already input false launch data into Peace Walker and that it will strike Mother Base as soon as he inputs the confirmation code. Before he can do so, Gálvez arrives. He reveals that his real name is Vladimir Alexandrovich Zadornov and that he has been in league with Coldman all along… before ordering the Soviet soldiers to turn on Coldman. Coldman is incensed as Zadornov reveals that he wants Peace Walker to fire at Cuba in order to spread anti-American sentiment throughout Central and Southern America, bringing the Soviets closer to winning the Cold War. Zadornov then forces Paz to shoot Coldman twice, leaving the man slowly dying from the wounds, before ordering Strangelove to change Peace Walker’s target to Cuba. He then mockingly congratulates Snake, stating that his actions have helped the communist revolution in Nicaragua, that his death at the hands of the “CIA” would make him a hero in the same vein as Che Guevara, and that his death would make him into a fraud like The Boss.

However, before he can complete his plan, Amanda leads the Sandanistas to attack the base and take Zadornov captive, stating that they won’t be puppets of the KGB anymore. Amanda and the Sandanistas thank Snake for giving them the strength to return to their home nation. Having presumably prevailed, Snake gets an apologetic Strangelove to take him to Peace Walker so that he can finish off the Mammal Pod and end this crisis. Strangelove states that all she really wanted was to learn the truth of The Boss’s final mission.

Hoping to prove himself right in the end, a captive Coldman secretly inputs the authorization code for Peace Walker before succumbing to his wounds. This causes Peace Walker to become active and begin launch preparations, while also relaying false-launch data to NORAD. Miller informs Snake that they are unable to stop the transmission and that if they do not hurry then the US government will have to decide whether to launch a nuclear “retaliation”. The only way to stop the signal would be to destroy Peace Walker itself.

Snake moves to destroy Peace Walker to prevent nuclear holocaust. He is able to stop Peace Walker from launching its own payload at Cuba, but is unable to stop the false-launch transmission. Hacking into NORAD’s communications, Huey discovers an extremely tense situation as the assembled heads of the US government are preparing to go to DEFCON 2 and launch a retaliatory strike at the Soviet Union. Realizing that Coldman’s gamble was going to literally blow up in their face, Snake orders Huey to patch him through to the Pentagon where he uses his reputation to convince the Chairman that the launch data was false. However, the other officers aren’t convinced and they overpower the Chairman, forcing the retaliation to go through.

With the situation becoming critical, the Mammal Pod opens on its own and Snake climbs inside to disable The Boss’s AI. In spite of this, the signal continues to be relayed, and Strangelove theorizes that The Mammal Pod’s functions must have been transferred to the mech’s second AI unit, the Reptile Pod, which is responsible for Peace Walker’s mechanical processes. In desperation, Snake tries to destroy Peace Walker once again, but the machine stands upright and begins to walk into the ocean. The Boss’s voice begins to sing out as Peace Walker drowns itself and the false-launch transmission to NORAD is replaced with peace symbols, stopping the government heads from launching at the last possible second. Snake, Miller and Strangelove all watch on as Peace Walker destroys itself, proving that The Boss willingly went to her death. Snake salutes for his former mentor and then casts aside the bandana that he had taken from her ten years ago, stating that he believes that by putting down her gun ten years ago, The Boss betrayed him. As a result, Snake finally accepts his title of “Big Boss”.

In the game’s epilogue chapter, “Outer Heaven”, MSF builds up its power in the aftermath of the incident. With Strangelove’s help, Huey completes Metal Gear ZEKE for MSF. Miller recovers Peace Walker’s nuclear missile and equips ZEKE with it in order to provide MSF with its own deterrent against world powers that might object to them. Zadornov also escapes from captivity seven times, prompting Snake and Miller to believe that there is someone on the inside aiding him. On the seventh escape, Snake encounters Zadornov hiding aboard Mother Base and then kills him in self defence. Immediately afterward, alarms go off in the base as somebody activates ZEKE.

Snake hurries up to the deck and finds that ZEKE has been hijacked by Paz, who reveals herself as a deep-cover agent of “Cipher”. She declares that she will take ZEKE back to her “masters”. She outlines Zero’s basic philosophy of information control, which she insists is the only way to bring about worldwide peace. She offers Snake the ability to join with Cipher once again and be their deterrent against anyone who tries to stop the creation of this future. Snake refuses, which causes Paz to prepare a nuclear strike against the east coast of the US, which will frame MSF as a terrorist group and allow Cipher to seize control through fear, bringing about their plans either way.

Snake battles Paz and severely damages ZEKE in the battle. An explosion throws Paz from the mech’s cockpit into the sea, and Snake presumes that she dies from this. Miller hesitantly reveals that he was aware of Cipher and of Paz’s true loyalties, much to Snake’s chagrin, but that he was using them as a means with which to grow MSF to where it now was. Thanks to Cipher, MSF has effectively pioneered a new kind of business venture. Snake warns that the world is going to fear them now and that enemies will be coming for them soon.

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN

Peace Walker plays very differently than any Metal Gear game released up until this point in the franchise. While its systems draw heavily from Portable Ops (recruitment, base management, menu-based mission structure), its gameplay it reminiscent of Guns of the Patriots with its modern third person shooter controls. However, Peace Walker iterates on both of these games by making sure that its gameplay is fun, first and foremost. By sheer virtue of having tight core gameplay, Peace Walker is instantly a hell of a lot funner than Portable Ops. Whereas Portable Ops took existing Metal Gear gameplay and then forced it into the PSP as much as it could, Peace Walker actually feels like it was built from the ground up to make the most of the hardware.
One of the most impressive aspects of Peace Walker is in how well it refines the recruiting and base management systems from Portable Ops. In Portable Ops, a significant amount of time was wasted in dragging enemy soldiers back to your truck to recruit them. This is solved in Peace Walker with the introduction of the fulton recovery system, which lets you capture enemies instantly and on location. This is significantly more satisfying and elegant a solution to recruiting than the dragging mechanic was in the previous game. Balloon supplies are distressingly limited though, so you might actually find yourself using up two precious item slots to bring the Analyzer gadget to maximize the efficiency of the soldiers that you’re recruiting. Base management has also been expanded, with significantly more troops able to be recruited, more useful items available for development and missions that you can send your combat units on to earn supplies. All-in-all, the base development system has been expanded very well and managing it can be just as fun as going out on actual missions at times.
While Portable Ops had limited side missions and player freedom, Peace Walker really emphasizes activities which don’t tie into the main story, particularly side ops and co-ops (I have never really been interested in the co-ops mode so I can’t really comment on how it plays unfortunately). There’s a surprisingly nice variety in these side-ops – some missions will require base defence, or extracting specific targets, blowing up a target, taking a picture of a target or clearing mines. There are also boss side-ops which are necessary to get ahold of some of the stronger mechanized units in the game. Then there’s the joke side ops which can be surprisingly compelling and replayable. I had a good belly-laugh at the cartoonishly slapstick Pooyan Mission, found the ghost hunting missions surprisingly compelling and the two dating missions are equal parts hilarious, awkward and clever as you try to figure out the puzzle involved in doing well in them. There are also a few Monster Hunter-themed missions which sound like a lot of fun but which I have never had the patience to actually unlock. Add in the damage indicators that show up with each shot and the mission-ending score rankings and Peace Walker feels like more of a casual, arcade-y experience at times.
 
Guns of the Patriots‘ third person shooter control scheme has been translated to PSP fairly well, although having to use the face buttons in lieu of a second analog stick never really felt as precise as it needed to be. Luckily, there’s a generous auto-aim in place and the enemies move slowly and have small vision cones, but this is still miles ahead of Portable Ops‘ frustrating shooting controls. Luckily, the HD edition’s biggest improvement is the addition of a second analog stick which makes aiming feel far more precise and drops the basic learning curve significantly.
 
Some Metal Gear purists will lament how marginalized the Codec is in the game though. For one thing, it doesn’t even have a dedicated button anymore – you have to specify that the Select button is to be used for it, because I believe it is set to co-ops communications by default. That said, assigning Codec to the Select button is probably going to be less useful than keeping the co-ops comms there by default, because it has been effectively rendered useless. The calls are always automated based on the mission you’re currently undertaking, so there’s a good chance you’re not going to get any sort of useful information anyway. For example, I was looking for an item and figured I’d call the Codec for some hints. The resulting advice was useless: Miller telling me what my mission is, Paz telling me about the area and other characters just cheering me on. Keeping Select for co-ops comms is literally going to provide you with more help in this game, I promise you, even if you only ever use them for the Date With Paz/Kaz side-ops.
 
 
While the HD edition does improve the shooting significantly, it is unable to help with the small areas and frequent loading screens present in Peace Walker. This was always one of my biggest gripes with the game, as it adopts the area-based maps of Snake Eater or Guns of the Patriots, but in a far more enclosed space which means that you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time just waiting for the next area to load (this only takes about a second or two, but it is still an annoyance when it happens all the time). Compounding this problem is the fact that there may only be a couple of guards per area, meaning that gameplay in these sections may come down to two really quick tranquilizer shots before moving on to the next loading screen.
 
The lack of checkpoints during missions can also be a source of frustration. Normally, thanks to the small maps and few enemies, checkpoints will probably not be necessary as you’re only going to lose about 5 minutes worth of gameplay. However, there are a couple longer, combat-oriented missions which you can easily die in if you aren’t paying attention and which have no checkpoints of any sort – if you die, you have to restart the whole mission. In such missions, you could easily lose 10 minutes or more of gameplay with no mercy for the sudden difficulty spike. The most egregious offender here is the last shootout before you face off with Peace Walker – this mission is around 3 time longer than normal and is just a gauntlet of enemies firing at you with all they have… and to top it all off, you have to fight a helicopter when you’re all done with it. I got to the helicopter almost every time, but by then I’d be out of healing items so I wouldn’t survive and then had to completely restart. It was quite frustrating to say the least.
 
This is probably as good a time as any to point out my biggest problem with the HD edition of the game: it’s a pretty bare-bones port. By this I mean that it seems that all that Konami did was remap the controls to work with a Dualshock 3, upped the frame rate to 60FPS and then upscaled the graphics to fit an HD screen, throwing in some anti-aliasing in the process and calling it a day. For example, I noticed that the game’s aiming controls still felt a little sluggish for my tastes, so I went into the options to increase the right analog stick sensitivity. However, I was unable to locate an option for this, and it occurred to me that this would probably be because the game was originally made with face button control in mind – there wouldn’t have been a need for a sensitivity option. If this really is the case, then that really highlights how basic a port the HD edition is. Peace Walker still feels very much like a PSP game, making for a less-satisfying experience compared to other console-based Metal Gear games. The hardware isn’t getting taxed at all and the small maps and really lacklustre graphics just don’t stack up particularly well.
 
Probably the most obvious area where the HD edition was half-assed though is in the graphical department. Peace Walker‘s textures were clearly made with the 480×272 resolution of the PSP in mind, and on that hardware they looked sufficient. Even then, the textures actually looked worse than Portable Ops, but the more interesting environmental design (eg, not just straight edges and lots of boxes scattered about) and much better lighting/atmospherics masked the weaker graphics. However, in upscaling to HD, the textures don’t seem to have been improved to compensate and it just makes the game look like utter crap – Sons of Liberty looks significantly better, and it was released 9 years earlier. Sure, they put in anti-aliasing to smooth out the edges, but this doesn’t make up for the textures which were never supposed to be viewed at such high resolution (and in fact just reveals that they are far less detailed than they might appear on a smaller screen).
 
 
This issue also extends to Ashley Wood’s digital-graphic-novel-style cutscenes. While the cutscenes have been improved since Portable Ops, featuring far more animation and more interactivity, the HD port handled them very poorly. Rather than rescanning and reanimating Ashley Woods’ original art, the developers have half-assed it and simply straight-up reused the PSP’s cutscenes. This results in art which is notably pixelated even in the default view, and which looks even worse when you use the game’s zoom function during a cutscene. I know that they basically wanted to put together a quick and easy port to recoup costs since the PSP release’s sales were underwhelming, but still, it’s clear just how little work they actually wanted to put in towards making Peace Walker a proper console experience.
 
On the subject of the cutscenes though, Kojima seems to have decided to experiment with Peace Walker and made them far more interactive, occasionally integrating them with the gameplay. In practice, this means that we get some quick-time events, some basic shooting minigames and a couple button-mashing sequences. While this sounds like a rather interesting way to keep the player involved during the story sequences, in practice it ends up being more annoying than anything most of the time. As with the worst quicktime offenders, there is very little warning when a quicktime event is coming, meaning that you’re probably going to die the first time it comes up and have to redo the scene. There are a few of these moments spread throughout the game and they end up being fairly annoying, even though I do appreciate what they were going for.
 
Worse though is the torture sequence, which is similar to Metal Gear Solid, but without the ability to skip it in any way. This sequence was the absolute worst moment in the entire game for me in both my PSP and PS3 playthroughs – I simply am incapable of mashing the triangle button fast enough to get through this sequence, so I end up being forced to redo it over and over again with absolutely no way of getting past it. The only reason I ever got past it was because I used the “Bic pen” trick on PSP and then got my brother to do it for me for this playthrough on PS3. If you don’t have any of these options, then you’re shit out of luck. I hate to think how many people probably quit the game at this point because the game offers absolutely no way to skip the sequence or make it easier.
 
 
The bosses are rather unusual in Peace Walker, since all of them are vehicle-based. The “mini-boss” encounters versus armoured vehicles are reasonably fun the first couple times you encounter them, but they basically play out the same way every time (shoot the weak points and/or neutralize their escorts until the commander shows up). Aside from the helicopter battles, the gameplay doesn’t really change up either – facing off with a tank isn’t much different than facing off against a BTR or an LAV for example, which will quickly made these encounters quite tedious. On the plus side, there are only a handful of these battles in the main game, with most being relegated to side-ops long before you grow tired of them, so if you get sick of them then you can easily ignore them. If you can get through though in a non-lethal fashion, these armoured vehicles can be farmed to provide your combat unit with huge power boosts that you need to beat some of the tougher enemy units out there.
 
The game’s proper boss battles against the AI weapons are quite fun though. By firing at specific parts and weapons on these bosses, you can disable enemy weapon systems or completely prevent them from being able to perform certain attacks. This makes them rather fun to replay… which is good, because in order to complete Metal Gear ZEKE, you’re going to have to attack each boss a few times to farm for AI motherboards. The game does a really horrible job of explaining the system for getting ahold of specific parts, which just seem to be inexplicably random – for example, I was trying to get Walk units in order to complete ZEKE and, despite firing at any associated parts of the boss as the game tells you to, I failed to get any corresponding Walk AI motherboards in the post-battle minigame. However, then when I got to the boss fight summary, the game said that I had received a Walk component, thereby allowing me to complete ZEKE. I was left baffled, and despite having played through Peace Walker twice now, I still don’t understand this system at all (and in fact, I never even got the real ending of the game on the PSP version because I couldn’t understand the randomness of these part drops).
 
The other problem with some of the bosses though is that they can be massive rocket sponges. In the final battle with Peace Walker, I must have fired 50 rockets before I finally whittled it down, which is just ridiculously frustrating. To make matters worse, Peace Walker has an attack which makes it immune to all rockets for a random length of time, meaning that if you didn’t pack a machine gun then you’re going to be stuck running around uselessly for upwards of a minute or two. If the battle was even half as lengthy and Peace Walker had a more reasonably-sized health bar then it would be a significantly funner fight, because I was actually rather enjoying the battle until it turned into a tedious grindfest. The game also has even harder versions of each battle in the side-ops, but I don’t want to think about how long these fights would take without maxed-out anti-armour weapons…
 
I’ll be honest though – I feel like I have been quite critical of Peace Walker‘s gameplay. However, most of my issues with the game are related to the effort that was put into the HD edition, the repetitive armoured vehicle battles and the bullet-sponge Peace Walker battle. Those gripes aside, the game really is quite fun. The hardware limitations are annoying, but I did find the game to be enjoyable and was having fun during my time with it.
 
 

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

From its opening moments, the story of Peace Walker is significantly more compelling than Portable Ops, feeling like a fully-fledged Metal Gear narrative rather than a periphery gap-filler. This is in spite of the fact that Peace Walker really doesn’t do much to fill in the remaining gaps in the Metal Gear timeline which had been left unanswered by Guns of the Patriots, instead choosing to tell a largely-original story which, in some ways, creates more questions than it answers. For example, if Big Boss was in a conflict with The Patriots in the 70s, why the heck would they allow him to come back to America and lead FOXHOUND? How would they not realize that he is the leader of Outer Heaven? And why would Big Boss knowingly send Solid Snake into Outer Heaven and put himself at risk of being defeated, rather than some incapable soldier? Snake Eater and Portable Ops‘ endings left a lot of room for inference, but by fleshing out the conflict more and introducing major new concepts, Peace Walker leaves some pretty big questions unanswered without even attempting to fill in the gaps. Some of these issues would be filled in with The Phantom Pain, but even then the answers can be rather dubious.

That said, Peace Walker‘s narrative is quite enjoyable on its own merits and is easily one of the more unique entries in the series’ canon. In some ways, Kojima also restrains himself and puts out a far more streamlined narrative. For example, it’s really nice to see Coldman explaining his entire agenda in his introduction rather than saving this for later as part of a big plot twist and exposition dump as Kojima usually does. This can also be applied to Zadornov’s introduction, as Snake and Miller realize that he is a KGB agent within the first few minutes. Even this reasonable amount of restraint is enough to reduce some of the narrative fat which plagues Kojima’s stories and makes Peace Walker quite a bit easier to follow.

The game’s non-linear design does create some narrative issues though. Foremost amongst these is that we have no idea how long a time period the game takes place over. Based on the way that the main missions flow, it seems like it can’t be more than a couple weeks for the main part of the game, with anywhere from a few months to a year passing in the epilogue chapter. This is obviously problematic once you realize it though, because that means that MSF expands to a vast size and builds a fully-featured offshore Mother Base in a matter of weeks. Then, they build their own Metal Gear from scratch in less than a year. The obvious intent here is for the player to miss this little chronological detail, but once you become aware of it, it is a rather nagging issue.

I must also say that the section of the game where Coldman activates Peace Walker has to rank amongst the most intense sequences in the entirety of the Metal Gear series. The tension just builds and builds as the situation grows increasingly more hopeless and Snake struggles to do absolutely everything in his power to prevent nuclear Armageddon. This is all capped off with a surprisingly impactful sequence where The Boss’s spirit sacrifices herself once again in order to save the world.

That said, The Boss’s AI is the point where the game’s story strains believability. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and the game doesn’t do a good enough job to justify its existence. Somehow, Strangelove is able to piece together a nearly-perfect AI personality using old mission data about The Boss, and yet she isn’t able to complete it without knowing whether The Boss sacrificed her life for her country? The fact that she needs Snake’s confession to finish this last piece of The Boss’s personality never really made a lot of sense to me, because Strangelove already assumed that she knew the answer. Could she not have just programmed her own suspicions into the AI just to test whether it would work (it also doesn’t help that the process used to get this AI functioning is not expounded upon at all)? It also creates some strange issues about Peace Walker in the game’s climax, when the game heavily implies that The Boss’s soul possesses the Mammal Pod and sacrifices itself a second time (in fact, Huey says in a rather schmaltzy manner that Peace Walker is acting “with its heart” rather than its mind, which is just ridiculous). I can understand the reasoning for these decisions – it works on a symbolic level for the AI to be a representation of The Boss’s soul, but on a narrative and logical level none of this makes any sense and it nearly derails the entire plot for me.

It is also quite interesting that the ending causes Snake to turn on The Boss and accept that he is her successor. The reason he gives is because he believes that by putting down her gun and allowing Snake to kill her, she gave up on her ideals as a soldier. While it isn’t directly stated, I believe that this is confession is meant to show the flaws in Big Boss’s interpretations of The Boss as an individual and The Boss as the symbol which he has been building up an ideology around for the past 10 years. As an individual, it seems that The Boss’s will was a desire for a world without conflict. However, in Snake’s mind, it seems that he has subscribed to The Boss’s will as a world where soldiers are valued, can fight for a greater good and where they live for nothing beyond the mission they are given. Considering that divergences in interpretation of The Boss’s will drive the conflict between Zero and Big Boss throughout the Metal Gear saga, this seems to me to be a hint that the “good guy” doesn’t even have it right. Snake has thrown himself so far into a predefined worldview in the name of his former mentor that, when confronted with the reality of her ideals, he turns on the source his entire ideology.

Not surprisingly, Peace Walker‘s primary theme is an exploration of the nature of peace and deterrence theory. While it is not exactly subtle in its methods, this makes for some rather interesting discussions on human nature. Using deterrence as a major theme was particularly fascinating to me. I actually “developed” an understanding of deterrence as a child when I was around 10-13 years old. I was wondering why we haven’t had an open conflict between major superpowers since the Second World War, when it occurred to me that the threat of nuclear attack made open war an unappealing prospect. As a result, I theorized that we wouldn’t see another World War until a missile-defence system was developed which would render nuclear strikes worthless, thereby making conflict viable once more. While obviously this was an overly-simplified view of international politics, it does hold true to the basics of deterrence and I was able to appreciate the game’s premise quite a bit.

Coldman’s views on deterrence are quite interesting and his plan actually does make just enough sense that it might have worked if he had managed to complete his plans. Having a 100% guaranteed retaliation makes mutually-assured destruction more than a threat – by having the capability to strike, they end up rendering all of their nuclear weapons useless. However, Coldman also believes that humans are incapable of launching a retaliatory strike on their own volition, a notion which Kojima declares patently false in the game’s climax as the US government nearly sets off the end of the world. The other big issue which the game seems to raise about deterrence is that everyone seems to equate it with peace. However, based on The Boss’s idealized vision of world peace, this does not mesh with her desire for peace without borders – deterrence, after all, still requires two aggressively opposed nations who are just not particularly interested in launching into all-out conflict for fear of total annihilation.

One of the more interesting and subtle uses of peace in the game though is in regards to the Sandanistas. Shortly after being introduced to Paz, the physical embodiment of peace in the game, Snake comes across Amanda and Chico, who are fighting a revolutionary war to wrestle control of Nicaragua from the American-backed regime. This creates a rather complicated picture which suggests to me a questioning of when conflict is justified. The Sandanistas cause is suggested to be a righteous one in opposition to the Somoza regime, with Amanda and Chico fighting for a cause that they so deeply for that they are willing to lay down their own life to achieve it. The game also makes numerous references to Che Guevara for similar reasons, suggesting that while peace may be the desired (if unnatural) state for mankind to achieve, there are times where fighting is necessary and justified.

Also tying into the theme of peace, Peace Walker is unusual amongst Metal Gear games for being really on-the-nose with its characters’ names. The most obvious examples of this are Paz and Kazuhira, both of whose names translate to “Peace”. However, it is not exactly subtle that both of them end up betraying their namesakes – Paz turns out to be an illusion, whereas Kaz is a businessman whose ultimate goal is to spark the war economy. The fact that both characters with the name “peace” end up betraying their namesake seems to tie into this quote from Immanuel Kant which features in the game and is brought up by Paz at one point:

“Peace amongst men living alongside one another is not a natural state. On the contrary, the natural state of man is that of war. War manifested not only by open hostilities, but also by the constant threat of hostility. Peace, therefore, is a state that must be established by law.”

Paz and Kaz aren’t the only characters with meaningful names though. Amanda Libre’s name is very apt (it basically translates to “lover of freedom”), while Chico is literally a character descriptor (it means “young boy”). Hot Coldman is also so obviously a symbolic “name” that they could have called him “Cold War Jackson” and had the same effect.

Strangelove’s name is also pointing out, although for somewhat different reasons. First of all, it is incredibly obvious that her name is a reference to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, a film which, in itself, has a lot to do with the game’s themes. Her name also foreshadows that she will become Hal “Otacon” Emmerich’s mother, since his namesake comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, both films of which were directed by Stanley Kubrick. However, as obvious as the film reference explanation for her name is, the game tries to go even deeper and pass it off as a reference to her sexuality. This is a really weird way to try to twist the name in my opinion and kind of underscores the series’ weird approach to “queer” sexuality. Vamp is the closest parallel – he’s obviously named Vamp because he’s designed to be like a vampire, but then it is explained in-game that the name comes from him being bisexual (it’s a slang term, you’ve probably heard it in Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”). I actually like Strangelove as a character and find her rather fascinating, but the handling of her sexuality is clumsy (she’s a bit of a misandrist and sexually assaults most of the game’s female cast) and trying to highlight it in her name doesn’t help all that much (although that’s just my take on things – there are more positive assessments of the sexualities of the series’ characters which are worth checking out).

Peace Walker‘s treatment of women in general is about as juvenile as ever. Aside from the aforementioned clumsiness about Strangelove being a lesbian, the game also goes out of its way to make awkward jokes about Paz and Cecile. For example, in Paz’s introduction you can zoom the camera in on her to give an x-ray vision of her in her underwear. There’s no real justification for this other than for it to be “funny”, but it’s also really awkward considering that at this point in the game we’re supposed to believe that Paz is a 16 year old girl. Paz also ends up in her underwear on a couple other occasions, like if you get an S-rank in the Date With Paz mission and when she steals ZEKE for some reason. Cecil, on the other hand, has basically no bearing on the game’s plot, but exists to be little more than an inside joke and some eye candy (in her introduction, if you zoom in on her cleavage the game will make a cartoonish popping sound).

On a more positive note though, Amanda Libre is a pretty great female character. The camera actually seems to respect her and she has a pretty great character arc as she learns to take responsibility as commandante of the Sandanistas. She even saves Snake’s ass in the end. Plus, while the game hints at there being some sexual tension between Snake and her, it is left as a mutual respect in the end and doesn’t end up being the defining aspect of her character in the slightest. Amanda is a great example of how Kojima can write a strong, interesting female character without objectifying her in the process, which is something that he does on a distressingly infrequent basis.

While Peace Walker largely avoids the crappy kind of “George Lucas cameos” that afflicted Portable Ops*, it does have one extremely egregious offender: Huey Emmerich. It strains belief that both Big Boss and Solid Snake would coincidentally meet up with an Emmerich and become friends. This whole addition is clearly meant to be a big shout-out to the fans, but it just totally rubs me the wrong way and feels more like bad fan fiction than the actual narrative (although The Phantom Pain would do its absolute best to fix all the problems that this bit of indulgence created…).

I’m also not a big fan of the way that cassette tapes are used in this game. They are only accessible before missions, where you get a list of tapes from each character. However, the game doesn’t let you know how long these tapes go on for – most briefing tapes are around a minute at most, but there are longer ones which can easily take 10 minutes or more per tape… and all of this is just keeping you from playing the mission you have been queuing up to play. As a result, if you’re like me then you’re going to quickly just ignore all of the briefing tapes, which is unfortunate because they do have some very informative background story info and some hilarious jokes. The tapes about the Box Tank and Snake believing in Santa both had me laughing out loud, and the tape which reveals that Cecile’s name translates to “KOJIMA IS GOD” in Japanese had me in stitches. There are also tapes by EVA, Strangelove and Paz which are all extremely key to appreciating the game’s narrative, but are hidden in the cassette tapes section and can easily get missed. EVA’s tapes are perhaps the most important to the overall franchise, detailing a ton of information on The Boss, her fateful mission into space, The Philosophers and corruption in the CIA. Strangelove’s fill in more info on The Boss and her mission to space, but they also are important for understanding her motivations and make her a significantly more sympathetic and tragic character. Paz’s tapes are also important to understand the twist about her being a villain, and actually make her far more sympathetic in the end as well.

I’ll be honest – when Peace Walkerfirst came out on the PSP, I didn’t dig it all that much. I got sick of the armoured vehicle battles and the AI grinding and never actually saw the game’s real ending (in part because I didn’t realize that it had one). I even tried to play through the game once in the past when I bought the HD collection, but I ended up pouring all my time into Snake Eater instead. Having gone through Peace Walker again though and reached the real ending, I do have to say that my estimation of the game has improved considerably. The game has a pretty great story and its gameplay is fun for the most part, although it could have been improved with less frustrating boss encounters and more challenging regular troops. It’s also too bad that they didn’t use the HD collection as an opportunity to bring Peace Walker in line with Guns of the Patriots‘ gameplay.

8/10

*Kaz gets a free pass for being so essential to the narrative, for not really resembling his former portrayals and for ultimately making Kaz’s fate in future games even more surprising and impactful.

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 4 – Guns of the Patriots (2008)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the seventh entry in the franchise, 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. After years upon years of convoluted storytelling and epic moments, it looked as if the Metal Gear franchise was finally drawing to a close, with a storyline that promised to wrap up Solid Snake’s story for good. After all the batshit insanity that had characterized the franchise up until this point though, was it even possible to produce a game that could tie together the disparate elements of Metal Gear lore? Read on to find out…

DEVELOPMENT
After the completion of Snake Eater, Kojima announced that he would be retiring from the Metal Gear series (he had previously made this declaration after Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty, but he seemed to actually intend to go through with it this time). Shuyo Murata, co-writer of Snake Eater and the director of the Kojima-related Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, was announced to be the game’s director. However, Kojima soon took over directing, writing and producing the game with Murata after some extreme fans became absolutely livid, sending out death threats to get Kojima back in charge.

Guns of the Patriots was officially announced in 2005 at a Sony press conference and then at E3, where it was revealed to be a culmination of the Solid Snake storyline, tying up all the story arcs for the characters and bringing back most of the surviving fan favourites. It was also announced that the game would be a PS3 exclusive as the franchise had been fostered on PlayStation hardware for the last 3 entries, although he was open to potentially porting it. Over time, it was also revealed that Snake would be significantly aged for this appearance and that this would be the last game in the Metal Gear series. An emphasis was placed on stealth within an “evolving battlefield”, with the option being there to befriend a faction to sway the tide of the battle. This was summed up by the philosophy of “No Place to Hide”, forcing the player to utilize faction allegiances and the new OctoCamo system.

The game also had a few scenes of female nudity which were cut – specifically, the Beauties were supposed to be naked, and the female undergarments that Snake finds at the end of Act II were actually supposed to lead to a naked female soldier. These were cut to avoid a potential AO rating though (I can understand the Beauties as that would have been ridiculously gratuitous considering how much the camera lingers on their clothed boobs and butts already, but I don’t see how the naked female soldier would have been something that would land the game an AO rating).

Shortly before the game’s release, Kojima revealed that the PS3 hardware hadn’t left him entirely satisfied. His development team had entirely filled up the 50GB Blu-Ray disc limit for the game and had still been forced to compress elements to get it all to fit, reducing the quality of (for example) textures. The PS3’s Blu-Ray drive and limited HDD space also necessitated chapter-by-chapter installs to reduce load times.

The game was released on June 12, 2008, early in the PS3’s lifecycle. As a result, it predated the release of the PlayStation Network trophy system, meaning that the game had no trophies to acquire. Fans requested this feature to be patched in for years, but it seemed that this would never happen. However, in the summer of 2012, it was finally revealed that Konami was going to patch trophies into the game. The news was welcome, but people who have played the game can tell you that the amount of work required to get a Platinum in this game is insane – you have to beat the game at least 7 times and put in at least 100 hours of work to receive it. Considering that the game had already been out for 4 years and that some players had actually done the requirements to get the Platinum already before the patch (with no compensatory reward), it’s simply not worth the effort to acquire it in my opinion. The trophy patch coincided with an option to fully-install the game instead of having to install at the start of every new chapter, filling in one of the game’s biggest complaints on launch.

Guns of the Patriots also played host to the next generation of Metal Gear Online. It was the first online shooter that I really got into and I used to play this all the time. It was slower-paced and far more unique than most online shooters of the era (this was when Call of Duty was really starting to take off). I have many a fond memory of laying down Playboy traps to catch enemies off guard and then take them out, as well as being the deadliest sniper in most matches that I played in. The game played well, but it predated the uniform adoption of PSN synchronicity across online games, meaning that you had to log into 2 separate Konami accounts to actually play online. It could also be very difficult, as headshots were lethal with basically any weapon. Unfortunately, MGO‘s servers were shut down around the time that the trophy patch was released. Still, it was a very fun experience that I will always remember very fondly. Playing through Guns of the Patriots‘ areas which were reused for maps in MGO brought the memories flooding back…

PLOT SUMMARY
5 years after the Big Shell incident, Solid Snake has been stricken with a form of accelerated aging which has made him prematurely grow into the equivalent body of a 70-year-old man – by all estimates, he only has about a year left to live, at best. Roy Campbell, now working for the UN, tracks Snake and Otacon down and tells them that they have located Liquid Ocelot. Campbell explains the global situation that has developed in the last 5 years. Ever since the Big Shell incident, the US has taken a backseat in international affairs and PMCs have risen in prominence utilizing a synchronized, nanomachine-assisted network system called SOP, Sons of the Patriots. This results in less war crimes due to emotion control, more efficiency due to real-time updates and synchronicity and ID locks on all weapons, meaning that no authorized weapon can be fired without government permission. As a result, states have outsourced war to the PMCs, resulting in a global “War Economy” as PMCs battle one another in proxy wars. Campbell reveals that most of the largest PMCs are actually controlled by a single overarching organization calling itself “Outer Heaven”, controlled by Liquid Ocelot. Liquid is planning some sort of insurrection against The Patriots and plunge the world into chaos. With the international reliance on the War Economy, no one is willing to disrupt him for fear of destabilizing their own finances. Campbell requests that Snake assassinate Ocelot, who has been spotted in a warzone in the Middle East, which Snake accepts hesitantly. Campbell tells Snake that he will be able to meet up with a UN inspection team for Liquid’s exact location.

Snake is then sent to this warzone, disguised as a member of the local militia unit. They soon come under fire from Praying Mantis PMC forces and their Metal Gear-esque unmanned mechs, Gekkos (aka, IRVING), which wipe out the militia forces. Snake sneaks past the Gekkos and links up with Metal Gear Mk. II, a small, remote-control drone operated by Otacon. The Mk. II provides Snake with weapons and equipment (including the new Solid Eye HUD device) before they move on. Making his way through the warzone, Snake encounters a mysterious man calling himself Drebin 893, who claims to be able to launder ID locked weapons. Since he is not a licensed soldier, Snake lacks the proper nanomachines to operate weapons without ID locks so he cautiously accepts Drebin’s services. Drebin gives Snake an M4 Custom free of charge, but the weapon is still ID locked, forcing Drebin to inject Snake with more up-to-date nanomachines in order for the ID lock bypass to work. This proves to be successful, and Snake moves on to meet up with the UN inspection team.

After fighting his way further through the warzone, Snake encounters Rat Patrol Team 01, the UN inspection unit, consisting of Ed, Jonathan, Johnny “Akiba” Sasaki, and led by Meryl Silverburgh. The pair reminisce a bit before Snake and Meryl get down to business. She tells him that Liquid has a camp ahead, but grows angry when she discovers that Snake is working with Campbell – she believes that her true father is a womanizing piece of shit after finding out that he cheated with her mother and that he is now married to a woman the same age as her. However, they are soon interrupted when Akiba accidentally alerts the PMC forces to their position with the reflection off his binoculars. Snake and Rat Patrol come under attack by Liquid’s FROGS unit, forcing them to fight their way out of the building they had holed up in. When the last FROGS are cleared out, Snake and Rat Patrol split up to go their separate ways.

Heading to Liquid’s camp, Snake watches as a militia unit is violently wiped out by 4 technologically augmented soldiers from the Beauty and the Beast Unit. After they disperse, Snake makes his way into the PMC camp and spots Liquid. He moves closer but spies Meryl and Rat Patrol inside the camp as well. Meryl gets angry at Snake because she thought that they were supposed to be only performing a threat assessment. Before anyone can do anything though, Liquid conducts some sort of live test which causes everyone, from PMC forces, to Rat Patrol (except for Akiba, conspicuously), to Snake himself, to begin convulsing and freak out. As he begins passing out, Snake spots Naomi Hunter with Liquid, before Akiba drags Snake to safety.

Snake later comes to in the Nomad, Philanthropy’s mobile, airborne base of operations. Otacon reveals that he and Sunny Gurlukovich (Olga’s daughter who Raiden rescued from The Patriots after the Big Shell incident) have decoded a transmission from Naomi Hunter. In the transmission, she reveals that the next phase of his tests will be in South America. Liquid has been forcing her to help him due to her expertise in nanotechnology. She begs Snake to rescue her. Realizing that they have no other leads on Liquid’s whereabouts, Snake and Campbell agree that they need to rescue Naomi in order to make any more progress. They speculate that Liquid must be attempting to destroy SOP, as it is clearly a part of The Patriots’ information control agenda. Snake isn’t sure whether Liquid or The Patriots are worse, but Campbell cautions that without SOP, there will be even more war and atrocities committed, meaning that The Patriots are the lesser of two evils in order to keep modern society afloat.

When he reaches the PMC security perimeter, Snake witnesses Laughing Octopus massacre a group of local rebel prisoners while in the guise of Snake himself. She lets a single soldier escape, telling him to remember Snake’s face as the one who killed his comrades. Vamp also appears, working alongside the PMC forces, who seem to be awaiting Snake’s arrival. Snake makes his way around the PMC camp and moves further into the jungle before receiving a call from Campbell. He introduces Snake to Rosemary, Raiden’s former fiancé and Campbell’s new wife, who will be joining the mission as a psychological counsellor. Snake soon receives a call from Raiden as well. When questioned on where he had been, Raiden tells Snake that he was retrieving the body of Big Boss for a client calling herself “Big Mama”. When Raiden ends the call, Snake calls Rosemary, who tells him that her relationship with Raiden crumbled due to his psychological trauma and the apparent miscarriage of their child. Raiden had disappeared after then and Rosemary had gone to Campbell in her grief. After venturing further through the warzone, Snake once again encounters Drebin, who explains that the Beauty and the Beast Unit are a group of gorgeous women who have been wracked with extreme PTSD and have been conditioned to believe that killing Snake will end their nightmares. Drebin also explains that The Patriots are not people, but rather a system of autonomous AIs.

Snake then leads and offensive with the rebels into the PMC’s base inside of a mansion, where he encounters Naomi Hunter in her research lab. Naomi is surprised by Snake’s aging and insists on examining him. She reveals that his accelerated aging is a natural consequence of his cloning – he was designed to be a living weapon, incapable of reproducing or living as a normal human being would, meaning that he only has about 6 months left to live. Naomi also discovers that FOXDIE, which she had injects Snake with at Shadow Moses, has begun to mutate. As the receptors on the virus break down, it will soon begin targeting people indiscriminately, turning Snake into a walking biological weapon. She expects this to begin in about 3 months time. She cautions however that, if Snake dies, the virus will die with him. She also reveals that a new strain of FOXDIE has been injected into Snake as well, causing him to believe that Drebin must have been the one to do this. Finally, Naomi explains what went wrong with Liquid’s live test in the Middle East. He tried to disable SOP from his soldiers, but the sudden rush of suppressed emotions caused them to go mad. Since he can’t remove SOP without destroying his own army, Liquid now has decided to attempt to hijack the system instead. However, to do so, he will need Big Boss’s DNA, as it is the key to the SOP system.

Before Snake can take Naomi away, PMC forces burst into the lab, led by Laughing Octopus. They take Naomi captive and lead her away while Snake battles a unit of FROGS and then Octopus herself. After a difficult battle, Snake defeats Laughing Octopus (acquiring her FaceCamo in the process) and then pursues the PMC forces to retrieve Naomi. He tracks her to a helipad where Vamp attempts to fly her away. However, Snake shoots Vamp in the head and gets in a gun battle with Pieuvre Armament troops. Soon, Liquid’s second attempt to break the system commences, causing the PMC troops to go into a dazed state. Drebin suddenly arrives in his Stryker APC, allowing Naomi and Snake an opportunity to escape as Gekkos arrive and attempt to stop them.

After an intense chase, the Stryker enters a small village where it crashes. Gekkos begin swarming the area, but Raiden suddenly appears, revealing that he has been augmented into a cyborg ninja like Gray Fox. He begins destroying the Gekko, allowing Snake and Naomi a chance to escape. However, as they fly away in a helicopter with Otacon, they see Vamp and Raiden battle one another. The pair engage in a very brutal knife fight, with all of the Gekko getting decimated in the process. Raiden manages to come out on top though, putting down Vamp before fleeing in the helicopter. Vamp revives in time to see them flying away though and calls Liquid, who tells him that this is all a part of the plan. Seeing Vamp revive, Naomi reveals that the secret to his immortality is a strain of nanomachines which regenerate his cells at an accelerated rate – a system that she developed, but which were perfected with Vamp. Raiden, severely wounded from his fight with Vamp, gives Snake an instruction before passing out: “Go meet… Big Mama.”

Regrouping on board the Nomad, Naomi Hunter begins to bond with Sunny, teaching her how to cook eggs and discussing science. She then gives Sunny a blue rose to wear in her hair. After this, she tells Snake and Otacon that Liquid is in Eastern Europe searching for Big Boss’s corpse. His genetic code and biometric data are necessary to gain control of SOP – in his two previous tests, Liquid had used his own DNA and Snake’s DNA to attempt to take control of the system, but both attempts had failed since neither of them were 100% genetic matches of Big Boss. She also reveals that Big Boss is not truly dead – his cells had been kept alive and his body was in a nanomachine-induced coma. Meanwhile, Raiden’s condition has worsened. Naomi realizes that he will need an infusion of artificial blood, which Raiden reveals can be acquired in Eastern Europe from a Dr. Madnar (possibly the same Dr. Madnar from Metal Gear and Solid Snake). Realizing that Big Boss’s body and the artificial blood are in the same area, the Nomad heads towards Eastern Europe to continue the mission.

During the night, Naomi speaks to Otacon, who has been working through the night. They discuss how their creations have been used for evil purposes. Otacon also tells Naomi about his step-sister, Emma, who had created the worm cluster which infected GW at the Big Shell. He also reveals that Sunny is the real computer genius amongst them – it was her who decoded Naomi’s heavily-encrypted transmission. After some flirting, the pair head to the helicopter, where Naomi pulls Otacon inside for some lovin’.

The next day, Snake heads into Eastern Europe to locate Big Mama, leader of the Paradise Lost Army resistance. Campbell promises that he will provide him with a way to get past the local PMC security forces from Raven Sword. Snake disguises himself with FaceCamo to make himself look younger and dresses in civilian clothes. When he refuses to go through an ID checkpoint, he is taken aside by Meryl Silverburgh and Rat Patrol, who have been deployed to the area to oversee PMC activity. She reveals that a US army detachment is in the city and are ready to come down on Liquid as soon as he makes a move. She tells Snake not to put his life at risk anymore and that she can’t stand to see him kill himself over something like this. Snake scoffs at this, leaving Meryl with some enmity between the two.

Heading out into the city after curfew, Snake locates a Paradise Lost Army resistance member and begins to pursue him while helping him evade Raven Sword PMC troops. After pursuing him through the streets of the city, the resistance member leads Snake right to Big Mama’s location. Snake bursts in and is confronted by Big Mama (aka, EVA), who reveals to him that she is her mother who gave birth to Snake and Liquid as part of the Les Enfants Terribles project. She explains to Snake the origins of The Patriots: they originally consisted of herself, Big Boss, Ocelot, Major Zero, Sigint (Donald Anderson) and Para-Medic (Dr. Clark). However, the organization soon split into two factions over their disagreement over The Boss’s will: one side led by Big Boss while the other was led by Major Zero. Big Boss had attempted to overthrow The Patriots in Outer Heaven and Zanzibar Land, while EVA and Ocelot, still loyal to Big Boss, had overseen the deaths of Para-Medic and Sigint just before/during the Shadow Moses incident. However, Ocelot had been lost when he grafted Liquid’s arm onto his body, with Big Mama believing that he was now a part of his own faction in this long conflict. Big Mama then shows Snake Big Boss’s body, loaded in the back of a van and ready to be evacuated.

The meeting is then interrupted by a group of Dwarf Gekko which reveal the resistance base to the Raven Sword forces. Big Mama, Snake and the Paradise Lost Army flee with Big Boss’s body as the PMC troops, led by Raging Raven, pursue them. Snake and Big Mama crash, with Big Mama receiving a serious injury as she is impaled in her side by a piece of metal. Snake heads into a tower to take down Raging Raven. After he defeats her, he returns to Big Mama to head to the riverside – Big Mama reveals that the vans had all been decoys and that Big Boss’s body was actually being evacuated on a boat. However, when they get to the boat, they find Ocelot waiting for them. He fights Snake, stabbing him with his own stun knife and electrocuting him as Snake struggles to stop him. Liquid gloats over his own success and then leaves in a boat, accompanied by Vamp and, surprisingly, Naomi.

Before Liquid can escape though, he is surrounded by US forces led by Meryl and Rat Patrol. Snake and Big Mama board Meryl’s boat as she orders Liquid to surrender. However, Liquid refuses and reveals that he has finally hijacked the SOP system by locking out all of the US soldiers’ weapons and remotely deactivating the circling helicopters. He then turns off all of the US soldiers’ emotion controls and then orders his FROG troops them down. The result is a massacre as many of the US soldiers are killed and Rat Patrol is badly wounded. Liquid then has Vamp throw Big Boss’s body into flames on Rat Patrol’s boat, incinerating it. Big Mama leaps onto the fire to attempt to save him, but it is too late. Liquid shoots Big Boss’s body in the head and triggers an explosion which mortally wounds Big Mama and leaves Snake with a horrific burn on the left side of his face. In the confusion, Otacon manages to sneak the Mk. II aboard Liquid’s boat as it escapes. Akiba also manages to save Meryl from drowning, for which he is rewarded with a thankful kiss. However, Big Mama succumbs to her injuries and dies.

Using the Mk. II, Otacon is able to determine that Liquid plans to destroy The Patriots’ main AI, JD, which is disguised as space junk orbiting the planet. To do this, he needs a weapon that is powerful enough to fire a missile into space and a nuclear missile – SOP is not sufficient to do this, as all WMDs are controlled by JD, not SOP. However, the Mk. II is soon discovered and destroyed, prompting Otacon to construct the Mk. III as a replacement.

As Snake and Campbell debate how Liquid will be able to destroy JD, Otacon realizes that he will use Metal Gear REX, since its rail gun predates the implementation of SOP and is capable of launching a nuclear warhead into space. After confirmation from Mei Ling, who is now the captain of the WWII-era battleship U.S.S. Missouri, Snake pursues him to Shadow Moses island. Raiden attempts to join Snake, but Sunny protests, as his dialysis is still incomplete. Realizing that Raiden has a deathwish, Snake tells Raiden that he still has a life and a family, whereas Snake is going to be dead within a few months. Raiden angrily protests that he has no family before passing out once more.

Otacon then flies Snake to Shadow Moses via helicopter and drops him off just west of the heliport. Snake then makes his way to the heliport and is met with a rush of flashbacks as he views the decrepit state of the nuclear disposal base. Snake makes his way through the facilities, evading Gekko and Dwarf Gekko units from the Werewolf PMC in the process. After making his way to the snowfield where he fought Sniper Wolf for the second time, Snake is confronted with the Beauty and the Beast Unit member Crying Wolf, who fires at him with a miniaturized railgun. Snake manages to defeat Crying Wolf in the middle of a blizzard and then proceeds into the underground base to find REX. After making his way into the hangar, he finds REX where it had been left, but that its railgun has already been removed. He is then confronted by Naomi and Vamp. Vamp attacks Snake, but Snake injects him with a syringe given to him by Naomi which suppresses nanomachines, rendering Vamp into a mortal once more. As he does so, Raiden appears and fights Vamp while Snake battles a unit of Suicide Gekko who attempt to destroy the base. Snake destroys the Gekko as Raiden slashes open Vamp, leaving him horrifically wounded. Naomi then tells Otacon (via the Mk. III) to finish him off by injecting him with the syringe – as an act of mercy, not revenge.

With Vamp now dead, Naomi apologizes to Snake and Otacon for tricking them before revealing that she has been suffering from terminal cancer now for years which she has been using nanomachines to keep at bay. She injects herself with the syringe as an act of suicide, sorrowfully telling Otacon to continue to live his life. With more Suicide Gekko headed their way to destroy the base, Otacon uses the Mk. III to reactivate Metal Gear REX. Snake pilots the damaged mech and uses it to escape the collapsing base. Raiden, however, is trapped by the falling rubble.

As they reach the surface, Snake is suddenly confronted by Liquid, piloting Metal Gear RAY. The two Metal Gears battle, with REX managing to come out on top due to some clever maneuvering by Snake. Liquid scrambles from the wreckage of RAY and begins heading towards the ocean, while Snake painfully follows after him, having injured himself exiting REX. Before he can catch up with Liquid, an Arsenal Gear emerges from the sea – Liquid’s “Outer Haven”, now equipped with REX’s railgun and housing The Patriots’ hijacked AI, GW. When JD is destroyed, control of The Patriots will defer to GW, and at that point Liquid will have full control over The Patriots’ network. Liquid then tries to ram Snake with Outer Haven, but is stopped when Raiden, who cut his own arm off in order to escape from the rubble in the underground tunnel, puts himself between Outer Haven and Snake. However, the pier begins to crumble and Raiden is seemingly crushed as Snake gets out of the way. Before it can finish Snake though, the U.S.S. Missouri arrives and opens fire. Outer Haven retreats and heads out into the open ocean to prepare for the final strike on JD. Snake and Raiden, who somehow survived, are taken aboard the Missouri to make a final assault on Outer Haven.

Mei Ling briefs US military units, as well as Snake, Otacon, Meryl and Akiba aboard the Missouri. When Outer Haven surfaces to make its nuclear strike on JD, they will send a strike team aboard the submersible fortress and infect it with a worm cluster uploaded to the ship’s AI, GW. Using intelligence provided by Naomi Hunter, the strike team will catapult on board Outer Haven and then penetrate its server room, which is protected by microwave directed energy weapon. Once inside the server room, they would upload the virus developed by Naomi and completed by Sunny. Snake, Meryl and Akiba volunteer for the mission. Meanwhile, Drebin is also revealed to be on board the Missouri, providing the soldiers with weapons and the catapults that the strike team would use to infiltrate Outer Haven.

After Outer Haven surfaces, the Missouri commences a naval battle with Haven’s defences and Metal Gear RAY units, while the strike team is inserted into the ship. Akiba’s launch is unsuccessful though, which sends him plummeting into the ocean rather than inside the ship. Snake makes his way past FROGS and Gekko until he gets deeper into the ship’s core. Here, he encounters an injured Meryl and is forced to battle waves of FROGS. However, the last Beauty and the Beast Unit member, Screaming Mantis, appears and attempts to stop Snake. Akiba inexplicably arrives and fires at Screaming Mantis, revealing that her “psychic abilities” are simply a result of nanomachine manipulation. Utilizing this knowledge, Snake defeats her before being confronted by the ghost of Psycho Mantis. After showing off to Snake, his spirit is banished for good by the spirit of The Sorrow.

Snake then continues on to the server room. Meryl and Akiba decide to hold the inexhaustible supply of incoming FROGS back and buy Snake the necessary time to get to GW. As the pair battle, Akiba proposes to Meryl, claiming to have loved her ever since he had seen her on Shadow Moses (and stolen his uniform). Meryl refuses at first, but then turns things around and proposes to Akiba herself, which he accepts.

Meanwhile, Snake moves further into the core where he is surrounded by FROGS outside of the microwave corridor. However, Raiden appears (now completely armless) and tells Snake that he will hold them off for him. Snake enters the microwave corridor after outrunning swarms of Dwarf Gekkos and struggles towards the AI core as he is painfully bombarded by microwaves. Through force of will, he manages to reach the AI core where the Mk. III uploads the virus just as all hope seems lost.

With the virus uploaded, the FROGS suddenly lose their will to fight, Outer Haven is left totally defenseless, the RAYs attacking the Missouri are deactivated and the railgun is stopped from firing. A video of Naomi then begins to play on the screens in the AI core, where she explains that the worm, named FOXALIVE, used GW to penetrate The Patriots’ entire AI network, destroy all of the AI cores and disable SOP for good, effectively eliminating The Patriots in one blow. The Patriots had intended to extend SOP to the civilian population as well, at which point their control would have been universal. While Naomi believed that FOXALIVE would result in the end of modern civilization as key infrastructure was destroyed, it is revealed that Sunny modified her virus to preserve energy and resource networks essential to modern society. Snake passes out in the AI core before Missouri troops can come and extract him.

Snake later wakes up on the deck of Outer Haven where Otacon tells him that he will find medical assistance for Snake’s wounds. However, Liquid then appears and takes Snake to the highest point of Outer Haven. Liquid explains that he had always hoped that Snake would upload the worm, since now The Patriots were destroyed for good and Big Boss’s dream could now become a reality. He challenges Snake to one final hand-to-hand battle. The pair slug away at one another as Ocelot’s persona slowly begins to rise back to the surface through each repeated beating. Eventually, the two slowly beat on another to death as Snake gets the upper hand and fatally beats Ocelot to the point of death. Ocelot reveals that he was “Liquid’s doppelgänger” and then, reminiscing on his first meeting with Big Boss, tells Snake that “You’re pretty good”, before dying from his wounds.

In the game’s epilogue, the Nomad is used as a makeshift chapel for Meryl and Akiba’s wedding. Campbell and Meryl finally reconcile as he leads Meryl down the aisle. Otacon, Sunny, Mei Ling and Jonathan watch the wedding as Ed acts as the priest and marries the couple. Drebin then shows up, providing the couple with a shower of flowers and doves. As everyone parties, Drebin reveals that the “Drebins” organization of gun launderers were actually agents of The Patriots, used to keep the War Economy going. He was ordered to help Snake assassinate Liquid, although they had no idea that Snake would be used to inadvertently eliminate The Patriots. In addition, Rat Patrol were also inadvertently being used as Patriot agents. However, Drebin is happy to see The Patriots gone as it has given him freedom to create his own organization, although his fears that the UN might become the new “Patriots” as the collapse of the War Economy has sent many countries spiralling into deep debt. Sunny asks Otacon if she can give the Mk. III to a boy she met, her “first outside friend”, and asks Otacon where Snake is. Otacon evasively replies that Snake is sick and needs time to rest.

Meanwhile, Raiden recovers in a hospital, his cyborg body being replaced with one which resembles a human body more closely. Rosemary enters the room with a young boy, but Raiden at first refuses to speak with her. Rose reveals that her marriage to Campbell and her miscarriage were both deceptions used to keep her and their son, John, safe from The Patriots. Shocked, Raiden tries to reconcile with his son, who recoils at first, but then reveals that he thinks that his father is like a superhero. The three embrace and promise never to let one another go again.

Elsewhere, Snake visits the grave of Big Boss and prepares to complete his final mission. He draws his pistol and puts it in his mouth to end the threat of the mutated FOXDIE. The camera pans away as a shot rings out…

…however, as the credits begin to roll, it is revealed that Snake wasn’t able to commit suicide and fired into the air instead. However, he is suddenly confronted by Big Boss, who has somehow been brought back to life. Before Snake can react, Big Boss disarms Snake and then embraces him with a CQC hug. He explains that he has no intention to fight Snake. Big Boss reveals that the body destroyed in Eastern Europe was actually Solidus’. Since Solidus was actually a perfect clone of Big Boss, his genetic code had been sufficient to gain control of the system, whereas Liquid and Solid’s DNA was not a 100% match. He also explains that his body has been reconstructed using transplanted pieces from Liquid and Solidus. The destruction of The Patriots finally freed his consciousness from their nanomachine-induced coma and allowed Big Boss to return to life once more. Big Mama and Naomi Hunter had been instrumental to the deception that allowed Snake to destroy The Patriots, as they used The Patriots’ own attempts to defeat Liquid against them. Ocelot was also involved – he used nanomachines and hypnotherapy to trick everyone, including himself, into believing that he was possessed by the spirit of Liquid Snake, bent on wiping out The Patriots and bringing about Big Boss’s vision of Outer Heaven.

Big Boss also explains his history with The Patriots. When the worm moved from GW to the other Patriot AIs, it also revealed the location of the final Patriot, Zero. Big Boss then wheels Zero, now in a vegetative state, to Snake. Big Boss reveals that they will never be free of The Patriots until the last of its founding members is dead. He then shuts off Zero’s air supply and suffocates his old friend and bitter enemy to death. However, with Zero dead, this leaves Big Boss as the last founding member of The Patriots. Snake questions whether Big Boss will have to die next, to which Big Boss reveals that the FOXDIE implanted in Snake is already doing so – it already killed Ocelot and Big Mama, and will soon kill Big Boss as well. He also reveals that this FOXDIE strain will supplant the mutated one, meaning that Snake will no longer become a walking biological weapon, although if he lived long enough this strain of FOXDIE will also one day mutate.

Snake then carries Big Boss over to the grave of The Boss, where Big Boss salutes her one final time. He sadly reveals that he finally understands The Boss’s will: “It’s not about changing the world, it’s about doing our best to leave the world the way it is. It’s about respecting the will of others and believing in your own”. Snake and Big Boss share one last cigarette, while Big Boss tells Snake to spend the rest of his life living peacefully. After a lifetime of hatred, the two finally make peace. As he dies, Big Boss’ final words are:

In the game’s final post-credit scene, Snake meets up with Otacon. Snake explains that he has one more thing that he needs to do: he needs to see this age off and see what the future brings. Otacon agrees, telling Snake that he and Sunny have to pass on the memory of Snake to future generations.

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Guns of the Patriots marks, in a lot of ways, some of the most revolutionary changes to the Metal Gear gameplay formula in the franchise’s history. While the basic gameplay systems are very similar to Snake Eater, the game has undergone some significant refinements or completely different design philosophies to give it a more “modern” feel, making the game play significantly differently than previous games in the franchise. Leading the refined systems is OctoCamo, which replaces the bothersome menu-hopping in Snake Eater. Now, Snake’s camo changes automatically if he is stationary for about a second, making sneaking considerably less bothersome. In addition, the Cure menu has also been eliminated, making the game far less menu-intensive. The only major menu-headache is due to the limited backpack slots – you only get (I believe) 8 items at a time and only 5 weapons, meaning that you’re often forced to pause and swap out for a new weapon… especially during cutscene transitions, which will often swap one of your weapons out for an M4 or an Operator pistol.

Guns of the Patriots‘ other big addition is the refined control options. Whereas previous Metal Gear games were strangely archaic in the actions they allowed Snake/Raiden/Big Boss to perform, Guns of the Patriots really opens up the player control. Snake is now able to crouch-walk, roll around on the ground, aim in both first and third person modes and strafe while firing. This actually makes Guns of the Patriots the first game in the franchise where going in loud is actually a viable option, as the gunplay is very smooth and responsive, and Snake isn’t bogged down by imprecise aim or arbitrary control restrictions.

On the potentially more negative end of the refinements though, the Codec has been reduced to being basically irrelevant. Whereas previous games had used the Codec for story information or to provide hints, the Codec in Guns of the Patriots is basically useless. You only get a couple of channels with which to chat with Otacon about mission hints or to recover your psyche with Rosemary (and shake her boobs with SIXAXIS…). Personally I do not mind this change, as I had always found that parsing out story info to Codec calls made you have to waste a ton of time calling people if you wanted more background, or just made you skip over it entirely if you just wanted to beat the game. Personally, I prefer if the story is actually told in-game rather than being basically context-sensitive, although I do know that some people became really sad that the Codec was reduced in effectiveness here. Don’t worry though, it only gets more useless from here on out!

In addition to these refinements, Guns of the Patriots has some great new elements which enhance the gameplay. Snake now as a “threat ring” which is very useful for maintaining situational awareness and helps as the game lacks a persistent radar. The game also features the Solid Eye, which highlights enemies, provides a short-ranged radar (with sound- and sight-radiuses marked) and has built-in night vision goggles. However, if there’s one problem with the Solid Eye, it’s that it is so good that it makes most of the other items in the game practically worthless in comparison. Like, as much as I want to listen to the iPod in-game, doing so is going to gimp my gameplay significantly. That said, you can at least use the in-game camera in third person mode without using your one item slot, which is handy (and helped me to personally take many of the screenshots in this retrospective entry).

The game also introduces a ton of new weapons and customization. Drebin introduces a whole shop of weapons which the player can choose to experiment with at will, while also providing them with weapons and equipment and incentivizing risk to acquire “Drebin Points” to pay for these rewards. Guns of the Patriots also has a robust weapon customization system which allows you to equip many weapons with various scopes, sights, underslung weapons, grips, laser sights and flashlights. It’s a pretty impressive system and helps when you want to create “that one super-weapon” that defines you as a player.

Guns of the Patriots also shakes up the Metal Gear formula significantly by being the first game in the franchise to have more than 2 distinct areas. In fact, it has 5 distinct maps, spread out over the course of its 5 act structure. Compared to previous Metal Gear games, each area also tends to be significantly larger (both in terms of map size and layout) which means that there are far less loading screens. However, this is a double-edged sword, as it also means that you will likely lose a lot more progress if you die near the end of an area. These 5 areas also contribute to one of the most derided aspect of Guns of the Patriots: the mandatory chapter-by-chapter installs. When the game first launched, each time you enter a new act, you have to install the data for the mission, which takes about a minute every time it happens. This was always an annoying process, but with the 2012 patch, the game can now be fully installed on the HDD. I had done this previously and forgotten about it, but when I realized that I didn’t have to go through the chapter-by-chapter install for this playthrough, it made me quite relieved.

These more open environments help to facilitate the fundamental sneaking gameplay of Guns of the Patriots, which is very refined and modern. In the first 2 Acts of the game, the sneaking all takes place on active battlefields, which is very cool and extremely impressive. Rebel and PMC forces battle one another as you make your way from place to place, with the option available to help sway the battle in favour of one side or the other. Unfortunately, if you’re going to sway the battle then there is basically no incentive to do so for the PMCs, as they will shoot you on sight regardless, whereas the militia/rebels will choose to ally with you. Aiding the rebel forces becomes a whole game unto its own, as the rebel forces have their own objectives to achieve and won’t be able to accomplish without at least a little help from Snake. The only problem here though is that this warzone-based sneaking only really occurs in the first 2 Acts. That said, they are definitely the 2 strongest in terms of pure gameplay enjoyment.

While Guns of the Patriots doesn’t have nearly enough active-battlefield sneaking gameplay, it does shake up its own formula very frequently with many different kinds of gameplay twists. For example, early in the Middle East, Snake and Rat Patrol get into a shootout with the FROGS which plays like a straight-up third person shooter. Due to the new control scheme, this sort of scenario plays out much more successfully than similar action sequences did in previous Metal Gear games, such as the stair shootout in Metal Gear Solid. The game also features two very exciting vehicular chase sequences, which show off the game’s much more action-oriented set-pieces and improved shooting controls. There is also an interesting split-screen segment where you have to blow up Suicide Gekko with a railgun while Vamp and Raiden duel, which is fairly cool.

It’s not all about the action though. The game also throws in twists on the stealth gameplay at times. Act 2 features an extended sequence where you have to hunt down Naomi by following her tracks and avoiding enemy patrols. Acts 4 and 5 also are incredibly difficult to complete if you don’t rely on pure stealth to get you through. While this is enjoyable, it isn’t nearly as compelling and unique as the “battlefield stealth” of Acts 1 and 2. Act 3 is also an entire level of “gameplay twists”, as it emphasizes stealth in an urban environment as you tail the resistance member. However, this mission has been derided as one of the absolute worst levels of the last decade due to the shoddy design of the resistance member’s AI. Whenever he gets spotted, or he spots you, his pathfinding gets screwed up and causes him to backtrack, making this level potentially frustrating as he constantly gets knocked off of, and back onto, course. In this playthrough, I must have spent 10 minutes chasing the stupid bastard in a circle around a city block as I tranquilized guards in front of him, causing him to backtrack before advancing to other guards, forcing me to tranq them as well, etc. However, by the time he was done running in a circle, the guards I had tranquilized in the first place had woken up, causing me to literally run 2 circles around this city block before I just double-tapped all of the guards in the area to give the resistance member a bloody chance to get from point A to point B without breaking his pathfinding. It was a right pain in the ass.

There are also a couple gameplay twists which are notable for how good they are at developing the story. One such case is the inclusion of the helipad sequence from Metal Gear Solid just before beginning Act 4 to help drive home the nostalgia of the story. There is also the button-mashing sequence in the microwave corridor which, thankfully, is super forgiving. It requires a solid minute or two of button mashing, but even I was able to complete it with no problem, and the pain it induces it clearly meant to parallel the pain being suffered by Snake himself.

It’s also worth pointing out that the graphics in Guns of the Patriots are still quite good, even 7 years removed from its release. In fact, despite being an early PS3 game, its graphics are still very good in comparison to many games from later in the PS3’s lifecycle (and arguably better than some modern games, such as Fallout 4). Most of this comes down to the character models, which are fantastic. The environments are much less impressive, with much lower-resolution textures, but the game compensates with a variety of atmospheric filters which make them look very stunning regardless. This is most clearly demonstrated in Acts 3 and 4. In Act 3, the entire environment is saturated with stark contrast and a bloom effect which gives off a film noir effect. Act 4’s return to Shadow Moses uses a blue filter and some impressive ice effects to both call back to Metal Gear Solid and demonstrate the harsh nature of the area. The environments of Act 4 in general are actually very well detailed and is one of the highlights of the game as you get to see most of Shadow Moses remastered in HD.

The problem with this though, in addition to the chapter-by-chapter installs, is that the game’s framerate tends to be wildly inconsistent. The framerate tends to hover around 30 fps at best, but whenever there are explosions or some other graphically-intensive event on screen, it will dip very noticeably. It doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means, but it is a performance issue which no previous Metal Gear really had to deal with and is especially prevalent during certain sequences, such as the Act 3 motorcycle chase.

In order to get to the gameplay though, players will have to wade through an insane amount of cutscenes. The very opening of the game gives you a good idea of how the game is going to play out as you watch a cutscene, take a few steps, watch another cutscene, take a few more steps, watch another cutscene, then get a couple minutes of rather intense stealth gameplay… which is then capped off by another 5-10 minutes of cutscenes. That said, cutscenes which occur in the middle of a mission do tend to be quite brief unless they serve some sort of very important story purpose, such as Snake and Naomi’s meeting in Act 2 or Big Mama explaining the history of The Patriots in Act 3.

The cutscenes start getting noticeably longer by the beginning of Act 3 though: just to start Act 3, you have to endure about 40-50 minutes of cutscenes and then there’s even a 60 minute sequence of cutscenes between the end of Act 3 and the start of Act 4. That’s not even the worst of it, as the game’s epilogue hold a world record for featuring a whopping 71 minutes of cutscenes to tie up the last of the franchise’s storylines. Guns of the Patriots also introduces pre-mission briefings which are technically interactive, but which are basically just overglorified exposition-dump cutscenes when all is said and done. They do help contextualize the upcoming mission well, but they are also a prime contributor to the glut of cutscenes in the game.

Now, with all of this said, the cutscenes are very well-directed and tend to be fairly interesting, although they do tend to be very exposition-laden. The option has also been added to pause cutscenes, which really helps when you need to take a bathroom break in the middle of an hour long sequence. The game also features multiple save breaks in the middle of some of these sequences as well, which is very thoughtful and suggests that Kojima and company were aware that they were going to be an issue for people. The thing is though that the game is only going to take you around 16 hours to complete, and around 2/3 of that playtime is comprised of cutscenes. In fact, after skipping cutscenes, I have beaten the whole game before completely undetected in about 3.5 hours in order to get ahold of some of the special emblems. This is actually close to being on par with previous Metal Gear games actually, but it’s still distressing that even the bulk of a first playthrough is going to comprise of cutscenes rather than gameplay. I think that it would be fair to say that Guns of the Patriots emphasizes cutscenes and story to the detriment of the gameplay.

The difficulty of enemy soldiers is going to come down to your difficulty setting. For this playthrough I chose to play on Big Boss Hard, and was actually surprised by just how aware enemies were. Even the basic enemies have reasonably long sightlines in which they can see Snake if you’re not being especially cautious, prompting them to investigate. They can also pick out your footsteps, making hold-ups and CQC difficult to pull off if you’re too daring. It’s also worth pointing out that many regular soldiers look different from one another based on their role, not to mention that their character models all change from mission-to-mission based on the PMC they are a part of (which is probably why they are phased out after Act 3). The FROGS (aka, Haven Troopers) are similar to regular soldiers, but with improved armour, senses and mobility. They also have a very cool and unique design which is (in my opinion) on par with the Storm Trooper uniform in terms of its iconicness. In the latter-stages of the game, FROGS replace regular soldiers, helping to up the difficulty in a natural way.

In addition to the regular mooks, Guns of the Patriots also features a few unique, unmanned enemy types which you will have to face off with on a regular basis. Most prominent among these are the Gekko units. These pseudo-Metal Gears are really intimidating the first time you see them – they have a fantastic introduction, unique design, a really iconic theme tune, a strangely unsettling “moo” call, and are very deadly if they detect you. Their main cannons can stagger Snake and take off quite a bit of damage in the harder difficulties. If they’re blocking your path, which they often are, their “leg sweep” attack can also knock off 75% of Snake’s health in one hit, making them incredibly difficult to take on in a one-on-one battle. There are also enemies called Dwarf Gekko which appear starting in Act 4, which are very annoying to encounter. They’re not particularly dangerous on their own, but they always appear in swarms. If they detect you, they will come at you in droves. They seem to respawn during alerts, meaning that if you try to destroy them all, more will just keep coming. When facing off against Dwarf Gekko, it seems that the best strategy is to remain undetected and to just run if spotted. The game also has a few one-off enemies, such as the flying “Slider” drones, a LAV, a tank, some jeeps and even PMC troops in an armoured exoskeleton (a la Ripley in Aliens).

Unfortunately, after some of the most stellar boss battles in the franchise’s history with Snake Eater, Guns of the Patriots features a rather hit-or-miss selection of boss fights. In fact, while Portable Ops can be forgiven for its limited hardware and disposable nature, Guns of the Patriots really marked a trend of decline for the series’ boss battles, which would never again reach the heights that the series had been known for in the past. This is not helped by the fact that the game’s “boss squad”, the Beauty and the Beast Unit, have basically no personality and are just a transparent amalgamation of enemies from previous games defined by a single emotion. All of the Beasts also have a “Beauty” form, which always plays out the same way – a supermodel will emerge from their exoskeleton and pursue Snake for about a minute before dying automatically (if not shot first, although they seem to have a 50% chance of dodging all incoming bullets). These encounters are interesting the first time they happen, but each subsequent encounter gets boring quick as they are all the exact same.

The first battle in the game is in Act 2 against Laughing Octopus, which is fairly interesting. The fight itself is pretty boring (basically a stand-up shootout for the most part), but what makes it interesting are Octopus’ hiding spots and mimicry attempts. You spend most of the “fight” trying to figure out where she is hiding, and there are lots of devious places where she does so. It seems that her spots are randomized every playthrough as well, so you probably won’t even see them all the first time you beat her – I know that she didn’t utilize at least a couple of hiding spots during this playthrough, so she was always keeping me on my toes. She can get fairly frustrating though on higher difficulties, as her tentacles can kill you in 2 hits and her rolling attack will knock off 75% of your health with very little time to get out of the way of it. I was getting really frustrated because the fight itself was proceeding very easily, but then she’d suddenly kill me out of absolutely nowhere due to these extremely high-damaging attacks. Still, it is a very unique encounter, and definitely one of the best bosses in the game.

Next up is the Act 3 battle against Raging Raven, which is pretty poor. Raven basically just strafes your position and fires her grenade launcher every once in a while. She’s also quite a bullet sponge – I went through all of the ammunition in my M4 twice just to kill her Beast form. The only real test is avoiding getting blown off of the roof by her grenade launcher (which is totally random) and spotting her in the first place (she is surrounded by Sliders, which resemble her quite a bit). As a result, the battle boils down to “shoot her until she dies, and don’t get shot yourself”, which is just boring. It also doesn’t help that she has a really annoying personality, as she spends the whole fight yelling “RAGE! RAAAAAAGE!!!” over and over again. She must have taken some lessons from Khorne.

One of the best boss battles in the game is the sniper duel between Snake and Crying Wolf out on the Shadow Moses snow fields in Act 4. This battle is clearly meant to homage Snake’s second battle with Sniper Wolf, but I personally think that it bests that battle in terms of its gameplay. For one thing, the shooting controls are so much better in this game that you can actually reasonably partake in a sniper duel without having to resort to nikita missiles to cheese your way through. In addition, the game’s graphics are better able to sell the idea of this being an epic showdown in the middle of a blizzard. To make matters even better, there are also FROGS present during the fight which are constantly hunting you down and the cold is constantly biting away at your stamina bar, making this a very tense battle. There are also some interesting twists, as Crying Wolf can catch your scent if you’re downwind, and she is only vulnerable if she exits her exoskeleton or if you shoot off one of her two grenades. All-in-all, it’s a very fun and tense sniper duel which not only successfully homages one of the great battles from Metal Gear Solid, but actually improves upon the battle itself.

Unfortunately, it is then followed up by a battle with Vamp shortly after, which is easily the worst boss battle in the whole game, and easily one of the worst in the entire franchise. Despite being a pretty awesome villain, Vamp spends the entire battle just hopping from platform to platform while you pump him full of bullets. Occasionally he’ll jump down and perform an easily-dodged attack or throw some knives at you, but these attacks come surprisingly rarely, even on Big Boss Hard. On subsequent playthroughs, this fight becomes even more of a joke if you manage to unlock the solar gun, which can one-shot Vamp. The only “challenge” in the fight is figuring out how to finish off Vamp. This is actually kind of an annoying puzzle as I’m sure I’m not the only person who had no idea that the syringe could be used in CQC. Once you are aware of this trick though, the fight becomes a joke.

However, this is shortly followed up by a Metal Gear REX vs Metal Gear RAY fight to cap off Act 4, which is awesome. It is moderately annoying for introducing a completely new control scheme and attack methods out of nowhere, which means that you’re probably going to die once or twice just getting used to handling REX. When you get the hang of it though, this becomes a really fun and unique battle that fulfills many a Metal Gear fan’s dreams.

The final Beauty and the Beast Unit battle is in Act 5 against Screaming Mantis, which is clearly just an extended Psycho Mantis homage. Unlike Crying Wolf, this battle is not nearly as good, both as a homage and just in general gameplay. The fight is essentially one long puzzle as you first inject yourself with the syringe and then try to shoot off Mantis’ dolls. The fight then ends once you use her doll to tear off her armour. It’s pretty simple, but the homages are overbearing throughout the fight – we’ve got the HIDEO 1 screen, Meryl trying to shoot you/herself and even an appearance by the spirit of Psycho Mantis himself, who ends up being the actual force behind the Beasts inexplicably (which tramples on his sorrowful death in Metal Gear Solid).

Finally, the game ends with a one-on-one fight fight between Snake and Ocelot on top of Outer Haven. Similarly to the REX vs RAY fight, this is reasonably annoying for introducing completely new gameplay concepts out of absolutely nowhere, playing more like a very simple fighting game rather than Metal Gear. It also fails to explain a very crucial strategy that is basically required to win the fight on higher difficulties, that you can hold triangle during a taunt to restore health. That said, the fight itself is extremely brutal and epic in equal measure as the franchise’s biggest hero and biggest villain settle their scores once and for all. Despite introducing completely new concepts to the franchise at the very last moment, it’s a fantastic battle and easily one of the greatest moments in the whole franchise.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
More than any previous Metal Gear game, the enjoyment that one will get from Guns of the Patriots is tied heavily to their previous investment in the franchise’s story. This is because Kojima has very intentionally tried to wrap up all of the series’ dangling plot threads which, if you are a fan, is an extremely daunting task. As a result, Guns of the Patriots is very much a fans-only release. I can remember when the PS3 was still early in its lifecycle and a co-worker asked if there were any good games out for it yet. I wanted to say Guns of the Patriots, but I knew that if they hadn’t played any (or ideally all) of the previous games before then they would be absolutely lost. However, if you are a fan, then Guns of the Patriots is arguably the best ending that anyone could have asked for. Miraculously, it manages to wrap up the franchise’s numerous storylines very definitively and in a very satisfying manner. In fact, it manages this so well that it actually makes the stories of previous Metal Gear games stronger in retrospect (in particular, it makes Sons of Liberty actually make sense). This is even more of a miracle when you remember that the franchise was put together piecemeal during each new game.

The game’s main theme is supposed to be “SENSE”, but it is probably best described with the idea of a person’s “will” (dammit Kojima, stop trying to make a theme for your themes). This is most clearly demonstrated through the conflict between Zero and Big Boss, which sprang out of differing interpretations of The Boss’s will, and which ended up shaping the lives of countless people over the decades that the conflict boiled. It is quite symbolic that the history of Big Boss and The Patriots is explained by Big Mama (aka, EVA) inside of a church, with numerous allusions being made to religion. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, all religions are very much built upon a system which attempts to interpret the “will” of the god(s), prophet(s) or holy text(s) which comprise their belief system, which is then further interpreted by individuals. Any religious person can tell you that all religions are full of countless factions which form from people interpreting the “proper” will of their deity in different ways and with different levels of zealousness about the righteousness of their cause. The link between The Boss’s will and religious belief is very much intended to be a clear allegory.

Of course, both Zero and Big Boss failed to truly comprehend The Boss’s will. For Zero’s part, he believed in worldwide unity through total control, and idea which he attempted to pass on to his AI networks. However, the AIs were unable to properly interpret Zero’s will – they continued to try to maintain control until they realized that they could use war to achieve this end, which ended up plunging the world into the War Economy. This downfall actually mirrors the history of The Philosophers, whose own will to unite the world peacefully failed as soon as they passed their wills on to their children, which led to the Cold War. For his own part, Big Boss spends his life fighting to protect his own interpretation of The Boss’s will, but fails to truly understand her will until he is on his own deathbed. Ultimately, these opposing wills are used as ideologies from which conflict flows.

Guns of the Patriots also places a strong emphasis on the idea of the commodification of war. The game’s opening TV channel cinematics portray a world which is very strange, a world in which our sense of “morality” has been eroded to the point where a disembodied, cyborg head acts as a gameshow host, where war is an everyday part of peoples’ lives, and where private military corporations have their own super-flashy advertisements during prime time. The War Economy as presented in the game is a pretty fascinating concept, where most of the world’s militaries are outsourced to private contractors. Rather than fighting to further an ideology (or a “will”, you could say), they fight for nothing more than a profit. Rather than honing their skills over the course of a lifetime, soldiers now gain all of their skills from nanomachines, which suppress PTSD and prevent soldiers from committing war crimes. However, due to interference by The Patriots, the War Economy ends up becoming a driving force for the world’s finances, meaning that war is suddenly no longer an evil means to an end, but rather a driving force of the capitalist system. Already, in a lot of ways, war does have this sort of economic effect, although it isn’t exactly at the point where it is the driving power behind the entire worldwide economic situation. While it is presented in a sci-fi setting, it is very much a concept which has relevant parallels.

The manufactured necessity of war is something which seems to affect many of the characters very seriously. For example, when SOP’s emotion controls are suddenly taken away, the soldiers are suddenly confronted with all of the emotions they had experienced in combat, causing men to literally die as they get overloaded with massive amounts of PTSD. For them, war has been nothing more than a game until the reality of it all hits them at once (a statement obviously intended to parallel the players’ own experiences playing war games). The Beauty and the Beast Unit is also intended to tie into this – each of them were an innocent casualty caught up in the collateral damage of war which broke their psyche beyond repair. With so many conflicts spanning across the globe, it is implied that each of them is a direct product of the evils perpetuated due to the War Economy.

Interestingly, when Liquid hijacks the SOP system, many of the characters panic about what this will mean for the world economy, as his actions have unexpectedly led to the first global ceasefire in human history. The hypocrisy of these statements was really staggering to me, as world peace is a lofty goal which we could only hope to achieve in reality. When world peace comes with a dollar sign attached to it though, the world’s governments are thrown into a panic.

Guns of the Patriots also significantly expands on the concept of moral ambiguity which the series had been introducing ever since Sons of Liberty. A great number of the franchise’s villains are either exonerated or at least partially justified in their actions by the time that the game ends, while even the heroes are given shades of grey. The franchise’s most clear-cut evil villains, Big Boss and Liquid Ocelot, both end up being redeemed in the player’s eyes by the time that the credits roll, although their respective actions were still quite monstrous. Liquid Ocelot in particular is quite the enigma – over the course of his appearances, he is personally responsible for the deaths of countless individuals, but he also brings about a worldwide ceasefire and conspires to end the control of The Patriots and the War Economy. One could argue that he was making necessary sacrifices to reach an ideal ending which would save far more lives, although I would still argue that he is very much an evil man… just one who is far more sympathetic than we had been led to believe.

The identity of The Patriots also ties into this theme. Their identities actually caused a minor controversy back when this game came out. A lot of people have complained that it was completely ridiculous that the big villains of the entire franchise were the “comic relief” from Snake Eater, but I personally have the feeling that this was always intended to be the case. Between Portable Ops and the parallels shared between the downfall of The Philosophers and The Patriots, I actually think that the idea was to show that the people who founded The Patriots were good people who did so with the best intentions. However, the corrupting influence of unlimited power eventually turned them into monstrous individuals. Such an idea actually fits into the themes of Guns of the Patriots quite well. The only issue is that we lacked the context to really understand such an ideological shift (unless you played Portable Ops), but the foundations definitely seemed to be there to me.

The game also recontextualizes Solid Snake to make all of his “heroic actions” into unwitting actions which were allowing The Patriots to continue to dominate the world. Outer Heaven, Zanzibar Land and Shadow Moses were all intended insurrections against The Patriots by Big Boss/Liquid Snake, but Solid Snake was used as an unwitting tool to maintain their power. This twist actually works quite well and shows that Snake was never really in charge of his own destiny. You’d think that that twist would piss off some of the fans, but it seems to have been accepted fairly well.

In addition to its themes, Guns of the Patriots also has some great narrative moments which make it an absolute joy for fans to experience. The plot sets up a lot of “rules” early on (such as the exact methods required to break into The Patriots’ systems), which are then cleverly subverted using pre-established story elements from previous games. The game also has a ton of fantastic moments which rank amongst the best in the whole franchise, either due to their strong narrative impact and importance to the overall storyline, or just because they’re freaking awesome. For example, Raiden’s introduction as a cyborg ninja was so cool that it launched a whole game, the REX vs RAY fight is extremely awesome, as is Solid Snake’s final fist fight with Liquid Ocelot, and Snake and Big Boss’s final reconciliation at the grave of The Boss. The game also just has some great plot beats: for example, Act 3 culminates with a series of huge twists as Liquid brutalizes Snake, leaving him permanently maimed, Big Mama dies trying to save “Big Boss”, Liquid succeeds at gaining control of SOP, massacres a unit of US marines, and then leaves the supposedly insurmountable Patriots in a vulnerable position for the first time in the franchise’s history. It’s moments like this which really make Guns of the Patriots enthralling to experience (even if they are rather long-winded at times).

However, the game’s heavy emphasis on narrative does not come without problems. One of the more cringe-worthy elements is the excessive use of scatalogical humour early on in the game, generally based around Johnny “Akiba” Sasaki. In his introduction you literally find him shitting profusely inside of an iron drum (with his ass showing for comic effect). He then proceeds to shit his pants in the middle of a firefight, with his pants comically stained brown for the rest of the battle. There are also a few different instances where Snake can come across enemy soldiers pissing, including one instance where the soldier can actually piss on Snake. I’ll admit, these moments did make me chuckle from the ridiculousness of it all, but it’s not hard to argue that the game would probably have been better off without this, especially since it tries hard to make Johnny into a heroic figure later on.
Oh, and also you can tear this statue’s dick off if you touch it too many times.

The game also has more plot holes and inconsistencies than most other Metal Gear games do, mainly by the sheer nature of trying to tie up so many disparate storylines. For example, how the hell did Meryl, Jonathan and Ed not realize that Akiba had no nanomachines? Was it not strange to them that they couldn’t share their senses with them? Does this work like in MGO where they had to manually link with him to share SOP, but were left thinking that he just refused to link?

Also, there’s a really odd retcon where Raiden suddenly is changed to actually being a member of FOXHOUND serving under Roy Campbell, even though in Sons of Liberty he admits that he has never actually met The Colonel. It was always implied to me that he was being pulled around by AIs and that FOXHOUND was disbanded, but with this inconsistency we’re suddenly led to believe that Raiden might have actually been a legitimate FOXHOUND soldier, but one who never personally met Campbell, having to switch between the real one and an AI at times in all likelihood. It’s a confusing inconsistency, although the only really major one in the game thankfully.

The Solidus-Big Boss switcheroo in Act 3 was actually a pretty brilliant twist, but by the time it is revealed, it makes Big Mama’s sacrifice not make a lot of sense. Big Boss explains that she was aware of the switch, so when she leaped onto the fire to save the body, was she merely doing this for show? It’s possible (she did think that Ocelot was totally rogue at this point so she might have done so for appearances), but hard to justify. Similarly to Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf and Vulcan Raven sacrificing themselves pointlessly, it seems like this is a plot element Kojima wanted to introduce for impact and then involve in another twist long after the player would have forgotten the exact details.

Finally, the justification tying Shadow Moses back into the plot is quite clever, but it also doesn’t make a ton of sense. I mean, as the owner of a series of PMCs, couldn’t Liquid have afforded to just build his own railgun rather than go to the trouble of stealing REX’s? The game claims that the manufacturing and operation of WMDs, such as this railgun, are controlled by JD rather than SOP, but we also see that Crying Wolf fires a miniaturized railgun, so he clearly has the technology necessary to construct one. Furthermore, Liquid was the one who leaked the plans for REX to the public in the first place, so he clearly knows how to build a railgun for himself. Are you telling me that he lacks the funds and trust to get someone else to build one for him? Is he afraid of a Patriot agent infiltrating his manufacturing and putting an ID lock on the weapon? The fact that there are also nuclear weapons lying around on Shadow Moses is also kind of hard to believe, you would think that the US government would have done something about this long ago or at least put the island under guard once again. The only justification I can think of is that Liquid’s plans might have changed after Act 2, which prompted him to get a railgun and nuclear weapon at short notice. Don’t get me wrong, Guns of the Patriots concludes the franchise with aplomb, but it introduces a lot of plot conveniences in order to get there.

In addition to its plot holes and inconsistencies, Guns of the Patriots also features some rather stupid plot elements which drag it down somewhat. One of these is the half-assed attempt to demystify some of the magical elements of the franchise. Foremost amongst these is Vamp, whose abilities are handwaved away as being the result of nanomachines. This is supposed to make things make sense, but unfortunately it fails to explain how Vamp is able to walk around on water, pin down your shadows, super-jump or run on water (especially since injecting him with the syringe only removes his regenerative abilities, the rest of his powers still remain). It’s a failed plot device which ends up coming across as “Kojima’s midichlorians” in a lot of ways.

There’s also the moment which I have famously stated might be one of the stupidest narrative moments in the whole franchise where Raiden stops Outer Haven, a gigantic Arsenal Gear, with nothing more than his body… even though the ground he’s standing on his crumbling beneath him. It’s completely idiotic and the height of the over-the-top moments in the game. You can’t even justify it with “magic realism” or “sci-fi technology” either, because we’ve already seen Raiden struggling just to keep up with simple Gekkos – are you telling me that somehow he’s now able to hold back a gigantic battle fortress which previously wiped out multiple city blocks in Manhattan? Or what about the fact that the pier Raiden’s standing on his crumbling, to which he stabs his own foot, which somehow stops him from losing any ground? It’s just an idiotic moment which makes me shake my head every time I see it, especially because Raiden ends up surviving being crushed anyway, making the whole sequence absolutely pointless.

Series fans will be happy to learn that nearly every major character from the previous games makes an appearance or are at least referenced. The only exceptions are most of the characters from the first 2 Metal Gear games and, for some disappointing reason, Nastasha Romanenko. Foremost amongst the characters though is “Old Snake”, which is easily my favourite portrayal of Solid Snake. In fact, it is my personal opinion that Solid Snake never really came into his own until this entry. His advanced aging makes him very unique amongst video game protagonists, while also have some very major impacts on both the gameplay and the narrative. Ever since the end of Metal Gear Solid, Snake has been a force of optimism, but his advanced aging seems to have caused him to become disillusioned and somewhat of a nihilist. This is symbolized by Snake’s smoking throughout the narrative – people constantly chide Snake for smoking as it will one day kill him, but he doesn’t care as he knows he is going to die soon anyway.

Throughout his journey, Snake is focused simply on completing the last tasks he has been assigned before he dies. Initially, this starts with finally defeating Liquid once and for all, but as the plot progresses he realizes that he will have to end his own life. Having FOXDIE make a resurgence which will turn Snake into a walking biological weapon is a pretty great twist which makes the game’s nihilist tone in the early chapters hit harder. Snake has spent much of his life fighting back against the perception that he is not a person, but rather a weapon created in a lab, but this revelation simply escalates him to a literal weapon of mass destruction. Attempting to complete his final tasks takes a heavy toll on Snake. By the end of Act 3, he has become an absolute wreck pushing himself to the verge of death, but who simply fights because it is the duty he has assigned himself. As he states to Raiden, “We started this. And it’s our duty to finish it”. It’s only through sheer force of will that Snake is able to complete his missions, but he falters at the very end, finding himself unable to commit suicide.

Luckily, the timely intervention of Big Boss finally allows Snake the ability to reacquire his lost sense of optimism as he discovers that he will not become a living biological weapon anytime soon. Reintroducing Big Boss at this juncture was a rather insane decision, but luckily it works quite well. Especially considering that he really is the second “hero” of the series, it is very appropriate that he would get his proper conclusion in the series’ finale. As a result of this unexpected reunion, Snake and Big Boss both get their “happy” endings – father and son reconcile after spending much of their own lives trying to kill one another, while Big Boss orders Snake to spend the rest of his life in peace. This gives Snake one last purpose in life, to see the end of his era off and to help build a better future. This is symbolized by the fact that he stops smoking in the game’s post-credits sequence, having found something worth living for beyond his mission. It’s a very hopeful and fitting end for the series’ main heroes, both of whom finally find the rest that they had so long wished for.

Unfortunately, the series’ third protagonist, Raiden, really becomes insufferable in Guns of the Patriots. While he gets to pull off some insanely awesome action sequences, Raiden’s personality has regressed considerably from where it was in Sons of Liberty. I know that most fans think that Guns of the Patriots redeemed Raiden as a character, but personally I much preferred him in Sons of Liberty, especially by the ending. In this game, he is significantly whinier than he ever was before. Whereas Snake loses his optimism because of his own imminent death, Raiden loses his optimism due to Rose’s miscarriage and then his own inability to face the situation, which causes him to just run away from all of his problems. This actually just makes things worse, as he gets captured by The Patriots and turned into a cyborg, his original body reduced to little more than a jawless head and his spine. It’s a pretty disturbing fate, but one that Raiden wouldn’t have endured if he had been willing to just talk to Rosemary rather than run away from all of his problems.

Throughout the game, Snake tries to get Raiden to reconcile with Rosemary, but Raiden refuses to even acknowledge that she exists. He even attempts to volunteer for a couple different suicide missions in order to end his self-imposed “suffering”, to which Snake constantly tells Raiden to get some perspective. While Snake has no future, he insists that Raiden has a family and his youth to live for, but Raiden refuses to acknowledge either of these facts. When he gets crushed by Outer Haven, Raiden seems to momentarily realize that he does still love Rose, but this is immediately forgotten the next time that we see him as he tries to commit suicide again. Even in the ending when he finally reunites with Rosemary, he refuses to even acknowledge her presence until she tells him that she didn’t miscarry, that she still loves him and that they have a son. At this point, Raiden finally realizes that he has been a complete idiot for the past few years, and finally reconciles with his family, realizing that they are the most important thing in his life. If nothing else, at least this is a happy ending and we can assume that Raiden finally grows the hell up this time… right?

Liquid Ocelot also makes for a pretty great villain. This is mainly due to his importance to the series as a whole, which lends a lot of power to his portrayal. He’s a rather great, cackling, over-the-top villain who revels in theatrics. His chronic backstabbing disorder is also in full effect, with the rather insane revelation that his was merely faking being possessed by Liquid Snake’s arm in order to fool The Patriots into destroying themselves. It’s… pretty elaborate, but at least it’s better than psychic arms, right?

It’s also nice to see Meryl make a return, and she’s pretty damn badass. She doesn’t actually get to do all that much within the plot, as most of her actions end up getting foiled by the villains in one way or another, but she does have some great interactions with Snake and has a distinct presence within the story. She’s also super imposing – usually this sort of action heroine will be very conventionally beautiful and visibly incapable of actually winning a fight (see Waif-Fu), but Meryl is jacked. She could probably steal your lunch money if she wanted to.

On the flipside, the game introduces Akiba as a completely inept soldier, but then fails to convince us that he could possibly perform a 180 degree turn and suddenly become a super soldier. Meryl falls in love with him out of absolutely nowhere and then the two of them start gunning down FROGS in perfect synchronicity inside of Outer Haven in one of the corniest sequences in the entire game. Like, this just makes no sense from what we’ve seen of Akiba – he doesn’t just fall behind the others, he is also demonstrably an idiot, as he fails to turn the safety off his gun, alerts the PMCs to their position and nearly blows Snake’s cover at the Eastern Europe checkpoint. Having Meryl and Akiba get married is a pretty ridiculous conclusion to both of their storylines. Personally, I would have just been happier if Johnny Sasaski remained a goofy cameo-character rather than a full-blown major character of his own in this entry.

Oddly enough, Sunny Gurlukovich is probably my favourite new character, and is easily the best female character in the whole game. As those who played Sons of Liberty will know, she has a really tragic backstory as an orphan kidnapped by The Patriots who never actually met her mother. During the nights, she searches the Internet for information on Olga, hoping to finally understand the mother she never had. It’s actually rather heartwarming when she begins to bond with Naomi Hunter, as she finally gets a mother figure who she can share her interests with. She is also someone who has spent their life viewing the world through a computer screen, rather than experiencing life personally. This intimate knowledge of computers actually comes in handy, allowing Sunny to perform advanced technical feats, while also creating the virus which allows The Patriots to be destroyed while preserving modern society. As a result, The Boss’s will is finally accomplished and Sunny essentially becomes one of the biggest heroes in the entire franchise. By the end of the game, she finally steps outside of the Nomad and immediately makes friends with a foreign boy, despite the two of them not sharing a common tongue. She has a pretty fantastic character arc, especially considering that she’s only 7 damn years old and a secondary character within an action game!

Unfortunately, pretty much every other female character is severely mishandled in one way or another. Naomi Hunter is decent for her medical and scientific expertise, as well as her unclear motives which help to bring about the downfall of The Patriots. However, Kojima can’t help but make it so that she doesn’t know how to zip up her shirt, baring quite a bit of cleavage for pretty much the entire game. It’s not even just a single instance, she has a couple different outfits which are identical, and Kojima takes a few different opportunities to focus our attention on her cleavage. She also pulls off a pretty big dick move by getting into an intimate relationship with Otacon, despite knowing that she has terminal cancer and is going to die soon. She could have at least let him know… Ultimately, her death is quite sad, but I found that this is mainly because it makes Otacon sad, rather than because I felt bad for her in particular.

The rest of the female characters are worse. Rosemary is absolutely useless to the plot and feels like she was only brought back as a token reference and to let you use SIXAXIS to jiggle her breasts (seriously…). Her lying about miscarrying was also a MASSIVE dick move which causes Raiden no end of suffering. Mei Ling serves a similar role, basically just showing up to be sexualized by Akiba (who literally tries to grab her ass during a briefing). I mean, she’s a ship’s captain and seems to take the role very seriously, but Johnny still tries to grab her ass and stares at it the whole time they’re together. You could argue that this is just because Akiba’s an idiot, but Kojima has been trying to make him a big hero at this point, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense as something other than a supposedly “funny” gag. Big Mama also is kind of strange. For one thing, having an elderly woman baring her cleavage is actually quite progressive in some ways and doesn’t seem to be nearly as fan-service-y as many of the other questionable design decisions in the game, but her presence basically boils down to little more than an exposition dump and then fridging to drive the rest of the game onwards.

The Beauty and the Beast Unit is probably the absolute worst offenders though. They completely lack personalities outside of their one-dimensional emotion and it is very clear that they exist for little more than fan service, with any other considerations just tacked on after the fact. Their Beauty phases in particular are 100% fan service as they serve little purpose other than to pan the camera over the Beauties’ tits and asses in their skintight suits (and remember, these scenes were originally supposed to be of naked women). You can also take photos of the Beauties, in which they will actually pose for you if you wait long enough in the fight. Each of the Beauties is also based on a real-world supermodel, making it incredibly obvious that Kojima was just taking advantage of his position to hang out with models all day for his “work”. The game does try to get you to sympathize with them, but this does not occur until after you have defeated them, at which point Drebin will call and tell you a “bedtime story” (which tends to always follow the same lines). It’s pretty shameless and unfortunate, but the shitty portrayal of women throughout the game hardly sinks the entire package.

As for the other characters, Otacon is as great as ever, but he doesn’t really develop in any meaningful way. In fact, he basically rehashes the same character arcs that he has had in his previous 2 appearances. Campbell gets pretty similar treatment, being little more than an exposition-dropper throughout the plot until the very end, where it’s revealed that he protected Rosemary from The Patriots. It’s nice to see Vamp make a return as well, his brand of freakish, charismatic villainy is very welcome, even if his boss battle absolutely sucks. Finally, Ed and Jonathan, the other 2 members of Rat Patrol, receive absolutely no character development. As a result, when they almost die in Eastern Europe and reminisce with one another, I couldn’t have given less of a shit.

All-in-all, Guns of the Patriots has some great core gameplay and a great story which brings the franchise’s storylines to a satisfying conclusion. However, it doesn’t really gel together quite as well as many previous Metal Gear games did, with it being saddled with a ton of bloat, incredibly intrusive cutscenes which comprise about 2/3 of the total runtime and shakier design decisions. Fans will be sure to appreciate the plot details that these cutscenes introduce, but non-fans will find themselves lost within the first hour. As a result, Guns of the Patriots is a difficult game to properly score. As a big fan of the franchise, I really appreciate it and love how well it ties everything together, but I really have to stress that this game should be experienced by fans only.

9/10

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid – Portable Ops (2006)

Welcome back for part six of the Metal Gear retrospective. In this entry, we’re going to be covering Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. As the first canonical entry in the series on a portable system, would this rather ambitious game carry the signature Metal Gear gameplay over the PSP successfully? Read on to find out…

(Note, I did own a copy of this game for PSP and actually beat it 3 or 4 times on that system, but I have since sold my PSP and copy of the game. As a result, I would have bought the game for PS Vita, but Konami refuses to make it available for that system for some reason… likely due to some licensing agreement. Consequently, I was basically forced to use an emulator in order to play the game again, although this didn’t impact the review negatively. That said, if you can play this game on PSP or PS Vita, I would recommend it. The game is meant to be a mobile experience, and I found the emulator I used did not handle the game particularly well – the game seized up during a couple boss battles, almost to the point where I had to throw in the towel, and using the thermal goggles rendered the game unplayable.)

DEVELOPMENT
Prior to Portable Ops‘ release, Konami had already released two Metal Gear Ac!d games on the PSP which, while rather fun, played far differently than any main series game and were explicitly non-canon (in addition to the Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel which was released on the PSP as well). This all changed though with the announcement of Portable Ops, a game which promised to carry over the gameplay of the Subsistence re-release of Snake Eater, while also bridging the narrative gaps to make way for Guns of the Patriots. In fact, the game was largely sold on the idea that, in order to fully understand the plot of Guns of the Patriots, players would have to complete Portable Ops first. In interviews, many of the people involved in the game were quoted saying that Portable Ops‘ story would complete Snake Eater and lay the groundwork for the creation of Outer Heaven.

Portable Ops‘ development is also notable for being the first time that a canonical game in the franchise was directed by someone other than Hideo Kojima. The game was directed by Masahiro Yamamoto and written by Gakuto Mikumo, with Kojima serving as producer on the project. Kojima had wanted to have this sort of hands-off relationship with the Metal Gear series since the release of Metal Gear Solid, so I imagine that he found it refreshing to finally hand the reins to someone else for once while he focused his attention on Guns of the Patriots. In addition to being touted as a major piece of the franchise’s story, the game also saw the introduction of a number of new systems which would go on to become staples in the latter games in the series, while also borrowing heavily from Subsistence‘s multiplayer component, Metal Gear Online.

PLOT SUMMARY
Disillusioned after the events of Operation Snake Eater, Big Boss retires from the FOX Unit to do some soul searching and to understand why The Boss sacrificed herself in shame. However, shortly after, the rest of the FOX Unit goes rogue. They capture a secret Soviet Missile Base in the San Hieronymo Peninsula, Columbia, and then transport a captive Big Boss there. A FOX officer named Cunningham tortures Snake, revealing that only half of the Philosopher’s Legacy was secured during Operation Snake Eater. He suspects that Snake is in possession of the other half. However, Snake has no idea where it is, and is left in a prison cell next to Roy Campbell, a Green Beret who was the sole survivor of a team sent to investigate the base. The pair manage to escape and try to contact Major Zero to find out what’s going on. However, SIGINT and Para-Medic inform them that Zero has been arrested, that Big Boss is suspected of instigating the rebellion in the first place and that the government believe that he stole a prototype weapon. In order to clear his, and Zero’s, names, Snake must find and defeat the leader of the rebellion, a mysterious, charismatic figure known as Gene.

Snake and Campbell begin recruiting disillusioned soldiers on the peninsula into a resistance force. Soon after though, it is discovered that Roy Campbell has contracted malaria, and that it has probably been passed on to other soldiers in their fledgling army. They begin searching for drugs to treat the infection, and in their search discover the leader of the rebellion, Gene, who has supernatural charisma. He is also accompanied by a young and powerful psychic named Ursula. In his search for the malaria treatment, Snake encounters Ursula’s twin sister, Elisa, in a research lab. She is overseeing a culture tank containing a comatose figure, who she refers to as “the Perfect Soldier”, code-named Null. She gives him the malaria treatment and then tells him to head towards the harbour to find the weapon that Gene plans on using to launch nuclear missiles at Russia. When he arrives in the harbour, Snake discovers spare parts for some sort of armoured vehicle. He is contacted by a mysterious informer calling himself “Ghost”, who reveals that the prototype weapon is a nuclear tank capable of launching multiple nuclear missiles. Realizing how severe the situation is, Snake and Campbell decide to discover the whereabouts of this Metal Gear before Gene can complete it.

Campbell decides that, rather than destroying Metal Gear, they might be better off just keeping Gene from being able to equip it with any nukes. They discern the location of the Soviet warhead storage facility and attempt to destroy the elevator which transports nukes to the main floor. However, Snake is stopped by a FOX Unit soldier named Python. Snake and Python had been friends during the Vietnam War, but Snake had thought Python was killed in the conflict. In truth, he had been severely wounded, losing his ability to regulate his body temperature and had to be outfitted with a liquid nitrogen suit to keep his body from killing itself. He reveals that the CIA kept him alive to use him as an anti-Snake – if they ever decided that Big Boss was too much of a threat, Python would be deployed to slay Snake himself. After all the evil he has been forced to commit, Python hopes that killing Snake will finally bring him redemption. After an intense battle, Snake overcomes Python, who cautions Snake that soldiers can only find redemption in serving a hero for whom they will gladly risk their lives. He also reveals that they were too late, and that the nukes have already been transported out of the base, leaving them with no option but to destroy Metal Gear itself to prevent the launch. Snake is able to determine the location of the warhead silo, but is attacked by Null. The pair fight, with Null commenting with shock that Snake has survived far longer than any other target he has been assigned to kill. Before they can complete the fight though, they are interrupted by Cunningham, who forces Null to stand down involuntarily and captures Snake.

After losing contact with Snake, Campbell rallies their forces and begins a search for the whereabouts of their captured commander. They discover that he is being held prisoner at a guest house. Gene speaks with Snake privately, revealing that the CIA has orchestrated the whole rebellion and capture of Metal Gear. With the Soviet Union’s economy in shambles and losing its military superiority, the United States would soon have dominance and the CIA’s role would be diminished. In order to shift back the balance of power, the CIA would give the Soviet Union Metal Gear to keep the threat of nuclear destruction intact. However, he makes it clear that he does not intend to honour the CIA’s intent and will use their patronage to create his own nation of soldiers. Gene continues, stating that he was modelled after The Boss, designed to be the ultimate leader to command the perfect soldier, Null. However, despite having his memories reset, Null cannot forget his encounter with Snake and demands to be allowed to complete his mission and kill him.

Some time later, Elisa confronts Snake in his cell. She warns Snake that Gene is undergoing the final preparations to launch Metal Gear. She tells him where Metal Gear is located and confesses that she has seen a vision of him destroying Metal Gear… although Ursula has also warned that she has seen him plunging the world into chaos. Soon after, Snake is freed by his men, but they are confronted by Cunningham. He demands the location of the legacy, telling him that the Pentagon told him that Snake had it. After shooting two of Snake’s men, Elisa arrives in a truck and rescues Snake and his comrades. When Snake asks why she would betray Gene, she says that she cannot support someone who would use nuclear weapons. Her parents were killed in a nuclear accident in Kyshtym, and she and Ursula gained their psychic powers in the aftermath, but had been rendered infertile. Snake admits that he is infertile as well, having been exposed to radiation at Bikini Atoll.

Elisa leads Snake to the plant where Metal Gear is being held. They sneak in and are about to destroy it before Gene confronts them. Gene reveals his “trump card” and tells Ursula to awaken. Elisa begins to convulse and Gene explains that Ursula and Elisa are two split personalities. Snake is unable to stop her in time, and Ursula takes control of Metal Gear RAXA. By taking advantage of its weak legs and exposed missile launch pods, Snake manages to take Metal Gear RAXA down, distraught that Elisa is seemingly killed in the blast. However, Ghost reveals that RAXA was not the true nuclear-equipped Metal Gear, but merely a proof-of-concept. Ghost reveals himself to be Sokolov, who was contracted by the CIA to create Metal Gear, but who had a change of heart when he realized that Gene would fire it at the Soviet Union. Snake sees the real Metal Gear being flown away by helicopter and tries to kill Gene. However, Gene uses his charismatic powers to fill his men with extreme paranoia, causing them to begin firing at one another wildly. Snake tries to stop them, but it is in vain. Snake is nearly killed, but is saved by the sacrifice of one of his soldiers – Jonathan, the first soldier who he recruited. Snake cries out in anguish as he is surrounded by the bodies of his dead comrades.

Realizing that time is short, Snake moves out to stop the real Metal Gear from be deployed. In the process, he is confronted by Null again, who Snake recognizes as a young child soldier who he rescued four years ago in Mozambique named Frank Jaeger. After defeating Null a second time, it is revealed that The Philosophers had taken him and forced him into the Perfect Soldier project. Jaeger submits to Snake and joins his forces, having once again asserted control over himself.

Snake then enters the launch silo, where he is confronted by Cunningham. Cunningham reveals that he is not working for Gene, but rather The Department of Defence, who have been feuding with the CIA for years for dominance. Snake’s interference would force Gene to launch a nuke at Russia, at which point Cunningham would fire a Davy Crocket missile at the missile base, wiping out all evidence of the US’s involvement in the insurrection and ultimately forcing the US to bulk up their military rather than intelligence gathering. He offers Snake a chance to join with him, but Snake refuses, stating that he won’t live his life the way that The Boss did. Cunningham tries to stop him, but Snake kills him and continues on to Gene.

In the bowels of the missile launch silo, Snake confronts Gene. Gene reveals that he was aware of all the treachery between the CIA and the Pentagon, and that he was playing them along as well. Gene’s own plan was to launch the nukes at the CIA HQ in Langley and at the Pentagon in order to wipe out the remaining Philosophers and to supplant them with his own shadow organization, “Army’s Heaven”. As Gene attempts to launch Metal Gear, they are interrupted by Ursula, who survived the destruction of Metal Gear RAXA. She warns Gene that nuclear weapons are a force of evil which should never be utilized, but he stabs her in a flash of movement. She lies dying in Snake’s arms and states that one of Snake’s children would try to destroy the world while the other would save it. Snake and Gene then fight, with Snake coming out as the victor. A dying Gene gives Snake a microfilm containing the funding and data for his Army’s Heaven – he knows that Snake and he have similar ideas and that one day Snake will want to create a nation of his own.

With Gene dead, Snake moves to stop the launch of the rocket containing Metal Gear. He is unable to stop the countdown, but Sokolov reveals that they can only prevent disaster if they disable Metal Gear itself before it launches. Snake fires at Metal Gear, but fails to destroy it. However, the Soviet army and Snake’s own men begin firing at the Metal Gear with their own weapons. The rocket launches, but their combined fire damages the weapon in orbit, causing it to malfunction and cancelling the strike.

However, the Director of Central Intelligence, and secret member of the American Philosophers, hears about the launch and moves to go into hiding. Before he can do so, he is encountered by Ocelot, who kills him to gain information on the Philosophers’ members and the locations of the remaining funds from the Legacy. Ocelot states that he will eliminate the last vestiges of the Philosophers and they will create a new order to fulfill the Boss’s will.

In the aftermath, the incident is covered up. The official story is changed to claim that Snake had infiltrated the peninsula and destroyed the base himself, with no news of Metal Gear or the launch being revealed. Snake and his army are then brought together to officially create the FOXHOUND unit.


GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Despite attempting to be a handheld version of the classic Metal Gear gameplay, Portable Ops differs greatly from its predecessors in a number of ways. For one thing, the game’s engine is built on a modified version of the one used for Metal Gear Online in Subsistence. With the game’s open arena-based maps, variety of playable characters, squad-based gameplay and online mode integration, the game actually feels like it has more in common with MGO than it does with a traditional Metal Gear experience at times.

Despite feeling quite different than previous Metal Gear games, Portable Ops would go on to provide a blueprint for future games in the franchise, as it introduces a number of key systems. Foremost amongst these is the recruitment and base management metagame which provides one of the key play objectives throughout the entire run time of the game. Players are given the ability to capture enemy soldiers, recruit them to their force and then assign them to specialties or send them out on missions. While this system is just as addictive as in its successors, it suffers in retrospect by being the unrefined progenitor of the concept. In order to recruit in Portable Ops, the player has to drag unconscious soldiers back to a truck in the far corner of the map, or they had to find a squadmate in a cardboard box and get them to do the rest of the work. Add in the fact that unspecialized soldiers drag enemies painfully slowly and that every step you take lowers your stamina bar, and you can see how this way of handling recruitment swiftly becomes tedious, time-consuming busywork. After having played through far more refined versions of this system, the way that Portable Ops handles recruitment is more painful than it was at release, but it always was an inconvenient necessity, considering the rewards that recruitment brings about. Plus, for those who don’t want to mess around with dragging soldiers around, players were also given the chance to use the PSP’s wi-fi capabilities to detect unique access points to get new soldiers. I remember it being quite exciting to go on road trips into the city with my family and then furiously tapping the O button whenever an access point would flash by, earning myself a potentially unique and skilled soldier in the process.

While recruitment and base management is the key system that Portable Ops introduces, the game also features a few other aspects that later games would adopt. One of these is the menu-based mission structure, where the player picks missions from an interface. All previous Metal Gear games had played out on a linear map, where the player is always funneled from point A to point B to progress (often with plenty of backtracking to go along with it). This allows for more player freedom in choosing where to go next. While there are always required missions to advance the story, players are able to revisit any unlocked maps in order to recruit soldiers and acquire items. The game also includes R&D-based weapon and item development via the base management metagame, allowing for players with strong bases to avoid having to procure all of their supplies through on-site hunting. The game also has a very rudimentary day-night cycle similar to Metal Gear Solid V, although in this game it does not seem to have any actual in-game effect, aside from allowing your soldiers to recuperate after missions.

One really interesting idea that I really like in this game is that you can use specialized soldiers to infiltrate enemy bases, potentially incognito if you play in an inconspicuous manner. While Portable Ops‘ successors would allow the player to play as characters other than Snake if they wished, I never really found that there was much of an incentive to do so. In Portable Ops, playing as other soldiers is both mandatory and beneficial in many instances – Snake deploys into a mission with 3 other squadmates who can be swapped with at almost any point while undetected. If you select your squad with even a modicum of tactical thought, these squadmates will have special abilities which make them capable of actions which Snake is unable to complete (although Snake is always going to be your best all-round character). For example, “rescuers” are essential for retrieving downed enemies and reducing the tedium of recruitment, whereas “delivery men” are super useful since they can send items back to your base.

Also, if a soldier’s character model is identical to the type of enemies patrolling the map, then they will be able to walk among enemy forces undetected. On the one hand, it fits rather well in the game’s recruitment and infiltration systems and helps to incentivise the use of squadmates. On the other hand though, this can kind of break the game and make things ridiculously easy if you abuse this system. The conditions to remain inconspicuous are incredibly arbitrary though. Bump into someone? That’s an alert. Walking slowly? That’s an alert. Climbing a ladder? You better believe that’s an alert (and you will immediately get shot at and have them radio in backup to take you down, you ladder-climbing terror you!). However, you can run around with your gun out and no one’s going to bat an eye at you. Hell, it’s even really strange that different soldier types will somehow realize that you’re an intruder, while enemies identical to you won’t realize that you’re not supposed to be there. I’m pretty sure that these harsh, arbitrary penalties were put in there just to keep the incognito system from being broken, but this is just lazy design in my opinion. Something more akin to a Hitman‘s disguises would probably have been preferable, since having enemies immediately open fire on you for the most innocent of offenses is just ridiculous.

One other new addition that I really want to give a shout out to though is the surround indicator. This element of the game’s interface provides an abstraction of all the sounds being made in Snake’s vicinity, showing those made by him and those by others in the environment, while also pointing out their directions and their intensities. The indicator is incredibly simple, basically being little more than two concentric circles, but it is incredibly intuitive and, I would argue, the best designed radar system in the entire franchise. It doesn’t give you too much information like the earlier Metal Gear games arguably did, and it isn’t useless like the radars in Snake Eater. Rather, it is a fantastic tool to get a good bearing on immediate dangers and provides a rough indicator of when it’s time to start sneaking to avoid making too much noise.

The surround indicator is more than just good design though, it is basically a necessity due to the hardware of the PSP… which brings us to the beginning of the problems with Portable Ops. The decision was made early on in the game to carry over the 3D camera from Subsistence to Portable Ops, but I think this was probably a mistake. Due to the hardware’s lack of a second analog stick, control of the camera is mapped to the system’s D-pad by default, which is on the same side as the thumb stick. As a result, adjusting the camera is only really feasible when Snake is stationary, making playing the game a series of stops-and-starts as Snake tries to take in his surroundings, which obviously slows down the gameplay. The game seems to compensate for this by giving enemies ridiculously small vision cones, requiring you to be around 15-25m away before they’ll even notice you running around right in front of them. Portable Ops might have been better served with the series’ traditional isometric camera and with gameplay a little more similar to the original Metal Gear Solid, although I wonder if the PSP’s limited screen size would have made this viewpoint too zoomed out to adequately discern Snake and enemies from the background. In any case, the game’s camera system is just the first of the game’s failings to properly adapt to the hardware.*

Even worse though are the game’s first person aiming controls, which are incredibly imprecise. Like Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater, headshots are king in Portable Ops. However, lining them up is extremely difficult, mainly due to the limited range available with the PSP’s thumb stick. In order to pull off a headshot, you’re probably going to need to fiddle with your aim, compensating and overcompensating as you struggle to line up their head… and this is if they are stationary. If they’re moving, then good freaking luck hitting them in the head. Eventually, you learn to compensate by locking onto targets at a distance and then lining up the shot vertically, but again, if the enemy moves during this then your odds of hitting drop significantly. This also has the knock-on effect of making sniper rifles practically worthless since they can only be aimed and fired in first person mode, so you can’t even attempt the lock on. Third person aim is significantly better due to the game’s dependable lock-on auto-aim system, but even then it is somewhat crippled by insanely high bullet deviation when you fire automatic weapons, necessitating tap fire to even have a chance of dropping someone quickly. As a result, shotguns ended up being my weapon of choice against infantry since they one-shot most enemies and will send their bodies flying into anyone else in the area. The shooting controls were definitely my #1 frustration in playing the game, although admittedly you do get a little bit better with them as time goes on. I ended up relying on CQC whenever possible, as it is a far more reliable system to take down enemies.

The hardware also limits the game in other areas. Live action cutscenes are almost completely eliminated in favour of animated ones, with Ashley Wood contracted to use the same art style as the Digital Graphic Novel. These scenes are well done and competently voice acted, which puts them miles above what few live action cutscenes are in the game. These scenes basically consist of static camera angles of motionless character models while text scrolls by. The game lacks voice acting outside of the animated cutscenes, with the exception of a few grunts and radio calls. As a result of these hardware limitations, the game feels significantly less cinematic than the other Metal Gear Solid titles.

Also worth noting are the game’s graphics. The game actually looks fairly impressive, especially its character models. Being based on the Metal Gear Online engine, it seems that the development team reused quite a few assets from Snake Eater, as the characters look almost identical to their PS2 counterparts. However, the environmental textures are far worse in comparison – most environments feature low-detail textures mapped onto flat polygons which resemble graphics somewhere between PS1 and PS2-levels of quality. This isn’t a major issue by any means, especially in comparison to the hardware limitations I have already listed, but it is interesting to note now that we’re almost a decade removed from this game’s release.

In spite of these issues, it is nice to see that the Metal Gear emphasis on stealth gameplay is preserved. The awkward controls kind of necessitate this, as does the recruiting metagame, but there are some other in-game reasons to avoid full-on shootouts. For one thing, recruited squadmates can die permanently, making confrontations extremely ill-advised. Also, if enemies radio in for backup, then the tide of enemies can be just plain relentless unless you run and hide. I’ve hidden inside a building and then fought off seemingly endless waves of respawning enemies who kept checking the last point of contact, stopping me from lazily waiting out the alert phase from my not-so-secure hiding spot. However, some of the stealth gameplay is undermined by the baffling decision to allow you to achieve mission objectives if you’re under full combat alert. The objectives don’t exactly help this matter, as almost every single mission revolves around getting from Point A to Point B without dying. Being able to just run for the goal, even if it is literally surrounded by enemies, really doesn’t fit in the with the otherwise stealth-oriented design ethos, and the limited mission variety doesn’t help either.

Moving onto the boss battles, it’s actually rather surprising how many boss battles Portable Ops provides, although they are all rather simplistic and a bit of a mixed bag. The main problem is that each boss encounter boils down to a very easy, exploitable pattern which gets looped throughout the whole fight, so once you figure out the pattern then you can beat them with relative ease. The battles against Python, Metal Gear RAXA and Cunningham are all quite fun and similar to traditional Metal Gear bosses, with some sort of twist and/or exploitable weak point to keep the battles reasonably interesting. However, Null and Gene are both rather poor fights, which is especially egregious since they’re hyped up as the primary antagonists (and you have to fight Null twice).

Null is simultaneously extremely easy and frustrating at the same time: basically all you have to do is hide and let him walk towards you while firing his SMG three times until he reloads, at which point you have about one second to pop out, lock onto him and then shoot. If you miss this one second, then too bad because he blocks every incoming shot and is immune to CQC (in fact if you try to initiate CQC, he’ll stab you and do quite a bit of damage in the process). You can’t even try to get a height advantage on him because he’ll do a super jump to get to the same height as you, so basically all you can do is run in a circle from cover to cover. Oh and he takes around 10 shots to bring down, making this fight drag longer than it needed to. It’s not a particularly testing fight, nor is it fun.

Oh, and it bears a special mention that the voice actor for Null puts in an extremely bad performance, arguably the worst in the entire franchise. His actor sounds extremely monotone whenever he speaks, making all of his lines sound like awkward PS1 Resident Evil-era levels of hilarity. When you start damaging him during the battle he’s supposed to react with surprise that someone is actually breaking his defences, but the voice actor responds with a half-hearted “…what?” You could argue that this might have been intentional, that they want to emphasize Null as a blank slate, but I’m not really buying it. There are ways to play an inhuman figure and make it clear that that is your intention without sounding like you accidentally wandered into the recording booth when all you really wanted was a Big Mac and a side of fries with a Coke, please.

Gene on the other hand is just underwhelming. He’s immune to most attacks so you end up just having to wait for his openings and then damage him. He has a really annoying super voice attack though which drains your stamina at an alarming rate, with no way of avoiding it. Your only hope here is to get into CQC range of Gene and then hit him to stop the attack, but by then he will likely have drained your stamina significantly. You’re likely only going to survive 1 or 2 hits from this attack, so it makes the fight much more difficult than it actually should be – I was getting through the fight with ease and managing my health well, but suddenly would end up getting stamina-drained and have to restart. I suppose you can counter this by bringing rations, in which case the fight is going to be laughably easy.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
Despite Konami’s insistence that Portable Ops is a key part of the Metal Gear saga, by the end it becomes pretty clear that it is largely inconsequential. In fact, its canon status is rather murky, and it might only be considered “canon, except when it isn’t”. The game has a very standard, familiar Metal Gear story set-up: an elite special forces unit goes rogue, steals a classified, high-tech weapon from the US military and plans on using this as leverage to establish their own military nation. This is basically the exact plot outline of every Metal Gear game up until this point, although it is also the last one which fits so easily into that description.

More than any other Metal Gear game, Portable Ops really leans on the rest of the franchise to justify its importance within the story. At its core, Portable Ops boils down to an explanation for the origins of various characters and ideas which will become consequential later in the franchise, and also picks up a couple loose threads from Snake Eater. As you can probably imagine, this makes Portable Ops‘ story feel very much like filler rather than a self-contained narrative arc. One of the big problems that this creates is what I would like to dub the “George Lucas cameos”, where a number of characters from previous games in the franchise are given their “introduction” in Portable Ops just for the sake of putting in familiar faces. Now an “origin story” of sorts isn’t an inherently bad idea, but the way that the game handles these characters is hamfisted at best. First of these is Roy Campbell, who is introduced within the first few minutes of the game as Snake’s second in command. Having Campbell here doesn’t really serve any real greater purpose other than for the game’s writers to wink and nudge at us and say “hey, remember him?” over and over again. Of all the cameos, this is probably the least problematic, but it is clearly forced and just makes the game’s universe feel that much smaller.

The introduction for Frank Jaeger/Gray Fox/Null is considerably worse though, as it messes with the established canon in quite a few ways. Most egregiously, in establishing Null as “the Perfect Soldier”, they’re effectively making it so that Jaeger was always a super-soldier, even before he was transformed into a cyborg ninja. Again, this feels a lot like a wink and nudge at the audience as they reference a fan favourite character. This cheapens Gray Fox in my eyes and is clearly writing backwards from where Jaeger is going to end up, rather than writing him as a regular character who tragic things will one day befall. Isn’t it more impactful for him to be psychological broken down by Dr. Clark’s experimentation in Metal Gear Solid, rather than just have this as his default state? Now if they had introduced Frank Jaeger as a child soldier and had Big Boss interact with him in that kind of setting, without having it become super intrusive to the story, I could get behind that kind of introduction. In fact, I was waiting for Peace Walker or The Phantom Pain to go in this direction to show Big Boss’s relationships with soldiers such as Sniper Wolf or Running Man, but this was an unfortunately missed opportunity in the Metal Gear prequels.

Oh and the game also reintroduces Sokolov. If that sentence felt really shoehorned and poorly set-up then congratulations, you now know how the Sokolov twist is handled in Portable Ops. There are a couple calls from “Ghost” in the story, but Sokolov shows up in the middle of a deluge of plot twists and then is immediately forgotten. I mean, having him “die” off-screen in Snake Eater was always ripe for a twist, but Portable Ops fails to mine the shock that this revelation could have. One second, Sokolov reappears in the flesh, reveals that he was forced to build Metal Gear, and then is completely gone from the plot. While I imagine that they could have actually factored him into the plot fairly well, his appearance ends up amounting to little more than a George Lucas cameo where he pops in and says “hello, I’m still alive!” and then buzzes off to be placed in your R&D team for the rest of the game.

Portable Ops doesn’t just callback to previous characters in the franchise haphazardly, it also tries to provide the origins for a number of concepts and narrative elements from later games. Admittedly, it achieves these goals with more success than it does in integrating previous characters though. The first of these elements is explaining what happened to the missing half of the Philosopher’s Legacy, one of the big plot twists at the end of Snake Eater. While it isn’t the game’s central mystery, it does play a very important role in the plot and the players are reminded fairly regularly by Cunningham, for whom solving this issue is his primary motivation.

This game is also meant to serve as the origin of the FOXHOUND unit, as the ending heavily implies that Big Boss’s guerrilla army is reorganized and integrated as a part of the US special forces. In my opinion though, this isn’t a really satisfying explanation for the unit’s origins. I can’t really see the military taking in a private guerrilla army and maintaining its organization while absorbing it into their forces… not to mention that this will mean that the FOXHOUND unit is built up of Soviet soldiers and individuals from the treasonous FOX unit.

Gene’s plans are also really obviously meant to parallel/retroactively-foreshadow Big Boss’s own future. Gene’s whole plan revolves around establishing an independent nation for soldiers, while using information control to ultimately take control of the world. This plot point is an extremely transparent callback to the first two Metal Gear games, although at the time Gene’s plans would have provided Snake with enough inspiration to one day follow in his footsteps… if only the Metal Gear series ended with Guns of the Patriots, that is. Considering that Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain both explored Big Boss’s journey to creating his own military nation in far more detail and in more interesting ways, Portable Ops‘ story ends up feeling even more peripheral and well-trodden in retrospect.

Arguably the most important plot filler that Portable Ops provides though comes at the game’s very ending and is only tangentially related to the main story. As Gene attempts to launch Metal Gear at the Pentagon and CIA headquarters, a major coup occurs as the head of the Philosophers tries to go into hiding. However, he is ambushed by Ocelot as part of a plan spearheaded by Major Zero. As a result, Ocelot and Zero get ahold of the Philosopher’s Legacy, thereby dissolving the Philosophers and providing themselves with the funding necessary to establish the Patriots. I have heard quite a few complaints regarding the “twist” about the identity of the Patriots in Guns of the Patriots, and while the ending of Portable Ops doesn’t really go the whole way to showing how Donald Anderson, Para-Medic and Major Zero became such morally questionable people, it does help to establish this plot point (and is likely the exact “key piece” of the franchise story which Kojima had been referring to in the pre-release hype).

As a direct sequel to Snake EaterPortable Ops carries over a lot of thematic elements from that game as Snake continues to wrestle with the aftermath of that game’s events. Foremost amongst these is the central struggle about why a soldier fights and where his loyalties lie. While this is definitely runs the risk of retreading Snake Eater all over again, Portable Ops gets away with it by having Snake be forced confront his own feelings on The Boss’s words, while forming his own views on this idea. At the beginning of Snake Eater, Snake believed that soldiers’ loyalty was meant to lie with their nation and nothing more. However, by the time that he is forced to assassinate The Boss, he has clearly begun to have second thoughts about the morality of such an outlook. This is further explored in Portable Ops as the entire incident is sparked by petty internal politics between the CIA and the Pentagon, with both organizations putting acting amorally and using soldiers as disposable pawns in order to maintain their relevancy.

There is a really big moment near the end of the game when Cunningham confronts Snake for the final time. Cunningham insists that Snake doesn’t need to stop Gene because The Pentagon wants him to launch a nuke at Russia in order to stoke the fear of war and increase defence spending. Snake refuses the offer and insists that he must stop Gene and Cunningham if need be because it is the moral action. He states that he refuses to live his life the way that The Boss did, selflessly in service of the mission. What this ultimately signifies is a major character development, as Snake had previously venerated The Boss’s teachings. Faced with the corruption of government bodies, Snake has come to the realization that if his nation commits evil, then he will act against their interests in advancement of the moral good. As a result, Snake fights for what he believes in and his loyalties lie with himself and his comrades. This is also made especially clear in the game’s theme song, “Calling to the Night”, which I would argue might be the absolute best theme in the entire franchise.

Perhaps the most impressive use of this theme is the fact that it is actually central to the gameplay thanks to Portable Ops‘ recruiting system. All of the soldiers that you recruit in the game are effectively nationless already and are looking for something greater than themselves to fight for.** As a result, it is the leadership methods of Gene and Big Boss are pitted against each other in the narrative on a number of occasions. One of the biggest moments in the game sees is when Snake faces Metal Gear RAXA. Gene forces Snake to face Ursula/Elisa and believes that she is killed in the blast. Distraught, he attempts to take Gene into custody, but Gene reveals that Ursula was just a pawn that he was using to distract Snake long enough for him to secure the real Metal Gear. As if willingly sacrificing his closest servant wasn’t enough, Gene then uses the power of his voice to trick his own men into firing at one another wildly as a distraction in order to escape, while Snake desperately tries to stop them.

This also shows the other side of this theme as Snake’s soldier Jonathan throws himself in front of a bullet heading towards Snake and is killed. While Snake fights for himself and the greater good, this causes his men to want to fight and die for him. This is also demonstrated in the section of the game where Big Boss is captured and you have to play as some of these recruited troops in order to rescue him. While Gene touts himself as the ultimate battlefield commander, Big Boss’s natural leadership qualities and sense of morality allow him to come out victorious in the end. The game’s ending sequence sees Big Boss attempting to take down Metal Gear, but not having the firepower necessary to keep it from launching. However, his demonstrated selflessness inspires his and Gene’s soldiers to join with him, and their weight of fire is eventually enough to take down Metal Gear. Ultimately, Big Boss is able to prevail because he values the lives of his soldiers, whereas Gene views them all as little more than pawns to bring about his ultimate vision, making him more like the corrupt government institutions which Snake turns his back upon by the game’s end.

Moving on to some final notes, I’d like to touch on some of the game’s characters briefly. While their battles might not be much to write home about, the game’s bosses generally have quite interesting backstories and personalities. Python would fit right at home in pretty much any Metal Gear game with his very sympathetic history and tragic relationship with Snake. He also happens to look just like Pinhead from Hellraiser, which is just a bonus. I also really liked Cunningham – he doesn’t have much depth to him and he’s a huge asshole, but in such a way that you really look forward to the day when you’re going to introduce his face to a rocket launcher. As far as thug enemies go, I really liked Cunningham’s inclusion. Gene isn’t really one of the more memorable antagonists in the franchise, but he does get a few moments where he reveals himself to be deliciously sinister.

Of all the new characters though, Elisa/Ursula is probably the best. As per Metal Gear tradition, she has a really tragic backstory which ties into anti-nuclear sentiment: her parents were killed in a nuclear power plant accident, and the resulting aftermath caused her to gain her psychic powers and led to her split personalities. The radiation also caused her to become infertile, which leads to a rather touching scene with Snake where he admits that the atomic testing at Bikini Atoll has left him sterile as well. Elisa is just an extremely likeable, helpful and sympathetic character throughout the game’s narrative. Due to the ways that the game ties Elisa and Snakes’ relationship together in the narrative, Elisa actually ends up feeling like a consequential figure in the franchise’s overarching story, despite the fact that she only really appears in this one game (and is certainly far more consequential here than Campbell or Sokolov ended up being). The only awkward aspect of her portrayal is that there are quite a few sex jokes directed at her (particularly in regards to her being underage). However, they really aren’t too bad and she doesn’t seem to mind all that much (in fact, she kind of participates in it by making a soldier think she is going to rape a captive Snake, and then using the opening to deliver him a message).

I also have to say that Portable Ops‘ story is arguably the worst sort of Metal Gear-convoluted. What I mean by this is that there are Metal Gear games where the game becomes convoluted over time as the story builds up (such as Snake Eater), and then there are others where the game becomes convoluted as plot elements are introduced and then immediately refuted (such as Sons of Liberty). Portable Ops is closer to the second category, as there are two huge plot twist dumps near the end of the game which nail the player with revelation after revelation. Probably the most egregious offender is when Gene reveals that the CIA has orchestrated the entire uprising, then Cunningham reveals that he works for the Pentagon and is betraying Gene and then Gene reveals that he knew that Cunningham was a traitor all along and that he’s going to launch a nuke at the CIA and Pentagon instead of Russia. Not only that, but there’s also a lot of boring busywork (such as the first 5 or 6 missions being based entirely on finding malaria drugs, or the multiple missions to blow up enemy vehicles). Possibly due to Kojima’s hands-off involvement, the plot just tends to be less intriguing compared to other Metal Gear games and, as you might be able to see in my analyses, is conceptually stupid in some ways (eg, the US government allowing Soviet soldiers and men who have committed treason to form the basis of FOXHOUND).

All-in-all, Portable Ops hasn’t aged particularly well. The shooting controls are incredibly frustrating, the missions are incredibly simplistic and the hardware in general just makes it a difficult game to acclimatize to. However, it is still pretty fun, ambitious, has a ton of maps to play within and some very fun core systems – even if they have been refined to a sheen in subsequent releases. That’s really the main problem, it doesn’t stack up very well in comparison to its successors, unlike other games in the franchise such as Snake Eater which are still masterpieces to this day. As a result, the game is a bit of a mixed bag to go back to and isn’t even all that consequential to the overall canon.

6/10

*This is in reference to the original PSP release only though. If you can get the game on PS Vita or on an emulator, then these are probably better ways to experience the game. Being able to map the camera controls onto a second analog stick make moving and controlling the camera a significantly more reasonable proposition, although the system is still quite clunky. Since the game was clearly not built to feature movement and free camera control, you’re going to be constantly fighting an auto-recentering camera.
**In this way, the recruiting system in Portable Ops has always made way more sense to me than it ever did in Peace Walker or The Phantom Pain. While it was more refined in those games, the narrative justification just wasn’t there.

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater (2004)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fifth canonical installment in the franchise, 2004’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater! After all of the controversy surrounding the release of Sons of Liberty, would Kojima manage to win the fans back with a back-to-basics prequel? Read on to find out…

(For this retrospective, I played the HD edition re-release on PS3. Unlike Sons of Liberty, there aren’t really any HD re-release issues worth noting, but I will comment on the improvements which were added in the Subsistence re-release. Also, this happens to be the Metal Gear game which I have the most familiarity with: I played the original PS2 version around 7 or 8 years ago, two different versions of the Subsistence re-release, the HD edition and even the PS Vita version as well… in fact, I think the 3DS version is the only release I haven’t played before. All told, I have beaten the game around 10 times total so I’d hope that this makes me a fairly knowledgeable source on this game.)

DEVELOPMENT
While Kojima has almost always made every Metal Gear game with the intention of not making another, he had actually intended for Sons of Liberty to be the last game in the franchise. With this entry, Kojima decided to go for a very different feel by setting the game in the jungle and far away from the enemy base. Perhaps due to the negative response over Raiden in the previous entry, Kojima elected to make the main character of Snake Eater be Big Boss, meaning that he could do whatever he wanted to in the game and that fans would be pacified by a character who resembles Solid Snake.

Snake Eater was originally planned to be a PlayStation 3 game, but the lifespan of the PlayStation 2 ended up being much longer than anticipated. As a result, the game was scaled down somewhat and made to function on PS2, which was quite the technical accomplishment – Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty were both such claustrophobic games because of technical constraints, so the fact that they were able to portray a lively jungle setting on PS2 hardware was astounding. In order to compensate, the game’s frame rate was slashed from 60fps to 30fps (ironically, this higher framerate would actually be restored when the game did hit the PS3 in the HD edition re-release). Many fans had also requested a fully-3D camera for Snake Eater, but Kojima decided to stick with the fixed, top-down camera in the game’s initial release. His reasoning was that this was a part of a “Metal Gear Solid trilogy” and felt that some consistency was required as a result. This would be the last game in the franchise (thus far anyway) to do so.

In early development, the game’s story revolved around the space race. This theme was ultimately scrapped, but elements of the Cold War space race still persist within the game’s story, between the origin of The Fury and The Boss’s secret attempt to be the first person sent into space. The game was also going to be set on August 24, 1963, Kojima’s birthday, but was pushed forward a year in order to incorporate JFK’s assassination. Kojima had also intended in include many more Cold War-era spy gadgets into the final story, but his team’s planned visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. was cut short due to the Beltway Sniper Attacks (a shooting spree that I can actually recall hearing about frequently as a 12-year-old child).

Snake Eater also had some interesting bonus additions which would only be available on the PS2 releases of the game. First of these is the Snake vs Monkey mini-game which crossed over the franchise with Ape Escape. There was also an easter egg dream sequence mini-game known as “Guy Savage” where you have to fight vampires, which was inexplicably removed from the game in subsequent re-releases.

Two years after the game’s initial release, an expanded version of the game was released called Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. The main difference to the main game is that the player can now choose between the fixed camera and a 3D interactive camera, which by itself was enough to warrant a purchase. In addition, the game also featured 1 or 2 bonus discs (depending on whether you bought the limited edition or not) which would not be present in later re-releases of the game. The first bonus disc (Persistence) featured the first incarnation of Metal Gear Online, plus it had an expanded version of Snake vs Monkey, a theater mode and full versions of the MSX Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (marking the first time that this game was available in North America). The second bonus disc (Existence) had a 3 hour version of the game’s cutscenes mashed together to create a miniature film version of the game’s events. The Subsistence release of the game would go on to be the basis of all subsequent re-releases and is widely considered the “definitive version” of the game.

PLOT SUMMARY
The year is 1964. FOX agent Naked Snake is parachuted into the Russian jungle (???) at Tselinoyarsk. Snake has been deployed by FOX commander Major Zero to undertake the “Virtuous Mission”: retrieve a Soviet weapons designer, Nikolai Stepanovich Sokolov, who tried to defect to America and is being forced to construct a weapon that could disrupt the balance of power in the Cold War. Snake is aided by a support team which includes Para-Medic, offering medical advice, and Snake’s former mentor, The Boss. Snake is surprised to discover that The Boss is advising him on the mission, especially since it had been 5 years since she had abandoned him without explanation.

After sneaking his way around KGB guards, Snake makes his way to Sokolov. Sokolov warns him that the KGB guards aren’t here to protect him from Snake – they’re here to protect Sokolov from a GRU colonel named Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin, who was planning to kidnap him and steal his new weapon in order to remove Soviet Premier Khrushchev from power and replace him with Brezhnev and Kosygin.

When Snake attempts to exfiltrate with Sokolov, they are ambushed by KGB guards. However, the guards are ambushed in turn by GRU Major Ocelot, who shoots them all dead. Ocelot then attempts to kill Snake and capture Sokolov for himself, but his gun jams after he attempts to show off, allowing Snake to easily neutralize him using CQC. Sokolov runs off during this and Snake pursues him back to a rope bridge. In the distance, they spot Sokolov’s weapon, the Shagohod, at the top of a nearby mountain. Sokolov explains that it is a tank capable of firing nuclear missiles, but is still in the testing phase.

Before the pair can exfiltrate, The Boss suddenly confronts them on the rope bridge, where she announces that she is defecting to the Soviet Union. Sokolov is captured by The Boss’s allies, The Cobra Unit, before Colonel Volgin himself arrives and demonstrates his mysterious electrical abilities. The Boss presents him with two Davy Crockett miniature nuclear missile launchers before he orders her to kill Snake. The Boss easily beats Snake in a short fist fight and then throws him off the bridge into a river below. Snake manages to survive though and patches up his wounds as Volgin, The Boss and Ocelot fly away with Sokolov, the Shagohod and Sokolov’s “lover”, Tatyana. Volgin then unexpectedly decides to fire one of the Davy Crocketts at Sokolov’s Design Bureau, despite protests from Ocelot. Volgin claims that, as far as the international community would be concerned, it was The Boss who pulled the trigger, and fires. The ensuing blast annihilates the design bureau as a wounded Snake takes shelter from the blast wave.

The game then picks up 1 week later. Snake has been in hospital recovering from the events of the Virtuous Mission, while he and the rest of his support team have been placed under arrest and are being suspected of treason. He receives a visit from Major Zero, who informs him of the situation that has unfolded since the mission failed. Premier Khrushchev has been in contact with President Johnson, blaming him for the nuclear attack. Johnson blames the attack on The Boss and Volgin, but Khrushchev demands some sort of proof in order to keep the Red Army from rebelling and seeking revenge on America. He requests that the US prove its innocence by assassinating The Boss and Volgin in order to keep the balance of power intact. The CIA chooses Snake to carry out the mission, threatening to execute both him and Zero if they fail to do so. With the KGB’s cooperation, it is also arranged that Snake will meet up with two former NSA code breakers who had defected in 1960, ADAM and EVA, who will offer him assistance during the mission. Para-Medic is also brought back to offer Snake support, while a weapons and technology expert, Sigint, is added to the team.

After just barely having enough time to recover, Snake is deployed into Tselinoyarsk once again via a supersonic drone. Snake moves to return to the abandoned factory where he found Sokolov in order to rendezvous with ADAM. However, Snake is intercepted by The Boss who greets him, disarms him with ease and then blows up the drone to alert the nearby guards. She warns Snake to abandon his mission or she will kill him the next time they meet. In spite of this, Snake continues onward anyway and awaits ADAM.

While waiting for ADAM, a woman on a motorcycle arrives and tells Snake that she is EVA, despite not knowing Snake’s passcode. However, when the GRU ambush Snake, EVA guns them all down, prompting Snake to take her at her word. She reveals that she is acting as a double agent within Volgin’s ranks, “Tatyana”. EVA provides Snake with a scientist disguise, a custom M1911 and a Mk22 tranquilizer pistol. The pair rest for the night in the factory, but in the morning they are alerted by approaching footsteps. Major Ocelot and his troops have surrounded the factory and are preparing to breach. Snake tells EVA to hide and then he proceeds to take out the Ocelot troops. In the process, Ocelot captures EVA and tries to kill Snake with his new revolver, but realizes that he has run out of bullets (he is used to 8-round clips). EVA breaks free and overpowers Ocelot, but he manages to escape. EVA tries to shoot him, but Snake stops her. EVA then takes her motorcycle and heads out to return to her role of “Tatyana” back in the research lab, Graniny Gorki.

Snake heads towards Graniny Gorki to meet up with Sokolov once more, but is intercepted by Ocelot again. The pair duel until a swarm of bees interrupts the fight. Ocelot flees and Snake is forced to dive into a cavern to avoid their stings. Snake makes his way through this cavern until he comes face to face with the source of the bees: The Pain, one of the Cobra Unit members. Snake battles The Pain and defeats him, setting off a micro-bomb which blows up his corpse.

After making his way out of the cavern, Snake comes across a warehouse where he witnesses Volgin, Sokolov and Tatyana. Volgin intimidates Sokolov by electrocuting Tatyana. Ocelot also shows up and intimidates Sokolov by juggling pistols, but The Boss arrives and stops him. She announces that The Pain is dead, which outrages Volgin. She then sets two of the other Cobras, The Fear and The End, loose into the jungle to find him. When they have all left, Snake sneaks through the warehouse and then makes his way to Graniny Gorki.

Snake sneaks into Graniny Gorki and confronts the drunken facility director, Dr. Aleksandr Leonovitch Granin. Granin reveals that he has been developing his own super weapon, “Metal Gear”, and is angry that it is being neglected in favour of Sokolov’s Shagohod, despite being a superior piece of technology. Granin reveals that he is intending to get revenge for this oversight by sending his research notes to “a friend” in the US. Granin also tells Snake about the Philosopher’s Legacy, the source of Volgin’s wealth, but fails to elaborate on it. Granin provides Snake with a route into Volgin’s fortress of Groznyj Grad in order to get rid of Sokolov and have Metal Gear be recognized as the superior weapon.

After leaving the facility and setting out towards Groznyj Grad, Snake is attacked by The Fear, who shoots him in the leg with a crossbow. Despite utilizing stealth camouflage and poisons, Snake manages to defeat The Fear and move on. Not long after though, he is ambushed by The End, an ancient sniper. The two engage in an intense and drawn-out sniper battle, but The End is overcome by Snake and killed.

With the way clear, Snake makes his way up into the mountains and then meets up with EVA in a bunker. EVA explains that she has secured a WIG for their escape and that Sokolov is being held in the west wing of Groznyj Grad. In order to get inside, Snake will have to disguise himself as GRU Major Raikov. EVA then leaves Snake at a cliff overlooking the fortress before speeding off to return to Volgin. Watching the base through his binoculars, Snake watches as Volgin punches an oil drum until blood seeps out of it, at which point it is revealed that it contains the now-dead body of Granin. With 3 Cobras dead, Volgin suspects that there is a spy in his ranks and believed that Granin might have been the source. Snake then makes his way into the tunnels below Groznyj Grad, where he is confronted by the last Cobra (besides The Boss), The Fury. Using his flamethrower, The Fury sets much of the tunnel ablaze, but Snake manages to kill him before making his way into the base.

Inside the base, Snake finds Raikov and knocks him out, stealing his uniform and wearing a mask to pass off as the Major. Making his way to Sokolov, Snake witnesses Tatyana intimidate Sokolov into handing her a microfilm containing the plans on the Shagohod before she leaves. When she is gone, Snake reveals himself and speaks to Sokolov. Sokolov reveals that the Shagohod was now in Phase II testing – it had been fitted with rocket boosters which extend its range to be able to hit any target in the US from anywhere in the Soviet Union. Volgin is now planning on mass-producing the Shagohod and distribute it to Eastern Bloc nations, effectively leading to full-scale nuclear war in the process. Sokolov tells Snake to destroy the Shagohod using C3 explosives which Tatyana has taken. He also reveals that she is not his lover, but rather she is supposed to be posing as Volgin’s lover.

Before Snake can escort Sokolov out of the base, Volgin comes into the room. He realizes that “Raikov” is an imposter and shoots Sokolov twice. The Boss arrives and tears off Snake’s disguise before Volgin begins beating him into unconsciousness. When he comes to, Snake is hanging by his wrists in a torture cell with a bag over his head. He hears Volgin beating and presumably killing Sokolov before Volgin turns his attention to Snake. He drenches him in water and then begins electrocuting him, asking whether the CIA was after the Philosopher’s Legacy. During the torture, a transmitter falls out of Snake’s pocket. Volgin demands to know who planted this on Snake, to which The Boss claims that it was her, in order to track his movements and allow The Cobras a chance to ambush him. Volgin doesn’t believe this and tells The Boss that she will have to prove her loyalty by maiming Snake. He orders her to cut out his eyes. The Boss tears the bag off of Snake’s head and then pulls out her knife. but Tatyana stops her. Ocelot then accuses Tatyana of being the spy and begins juggling his revolvers at her to “test” her luck. Realizing that the loaded gun will shoot Tatyana, Snake swings himself into Ocelot, knocking his aim off and accidentally causing him to misfire. The bullet catches Snake’s right eye and causes him to scream in agony. Satisfied, Volgin and Ocelot leave. The Boss takes one of Ocelot’s revolvers and loads it with a fake death pill and then fires it into Snake’s leg. She then leaves the revolver with Snake and then exits the room. Finally, EVA tells Snake that, if he breaks out, she knows of an escape route and will bring him all his equipment.

Snake eventually manages to escape his cell and sneaks his way through Groznyj Grad to the sewers. He is pursued by the guard dogs and the Ocelot unit until he is cornered at the drainage waterfall. Ocelot confronts Snake and tries to shoot him, but Snake jumps from the waterfall and is carried away by the river. Snake then suffers a near-death experience where he is confronted by The Sorrow, who sends the souls of everyone Snake has killed during the mission to haunt him. However, he declares that Snake is not ready to die yet and disappears as Snake suddenly revives himself using the revival pill implanted in his tooth. He swims to the surface and then radios EVA, who tells him to meet up at a waterfall nearby.

He soon meets up with EVA, who returns his equipment and gives him an eye patch. She comforts Snake and gives him some of the C3 she had stolen. She tells him to plant it on the Shagohod’s fuel containers. Snake then makes his way through a tunnel system back into Groznyj Grad and enters the Shagohod’s hangar. He places the C3 and sets the timer but is confronted by Volgin and Ocelot on his way out. Ocelot has captured EVA and realized that she was the spy they were looking for. The Boss appears and disarms Snake. Volgin announces that EVA had been discovered in his underground vault stealing the microfilm containing the data on the Philosopher’s Legacy: a hundred billion dollar fund amassed by the most powerful men in the US, Russia and China, The Philosophers, during WWII. Volgin’s father had been a member and had laundered the money for his own safekeeping before it was passed on to Volgin himself. He had utilized the Philosophers’ spy network to get The Boss to defect and would use the Legacy and the Shagohod to make the world whole again. Volgin hands the Legacy to The Boss and tells her to take care of it. The Boss leaves with EVA to execute her and leaves Volgin to battle Snake.

Volgin then begins fighting Snake, but Ocelot unexpectedly begins supporting Snake during the fight. Realizing that he was losing, Volgin orders Ocelot to shoot Snake, but he acts insubordinately and refuses. Volgin and Snake then continue to fight, with Snake beating the Colonel severely. Snake then escapes the hangar just before it explodes and is surprised to see EVA waiting for him outside on her motorcycle. She tells him that The Boss is waiting for him at their extraction point. They prepare to leave, but suddenly the Shagohod, piloted by Volgin, bursts through the destroyed hangar. Ocelot and Volgin pursue Snake and EVA all across Groznyj Grad until EVA lures Volgin across a rail bridge that she had wired with her portion of the C3. They set off the explosives to cut off their pursuers, but the Shagohod continues to follow them. Making a last stand, Snake and EVA attack the Shagohod with an RPG-7 and severely damage it, forcing Volgin to step out of the cockpit and power it with his own electrical current. Snake then fires more shots at Volgin and the Shagohod to disable it once again, before a lightning bolt comes down and smites Volgin, finally putting him down for good. Snake and EVA then retreat from more pursuers to get to the WIG, but their motorcycle crashes, wounding both of them in the process. The pair sneak through the jungle until they reach the WIG. EVA leaves Snake to confront The Boss while she prepares the plane for their escape.

Snake then steps into a field of flowers, where The Boss fires the second Davy Crockett and destroys Groznyj Grad. She tells Snake that she too wanted to make the world whole again using the Legacy. Her allies, The Cobra Unit, had been torn apart after WWII, despite being close friends. She tells him about being exposed to nuclear test sites and cosmic radiation during a secret space test. From space, she saw the world and realized that there were no absolute countries, borders or enemies. She hopes that a time will come when people will realize that there is no East or West and that peace will come of this. She tells Snake about how she was sent to Cuba as part of a CIA invasion under the guise of taking back Cuban exites. However, the US government betrayed them and left them defenceless as they were annihilated by the Cuban army as The Boss watched in silence. A year later, she was forced by The Philosophers to kill The Sorrow for a mission, and he willingly allowed her to do so. She then shows Snake a snake-shaped scar on her chest and explains that she gave birth to a boy via C-section on the Beaches of Normandy in June 1944. The Sorrow was the father. However, the child had been immediately taken from her by The Philosophers.

The Boss explains that all of the original Philosophers are now dead and the remaining ones have no interest in promoting good or evil. Instead, they have become war personified, with each conflict changing “the times” and sparking more conflicts in turn. The Philosophers’ intended to keep this cycle going forever. Her father was one of the Philosophers and now she was the last living child of the Philosophers. The Boss then orders two MiGs to bomb their position in 10 minutes and forces Snake to fight her to the death. Regretfully, the two do battle as Snake manages to come out on top. Dying of her wounds, The Boss hands Snake the microfilm for the Legacy and her gun, the Patriot. She then gives Snake his final order: to end her life. Raising the Patriot, Snake points the gun at her and then fires a single shot.

After a moment of reflection, Snake regroups with EVA aboard the WIG and the pair try to escape. However, Ocelot manages to get aboard the plane and challenges Snake to one last duel. The two fight briefly before Ocelot convinces Snake that they will fight with two pistols, only one of which will have a bullet in it. Snake and Ocelot reveal their real names to each other (John and Adamska, respectively) and fire. However, the bullet turns out to be a blank as Ocelot laughs and then jumps from the plane into the water below. EVA then manages to take off with the WIG, but the two MiGs suddenly appear and prepare to shoot them down. Before they can though, they are ordered by Khrushchev to disengage. Overjoyed, Snake and EVA head to an Alaskan safehouse and boink.

Snake awakes the next morning to find EVA gone. He listens to a cassette tape she has left for him. She explains that she was actually a Chinese spy sent to use him to acquire the Legacy. The real EVA and (presumably) ADAM never showed up. EVA herself was an agent of the Philosophers, trained in charm schools for covert operations. However, The Boss had seen through her deceptions as she was an instructor at one of these schools. EVA was supposed to kill Snake when her mission was complete, but she reveals that she can’t complete this task because she made a promise to The Boss. She reveals that The Boss did not betray her country – the whole mission was a ruse by the US government to get their hands on the Legacy and The Boss had played her part perfectly. However, when Volgin fired the Davy Crockett, they suddenly found themselves in a sticky situation and were forced to have The Boss killed to bail themselves out. The Boss knowingly allowed Snake to kill her because that is the mission that she was given and she was “loyal to the end”. She knowingly sacrificed her life, understanding that she would be condemned in history, branded a traitor by the US and a war criminal who unleashed a nuclear catastrophe by the Soviet Union. The only person who would ever understand what she did would be Snake himself.

A ceremony was then arranged to celebrate Snake’s achievement. He meets with President Johnson and is awarded the title of “Big Boss”. Snake reluctantly shakes the President’s hand and refuses to shake the hand of the CIA director before he leaves the ceremony. Instead, he heads to Arlington National Cemetery and lays flowers and the Patriot on The Boss’s grave stone. The stone reads “In Memory of a Patriot, Who Saved the World”. Big Boss salutes his former mentor and mother figure as tears stream down his face…

In the game’s post-credit sequence, Ocelot phones the KGB director to inform him that Groznyj Grad and Granin’s lab were destroyed. He also reveals that Khrushchev’s regime will soon be at an end and that the Virtuous Mission and Operation Snake Eater can be used to blackmail the US in future negotiations since its events are meant to be covered up. He tells the director that he will keep him informed of further developments. However, he then immediately calls the CIA director and tells him that EVA’s copy of the Legacy was a fake – the real Legacy has been handed over to the Americans. However, only half of it was recovered and Ocelot suspects that the KGB might have the other half. He also reveals that he obtained Granin’s designs for Metal Gear. It turns out that Ocelot was ADAM all along and that he is at the CIA’s disposal.

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
While the basic gameplay mechanics of Snake Eater are almost identical to Sons of Liberty, enough new systems and an entirely new design philosophy are enough to make the two games feel wildly divergent. Whereas Sons of Liberty feels claustrophobic, Snake Eater has been designed to be far more methodical and freeform. The biggest additions to the game are the stamina bar, camouflage meter, hunting and wound treatment. All of these new systems feed into the game’s greater emphasis on stealth and survival.

In order for Snake to complete actions (such as shooting, running or recovering life) with top efficiency, he now has to manage his stamina bar in addition to his life bar. This is not very difficult manage, as all you have to do generally is eat something or hide to regenerate the bar quickly. Hunting and surviving were inspired additions to the game and are a ton of fun to undertake. Each new area is filled with edible flora and fauna which can be gathered to use for food, medicine or, in some cases, create makeshift traps! All of the animals populating the game also help to make the world just a little more authentic as they complete their own routines, or even potentially attack Snake if he wanders too close.

While hunting and stamina make Snake Eater more engaging, the new camo meter and first aid system quickly become a chore. In order to maximize your camo meter (and consequently, reduce your odds of being spotted), you have to pause the game and equip new face paint and/or uniforms. When sneaking around in an area, you will frequently find yourself coming across different sorts of terrain, necessitating constant uniform changes if you want to maximize your odds of remaining undetected. However, I do quite like the camo meter in concept, but the same can’t be said of the game’s first aid menu. When you take damage, you can begin to bleed, break bones, become poisoned, etc. This necessitates a trip to the “cure” menu to treat the wound, which often involves remembering the exact combo of treatment options to cure the ailment (considering that you always have limited supplies, wasting any can be potentially fatal if you aren’t very good at the game). In theory, this could have added a lot more depth to the game, but it just ends up becoming a pain in the ass – constantly pausing the action in the middle of a fight to cure yourself disrupts the gameplay and often becomes pointless when you get seriously wounded again a second later and have to treat yourself once again. This is especially problematic in a couple of the boss battles (cough, The Fear, cough, The Fury, cough). The camo meter and first aid add up to frequent menu-hopping which becomes a massive pain and is easily the clumsiest design element of the game.

Snake Eater is also notable for being the first game in the franchise since the original Metal Gear to completely lack a radar. Well, that’s not completely accurate: there are two radar-like items available during the game (the AP sensor and active sonar), but both have very limited battery power and only really show you enemies that you can already see anyway, making them effectively useless. I think it’s rather telling that, in all of the times I have beaten this game, I have never used either of these items once. However, whereas most of the previous Metal Gear games were at their absolute worst when the radar was taken away, Snake Eater is entirely designed around this concept. With the move to more open spaces, lots of hiding places within plain sight and an emphasis on surveying your surroundings, enemies will very rarely sneak up on you unnoticed. In addition, the game’s default, fixed camera is significantly better than it was in Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty – the right analog stick has now been mapped to allow for some control over the camera, offering a wider view of the area when needed. It is, unfortunately, still inadequate during certain boss fights (particularly The Fury), but the Subsistence re-release’s interactive 3D camera makes up for these shortcomings and then some. Being able to fully control the camera makes sneaking even more intuitive and is definitely the best way to play the game.

Likely due to the first aid and hunting mechanics, healing has been changed quite significantly. In all previous Metal Gear games, Snake (or Raiden) restored life by eating a ration. In Snake Eater, Snake can only instantly heal himself by using life medicine, a fairly rare item which mainly appears during/before boss fights or by searching enemy bodies. However, Snake Eater also introduces a regenerating health system, the speed of which is based on your stamina bar and whether you have any untreated wounds. Unlike modern games like Call of Duty or Halo, where you can go from 1% health to 100% in only a few seconds, it can take a couple minutes for Snake Eater‘s health bar to regenerate, meaning that it is a useful addition but not one which rewards recklessness or which makes combat easier – in fact, if you do get wounded, it incentivizes hiding and waiting out an Alert until you can get some health back. It’s also just a little more forgiving for those who have lived to regret tackling 22 Metal Gear RAYs without any backup rations…

The other big new feature is that CQC attacks have been totally overhauled. In Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty, throws and grabs had been mapped to the square button, while punches were mapped to O. In Snake Eater, all CQC techniques are now handled using the O button, with various button presses, analog inputs and pressure sensitive functions (or touch screen actions on PS Vita) used to determine your actions in melee. The new options are really cool (such as cutting throats or interrogating enemies), but none of the changes are documented outside of the tutorials on the main menu, meaning that it’s easy to forget all of the options available at your disposal… and even if you do remember them, you probably won’t remember the controls to actually pull them off.

Besides these larger additions, Snake Eater features a few little refinements which make the game play just a little better than Sons of Liberty. For one thing, enemy item drops aren’t randomly determined anymore, so when an enemy has an item on them, it will drop immediately when you search them. When the enemy stops dropping items, this means that they have been exhausted, so you don’t end up searching an enemy 4 or 5 times in the vain hope of getting that one extra ration you needed. Key cards and backtracking have also been effectively eliminated, or at least reduced to such a point that they are entirely unobtrusive. You do have to collect a couple keys and you do have to do some minor backtracking, but these are usually very short and easy affairs which feel completely natural, unlike the forced backtracking and obtrusive key cards in previous Metal Gear games which were used to transparently pad out the game’s length.

Similarly to previous games in the franchise, Snake Eater breaks up its regular gameplay with some set piece moments and interesting twists. Probably foremost amongst these is the motorcycle chase during the game’s climax. This chase is technically similar to the jeep chase from the ending of Metal Gear Solid, but dialled up to 11. The chase goes on for 5-10 minutes as the entire base is getting blown up around you, and you’re getting pursued by a half dozen enemies (not to mention the Shagohod)… it’s just amazing and I have no idea how Kojima productions got this to run on PS2. On the more dialled-back end of the scale, there is also a segment where you have to navigate a pitch-black cavern, but Snake’s eyes will actually adjust to the lack of light after about 5 minutes, which is pretty ingenious (a idea that DayZ could do with pilfering). There is also an escort mission near the end of the game, similar to Sons of Liberty. Annoyingly, you’re being pursued by enemies during this segment, but luckily it isn’t constantly broken up by cutscenes or swimming sections and so passes quickly. The game is also capped off with a reasonably tense game of Russian roulette against Ocelot, which actually left me fairly concerned with how it was going to conclude the first time I played it.

If there’s one negative thing about the more open maps layouts, it would be that enemies aren’t nearly as dangerous as they were in Sons of Liberty. The open maps mean that sneaking up on enemies and neutralizing them is very easy, and the SWAT-style breach and clear tactics have been significantly nerfed. Between the camo meter and the extended sight lines, alerts should be far less common than in any other Metal Gear game – in fact, Snake Eater is the first game in the whole franchise where it is possible to complete the whole thing without triggering a single Alert. To balance it out though, Snake Eater does introduce a couple new enemy types which shake the action up a little bit. First amongst these are the guard dogs, which can sniff you out and alert enemies to your presence (not to mention outrun you and knock you to the ground). There are also soldiers riding on hover platforms at a couple points in the game. Some players have called these out for being excessively anachronistic, but they are actually based on real Soviet vehicle concepts. Considering that they first appear at the Granin research bureau, it can be extrapolated that they are experimental prototypes.

Snake Eater is just a fantastically-designed game. The game has all sorts little systems and determinant elements which make experimentation and multiple playthroughs a joy. For example, many players (myself included) have remarked that they didn’t even realize that you can blow up enemy supply and weapon sheds during their first playthrough. However, when you do discover this, infiltration becomes safer and it opens up some rather sadistic ways to mess with enemy soldiers. You can also completely avoid 2 fights depending on how you play: you can blow up a helicopter when it is grounded which will stop it from patrolling the mountains later, and you can also snipe The End before his boss fight to bypass him entirely. The numerous wildlife can also be used as a tool on their own, with various poisonous creatures and even rotten food being especially useful for setting up traps for hapless guards.

The game’s maps are also just really well-designed. In contrast to Sons of Liberty, most areas in Snake Eater are very open and offer a number of different approaches for the player to reach their goal. There is also a very nice variety of environments, which is a welcome respite from the blandness of the Big Shell. Even in the jungle, you will go from typical jungle terrain, to a swamp, to a rope bridge, to an overgrown ruin, to a river, to a cavern, to an enemy base, etc. Every area is very distinct and is often packed with little secrets and items which encourage exploration, such as the extremely-useful “Croc Cap” or the very-fun-to-locate Kerotan Frogs. The game also shakes up the environment fairly often, with Snake also having to traverse a mountain, a few small enemy bases, a tunnel system and the fortress of Groznyj Grad. Despite being a very urban area, Groznyj Grad is actually quite open in its own right and never feels anywhere near as claustrophobic as the environments did in Sons of Liberty.

The result of all of these design decisions is a game which is tuned in such a way to encourage patience, experimentation and pure fun. In fact, the game is as fun (if not more) on additional playthroughs, as I can attest. I actually had a total blast during the playthrough for this review because I played on a save file where I had unlocked all of the gear available in the game already… but had never actually gotten a chance to try out the stealth camo, infinity face paint or the Patriot machine gun. Suffice to say, it kept the game fresh, despite this being possibly my tenth playthrough now. Also, I happened to get the game’s Platinum trophy during this playthrough, making this one of the very few games that I have actually had the patience, commitment and ability to actually complete 100% (the only other games which I have achieved Platinum in were Telltale games, which basically give them out for free…).

Also factoring into the game’s design is the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio, which has been scaled back quite a bit compared to Sons of Liberty. While some of the cutscenes can get quite lengthy (I’d estimate that at least 5 of them go on for more than 20-30 minutes), they break up the gameplay significantly less often. In fact, Snake Eater often has very extended gameplay segments which are only broken up by radio calls and cutscenes infrequently… and even then, these interruptions tend to be quite short more often than not. The longer cutscenes are basically relegated to the start and ending of each “operation”, plus a torture sequence and Volgin’s monologuing. I basically speed ran a lot of the core gameplay for this review, but even then the game took me 9 hours to complete with cutscenes, of which I’d say that about 55-60% was pure gameplay. A more “normal” playthrough will net you anywhere from 14-20 hours (of which, about 4 hours will be made up of cutscenes), which is substantially more gameplay than any previous Metal Gear game can boast.

As for the cutscenes themselves, they are well-done as always. However, the lip syncing is noticeably bad for some reason (this isn’t a re-release issue either, it was the same in the game’s original release). This is the only game in the franchise with this particular issue and, while it isn’t crippling by any means, it can be distracting and makes me wonder what caused this localization error. If the lip syncing is bad though, it is partially made up for by the game’s fantastic eye animations. I only really noticed this aspect of the game in this playthrough, but it really struck me that the characters’ eyes have been animated extremely well. They avoid the dead-eyed issue which plagues a lot of games striving for authenticity even today by having the characters’ eyes not fixate on things – they dance around and scan the subject in a very authentic, life-like way. The CQC choreography is also very well done and goes a long way to portraying The Boss and Naked Snake as the ultimate badasses that they are meant to be.

As for the boss battles in the game, they are a significant step up from the rather dull encounters in Sons of Liberty. In fact, a couple of them rank amongst the absolute best boss battles in the entire franchise, if not all of gaming.  The boss battles are also distributed far better within the plot than they were in Sons of Liberty, actually managing to enhance the narrative with their inclusions while keeping the gameplay interesting. Most of the battles don’t occur until the game’s midpoint, at which point you get hammered with 5 in reasonably quick succession. There’s then a lull until the game’s climax, at which point you take on the game’s “big bads” in a series of escalating boss battles which manage to help drive home the epic stakes of the plot, similar to the Snake vs Gray Fox fight at the end of Solid Snake.

The first boss battle is a duel against Ocelot, which is similar to the Olga fight from the previous game, but with less twists to it unfortunately. Basically, you just have to utilize the lean functions, avoid Ocelot’s ricochets, soldiers and poisonous snakes, and wait for openings to attack. It’s a pretty standard as far as Metal Gear stand-up gunfights go. Shortly thereafter, you have to fight The Pain, who is one of the more ridiculous enemies in the series’ history. While he isn’t as bad as Fatman, the entire concept of a man who psychically controls bees and is a living hive is just insane. Luckily he dies early in the game. His boss fight is quite easy, but he takes too much work to kill. You basically just swim from one side of the arena and back over and over again while waiting for him to give you an opening… which is easier said than done, because his bee armour is on for about 90% of the time. Even then, he’s somewhat of a bullet sponge, making his fight drag on excessively.

Not too long later, you have to take on The Fear. His fight is not very difficult, especially if you get ahold of the thermal goggles prior to the fight (aside from him constantly poisoning you if you get hit). There are some cool tricks to taking him out though which make this fight far more fun than it is if you just shoot at him over and over again. The Fear’s stamina bar is constantly decreasing during the fight, causing him to have to restore it during the battle. As a result, you can trap him by throwing rotten food and the poison dart frogs located in the arena to drain his stamina even more (and get to hear the super satisfying cry of “Poison!!!”). It’s also worth noting that there are traps set up all around this fight’s arena, meaning that you have to keep an eye on the ground and not just the treetops or you might get walloped by a spiked log unexpectedly. All-in-all, The Fear puts up a decent fight, but it’s definitely worth going for the stamina kill if you want to really challenge yourself and have some fun.

Almost immediately after is one of the greatest boss battles in the entire franchise, the sniper duel with The End. Famously, this fight can take a long time to complete (30 minutes to 3 hours are not unheard of) and is so challenging that Kojima has built in 2 ways to bypass it, and can even make it harder for you if you give up midway. In addition to the ability to snipe The End which I have mentioned previously, saving your game and then setting your console’s date a week forward will cause The End to die of old age. If you set it less than a week ahead (or save and quit mid-battle) then The End will sneak up on Snake while he’s resting and tranquilize him, sending you off to a jail cell and forcing you to break out to start the fight again. I’ll admit that the first time I attempted this fight, I wussied out and used the clock trick to bypass the fight. However, the second time I played, I determined to beat it legitimately and non-lethally. The resulting battle was one of the most epic 40-60 minute tests of skill I have had in a Metal Gear game. Basically, you have to learn to use your ingenuity to track down The End across 4 large maps, keeping an eye out for footprints, scope glint, snoring, etc. Also, you’re inevitably going to lose track of him once or twice, making the resulting search extremely tense as he will almost certainly hit you the second you walk into his line of sight. It’s a surprisingly fun test of skill and one that I would recommend everyone try out at least once. Plus, as soon as you have beaten him, you get to experience “The Ladder“, which has gone on to become a surprisingly enduring moment within the Metal Gear fanbase.

The last boss fight of the mid-section of the game is The Fury, which honestly feels like it was forced in there for pacing reasons. Unlike the other Cobras, The Fury is given almost no foreshadowing prior to his reveal (I didn’t even notice until this playthrough that he appears for a second on board the helicopter at the start of the game). That said, he can be easily one of the more difficult bosses in the franchise, especially if you are playing with the original fixed camera. He can set the whole arena on fire and trap you, forcing you to use up a lot of the life medicine you have been stocking up on and leaving you with nasty burns unless you have the flame camo… which, conveniently, you can only get by beating him non-lethally. I had it for this playthrough which made The Fury a trivial affair even on Hard mode unfortunately, but normally this will be a very challenging battle as you try to hit him and then hide before he can set Snake on fire.

After that, you don’t have any fights for quite a while until The Sorrow shows up out of nowhere. It’s hard to call this a real “boss fight”, but it is a very innovative encounter and one of the better “consequences of war” moments in gaming. Basically, The Sorrow will send you through a gauntlet of life-draining ghosts with no way of fighting back. However, as you progress, you slowly come to realize that you kill each and every one of these people – from that one soldier whose throat you slashed open because it was “cool”, to the Cobras, to all of those guys you casually gunned down. If you’re anything like me on my first playthrough, you’re going to have quite the bodycount built up by this point and they’re going to make this quite a challenging and sobering encounter. The way to end the “fight” is also a bit of a puzzle which I actually figured out myself the first time I played after a second attempt at the battle…

The Sorrow is a bit of a prelude to the game’s final boss battle gauntlet though. A fist fight with Colonel Volgin kicks off the game’s epic climax and is definitely one of the harder encounters in the game. Between Volgin’s strong attacks, invulnerability for much of the fight and the harsh time limit with with to complete the fight, it can be very difficult to win if you don’t realize the “tricks” to victory. Basically, you have to avoid using guns and utilize CQC throws. When he’s on the ground, hit him with your gun. You can also use Russian Glow Caps to absorb his electric attacks by throwing them on the ground during the battle. Even with these tricks the battle can still be fairly challenging to complete, but within a few tries you should be able to pull it off.

The second fight against Volgin in the Shagohod is extremely easy though, making it by far the easiest mech battle in the series thus far. Basically, just shoot the Shagohod’s augers and then shoot the weak point/Volgin over and over again. It’s a decent fight, but extremely easy – I was playing on hard mode and didn’t even get hit once until the 2nd half of the fight, and even then it was still ridiculously easy.

Finally, the game ends with one of the most beautiful and important boss battles in the entire franchise, as Snake goes head-to-head with The Boss. Unfortunately, it is not particularly difficult at all (aside from the Shagohod, it might be the easiest battle in the whole game as long as you don’t attempt to win it using CQC), but just exudes a tragic and sombre tone, especially when the “Snake Eater” theme song kicks in. To make matters even more heartbreaking, when you defeat The Boss, the game forces you to kill her yourself – the camera pans in a circle around the scene as Snake holds the Patriot over his mentor’s heart until you press the square button and plant that final bullet yourself. It’s an incredibly sad moment and, even if the battle itself is not challenging, it’s enough to vault the fight into one of the greatest boss battles in the series.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Officially, the theme of Snake Eater is “SCENE”. Whereas “GENE” described Metal Gear Solid well, as did “MEME” for Sons of Liberty, SCENE is unfortunately rather inadequate and requires far more elaboration to make clear. At the start of the Virtuous Mission, The Boss lectures Snake about the philosophy of being a soldier. According to her own moral code, a soldier should be “loyal to the end” to the mission, as “enemies” and “allies” are a concept which shifts according to the times. This is the theme that “SCENE” refers to: the times. The Boss lays this concept out at the beginning of the game and then allows the player to see the effects of it play out for much of the rest of the narrative before picking it back up at the end. As a result, Snake Eater feels like more of a straightforward and shallow narrative at times, especially when compared to Sons of Liberty‘s complex and interwoven themes. However, that isn’t to say that Snake Eater‘s narrative is poor by any means, or that it actually is shallow – in fact, I would argue that the game melds characters, narrative and themes together with far more refinement than Sons of Liberty did, despite being not nearly as relevant or complex in comparison.

The Boss is the focal point for many of the themes relating to the times within the game. In the game’s backstory, The Boss and The Cobra unit fought with the Allies at Normandy and helped to win the war. However, when the Cold War broke out as a result of tensions between factions within The Philosophers, The Cobra unit was split apart and ended up on opposing sides. Despite being close friends and comrades-at-arms, The Cobras were suddenly “enemies” and were expected to kill one another if need be. This came to a head when The Philosophers ordered The Boss and The Sorrow to kill each other, despite being comrades and lovers (The Sorrow having fathered The Boss’s son, who is heavily implied to be Ocelot). As The Boss puts it, “One must live, and one must die. That was the mission.” The Sorrow sacrificed himself so that The Boss could complete her mission, but she was left disheartened by the act.

The Boss also tells of other events which show the fickleness of politics and how soldiers are used as expendable pawns. She explains that she witnessed the Bay of Pigs Invasion*, in which hundreds of Cuban exiles were slaughtered due to inaction by the American government. The politics of The Philosophers also caused The Boss to lose her child shortly after he was born – he was kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip to ensure that The Boss would remain a loyal follower. Despite all of this though, The Boss maintained her moral rigidity and refused to compromise her philosophy of “loyalty to the end”, no matter how poorly she was treated by the government or The Philosophers:

The Boss: “Look at this scar. This is proof that I was once a mother. I gave up my body and my child for my country. There is nothing left inside me now. Nothing at all. No hatred, not even regret. And yet sometimes at night I can still feel the pain creeping up inside me. Slithering through my body, like a snake.”

The Boss was also chosen to be the test subject in America’s attempt to have the first manned spaceflight in history. This mission was fraught with danger and was rushed in order to compete with the Soviets’ own space program. This political corner-cutting resulted in The Boss being bombarded with hazardous amounts of cosmic radiation, her near-death upon reentry and, most egregious of all, her heroism being covered up in the history books. However, her experiences in space left her profoundly moved as she looked out the spacecraft’s single window at the world:

The Boss: “I could see the planet as it appeared from space. That’s when it finally hit me. Space exploration is nothing but another game in the power struggle between the US and USSR. Politics, economics, the arms race – they’re all just arenas for meaningless competition. I’m sure you can see that. But the Earth itself has no boundaries. No East, no West, no Cold War. And the irony of it is, the United States and the Soviet Union are spending billions on their space programs and the missile race only to arrive at the same conclusion. In the 21st century everyone will be able to see that we are all just inhabitants of a little celestial body called Earth. A world without communism or capitalism… that is the world I wanted to see.”

This is the seed of “The Boss’s will”, a concept which would resonate throughout the rest of the franchise. America and Russia are currently mortal enemies and are willing to destroy the entire world if they are provoked, but within 30 years, the politics of the Cold War will all be meaningless. In all of this, The Boss states that “we soldiers are forced to play along. […] A soldier’s skills aren’t meant to be used to hurt friends. […] Is there such thing as a timeless enemy?” The Boss realizes the futility of the actions that soldiers are forced to endure, but she endures them anyway because that is what her morals dictate. However, she longs to reunite The Philosophers in order to heal the rift in the world and end the meaningless conflicts that soldiers are embroiled in. This concept is the purest expression of “The Boss’s will”, an ideal which would become increasingly perverted as it was reinterpreted.

Snake’s response to The Boss’s philosophies is one of the biggest driving forces in the game. Snake idolizes The Boss and their relationship is akin to that of a mother and son. As a result, her lectures about the mission and the shifting times are what drive Snake to live up to his mentor’s example and complete his assignment – the execution of the one person that he loves more than anyone else. However, throughout the game he wrestles with the questions that The Boss has left him with: where does his loyalty lie? Is it to the mission, or to those that he loves? Snake Eater feels very much like a story of the fall from innocence to experience (reinforced by the references to ADAM and EVA) as Snake literally kills his “mother” in order to grow into a man. Some of The Boss’s final words echo this concept:

The Boss: “I raised you, and loved you, I’ve given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge. There’s nothing more for me to give you. All that’s left for you to take is my life.”

Ultimately, Snake chooses to follow his mentor’s example and completes the mission, but this decision tears him apart when he discovers the truth about The Boss’s loyalty. Under the impression that The Boss defected of her own free will and needed to be eliminated, Snake is able to end her life regretfully. However, when he discovers that the government used The Boss to cover their own asses in a meaningless power ploy, and that The Boss willingly sacrificed herself, Snake becomes disillusioned. He comes to understand the meaninglessness of politics and how they exploit the loyalty of soldiers, which ultimately causes him to reject The Boss’s teachings – is loyalty is to those he loves, not the mission.

In retrospect, “the times” is a theme which has grown to have additional resonance within the Metal Gear canon. Considering how slapped-together the Metal Gear canon can be, I wonder if Kojima was intentionally foreshadowing some future plots developments here. “Today’s friend can become tomorrow’s enemy” is an idea which describes the coming conflict between Major Zero and Big Boss perfectly, which makes me wonder if this was always supposed to be the case, or whether it fit so well that Kojima made it the case. Similarly, in subsequent games we will come to learn that the progression and downfall of The Philosophers in this game’s backstory mirrors the history of The Patriots almost perfectly. The Boss’s words have also been written in such a way as to retroactively make Big Boss’s speech in Solid Snake all the more impactful:

“One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.”

This is extremely similar to Big Boss’s final speech to Solid Snake, retroactively making their battle into a stronger mentor vs student, father vs son final battle than it already was by invoking the one person who Big Boss loved more than anyone else.

More than any other Metal Gear game, Snake Eater weaves historical events into its narratives fantastically. The manner in which they are included is important as well. By choosing very important historical events, from WWII, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to Yuri Gagarin’s trip into space, the game’s incorporation of these formulative events actually makes the events of the game feel more important and interesting. Similarly, Snake Eater takes on a 60’s-era, cheesy, pulpy, spy movie tone which is best exemplified by the game’s theme song. The game really straddles the line between the serious and the cartoonish with deft mastery, feeling almost like a Sean Connery James Bond film at times.

One of the most interesting new plot elements thrown into the franchise in this game is The Philosopher’s Legacy. It comes out of nowhere when Granin suddenly mentions it, but is handled quite well throughout the narrative and is a lingering mystery until Volgin explains what it is much later on. It makes for a very cool twist and an understandable driving motivation for the actions of the characters and governments. For returning fans of Sons of Liberty, we also finally get an actual explanation of what the “Wisemen’s Committee” was: the leadership programme of The Philosophers. At this point in the narrative, it is unclear what the link between The Philosophers and The Patriots are, but this reveal gave players a little more of an idea of the historical background that led up to the Solid Snake-era in the franchise.

Probably one of the biggest reasons why Snake Eater has such a strong narrative is because of the game’s characters – much of the action is driven by character motivations and interactions. One such example early on is the scene where Snake and The Boss reach out to one another just after The Boss has defected. While no words are exchanged and they can’t even see each other while doing it, it is a fairly powerful moment which demonstrates their strong bond and calls into question the reasons for The Boss’s defection in the first place. Another example would be this game’s torture sequence (if you’re counting, this is the third torture sequence in a row in a Metal Gear game). Volgin personally beats the ever-living shit out of both Snake and Sokolov during the sequence, demonstrating his physical strength and sadistic personality. However, he is also motivated by revenge, as Snake had previously killed The Cobras and had harmed (and potentially killed) Volgin’s lover, Raikov. Meanwhile, the player tries to guess the motivations of The Boss, Ocelot and EVA as they witness the torture, with The Boss visibly hesitating when Volgin orders her to cut out Snake’s eyes. In addition, Snake ends up losing his eye because he attempts to save EVA from being shot by Ocelot. It ranks amongst the nastiest sequences in the whole franchise, but it is absolutely packed with character interaction.

It also has to be said that the ending of Snake Eater is easily one of the most powerful moments in the entire franchise. In fact, it’s probably my favourite ending in any piece of art, period. It’s also notable for being a fantastic twist which caps off The Boss’s life and recolours all of the events in the game in a sensible way. Again, the relationships between the characters and Snake’s reaction to the revelation is where much of its impact comes from – that salute and those tears are extremely powerful. There are only a couple video games with endings even close to being on par with this for me (The Last of Us and The Walking Dead).

As I have iterated many times now, The Boss is a fantastic character, full-stop. Her strong moral code and badass capabilities make her an incredibly strong female character. Now, because I am a self-described feminist, she resonates with me even stronger, but you don’t have to be one to appreciate just how awesome The Boss is – long before I ever considered myself a feminist, I loved The Boss. Similarly to Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, she is someone who just is a powerful woman without it feeling propagandistic. It’s also nothing less than a minor miracle that Kojima causes The Boss to tear open her sneaking suit in the final battle, baring a ton of cleavage and midriff, without it feeling gratuitous or sexualized. It’s actually an extremely mature and sad moment which actually ends up making The Boss feel even more powerful. Considering the typically immature approach to sexuality in Metal Gear games (this one included), this is incredibly unexpected. Amongst the annals of great female characters in video games, The Boss is definitely up there with the greatest of them, and is a height that Kojima would never again hit… or even attempt, for that matter.

Also, because there’s nowhere else for me to put this, I have always been bothered by the fact that The Boss’s Patriot machine gun fires rounds which “tumble” out of the barrel. Was this just Kojima trying to do something “cool” without realizing how guns actually fire? I was always under the impression that rounds always exited a barrel straight-forward (with a spiral in rifled barrels). If you’re like me and have been baffled for years by the scene where The Boss fires the Patriot in slow motion, it turns out that there is actually an explanation for this that makes sense.

Despite being Solid Snake’s genetic progenitor, Naked Snake is a noticeably different sort of character. First of all, Naked Snake is portrayed as more of an unlearned soldier than Solid Snake, being perhaps on par with Solid Snake’s skill level in Metal Gear 2. This leads to a certain level of naiveté regarding his feelings towards EVA in particular. He also seems to be more of a social person: the very beginning of the game shows us that he has two very well-defined relationships with Major Zero and The Boss. In contrast, Solid Snake is very much a lone-wolf until the end of Metal Gear Solid, where he finally earned himself a real friend in the form of Otacon (in part due to his development as a weapon rather than a human being).

I know some people absolutely hated Colonel Volgin, but in my opinion he was a great villain. Sure, he isn’t actually in control for much of the game, but he is such an irredeemable, imposing, Dick Dastardly-style charismatic evil that I can’t help but grin every time he’s on screen. He makes for a very satisfying primary antagonist and is miles ahead of such similar meatheaded contemporaries as Zoran Lazarević from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. If nothing else, he provides great motivation to complete your objectives in the game as it is not hard to be driven to defeat such a clearly-evil person.

The young Major Ocelot is another fun character. He is rather flamboyant in this game, but he works really well when he is being pitted against another character, be it Naked Snake, Colonel Volgin or The Boss. The rivalry amongst Naked Snake and Ocelot are some of the best aspects of the game, as Ocelot constantly pushes himself to finally best Snake in combat and grudgingly grows to respect his “foe”. The reveal that he was actually helping Snake all along recolours all of their interactions too in retrospect. Volgin’s brutishness clashes with Ocelot’s showiness and sense of honour, eventually causing Ocelot to become insubordinate as he openly challenges his superior office. The relationship between The Boss and Ocelot is very much a mother-son one, heavily hinting at their relationship (which neither is actually aware of) as The Boss disciplines Ocelot on a few occasions.

As for the last main character, EVA is an interesting character with quite a few dimensions to her. She is a rather capable spy, utilizing her feminine charms to gather intel, get close to her enemies and play people off of each other to get to her objectives. She is also a great motorcycle driver and a good shot with her Type-17 pistol. The only problem with this is the constant fan service whenever she is on-screen… some people have retroactively claimed that no one cared that EVA was baring skin in Snake Eater, but this is simply not true. It has always bothered me, even before I became a feminist. Every time she shows up, she zips her shirt down to her navel and then walks around with her cleavage bared. Luckily, there is some reasonable justification for this, as she is trying to seduce Snake, although this is a rather unsubtle way to go about this. This explanation also doesn’t explain why she never zips up her shirt when she probably should, such as during the motorcycle chase at the end of the game (it’s gonna be drafty, EVA!). It really just feels like fan service more than a real explanation, and it’s just embarrassingly transparent that this is the real point of her character design. However, considering the 60s spy movie aesthetic, it’s not entirely out of place, and the fact that there is some sort of justification at all makes EVA one of the more forgivable “titillating” female characters in the franchise.

As for the other cast members, they are a reasonably interesting grabbag. Snake’s support team are fairly disposable and optional to experience, only really showing up mandatorily to drop some exposition occasionally. That said, the relationship between Naked Snake and Major Zero is much friendlier than the more antagonistic repartee between Solid Snake and Colonel Campbell in Metal Gear Solid. Sigint also has a different, more laid-back personality than most characters in the Metal Gear franchise, although I can’t help but wonder if this was done simply because he’s the “black” character. The support team member that I like the most though is Para-Medic. She provides medical advice and is the character that saves the game for you, before then telling you about her favourite movies. As a rather big movie fan, this endears me to Para-Medic quite a bit, not to mention that there is some real chemistry between her and Snake when the two are allowed to interact (and that devastating look of regret as Snake passes her by in the ending…). Suffice to say, I definitely am in the aptly-named “Para-Snake” shipping part of the fandom, even though I know that it never can and never will go anywhere… a guy can dream though, right? This also makes me sad that she never plays a substantial role in any subsequent Metal Gear game either.
As for The Cobras, they don’t have much in the way of personalities. They basically are just two-dimensional representations of the emotion that they carry into battle with them (pain, fear, etc). We don’t get much in the way of motivations of backstories for most of them, which is a major reason why The Cobras aren’t nearly as interesting as the FOXHOUND unit from Metal Gear Solid (definitely still a step up from Dead Cell though).Sokolov is also a decent character. He is rather sympathetic and is very similar to Otacon in Metal Gear Solid, but far more cowardly. He is completely unable to defend himself and relies on Snake’s help to get anything done. Strangely, he apparently gets beaten to death by Volgin off-screen during the torture sequence and then just completely disappears from the narrative from that point onwards – it’s easy to forget about him entirely from that point onwards and then be left wondering “hey wait a minute, what happened to Sokolov?” Conversely, while Granin only has a very small part in this game, he casts an enormous shadow over the rest of the franchise. In addition to being invoked in 2 of Snake Eater‘s direct sequels, his development of the Metal Gear weapon’s platform means that he is nearly as foundational to the narratives of every subsequent Metal Gear game as The Boss is.It’s also worth giving a shout out to Major Raikov. He’s a rather funny and obvious lampooning of Raiden. While making him a really stereotypically gay character is arguably kind of offensive, it does show that Kojima knows how to take a joke about how many players hated Raiden in Sons of Liberty. Kojima has gone on record to say that he actually rather liked Raiden and was planning on “redeeming” him within the fandom in a future installment, but in the meantime he had some fun at Raiden’s expense and satirized the character by turning him into the exact sort of effeminate, wussy character that people seemed to think he was before.
I also rather like the old-school design of the Shagohod. It looks ancient and inelegant, even in comparison to the TX-55 Metal Gear or Metal Gear D. The inefficient firing mechanism (high-speed propulsion) and ingenious workarounds (rocket boosters) work really well with the retro aesthetic. Future Metal Gear prequels abandoned this design ethos, which is unfortunate because I really liked this game’s dedication to keeping the internal canon intact.

All-in-all, I find the narrative of Snake Eater to be arguably the most engaging in the entire franchise. By travelling to the past and essentially getting a clean slate to work with, Kojima crafts a story which is enjoyable to even people unfamiliar to the series. While the game’s themes aren’t as deep as those in Sons of Liberty, the game more than makes up for this by having a much more enjoyable and coherent narrative and extremely fun gameplay that isn’t constantly broken up by cutscenes… which, when it comes down to it, is important in its own right. Snake Eater is a rock-solid game all in pretty much every department, so the fact that it isn’t quite as deep thematically as Sons of Liberty is practically a non-issue, as its own themes are tied into a very engaging and well-crafted narrative.

I have always gotten the distinct sense that Snake Eater was overlooked at the time of its initial release. Sons of Liberty was such a controversial release that it dampened a lot of enthusiasm for the Metal Gear franchise: while Sons of Liberty sold over 7 million copies, Snake Eater only managed around 4 million on its initial release. I can remember back around 2008 that “best of Metal Gear” lists usually cited Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty as being the two best games in the franchise. Ever since the HD edition re-release though, I have noticed an increasing trend as more and more people seem to have begun to acknowledge that Snake Eater is the best game in the franchise. Honestly, it’s an assessment that I have been harping ever since I first played – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the best game in the whole franchise, and it is my personal favourite game of all time. Even after this, possibly my 10th completion of the game, I was still having an absolute blast and the narrative’s emotional beats were still resonating with me, more than ever. If you haven’t played it before, then I would implore you to do so!

10/10

*This would later be retconned in Peace Walker to be a cover story for chronological reasons. If she went into space and then partook in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, then she would have had less than 5 days to recover from her violent re-entry. I’m not sure if this was just an oversight on Kojima’s part or if he had originally intended for The Boss’s space flight to be prior to 1961.

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 2 – Sons of Liberty (2001)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fourth game in the franchise, 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty! After the massive, genre-defining success that was Metal Gear Solid, would Hideo Kojima’s big follow-up manage to deliver on the expectations of fans? Read on to find out…

Before we go on further, in the interest of disclosure I feel that I should mention that when I first played this game 7 or 8 years ago it was easily one of my least-favourite entries in the Metal Gear franchise (in fact, the second most popular post on this blog is about me complaining about how poorly-handled the main character is). I had only beaten it the one time though, so the replay required for this retrospective has given me a much-needed refresher. I was especially curious to replay it because, in recent years, the game has gotten a major reassessment and I have heard it hailed as Kojima’s “masterpiece”. Has time softened my attitude? That’s another thing for you to keep an eye on as we continue onwards…

(I originally played this game on PS2. For the purposes of this retrospective, I played the Substance re-release contained in the HD re-release on PS3. In case you’re curious, the only real differences between the standard release and Substance are a bunch of VR missions and some very negligible differences in the environments.)

DEVELOPMENT
After the massive success of Metal Gear Solid cemented Solid Snake’s exploits in popular culture, the world was eager for a follow-up as the game left many plot threads dangling. Shortly after completing Metal Gear Soliddevelopment on a sequel began in 1999. Not really having another story in mind kind of came back to bite Kojima in the ass as he tried to figure out what direction to take the game.

The game was plagued with real-world issues which made settling on a story difficult. Apparently the game was originally meant to involve nuclear weapons inspections in Iraq and Iran, with Snake having to take out Metal Gear on board an aircraft carrier within a time limit. Liquid Snake was also supposed to be the villain, probably because Kojima expressed regret over killing him off when he found out how popular he was. However, this plot was dropped after about a half a year into the project when tensions in the Middle East made such a story unappealing. The aircraft carrier concept was carried over into the final game though, being reworked into Sons of Liberty‘s prologue “Tanker” chapter.

The final game also received some major cuts as it was set in Manhattan and released mere months after 9/11. As a result, a major scene near the end of the game depicting Arsenal Gear crashing into Manhattan was removed, as was a scene where Raiden causes an American flag to cover Solidus Snake’s body. Raiden’s name was also altered in the Japanese version, as there were concerns that “Raiden” was too similar to “Bin Laden”. Bizarrely, the game was originally going to be titled Metal Gear Solid III, with the Roman numerals representing the Manhattan skyline. Naturally, if they had actually decided to carry through with this, then 9/11 would have screwed this idea as well.

Also, no mention of Sons of Liberty‘s development would be complete without mentioning the marketing. Kojima pulled off one of the biggest trolls ever when he centered all of the game’s hype around Solid Snake. Raiden was a periphery character in the marketing and the people who actually noticed him, naturally, expected that he would be nothing more than a supporting sidekick…

PLOT SUMMARY
Picking up 2 years after the Shadow Moses incident, Snake and Otacon have gone on to create Philanthropy, an NGO with the express purpose of exposing and preventing Metal Gear proliferation. Otacon receives intel on a new type of Metal Gear, codenamed RAY, which is being transported through the New York Harbour by the US Marines. Snake sneaks aboard the tanker with the intention of photographing RAY and exposing it to the public. Shortly after arriving, the tanker begins to be swept and captured by Russian mercenaries led by Sergei Gurlukovich. Snake makes his way past the mercenaries to the bridge, where he discovers that the tanker is headed 500 miles past the Bermudas to test RAY. Snake then encounters Gurlukovich’s pregnant daughter, Olga, who engages Snake in a gun battle. Snake tranquilizes her, but is unexpectedly photographed by a Cypher UAV after the fight.

Snake then heads into the core of the ship, fighting his way past the mercenaries until he finds the remaining Marines listening to a presentation by commander Scott Dolph about Metal Gear RAY’s capabilities, unaware that the tanker has been hijacked in the interim. Snake manages to get his pictures of RAY and uploads them to Otacon before Revolver Ocelot suddenly arrives and interrupts the meeting. Sergei Gurlukovich and his soldiers arrive and hold the Marines at gunpoint. Sergei celebrates that they will use RAY to restore Russia to glory, but Ocelot turns on him – he reveals that he will deliver it to “The Patriots”. Ocelot then shoots Dolph and Gurlukovich as well as anyone who tries to stop him. He then blows a hole in the tanker’s hull using SEMTEX and hijacks RAY. Snake tries to stop Ocelot, but his sudden appearance causes Ocelot to begin to spasm and speak like Liquid Snake. It turns out that Ocelot had grafted Liquid’s arm onto his severed hand following the Shadow Moses incident, but that this has had the side effect of allowing Liquid’s consciousness to possess Ocelot. He then escapes in RAY, apparently leaving Snake and most of the Marines and Russian mercenaries dead from the sinking.

The game then fast forwards 2 years later. The tanker’s sinking has been covered up, being claimed as an environmental disaster which has necessitated the construction of an offshore cleanup facility called the “Big Shell”. During a government inspection, a terrorist group calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty”, led by disavowed special forces unit Dead Cell, capture the Big Shell using Gurlukovich mercenaries and take the 30 people hostage – including the US President, James Johnson. A single soldier from FOXHOUND, code-named “Raiden”, is sent in to rescue the hostages while two SEAL Teams attempt to secure the President. Raiden is told that the Sons of Liberty are demanding $30 billion or they will destroy the Big Shell, causing the worst environmental disaster in history in the process.

As Raiden gets aboard the Big Shell via underwater infiltration, he immediately discovers an intruder has beaten him into the facility, leaving unconscious guards in their wake. Raiden’s commanding officer, The Colonel, orders Raiden to proceed with caution. He also reveals that Raiden’s girlfriend, a systems analyst named Rosemary, will be aiding them on this mission. Raiden is incensed by this unexpected revelation, but reluctantly goes along with it. Listening in on the SEAL Teams, Raiden discovers that Team Alpha has located the President but their transmission is cut off as they are attacked. Raiden hurries to help them, but discovers that the unit has been massacred by a mysterious, knife-wielding Dead Cell member named Vamp and that the President is missing. Vamp attacks Raiden, but is prevented from killing him as a man dressed like a SEAL arrives and fires at him. Vamp escapes and the SEAL introduces himself as Iroquois Pliskin.

Raiden leaves Pliskin behind before moving to SEAL Team Bravo to try to catch up to the President. However, he finds SEAL Team Bravo engaged in a gunfight with Dead Cell member, Fortune. Despite firing hundreds of rounds and a grenade launcher at Fortune, the SEAL Team is baffled as their shots curve around her and the grenade fails to detonate. Fortune and Vamp secure the President and Fortune fires a railgun at SEAL Team Bravo, killing everyone and destroying much of the connecting bridge in the process.

The Colonel then informs Raiden that C4 has been placed all around the Big Shell. Raiden is ordered to disarm the C4 as his new priority objective. To help with this, he locates bomb disposal expert Peter Stillman, who was brought aboard with SEAL Team Bravo, and runs into Pliskin again. Stillman explains that the C4 is the doing of Dead Cell member Fatman, a protege of Stillman’s. Following Stillman’s advice, Raiden and Pliskin spread out across the Big Shell to locate and disarm the C4 charges. They have a suspiciously-easy time doing this, until Pliskin discovers that there is an enormous amount of C4 placed on the lower levels of Struts A and H. Raiden disarms the C4 in Strut A, but Stillman is killed when attempting to disarm explosives in Strut H. Attempting to leave Strut A, Raiden is ambushed by Fortune. He is unable to land a shot on her, but manages to buy himself an opening when a deflected bullet curves into Vamp’s head, apparently killing him. Fortune is distraught, allowing Raiden a chance to escape and confront Fatman, who has issued him a challenge. After Raiden leaves though, Vamp is revealed to still be alive. Raiden then tracks down Fatman, who reveals that he is not interested in Dead Cell’s objectives. He only wanted to surpass Peter Stillman and become the greatest bomber in history by destroying the Big Shell. He begins planting bombs all across their battlegrounds, but Raiden disarms them and kills Fatman.

With the threat of the bombs eliminated, The Colonel then orders Raiden to rescue the President. As he moves to do so, he is confronted by a cyborg ninja named “Mr. X”. Mr. X informs him that one of the hostages, a secret service agent named Richard Ames, knows the President’s location. Mr. X also tells him that the Sons of Liberty have nuclear strike capability, since the Big Shell is a cover-up site for a new Metal Gear. Raiden then makes his way to Ames, who tells him the President is in the Shell 2 core and is cooperating with the terrorists. When questioning Ames about the $30 billion ransom, Ames explains that there is no threat or ransom being made – the terrorists have always planned to launch a nuke over Manhattan to cause an EMP pulse and “liberate” it. Raiden and Ames are then interrupted by Ocelot, who begins accusing Ames of being a spy before Ames dies of a heart attack. Ocelot then attempts to capture Raiden, but is saved by Mr. X, who allows him to escape.

Raiden begins heading to the Shell 2 core, but is stopped by a man calling himself Solid Snake. Pliskin arrives in a helicopter piloted by Otacon and begins firing at the imposter. “Solid Snake” escapes and climbs aboard a Harrier gunship, piloted by Vamp. The Harrier then begins to strafe Raiden, Pliskin and Otacon, but Raiden manages to shoot it down. “Solid Snake” loses an eye from the attack, but before the Harrier can crash, Metal Gear RAY arrives and catches it before fleeing. Pliskin reveals that he is the real Solid Snake and that he faked his death 2 years earlier using Liquid Snake’s body to create a false DNA match. He explains that he and Otacon have come to the Big Shell to stop the new Metal Gear prototype and to rescue Otacon’s sister, Emma Emmerich.

Raiden then makes his way through the ruined Shell 2 struts and proceeds into the core. He makes contact with President Johnson, who is resigned to his fate. He begins to tell Raiden about The Patriots, a secret organization which rules over America and the rest of the world. He claims that The Patriots are run by twelve men called the Wisemen’s Committee, and that the leader of the Sons of Liberty was the previous President, George Sears aka Solidus Snake, the third clone from the “Les Enfants Terrible” project. He reveals that Solidus was behind the Shadow Moses incident, but was forced to step down from his presidency by The Patriots. This led Solidus to want to challenge The Patriots for supremacy, whereas President Johnson just wanted to be allowed to join their organization, using the terrorist takeover as leverage to be brought into the organization. Johnson also reveals that the Big Shell was a cover-up, but not for the construction of Metal Gear RAY – it was actually housing an enormous, mobile fortress called Arsenal Gear which was defended by mass-produced, unmanned RAYs. While Arsenal Gear had control over the US military network and nuclear arsenal, its true purpose was to censor the Internet and digital communication by using an AI called “GW”. Johnson gives Raiden a disc containing a worm cluster which will eradicate GW and tells him to locate Emma Emmerich to use it. He then orders Raiden to shoot him, but Raiden refuses. When he tries to wrestle the gun from Raiden, he is unexpectedly shot by Ocelot, who then immediately leaves.

After conferring with Snake and Otacon, Raiden heads into the basement levels of the Shell 2 core to locate Emma. On the way, he is confronted by Vamp. The pair battle in a small purification chamber, but Raiden overcomes him, sending him sinking into the depths of the sea. Raiden then makes his way to Emma, who reveals that she was the creator of the GW AI, but that it isn’t yet complete as it lacks the ability to properly judge and filter information.

With the lower levels of the core beginning to sink, Raiden discovers that Emma is afraid of water after a childhood accident where her step-father drowned himself to death, and nearly dragging her down with him. Raiden convinces Emma to overcome her fears and leads her out of the sinking core. With most of Shell 2 destroyed, Raiden and Emma make their way to the perimeter oil fence to get back to Shell 1. Emma makes her way across with Raiden and Snake providing cover fire with their PSG-1 sniper rifles. However, just before she reaches Shell 1, Vamp appears from the sea and grabs her. Raiden shoots Vamp, but he is too late – Vamp stabs her, leaving her mortally wounded. Snake and Raiden hurry into the Shell 1 core with her to meet up with Otacon and input the virus and destroy GW. Emma and Otacon reconcile just as she succumbs to her wound, but the virus fails to install as they had expected. With the virus failing to stop GW, Snake and Raiden deduce that the only thing they can do now is get inside of Arsenal Gear and take out Solidus while Otacon flies the hostages back to shore. Snake then mentions to Raiden that they will need a hand getting inside, at which point Mr. X appears and reveals that they are actually Olga Gurlukovich in disguise. Olga unexpectedly knocks Raiden out.

Raiden awakens naked, strapped to a torture bed with Solidus and Ocelot watching over him. Solidus (who is now wearing an eyepatch over his lost eye) reveals that he actually knows Raiden – he was an orphaned child soldier who he commanded during the Liberian Civil War. He was Solidus’ greatest student, which earned the nickname “Jack the Ripper”. After Solidus and Ocelot leave, Olga arrives and tells Raiden that The Patriots kidnapped her child at birth. She reveals that she was ordered to aid him in his mission or The Patriots would terminate the child. She tells him that Snake is nearby and then orchestrates his means for escape. Raiden makes his way through Arsenal Gear as The Colonel’s transmissions become increasingly strange. He finally meets up with Snake, who apologizes for his earlier “betrayal”, but claims that it was necessary to get aboard Arsenal Gear. He then provides Raiden with a high-frequency blade, courtesy of Olga, and the pair battle their way into the core of the fortress. Otacon then reveals that The Colonel wasn’t a real person, they were actually just a Patriot AI who has been manipulating Raiden this whole time. Raiden begins to question what is real and what isn’t when Fortune arrives. She accuses Snake of killing her father, Scott Dolph, 2 years earlier during the tanker incident. Snake tells Raiden to go on ahead while he deals with Fortune and Raiden obeys.

Raiden makes his way to a platform where Solidus calls out to him, claiming that Raiden is just a pawn in the S3 plan, a “Solid Snake Simulation” which would use VR training to mold Raiden into a warrior on the same level as Solid Snake. Raiden is then forced to fight Arsenal Gear’s entire fleet of Metal Gear RAYs. He destroys many of them, but there are so many of them that he is unable to keep fighting. Solidus then emerges and is about to kill Raiden when Olga suddenly appears. She saves Raiden’s life, saying that his life, and consequently her child’s, is more important than her own as Solidus shoots her in the head with his P90. Solidus then tries to get the RAY fleet to finish off Raiden, but they begin to malfunction due to Emma’s virus. Furious, Solidus destroys the remaining RAYs just as Fortune arrives with Snake as her prisoner.

Solidus then reveals his true plan: to use GW to locate The Patriots and eliminate them one-by-one. Meanwhile, the other Sons of Liberty would unintentionally serve as a diversion using Arsenal Gear. Ocelot laughs at this and reveals that everything that has happened was actually orchestrated by The Patriots all along, with all the similarities to the Shadow Moses incident being the real S3 plan to mold Raiden into a Solid Snake-calibre soldier. The only thing they hadn’t anticipated was the arrival of the real Snake, which is why The Colonel had continually cautioned Raiden not to rely on him as he wasn’t a part of the mission. Ocelot then shoots Fortune, revealing at her supernatural abilities were the results of Patriot electromagnetic technology. Ocelot climbs aboard Metal Gear RAY and attempts to kill everyone, but Fortune summons enough strength to stand and somehow manifests psychic powers to deflect the missiles before dying. Outraged, Ocelot prepares to finish the others when his arm begins to spasm and he is possessed by Liquid Snake once again. Liquid Ocelot reveals that he is the one who leaked information on Arsenal Gear to Philanthropy in order to draw Snake out to the Big Shell and allow him to possess Ocelot for good. With Ocelot’s knowledge on The Patriot’s location, he intends to destroy them and establish Outer Heaven once again. He sets Arsenal Gear on a collision course with Manhattan and then escapes in RAY. Breaking free from his restraints, Snake dives off of Arsenal Gear in pursuit.

Solidus and Raiden are helpless to stop Arsenal Gear as it crashes into New York City and obliterates much of the Lower West Side of the city before coming to a stop at Federal Hall. Solidus and Raiden fall onto the roof of Federal Hall where Solidus begins to explain his motives to Raiden. The Les Enfants Terrible children were engineered without the ability to reproduce, meaning that Solidus won’t be able to pass his genes on to another generation. He explains that all that he wants is to be remembered in history, but if The Patriots remain in control, they will suppress knowledge of him or twist it into a monstrosity. He reveals that his desires are borne not out of greed, but out of a desire to restore freedom which has been snatched away by The Patriots.

The Patriots AI then contacts Raiden via Codec. They explain that the digital age has led to the proliferation of “junk information” which will remain forever. Previously, society advanced by selectively retaining information which became what we know as history. With the “truth” of our present freely available to future generations, this knowledge will threaten social progress. The Patriots reveal that the S3 plan does not stand for “Solid Snake Simulation”, but rather “Selection for Societal Sanity” and that the Big Shell incident was a test for their crisis management capabilities. Believing their judgement to be superior, The Patriots feel that they are in a position to determine what information will be passed on to future generations, claiming that humans prefer courtesy and political correctness over the acceptance of unpleasant truths. They then order Raiden to kill Solidus, threatening to kill Olga’s child and Rosemary if he fails to comply. Solidus then reveals that he needs to kill Raiden as well, because the nanomachines in his head can be used to determine the location of The Patriots. Provoking Raiden, he also reveals that he was the one who killed Raiden’s parents. The pair battle with high-frequency blades, but Raiden overcomes his spiritual father and severs his spine. Solidus falls from the roof of Federal Hall and lands at the feet of a statue of George Washington before he succumbs to his wounds.

Raiden climbs down and Snake appears, revealing that he still has Emma’s virus disc. He deduces that, since it was programmed to censor the names of The Patriots’ leaders, it would therefore have some sort of indicator as to what those names were in the first place and that they will hunt down The Patriots with this information. Raiden tries to come with him, but Snake tells him to stay and do what he needs to. Rosemary then appears as Snake departs, and the two are reunited as they vow to make a new life together as Rose is pregnant with Raiden’s child.

In the post-credits sequence, Otacon announces that he has deduced the identity of The Patriots, but is perplexed to discover that all 12 of them have been dead for over 100 years and that 1 of them is one of Philanthropy’s biggest contributors. Snake realizes that this information is a false lead, leaving them unable to figure out how to proceed…

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Much like previous Metal Gear games, Sons of Liberty iterates on the mechanics of previous games, bringing with it some pretty big improvements. The biggest addition is the first-person shooting controls, which make combat in the game significantly more fun and viable. This also opens up a number of new infiltration techniques, from hold-ups, to expanded chokeholds, to using enemies as human shields. First person controls require quite a bit of acclimation to use effectively though. For one thing, the control scheme itself is really convoluted. You have to hold R1 to go into first person mode, then square to aim a weapon before releasing square to shoot. However, if you want to lean then you also have to press L2/R2 (or both), meaning that you can easily be pressing upwards of 5 buttons to perform a complex action (R1 for first person mode, square to shoot, L2+R2 to lean upwards and X to stand up in one single attack). The game also makes prodigious use of pressure-sensitive controls, which make assault rifles and grenades extremely difficult to use effectively. Basically, you have to half-press the square button to bring up the rifle and then press it fully to fire, meaning that you can easily fire it by mistake. This basically forces you to rely on the single-shot pistols as much as possible. You can also holster a weapon without firing by slowly depressing the square button, but this is not always successful – I’d hate to be on a non-lethal playthrough and then accidentally shoot an enemy in the head because of this stupid control scheme. There are also no sensitivity options and it can be hard to line up a shot, especially in the heat of combat. That said though, the first person aiming makes both combat and sneaking far more fun and strategic than it was in previous Metal Gear games, even if the controls make getting used to it a hassle.

Sons of Liberty makes a lot of smaller improvements to the gameplay as well though. The camera isn’t nearly as awful anymore and tends to show more of the environment. The first person aiming helps here quite a bit as well, meaning that you’re not being forced to shoot at enemies off-screen all the time. The game also applies significantly more cinematic camera angles which display more useful sightlines. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword, as the cinematic angles also leave you completely blind much of the time. As a consolation, peeking around corners and pressing against walls is now strongly incentivized to proceed safely, and the right analog stick can now be used to move the camera in this view.

The game also opens up more sneaking options which make gameplay styles much more freeform. One new addition which I love is the addition of the roll, which can be used to get into cover quickly or to stun enemies. You can also shoot security cameras, which is a long-overdue addition for the series. Unconscious, dead or held-up soldiers can also be shaken to steal items, although I didn’t find this strategy to be particularly necessary during my playthrough as equipment is provided in sufficient numbers and whether an enemy will actually drop something seems to be random. However, one very fun and challenging bonus objective is the ability to acquire dog tags from enemies. If you hold up an enemy, you can force them to give you their dog tag, which was a very fun diversion which actually tests your sneaking skills quite a bit! I also quite like the introduction of “adult literature” which can be used to distract guards and set up traps. It’s also worth noting that Sons of Liberty is the first Metal Gear game to allow for 100% non-lethal gameplay and to make it challenging yet viable with the introduction of non-lethal chokeholds and the tranquilizer pistol.

Sons of Liberty also stands out from its predecessors due to the absolutely enormous graphical leap between it and Metal Gear Solid. While Metal Gear Solid had very rudimentary shapes and suggestive textures that left a lot to the imagination, Sons of Liberty is very detailed, particularly its character models. This is also aided by the game’s attention to detail, which is absolutely insane. While the environments can be very claustrophobic and small, they are jam-packed with little details which bring them to life. For example, during the Tanker chapter, rain bounces off of objects in the environment and the Marines’ hoods actually “blow” in the wind, which really sells the setting. These little touches just permeate throughout the entire game and are frankly mind-blowing even in comparison to modern games: tranquilizers are actually visible and stay in enemies’ bodies, walking in puddles will leave footprint trails, ice cubes actually melt over time, you can slip and fall on bird shit, swarms of bugs crawl around on the floor, shell casings and spent magazines will litter the floor during gun battles, trying to roll up stairs will knock you flat on your ass and even walking in front of a urinal will cause it to flush! That last detail really struck me as an example of the insane desire for authenticity which no other game developer would even bother with or which no player would even expect to be included.

Despite the gameplay improvements that it makes though, Sons of Liberty can’t help but take a couple steps backward. For one thing, during the Plant chapter, the Soliton radar system now has to be manually activated every time you enter a new area. This might have been done due to complaints that the radar was too important in Metal Gear Solid, but withholding it for arbitrary reasons is not a good solution. Having no radar makes infiltrating new areas a very unwelcome experience as you attempt to track down the area’s terminal as quickly as possible. This also makes the cinematic camera angles a pain in the ass, since you often won’t even know if there’s an enemy nearby and can easily stumble into enemies unfairly.

Sons of Liberty also suffers from having a really boring environment in the Plant chapter, especially in comparison to Shadow Moses and the Tanker chapter. The Big Shell is a mostly-uniform environment which only changes somewhat inside each strut and the cores. It can be difficult to remember which room is which due to the layout of the shells. The Big Shell is also a very puny map – you only really get to explore Shell 1, because Shell 2 gets blown up, meaning that you only get to see the outside of a couple struts, the core and a little bit of one of the struts as you head down the ladder to the oil fence. Subsequent games have been kind to the Big Shell though, as its design has been reused and lent gravitas through retcons. Players who have played through latter Metal Gear games might attribute the Big Shell with additional meaning which was not actually intended when it was first released.

There is also an extended set piece which many people have expressed quite a bit of frustration over. This is the swimming sequence which ends up also being an escort mission as Raiden leads Emma out of Shell 2. Personally, I found these swimming segments to actually not be all that difficult, but when it turns into an escort mission it definitely starts to become frustrating. Emma’s O2 meter is pathetically small, meaning that you have to travel between oxygen pockets as fast as possible or Emma will start losing health. She’s not much better on land either, because she makes Raiden extremely slow and he can’t shoot when guiding her (plus all that they did in this section was obviously slow down both of their movement animations which just look awkward). This is thankfully not a major frustration as you can let her go to shoot at cypher drones or guards, meaning that you really don’t have to worry about her dying on you constantly. The only time you have to worry about her wandering into enemy fire is during the sniping section on the oil fence, when she will just keep walking into claymores and gunfire while you wrestle with the awful, random scope sway that has carried over from Metal Gear Solid. Thankfully, the game is balanced in such a way that you shouldn’t be forced to redo these sections much (if at all), but those who hate water levels and escort missions in particular will not be thrilled by this extended set piece.

Sons of Liberty also carries over some of the series’ persistent legacy issues. Foremost among these are the card keys, but thankfully they have been streamlined to the point of near obsolescence. Sons of Liberty carries over Metal Gear Solid‘s improvements to this system, giving you “one security card to rule them all” at any time. In addition, the number of key card rooms in the game is significantly reduced, being cut down to basically just an armoury, the access point to the oil fence and a couple story-based progression points. Finally, the key cards don’t even need to be equipped in order to access a key card room, making me wonder why they even bothered to include them in this game at all. Thankfully, this marks the last time that key cards are a major progression method in a Metal Gear game, and they will not be missed.

Seriously, screw you.

The Plant chapter also features quite a bit of backtracking, but it has been utilized in a much more bite-sized, sneaky manner due to the map layout. The Big Shell is laid out in a hexagonal-shape, meaning that you can go around its circumference to get to objectives. In a typical playthrough, you’re probably going to circle the Big Shell twice before backtracking a couple more times along its right side to get into and out of the core. Thankfully, due to the relatively small size of the Big Shell, it is quite easy to navigate and does not feel particularly intrusive or like a transparent attempt to pad out the game’s length.

Sons of Liberty also has to have arguably some of the most challenging enemy AI in the entire franchise. For one thing, their vision cones have been subtly extended – the cones visible on the radar are just the area where you will be instantly spotted, but guards can also spot you from outside this area and prompt an investigation. In addition to the enemy’s detection tricks from previous games, bodies also no longer disappear as soon as they die, which means that you have to quickly hide bodies out of sight (including in lockers as a new feature) or enemy patrols will discover them. In this way, killing is actually actively discouraged as you only get about 10-15 seconds to move about freely before the enemy’s HQ radios them for a status report and then sends in a heavily-armed patrol unit to investigate and increase security. These patrol units are extremely imposing with their riot shields, body armour and shotguns and can pose a significant problem if you end up getting spotted. They are also just impressive to witness as they actually use SWAT formations and room clearing tactics, which are highlighted with a cinematic overlay in the top right corner where you can witness their sweep in action. If you do get spotted though, you actually now have a few intense seconds to save your ass as enemies have to radio for backup. You can actually tip the odds in your favour by shooting the enemy’s radio, but normally I’ll just go for a tranquilizer headshot. This addition makes alerts a little fairer, while simultaneously making getting spotted much more intense as you attempt to stop enemies from bearing down on you from all angles. Finally, for the first time in the series’ history, enemy conditions are persistent if you leave an area – if you knock out or kill a guard and then come back within a short time frame, then they will still be in the same place.

As a side-note, I also noticed some really strange, but minor, issues with the HD edition which I’m not sure were present in the original release. For example, during the iconic opening cinematic of the game, the framerate drops significantly when car headlights are shown. I’m not sure if this is just poor optimization or what, but you’d think that if they could render the headlights on PS2, such lighting effects would be trivial on PS3. More concerning though is the lag with the Codec, which can vary anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds every single time you use it. Considering how frequent Codec calls are in this game, this is a pretty noticeable irritation. The upscaling from fullscreen to widescreen has also been handled rather inelegantly. During the sniping section as you try to cross from Shell 1 to Shell 2, I noticed that the camera is supposed to zoom in on semtex and controllers, but it inexplicably zooms in above both of them, suggesting to me that the remaster team didn’t bother to make sure that the camera was properly lined up during this cinematic. Radar overlays (such as oxygen pockets and the bomb “scents”) are also not properly synced with the radar itself, as you can easily notice that they are both moving at different speeds when displayed on the radar. These are rather small issues that hardly sink the game, but they are noticeable and made me wonder just how much work really went into the remastering of this game.

This brings us though to what is probably the biggest “gameplay” issue with Sons of Liberty: the wildly imbalanced gameplay-to-cutscene ratio. The Tanker chapter is a great opening to the game with a gameplay-cutscene ratio on par with Metal Gear Solid. It took me about 2 leisurely hours to get through, with probably around 3/4 of that consisting of actual gameplay. However, during the Tanker chapter, the extended cutscenes and codec calls just become overbearing as you are often forced to sit through 10-30 minute long cutscenes before you get to play again. I’d estimate that my first hour on the Big Shell was probably 90-95% cutscenes. You basically get bombarded with a new explanatory cutscene every time you enter a new area or when an event happens. For example, when you reach the President you sit through a 20-30 minute long cutscene before you finally get back in control… and then as soon as you exit the room you have to sit through another 10 minutes of cutscenes. The big showdown with Metal Gear RAY also marks one of the most ridiculous sets of cutscenes as literally every character betrays one another over the course of 40 minutes and the truth of one single plot point (the S3 plan) is revealed to be another deception three separate times. The Plant chapter took me around 9 hours to complete, but I’d be shocked if more than 4 of those hours involved actual gameplay – the game seriously has that many extended cutscenes breaking it up. Making things worse is the fact that you can’t pause any of them, so hopefully you don’t have to go to the bathroom in the middle of one or you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to figure out the game’s plot.

While the plot is arguably the real draw of any Metal Gear game, the sheer amount of cutscenes just become overbearing in Sons of Liberty and mark the first time when they really started to interrupt the gameplay significantly. I’ve mulled over why exactly they bug me so much in Sons of Liberty, especially since many later Metal Gear games have just as many (if not more and/or longer) cutscenes as this one. I think I have deduced the answer though, and that is that the gameplay and story for a significant portion of the Plant chapter is just not all that interesting. Up until Raiden gets onto Arsenal Gear, most of the plot of the Plant chapter consists of Raiden, a character without much of a personality at this point in the game, performing busywork for reasons which we already know are lies. Furthermore, while the gameplay itself can be quite fun, it is also rather mundane (bomb disposal and sneaking around enemy troops) and is very infrequently broken up by boss encounters. It makes it hard to be invested in the things going on in the cutscenes when you aren’t particularly enthused with the events going on within the game and when the game itself is constantly invalidating what you were told previously. However, Sons of Liberty really starts to pick up in the last couple hours as Raiden gets a personality and a high-frequency blade and goes on a crazy killing spree. It’s a ton of fun to hack and slash with the blade and gives him a very unique flavour which sets him apart from Solid Snake very well. This marks the game’s definite high-point, although by this point unfortunately much of the game has already come and gone.
 
Also, I think I do have to give the game credit for not forcing me to endure another button mashing torture sequence, despite having the chance to do so. I think I would have screamed obscenities if it had…
 
The boss battles are fun overall, but they are far more infrequent than they were in Metal Gear Solid. The battle against Olga Gurlukovich has some really fun twists with really challenge the player’s skills with the new first-person aiming system, but you don’t even fight another boss character until 4 or 5 hours later when you encounter Fortune. If you know what you’re doing, then this encounter doesn’t even count as a boss battle either, because she is unkillable. You basically just have to hide for a couple minutes until the battle ends itself before heading off to kill Fatman. At least his fight is quite fun – bomb disposal is one of the funnest parts of the game and Fatman’s fight utilizes it in spades. Unfortunately, Fatman himself doesn’t attack all that much, making this fight extremely easy, but it is still an enjoyable battle. The Harrier fight is also very similar to the Hind D battle from Metal Gear Solid, but with the main difference being that the Harrier has much more attacks available to it, a less-predictable pattern and there are 2 levels that you can attack it from. It’s still not very difficult, but it is definitely an improvement on the Hind battles from Metal Gear games past. Vamp is a little bit like Psycho Mantis and Olga in that he can’t be hit using auto-aim, meaning that you have to be really good with first person aim to take him down. He also has some cool attacks, such as pinning down your shadow with a knife, but the fight itself is quite easy. Unfortunately, the fight versus Metal Gear RAY is a big disappointment compared to REX. You end up fighting 3 at a time, meaning that their attacks are infrequent and their health bars have to be stymied to keep the fight from dragging on. Luckily they have a weak point, where you shoot a leg and then shoot their exposed mouths, which can be really intense to juggle while avoiding incoming missiles. The fight is super easy and dodging attacks is a trivial task, but it goes on for so long that it turns into a grind. Luckily, the final fight against Solidus is very fun as it requires you to use the high-frequency blade. It’s a little bit like a Ninja Gaiden showdown where you have to be careful about the timing of your attacks and avoid Solidus’ attack patterns. It is a hell of a lot of fun, and a great way to cap off the game.
STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

If Metal Gear Solid represented Kojima’s the first steps into mature storytelling, then Sons of Liberty is the overconfident, adult strides. While the game’s actual narrative is convoluted mish-mash (which I will get to later), there’s no denying that Kojima really knocks the ball out of the park by imbuing Sons of Liberty with deep, existential themes. Remember, this was back in 2001, when gaming was still seen as a nerdy pursuit, when video game storytelling was still a tertiary concern outside of JRPGs and when “are games capable of being art?” was a very hotly debated subject. Sons of Liberty is often cited as the first “Post-Modern” video game, and honestly it is a very apt descriptor due to its deconstructions of society and the relationship between the player and the game itself. As a result, the fourth-wall breaks which had been a part of the series since the beginning actually become integrated into the message of the game itself:

Snake: “War as a video game – what better way to raise the ultimate soldier.”

Raiden: “So you’re saying that VR is some kind of mind control?”

Raiden: “This is like a bad dream I can’t wake up from. […] This doesn’t feel real.”

In some ways, Raiden himself seems to be meant to be a representation of the player. At the beginning of the game, you are asked to fill out your name, which becomes Raiden’s name on his dog tags in the final cutscene. Raiden also makes numerous references to VR training and simulations, which we are clearly meant to understand as being a reference to the player’s own experiences playing video games. As the game progresses though, Raiden begins to gain his own personality and desire to live his own life as he chooses. When the player ceases to control Raiden in the final cutscene, Raiden symbolically throws the dog tags away, signifying that he is now free to make his own decisions.

Furthermore, Kojima constantly messes with player expectations in order to leave them off balance and question the “reality” of the game itself. The big reveal that Raiden is the player character is perhaps the first, and most obvious, example of this. The sequence where Raiden runs around naked in Arsenal Gear while The Colonel calls him with such amazingly quotable lines as “I hear it’s amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hara-Kiri Rock. I need scissors! 61!” is probably the best example though, as by this point the player has settled into the game when it suddenly leaves them entirely flabbergasted. The fourth wall breaks become constant as well, as The Colonel urges Raiden to “turn off the console” – a line which has a double-meaning, as it is also a direct reference to the original Metal Gear. Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid are both invoked during this sequence, which messes with the player’s own history with the series by directly breaking the “immersion” which so many players consider to be a crucial aspect of taking a game seriously. The game also gives you a number of fake game over screens as you progress through areas of Arsenal Gear which literally describe you as advancing up backwards out of its asshole. It’s absolutely bizarre and basically impossible to play through without being constantly reminded of the fictional construction of the game itself.

In fact, the constant references to the fictional nature of the game have prompted many players to question whether we are intended to take the game’s events “literally” or rather whether it is intended to be a VR simulation. They also cite the numerous “references” to Metal Gear Solid as an example of this, that Sons of Liberty is indeed simulating the player’s memories of the first game. For one thing, I think this is missing the forest for the trees – I believe that the game is trying to make the player aware that the game is game, rather than it being a game within a game. I believe very strongly that the events of the game are meant to be taken as things which are actually happening within the game’s world, because otherwise much of the narrative serves absolutely no purpose. For example, there is absolutely nothing in the Tanker chapter to suggest that the events of it are anything other than the “truth”. From there, the pieces of the VR simulation theory just begin to fall apart, because if the Tanker chapter actually happened then why would that be then followed up by a VR simulation? How does that make narrative sense? Where is the closure? I think that some people would suggest that things like this and the numerous nonsensical plot twists that populate the game’s narrative are also meant to make absolutely no sense and simply exist to make the players confused on an existential level. This, however, just gives Kojima simultaneously too much and too little credit for his storytelling abilities in my opinion, when realizing that the VR simulation is the game that you are literally playing is the actual intent is so much easier to believe.

Sons of Liberty also builds on the genetics theme from Metal Gear Solid, evolving it to the next most logical level with the concept of “memes“. Put simply, memes are like the cultural version of genes, where information, concepts and ideas are passed on from generation to generation. Much like genes in Metal Gear Solid, the concept of memes are what drives the motivations of many of the characters in Sons of Liberty. One of the more subtle examples of this is the character of Fatman. It can also be discerned that Fatman turns on Dead Cell and becomes an agent of The Patriots because he believes that doing so will allow him to become remembered as the greatest bomber in all of history. After all, if he remained a part of Dead Cell, then his existence and ambitions would have been covered up and controlled by others.

Perhaps the most obvious characters to be linked with the meme theme though are Les Enfants Terrible, Solid and Solidus. During Sons of Liberty, Snake often encourages Raiden with his personal philosophies that he has developed over the course of his previous adventures. One particularly noteworthy quote that he makes though is Gray Fox’s dying words:

Solid Snake: “We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I fought for what I believe in.”

This is quote is very important for a few of reasons. First of all, it demonstrates Snake’s evolution as a character. In Metal Gear Solid he fought for little more than a sense of obligation, but by Sons of Liberty he is now a member of an NGO. Perhaps due to Gray Fox’s dying words, he has literally decided to dedicate his life in service of his morals. This quote also demonstrates the use of memes in action. Gray Fox may not have passed on his genes, but he has passed this particular meme on to Solid Snake, who has adopted it as a personal mantra. In this way, Gray Fox becomes “immortal” in a sense and is remembered. By passing it on again to Raiden, Snake perpetuates the meme, much like how genes are passed on to the next generation, although he also adapts it for his own understanding, putting his own touches on the meme:

Snake: “Find something to believe in, and find it for yourself. When you do, pass it on to the future.”

It’s also very noteworthy that the Snakes are so concerned with memes since they have all been engineered to be infertile. With no chance of passing on their genes, the Snakes will inevitably die out and be forgotten in a few short decades if they do not pass on their memes. Solidus makes this very clear in his surprisingly affecting speech with Raiden on top of Federal Hall:

Solidus Snake: “Jack, listen to me. We’re all born with an expiration date. No one lasts forever. Life is nothing but a grace period – for turning our genetic material into the next generation. The data of life is transferred from parent to child. That’s how it works. But we have no heirs, no legacy. Cloned from our father, with the ability to reproduce conveniently engineered out. What is our legacy if we cannot pass the torch? Proof of our existence – a mark of some sort. When the torch is passed on from parent to child… it extends beyond DNA; information is imparted as well. All I want is to be remembered. By other people, by history. The Patriots are trying to protect their power, their own interests, by controlling the digital flow of information. I want my memory, my existence to remain. Unlike an intron of history, I will be remembered as an exon. That will be my legacy, my mark on history. But the Patriots would deny us even that, I will triumph over the Patriots, and liberate us all. And we will become the Sons of Liberty!”

While we are led to believe that Solidus has megalomaniacal, unapologetically evil ambitions throughout the game, when he reveals that this has been his motivation all this time, it is a shockingly human and sympathetic desire: the simple wish to not be forgotten when he is gone. Most people wrestle with this sort of existential crisis, but Solidus has had the deck stacked against him at birth due to genetic tampering and the meddling of an unstoppable force pushing back against him. This actually makes his objectives seem almost noble in the end, despite the fact that he’s still a total bastard who raised child soldiers, killed Raiden’s parents and executed Olga Gurlukovich in cold blood…

Of course, much of the plot of Sons of Liberty revolves around The Patriots, a shadowy organization which exerts power through information control. Their ultimate goal throughout the game is to make their version of history the officially recognized history for future generations, meaning that they essentially want a monopoly on memes. Immediately after Solidus explains his motivations, The Patriots contact Raiden and explain their motivations in an extremely long-winded Codec call, which is clearly intended to set his ideology against theirs. Some of the most important quotes as are follows:

Patriot AI (switching between depictions of The Colonel and Rosemary): “We started with genetic engineering, and in the end, we succeeded in digitizing life itself. But there are things not covered by genetic information.”
Raiden : “What do you mean?”
Patriot AI : “Human memories, ideas. Culture. History. Genes don’t contain any record of human history. Is it something that should not be passed on? Should that information be left at the mercy of nature? We’ve always kept records of our lives. Through words, pictures, symbols… from tablets to books… But not all the information was inherited by later generations. A small percentage of the whole was selected and processed, then passed on. Not unlike genes, really. That’s what history is, Jack. But in the current, digitized world, trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness. Never fading, always accessible. Rumors about petty issues, misinterpretations, slander… All this junk data preserved in an unfiltered state, growing at an alarming rate. It will only slow down social progress, reduce the rate of evolution. […] Not even natural selection can take place here. The world is being engulfed in ‘truth.’ And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. We’re trying to stop that from happening. It’s our responsibility as rulers. Just as in genetics, unnecessary information and memory must be filtered out to stimulate the evolution of the species.”
Raiden: “And you think you’re qualified to decide what’s necessary and not?”
Patriot AI: “Absolutely. Who else could wade through the sea of garbage you people produce, retrieve valuable truths and even interpret their meaning for later generations? That’s what it means to create context.”
Raiden: “I’ll decide for myself what to believe and what to pass on!”
Patriot AI: “But is that even your own idea? Or something Snake told you? That’s the proof of your incompetence, right there. You lack the qualifications to exercise free will.”

In short, The Patriots believe that memes are just as much a force of human evolution and adaptation as genes are traditionally thought to be. With the theoretically-limitless capabilities of digital archiving at our disposal, The Patriots believe that this sudden and permanent influx of “junk” ideas will eradicate the traditional natural selection of memes and lead to the end of humanity (in the same way that a white supremacist would believe that the propagation of “inferior” genes will lead to the destruction of humanity). As a result, The Patriots believe that they must curate information in order to maintain the development of society. This sets them at odds with Solidus: Solidus believes in personal liberty and the ability for humans to chart their own legacy, whereas The Patriots believe that only they have the necessary qualifications to determine what is in the best interest of social progression. These are all extremely interesting philosophical ideas which were very topical at the turn of the millennium and, honestly, are still very relevant today. Within the last few years, people have been beginning to really understand the permanence of the Internet as their lives are archived on social media, as election campaigns are fought with smear campaigns built on quotes from upwards of a decade ago and when shamed individuals have their entire life ruined by one moment of misunderstanding which ends up defining their existence forever. If Sons of Liberty was misunderstood and unappreciated back in 2001, this is likely because it was almost a decade before its time.

While the themes in Sons of Liberty are handled in a rather masterful fashion, the same can’t be said of the actual narrative they occur within. There are some very interesting moments in the game’s story, but I think it would be fair to say that the plot is told in an unnecessarily convoluted and sometimes just plain insane manner. The Tanker chapter is quite interesting as it does a great job of setting up its circumstances and then providing forward momentum which keeps the player invested. However, as I said in the gameplay section, the plot turns into a lot of busywork throughout the majority of the Plant chapter, which isn’t helped by the fact that that it is made very obvious to the player that nearly everyone is lying to them up until Raiden meets President Johnson. For example, from the second that Iroquois Pliskin is introduced, everyone knows that he is actually Solid Snake so all the “oh is he really a SEAL?” questioning is kind of pointless. In addition, one of the first lines of the Plant chapter reveals that The Colonel is bullshitting Raiden as he tells him that the Big Shell was built to clean up an environmental disaster, while the player knows that this is not the case. Throw in the fact that Raiden’s personality is largely withheld from the player until the last couple hours of the Plant chapter, and you get a recipe for lots of unsatisfying busywork as you try to get to the points where the plot gets interesting.

That said, even when the story starts picking up near the end, the game suddenly goes into an overdrive of plot twists. Over the course of one single stretch of cutscenes in the game’s final hour, we are treated to the following plot twists, many of which are introduced and then reversed shortly after their introduction (and note that the S3 plan is revealed and altered three separate times in this one stretch): Raiden is a product of the S3 plan, using VR to turn him into the next Solid Snake! Solidus actually wants to capture Arsenal, not the Big Shell! No wait, he didn’t want Arsenal, Fortune did and she was going to betray him! He really wanted the names and location of the Wisemen’s Committee! But wait, Ocelot screwed them all over because The Patriots were using them to pull off the S3 plan in real time! And Fortune wasn’t really psychic, it was all electromagnets that she had hidden on her for years now without knowing! But wait, it turns out that she actually does have psychic powers! How fortuitous! But then Ocelot betrays himself and then goes to destroy the Patriots as Liquid Ocelot! Wait, Solidus wasn’t a bad guy at all, he was trying to free the world from The Patriots! But wait, The Patriots are trying to keep the world’s information from destroying humanity! Plus the S3 plan is actually an information control system that has basically nothing to do with Raiden at all! As you can no doubt see, this is the distillation of batshit insanity and basically requires multiple playthroughs to even begin to understand what is going on.

In addition to the ridiculous number of plot twists, Sons of Liberty also introduces some strange and/or problematic plot points. The most obvious of these has to be the Liquid arm twist, which is often derided as one of the most insane twists in the entire series. The idea of having Liquid Snake be able to psychically possess Ocelot is insane, even by the standards of Metal Gear‘s magical realism, as there is no real precedent for it… and that’s not even getting into the question of why Ocelot would even use Liquid as an arm donor in the first place. There’s also an incredibly strange and unnecessary plotline where Otacon tearfully explains that he was banging his stepmother, which just comes out of absolutely nowhere. I know Kojima wanted to explain why Otacon felt guilty that Emma almost drowned, but was that really the best he could come up with (that’s not even mentioning the incestual vibes between Otacon and Emma)? Kojima also sort of writes himself into a corner with Solidus – the idea that a clone of Big Boss would become president and that no one would notice this is one of the more ridiculous plot holes in the series. This was silly enough when it was revealed in Metal Gear Solid, but Sons of Liberty makes it worse when it is revealed that Solidus has been training child soldiers and that at least one of them was living in America and surely would have recognized him at some point or another. When people talk about how crazy and impenetrable Metal Gear stories are, they are referring specifically to the reputation set by Sons of Liberty. Most other games in the series can be fairly complex, but are not too difficult to follow on their own merits.*

On the more positive side of things though, The Patriots were a great introduction in my opinion. Having a conspiracy theory-style Illuminati controlling world events from behind the scenes makes for some fascinating plot developments. They are also foreshadowed in very clever ways, such as having Solidus and Fortune be referred to as “King” and “Queen” respectively, suggesting that they are just playing pieces in The Patriots’ chess game. The skull-faced Colonel also seems to be a reference to John Carpenter’s They Live, a film which tackles similar themes. Kojima also does a great job of hinting at what their roles were in previous games, which goes a long way to retconning those games to have much deeper and more interesting background conflicts. However, they are somewhat dampened by the fact that literally every single named character in Sons of Liberty knows that they exist except for Raiden and Peter Stillman**. I’m not even exaggerating either: Scott Dolph, Snake, Otacon, the Gurlukovich family, the Sons of Liberty, the President, Richard Ames, Emma Emmerich – they’re all aware of this supposedly “top secret” organization, which is frankly ridiculous.Perhaps the best part about The Patriots though is the fact that they allow Kojima a chance to exercise moral ambiguity. Previous Metal Gear games had rather straightforward stories with mostly-straightforward good and evil characters (although Big Boss in Solid Snake did have a certain amount of ambiguity up until the end when he reveals that he’s training child soldiers). From Sons of Liberty onward, there are very few “true” villains in the franchise, as they almost all have some sort of sympathetic motivation or tragic backstory to flesh them out, and even the heroes do not always come out unblemished. The prelude to the final battle on Federal Hall is a clear example of this. Both Solidus and The Patriots reveal an understandable level of sympathetic motivation to their actions, even if we still know that both sides are total bastards. In the end we’re left with a choice between two bad sides, but while I sympathize far more with Solidus, The Patriots have leverage over Raiden to force him to choose their ends. As a result, while Solidus is defeated, The Patriots’ position is actually strengthened and they are free to continue their information control.

Despite all this serious talk about heavy themes and games as art, Sons of Liberty still manages to be one of the funniest games in the whole franchise. In addition to aforementioned plot points which include literally running naked up Arsenal Gear’s asshole as The Colonel wigs out, Kojima also throws in tons of little details and fun abilities for the player to discover. One odd example of this is the ability to interact with Codec calls. If you press R1 or R2 when someone is talking to Raiden, he will actually say something to taunt or praise the speaker (such as “uh huh?”, “you’re crazy!” or “you’re so cute!”). In addition to the already-silly cardboard box, the game also gives you the ability to distract enemies with pornographic magazines, which is just hilarious when you manage to pull it off. I think my favourite trolling moment though is when you have to sneak through the Marines in the Tanker chapter. In addition to just messing with them by changing the projector screen displays, there is also a moment where Scott Dolph gets the Marines to set off a false alert. This was a huge troll moment for me way back when I first played this game and is one of my fondest memories of that playthrough as I seriously thought I had been spotted by everyone for a moment before I burst out laughing at Kojima’s ingenuity. Then there’s all the other little, often juvenile, details that you’ll come across, such as slipping and falling to your death on bird shit, getting pissed on by a guard and having the President of the United States come up to you and grab your balls and say, with surprise, that you’re a man. You also get a trophy for staring at bikini models in the game which is, appropriately, called “Snake Beater”. In all, this adds up to a very silly experience which kind of goes at odds with the otherwise-serious story and themes, but which no doubt makes it more enjoyable to play through.

Sons of Liberty is also unique for having two new Metal Gear models featured in the game, although both of them twist the definition of “Metal Gear” pretty significantly. The first, and most obvious, is Metal Gear RAY. This model has a very badass and iconic design. Whereas REX is bulky and imposing, RAY is sleek and efficient. However, it differs from traditional Metal Gears by not being nuclear-equipped. Rather, it is actually meant to be a counter to other Metal Gears. The other Metal Gear in the game is Arsenal Gear, which is an extremely unorthodox design for the series. It has more in common with a spaceship or a submarine rather than a Metal Gear. After all, isn’t the whole point of a Metal Gear for it to be a bipedal, nuclear-equipped tank? The only part of that which fits Arsenal Gear is the nuclear-equipped bit. It’s also ends up being a rather throwaway plot point by the end of the game when The Patriots reveal that they basically threw away billions upon billions of dollars on its construction for basically no actual purpose.

As for the characters, they aren’t quite as distinctive as the cast from Metal Gear Solid, but there are still some very interesting individuals driving the plot forward. I really like Ocelot here in particular. He was already cool in Metal Gear Solid when there was only implications that there was more to him than meets the eye, but in Sons of Liberty he really comes into his own as one of the greatest villains in the entire franchise. He is always two steps ahead of everyone, has extreme chronic backstabbing syndrome and is pulling the strings from behind the scenes… which makes the fact that The Patriots manage to double-cross even him all the more impressive and actually one of the more effective demonstrations of their power.

Similarly, Sons of Liberty builds upon the other returning cast members to flesh them out quite well. I have already shown how Snake has evolved in some detail, but Kojima also goes a long way to turning Snake into the ultimate badass now that the player doesn’t get to play as him. Like Ocelot, he is always just ahead of Raiden. This is best demonstrated in the opening of the Plant chapter, where Raiden is literally a minute too late to witness Snake kick the shit out of all the guards. Otacon also gets a bit more development which shows that he has become a less-passive individual since the Shadow Moses incident (although the stepmother revelation is still totally baffling). Despite being a secretly new character, The Colonel actually plays on the players’ memories of Colonel Campbell with his extremely mechanical and impersonal dialogue. I heard one commenter claim that they suspect that The Colonel’s voice acting is intentionally robotic, and having played through the game with this in mind, I definitely have to agree. His performance and lines can be extremely odd, which strikes me as being something which was deliberately done to clue in the player to his true intentions with a certain amount of subtly.

As for the new characters, they are more of a mixed bag. Raiden was a major point of contention for a lot of fans when this game was first released. I have written about it before and, while there were the idiots who just didn’t like his androgynous looks, I think that most of them just didn’t like his personality, especially when compared to the much better fleshed-out Solid Snake. Honestly though, Raiden is fairly decent once he finally gets his backstory near the end of the Plant chapter. Up until that point though, he lacks an interesting personality and can be kind of petulant at times. To be fair though, his “whininess” is usually in response to reasonable stimuli, such as being asked to perform bomb disposal despite not being trained for such a dangerous task. By the ending though, Raiden begins to assert his own history and makes his own decisions, which makes him significantly more endearing. He also gets a pretty strong character arc by the ending, which couldn’t possibly be wiped out by any sequels which would reverse all of his character development… nope, not a chance…

I think the real issue though for most people is Rosemary. She isn’t as bad as I remembered, but she has been written as a bit of an overly-emotional wet blanket and only brings out the whiniest parts of Raiden. You only really have to listen to her when you save the game, but if you are someone who saves frequently you might want to start holding down the triangle button to skip their “relationship talk”.

Emma Emmerich has some similar issues. She is actually kind of an entertaining character who has much more chemistry with Raiden than Rosemary ever displays. There’s also the fact that Emma is wracked with PTSD due to almost drowning as a child when her father tried to commit murder-suicide. This alone makes her more endearing and makes her otherwise annoying qualities more forgivable. During the escort mission, Emma becomes a major burden on the player as she flat-out refuses to help herself and slows down Raiden significantly as he tries to get her to safety. This can make Emma very annoying to deal with, even if her actual characterization seems to be otherwise positive.

If Rosemary and Emma are both rather poor female characters though, then Olga Gurlukovich makes up for them in spades. I had forgotten just how awesome Olga is in this game – she has a strong code of honour, is loyal to her comrades-in-arms to a fault and is a very capable fighter. She takes all of this to the next level though when the Plant chapter begins. Here, Olga’s code of honour is used against her as she is forced into betraying her comrades in order to protect her child, who was stolen at birth by The Patriots. She damns herself for her actions, but does what is necessary in order to keep her child safe, even sacrificing her own life without a second thought. There’s also the fact that her cyborg ninja design, Mr. X, might just be my favourite in the franchise.

Rounding out the support cast is Peter Stillman, who I quite liked but who gets unfortunately killed off fairly quickly. That said, he has a fantastically tragic backstory and has a very interesting and strong character arc which is started and wrapped up over the course of about an hour and a half. Many characters in gaming don’t even get as much development as Stillman does in their entire runtimes, if not their entire franchise history.

As for Dead Cell, they aren’t quite as interesting as the FOXHOUND unit. Fatman in particular is really over the top, between his roller skates, morbid obesity and proclivity to sip wine during the battle, he’s just absolutely insane. Fortune is also unfortunately a poorly-utilized character. She has an interesting motivation and iconic “powers”, but she spends nearly the entire game moping about her misfortune and not really doing all that much. The strange twist where it seems that she actually does have psychic powers is just the icing on top and makes basically no sense (unless we reason that her electromagnet was reactivated, or that Ocelot intentionally made RAY’s payload miss their target for reasons that would become clear in Guns of the Patriots). I do rather like Vamp though. He has a very distinct and strange personality, while his powers make him a very love-to-hate enemy as he just constantly shows up at the worst possible times. I really love Phil Lamarr’s performance as well, it lends Vamp an incredibly creepy and sadistic vibe which meshes well with his imposing freakishness.I have already covered Solidus a few times now so I won’t go into too much extraneous detail, but I will say that he is a great main villain – not quite on the same level as Liquid Snake though, mainly due to his reduced screen time. He is rather badass in his own right though, but more than a little ridiculous with his Dr. Octopus arms, bulky exoskeleton and the fact that he’s an ex-President. I really do like how Solidus and Raiden are turned into a parallel of the Snakes and Big Boss, that was a great idea which lends a lot of emotional resonance to the conflict between these foes.

All-in-all, Sons of Liberty is a better game than I remembered, but it is still flawed. While the game’s themes are… uh… solid, the game suffers at times in its narrative and gameplay. That said, it’s hard not to appreciate just how daring Sons of Liberty is at times and how relevant it remains to this day. If you can stomach the Matrix-esque philosophizing and tangled narrative, there’s a real gem just waiting to be found.Plus you can trick enemies into looking at porno mags. That never gets old.

8.5/10

*With Guns of the Patriots being the biggest exception, mainly because it has to follow-up on Sons of Liberty and actually wrap up all the insane plot points that game introduced to the series.
**And possibly Johnny Sasaki, but I can’t even confirm that that is true… not to mention that he is an Easter egg character of course.

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