Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid (1998)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the third, and arguably most popular, game in the franchise, 1998’s Metal Gear Solid. This game often ends up in the top 5 in “Greatest Games of All Time” lists. Does it still retain its legendary status more than 17 years since its initial release? Read on to find out…

(Note, I have beaten this game once on an emulator in 2007 or 2008 and have experimented with a PS1 copy of it a few times on PS2/PS3. For this playthrough, I decided to try the game out on PS Vita. It played very closely to the PS1 version with no real detriments. The lack of L2/R2 buttons required a bit of experimenting, but I ended up remapping them to the right analog stick with considerable success. If you play the game on Vita, I’d recommend keeping it on digital mode, mapping movement to the D-pad and left analog stick and then mapping L2/R2 to the right analog stick, as this is a very intuitive solution and considerably better than using the awful touch controls.)

DEVELOPMENT
Following the completion of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake in 1990, Hideo Kojima moved on to other projects. While he did have plans of putting out a third game on the 3DO in 1994, he instead worked on his own original IP, Policenauts, which would further develop his talents as a director and storyteller. Policenauts is also notable for having a number of references to the Metal Gear series, and actually marked the first appearance of Meryl Silverburgh, who would later be carried over into Metal Gear Solid. By the time that Policenauts was completed in 1995, Kojima was looking into another Metal Gear for the 3DO, but the console was in a decline. As a result, development shifted onto the original PlayStation.

Given how much time had passed since the last Metal Gear release, and not to mention that there were two different continuities depending on the region where each game was played, Kojima decided to give the series a very “soft” reboot and titled the game Metal Gear Solid, retaining the events from the previous games, but not requiring a knowledge of them to be appreciated.

The developers tried to make the game as accurate as possible, utilizing SWAT team members as advisers. The game’s artists also put a lot of effort into small details within the environment with the aim of making the experience as authentic as possible. Levels were also occasionally designed using Lego pieces to conceptualize the game’s spaces. Kojima also wanted to have persistent bodies that would have to be hidden by the player and a dynamically-altered soundtrack. These ambitions were unachievable on the PS1 hardware, but would become possible in subsequent games in the franchise.

Following its initial release in 1998, Metal Gear Solid also received a number of re-releases and a remake. In 1999, a re-release called Metal Gear Solid: Integral was released in Japan with some slight improvements to the game which had been missing from the original Japanese release, but present in the North American version of the game (such as different difficulty levels and the first person camera). The game also packed in a series of simulated gameplay challenges that would be repackaged in international markets as Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions. A remake was also released in 2004 called Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. The game was developed by Silicon Knights and exclusive to the Gamecube. The Twin Snakes‘ gameplay was updated to match Sons of Liberty, and featured re-recorded dialogue and altered cutscenes. As a result of the changes to the original game, including some major tonal dissonance and gameplay-breaking elements, this remake was not particularly liked amongst fans of the series. The game also received one more “pseudo-remake” in the form of the Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel, which is essentially an interactive retelling of the game.

PLOT SUMMARY
6 years after the Zanzibar Land Uprising, Snake is forcibly called out of retirement once again to infiltrate a secret Alaskan nuclear disposal site called Shadow Moses island. The island has been captured by rebels from the FOXHOUND unit, who take the island’s staff hostage and threaten to launch a nuclear strike if their demands aren’t met. Under the command of Colonel Campbell and receiving support from chief medic Naomi Hunter, local advisor Master Miller, data analyst Mei Ling and military analyst Nastasha Romanenko, Solid Snake is sent in to perform a solo infiltration to save the two high-priority captives, the DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker, and to assess and stop the terrorists from launching a nuclear strike.

Snake infiltrates the island via sea and then makes his way into the base after overhearing the location of the DARPA Chief. Snake makes contact with Anderson, who informs him that the terrorists have captured an experimental Metal Gear, codenamed REX, from the US government. He warns that Metal Gear requires two launch codes to activate, and that the terrorists have already acquired his code via Psycho Mantis’ mind reading powers. However, Anderson reveals that REX can be deactivated with a series of three PAL cards. Before Snake can extract the DARPA Chief, he suddenly begins to convulse and dies of a heart attack. Snake finds this extremely suspicious, but before he can really react, he is released from Anderson’s cell by Meryl Silverburgh, Colonel Campbell’s niece who has acquired an enemy uniform to disguise herself. Snake and Meryl are attacked by enemy Genome Soldiers, but they manage to fight their way through them. As soon as they are defeated, Meryl escapes and runs further into the base using her disguise.

Using the intel provided by Anderson before he died, Snake locates Kenneth Baker. However, he inadvertently stumbles into a trap planted by Revolver Ocelot, who has surrounded Baker with C4 charges. Snake and Ocelot battle, but their fight is interrupted by a mysterious cyborg ninja, who slices Ocelot’s hand off and sets off the C4 trap. Ocelot and the ninja flee as Snake secures Kenneth Baker. Baker reveals that he gave up his launch code under torture, but mentions that he gave the PAL override keys to Meryl. He also gives Snake an optical disc containing data for Metal Gear REX and tells him to make contact with the lead scientist on the project, Dr. Hal Emmerich. Before he can be evacuated, Baker also dies of a heart attack, screaming in rage that the “Pentagon betrayed him” before he succumbs. Now incredibly suspicious about the way that the mission is unfolding, Snake becomes furious at Campbell for keeping secrets from him, but continues to press onwards regardless.

After making contact with Meryl via codec, Snake begins heading towards Dr. Emmerich’s lab. He is contacted by a mysterious stranger calling himself “Deepthroat” who warns Snake of mines and a tank ahead of him piloted by FOXHOUND’s Vulcan Raven. Thanks to the tip, Snake is able to make his way through the mines and defeat the tank before moving on to Emmerich’s lab. As he heads into the lab, he finds the eviscerated bodies of Genome Soldiers and confronts the cyborg ninja once again as he corners Emmerich. Snake and the ninja clash, but the ninja flees after making a number of familiar statements to Snake. Shocked, Snake realizes that the ninja is Gray Fox, his old comrade whom he had killed 6 years earlier in Zanzibar Land. Naomi confirms this, revealing that Gray Fox had been resurrected and used as a test subject in gene therapy, the results of which were used to create the Genome Soldiers. With Gray Fox gone, Snake secures Emmerich, who refers to himself as “Otacon”. Otacon reveals that he had no idea that REX was meant to be capable of launching nuclear strikes, as its weapons were handled by a separate department. He is saddened that his work was being abused to perpetuate nuclear weaponry, and promises Snake to support him to stop the launch.

Snake then finds Meryl to acquire the PAL override keys, but discovers that she only has 1 key card. Frustrated, the pair begin heading towards REX’s hangar. However, they are quickly ambushed by Psycho Mantis, who uses his psychic powers to take control of Meryl and to fool Snake. Luckily, Snake is able to overcome Mantis’ powers, defeating him and saving Meryl in the process. A dying Mantis tells Snake and Meryl about all the evils that he had committed and explains that he found Snake interesting because they both shared a love for killing. With Mantis dead, Snake and Meryl proceed onwards through the Communication Towers. However, they are ambushed again, this time by Sniper Wolf, who shoots Meryl multiple times, using her as bait to lure Snake out of cover. Distraught, Snake hurries back to the armoury to get a sniper rifle, but when he returns, Meryl is gone. He battles Sniper Wolf and defeats her, but when he attempts to interrogate her, Sniper Wolf and a squad of Genome Soldiers take Snake captive.

Snake is then brought to Ocelot, who steals the optical disc that Baker had given to Snake earlier. He then tortures Snake, threatening to kill Meryl is he gives in. Snake endures the torture and then is taken to a holding cell. In the cell, he finds the DARPA Chief’s corpse, but is surprised to see that he appears to have been dead for days and that his blood has been drained out. Eventually, Octacon arrives using stealth camouflage and gives Snake some rations and ketchup. He begs Snake not to kill Sniper Wolf, as he has become very infatuated with her and believes that she is a good person. Snake makes no promises, and uses the ketchup to fool the guard into thinking that he is dead, giving him a chance to break free and escape.

After reacquiring his equipment, Snake heads back to the Communication Towers, where he is attacked by Liquid Snake in a Hind D. After making his way to the second tower, Snake shoots the Hind down using a Stinger Missile Launcher, seemingly killing Liquid. On how way back down from the second tower, Snake is ambushed in an elevator by a squad of four Genome Soldiers with stealth camouflage, but he manages to defeat them after a warning from Otacon. However, when he exits the tower, he is confronted by Sniper Wolf for a second time. He pair fight, and Snake leaves her mortally wounded. Sniper Wolf relates her harsh upbringing and her history with Big Boss, before coming to the realization that all she has ever wanted was for someone to kill her. As Otacon watches on with tears in his eyes, Snake finishes Sniper Wolf. Distraught, Otacon draws upon some unknown resolve and promises to help Snake however he can.

Heading down towards REX’s hangar, Snake is confronted once again by Vulcan Raven, who is now armed with a minigun. Utilizing stealth tactics against Vulcan Raven’s brute force, Snake manages to overcome his foe. Feeling charitable in his death throes, Vulcan Raven reveals that the man who Snake confronted in the DARPA Chief’s cell was actually Decoy Octopus and that the real Donald Anderson was the corpse in the cell when Snake was tortured. Snake tries to press Vulcan Raven for more information, but he refuses and dies. Master Miller also informs Snake that Naomi has been lying to them all, after analyzing some inconsistent statements she had made earlier about her past. Miller insists that Naomi be arrested, as she could be spying for the terrorists and could compromise the mission, and Campbell obeys.

Snake makes his way into REX’s hangar, where Otacon reveals that REX’s railgun has been designed as a stealth weapon – when fired, nuclear missiles won’t require rocket propulsion, rendering them invisible to radar. With the US and Russian governments in disarmament talks during the terrorist takeover, discovery of a project such as REX would create a massive international incident and leave the president in disgrace. Otacon also informs him that there’s a trick to the PAL key – it changes shape in different temperatures, effectively giving it the versatility of three cards in one. Snake also overhears Liquid (who somehow survived the Hind crash) and Ocelot discussing their plans. They have set the strike target as Lop Nor, China, since this is a nuclear test site. This will mean that the governments can try to cover up the strike and that FOXHOUND can continue their negotiations, but that the US government will inevitably be forced to give up state secrets in order to explain what happened and avoid war. At that point, Liquid and Ocelot would be able to sell Metal Gear REX to other governments around the world. They also reveal that they have changed their demands. In addition to $1 billion and Big Boss’s DNA, they have also demanded a vaccine for a disease called FOXDIE. With these demands, Liquid would join forces with a Russian officer named Sergei Gurlukovich and turn Shadow Moses into Outer Heaven, fulfilling Big Boss’s dream of a world where soldiers always have a place.

Snake begins inputting the PAL keys after getting them to the proper temperature to change their shapes. In the process, he is secretly contacted by Naomi, who informs him that she is the adopted sister of Frank Jaeger, aka Gray Fox, who took her in during the Rhodesian Civil War. After Snake killed Gray Fox in the Zanzibar Land uprising, Naomi joined FOXHOUND in hopes of getting her revenge. She reveals that Snake has been injected with FOXDIE, an engineered virus which targets specific genetic codes and then kills them with a heart attack. He had been originally injected with it to kill off the FOXHOUND soldiers and Kenneth Baker, but Naomi had modified it so that it would kill Snake as well. However, she reveals that she regrets this action and admits that she no longer feels hatred towards Snake before Campbell discovers Naomi’s codec and cuts off her transmission. Furious at Campbell for keeping this information from him, Snake tells him that he has been betrayed and used.

After inputting all three PAL keys, Snake discovers that he has unintentionally activated Metal Gear REX, rather than deactivating it. Master Miller contacts Snake, revealing that he was actually Liquid Snake in disguise, and that Master Miller was killed days ago. He reveals that Donald Anderson died before he could give up his launch code, and that the terrorists had been trying to get Snake to locate the PAL keys and figure out how to use them himself, while tricking him into thinking that this would stop Metal Gear from launching. Liquid reveals that the Pentagon is trying to cover up everything at Shadow Moses – they want to recover REX and the bodies of the Genome Soldiers and will eliminate everyone involved in the operation to keep this disgrace from getting out. Finally, Liquid also reveals that he and Snake are brothers, of sorts. They are both the products of the “Les Enfants Terrible” project, which had attempted to clone Big Boss and create his successor. Liquid is jealous of Snake because he received Big Boss’s recessive genes, whereas Snake possesses the dominant genes.

Liquid then climbs inside of REX and battles Snake. Otacon informs Snake to shoot REX’s sensory radome in order to expose the pilot. Snake does so, firing stinger missiles at the radome, but with little effect. However, Gray Fox appears and begins attacking REX with Snake. He tells Snake that the reason he adopted Naomi was because he had killed her parents and felt guilt for his actions. He destroys REX’s radome, but is severely wounded in the battle, losing an arm. REX crushes Gray Fox under its foot and then turns its attention back to Snake. With the cockpit now exposed due to the destroyed radome, Snake begins firing at Liquid until REX begins to explode and is deactivated, knocking Snake unconscious. He wakes up on top of REX with Liquid watching over him. Liquid reveals that the Genome Soldiers are genetic brothers of theirs, as they have been treated with Big Boss’s genes. Liquid believes that he is obeying the “will” of his genes and that he will surpass Big Boss and his inferior heritage by killing Snake. He draws Snake’s attention to Meryl’s unconscious body and warns him that they are nearly out of time – with REX destroyed, the Pentagon would surely attempt damage control and will nuke Shadow Moses to keep any knowledge of the operation from leaking out. Campbell confirms this information, and explains that Meryl had been transferred to Shadow Moses in order to blackmail him into obedience during the operation. He asks for Snake’s forgiveness for lying to him throughout the operation and promises to delay the bombers long enough for Snake and Meryl to escape. However, their transmission is then interrupted by the Secretary of Defence, Jim Houseman, who assures them that bombers are inbound and expresses regret at the DARPA Chief’s death.

With time running short, Liquid and Snake fight once again, this time precariously poised atop REX and with only their fists. Snake eventually prevails, forcing Liquid to fall off of the side of REX. Snake then resuscitates Meryl and the pair hurry to make their escape as the bombers begin to strike Shadow Moses. Otacon offers to stay behind and open up security doors as Snake and Meryl drive a jeep through a supply tunnel. The pair break through a few enemy checkpoints before they are pursued by Liquid once again, who pursues them in a jeep. As they reach the end of the tunnel, the two jeeps crash and Liquid approaches the now-unarmed Snake and Meryl. However, before he can pull the trigger, Liquid succumbs to FOXDIE. Snake takes this as a sign that he is going to die now as well, since he and Liquid are clones and FOXDIE targets specific genes.

The pair then notice that the bombers have stopped their bombardment. Campbell calls and informs them that Houseman has been arrested and that the President has called off the bombers. Campbell informs them that Snake, Meryl and Otacon are now considered “dead” and are free to leave. Snake contacts Naomi and asks when he can expect to succumb to FOXDIE, but she tells him not to worry and to live his life as best he can. Snake and Meryl then ride off together into the Alaskan sunset.

In the game’s post-credits sequence, Revolver Ocelot reports the events of the operation of the President of the United States, revealing that he was acting as a double agent to recover Metal Gear REX’s launch data. He also reveals that the death of the DARPA Chief wasn’t an accident, because the chief recognized Ocelot and had discerned his true motives. He also reveals that Snake was actually the inferior clone, and that the President is the perfect clone of Big Boss – Solidus Snake.

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Despite being released 8 years later, Metal Gear Solid plays very similarly to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The two main design differences are the shift to 3D and the addition of voice acting and more cinematic elements. That said, these two additions make Metal Gear Solid feel like an enormous leap forward, even if the core gameplay is basically just a refinement on Solid Snake. Shifting to 3D opens up some much-needed improvements to the core gameplay. For example, while Metal Gear Solid still utilizes card keys to gate off sections of the game, they have been made so much more convenient than in previous Metal Gear games. Doors actually display which key card is required to open them, you only carry one key card on you now which constantly upgrades its security clearance (similar to the red/blue/green cards from Solid Snake) and are more conveniently-placed. This last point is in part due to the fact that backtracking is much less prevalent than it was in previous Metal Gear games. In total, you have to backtrack to the start of the game once to acquire a PSG1 sniper rifle for the fight with Sniper Wolf, and then you also get forced here again for the torture sequence. The end of the game also requires that you backtrack through Metal Gear REX’s hangar about 4 times, but these are thankfully relatively short and easy sequences. It is also nice that these backtracking sequences are kept fresh by adding new enemies and obstacles that weren’t there the first time you were there, such as new guards or gun cameras. Interestingly enough, the reliance on key cards and backtracking are easily two of the biggest problems with the game. However, playing through Metal Gear and Solid Snake has given me an appreciation for just how much of an improvement these systems are in Metal Gear Solid and has allowed me to be much more forgiving, although I do remember disliking these design elements the first time I played the game.

Metal Gear Solid also introduces some other gameplay refinements which are much more universally accepted. Probably the best of these is the new shooting mechanics, which finally allow for 360 degree targeting with a lock-on system when enemies get close. The previous two Metal Gear games were artificially made so much more difficult when Snake could only fire in 4 axis, so being able to shoot in any direction opens things up quite a bit and makes encounters much less frustrating to deal with. The game also introduces some new close combat mechanics. Punches no longer kill enemies, and instead knock them out for a couple seconds after you hit them about 5 times. The game also introduces chokeholds, which allow you to kidnap enemies and then snap their necks, and throws, which let you knock over an enemy when they’re facing you. While this expanded arsenal is nice, the unreliability of chokeholds and the minimal effectiveness of punches mean that shooting is a much more reliable method to get through enemies, especially once you acquire the silencer. This is held somewhat in check by end-game ratings which encourage non-lethal gameplay, but the gameplay definitely incentivizes silenced shooting rather than close quarters takedowns.

Also worth noting is that Metal Gear Solid has a much more intuitive design philosophy than previous games in the franchise. Finding your way from place-to-place is quite simple and every location has a very distinct art style and purpose which keeps it memorable. For example, when I discovered that I had to find a hot and a cold room to change the PAL key, I knew exactly what I had to do to accomplish this feat without having to be told how to. This might not seem like a big deal, but Solid Snake had a similar requirement which I found significantly more challenging because I couldn’t for the life of me remember where the hell the hot and cold rooms were. That said, if you do ever get lost, a quick Codec call to Campbell or another support team member is sure to help. The Codec acts as a really great way to get hints without requiring literal arrows pointing you in the direction you need to go. As a result, Metal Gear Solid is a very easy game to pick up and play without requiring a guide (again, unlike Metal Gear or Solid Snake).

As I said previously, the adoption of cinematic elements is one major feature of Metal Gear Solid which really makes it stand out. From the opening moments of the game, it becomes apparent that the direction and cinematography of the cutscenes is top notch. The very deliberate camera angles and neat little tricks that they pull off really make the game’s production values soar through the roof. The game does often feel like you’re involved in a playable movie, and the addition of voice acting really helps in this regard. The voice acting in the game is quite… er… “solid”. Even if the writing can be rather awkward at times, the sincerity of the performances helps overcome this.

With the addition of cutscenes and the emphasis on story elements, Metal Gear Solid‘s design shifts from being primarily gameplay-based to more of an equal balance between story and gameplay. The cutscenes* can be lengthy at times (with one near the end of the game probably clocking in around 20 minutes), but they contextualize the gameplay and make accomplishing your objectives more emotionally satisfying. While Solid Snake clocked in around 6 hours of almost 100% pure gameplay, I finished Metal Gear Solid in 9 leisurely hours (not including continues), which are largely padded out with numerous cutscenes and codec calls. Without these non-playable bits, the game is probably closer to 6 hours long, with speedrunners being known to complete it in just over an hour. That said, I quite like the balance they were able to achieve between gameplay and cutscenes – non-fans might find them off-putting or overly long, but as someone who has played through the entire franchise multiple times, it was refreshing to go back to Metal Gear Solid and see how well balanced the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio was.

The game’s visual style also plays into its cinematic ambitions. It’s quite interesting that nearly every cutscene has been pre-rendered using the in-game engine (with the exception of a handful of live action FMVs during exposition moments). For a game this old, this could have definitely been a detriment if the character models weren’t detailed enough or were animated poorly, but luckily the graphics complement the game’s style quite well. Despite the limited textures and polygon count, the game’s character models do a good job of illustrating a character features to such a point that your imagination is able to fill in the details without actually having the ability to display those details directly. The one big exception to this is during the second battle with Sniper Wolf – this showdown is clearly intended to be occurring in a raging blizzard, but the hardware is just too inadequate to actually render anything more than a light snowfall. For the rest of the game though, Kojima and his development team really do a masterful job of making the most of their hardware and wringing out every ounce of power to create an effective setting.

Similarly to Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid has a really strong visual aesthetic. The colour palette is largely made up of blues, greens, whites, greys and blacks, lending it an extremely cold aesthetic which is clearly meant to invoke the harsh Alaskan environment. It’s actually quite striking, beautiful and distinctive, which makes it stand in sharp contrast to many modern games of this sort which have adopted the “default” blockbuster colour grading of orange and blue.

It’s also worth noting that Metal Gear Solid is extremely unique within the franchise for containing a player-determinant ending. If the player submits during Ocelot’s torture, then Meryl dies in the end and the game takes on a much more melancholy tone. If you don’t submit, then the game takes on a more hopeful tone as Snake attempts to atone for his life’s mistakes and find love. It’s a really unique mechanic which was never really repeated again during the franchise (with the possible exception of some much more minor story elements in The Phantom Pain 17 years later).

While the shift to 3D resulted in some major refinements, it did bring with it the game’s one critical flaw. In the first 2 Metal Gear games, the “screen” system meant that you always knew where enemies were and whether you could be detected as the screen gave you a very wide view to orient yourself within it. However, in Metal Gear Solid, there screen system is completely removed and Snake moves around in a full-rendered area. This is a great improvement in general, but it becomes a problem in execution, as the game features an absolutely wretched camera system. Honestly, I made six separate notes when playing about how much the camera was pissing me off, which is a pretty damning indictment. Like the previous games, Metal Gear Solid utilizes a top-down camera, but it is centered far too close to Snake, making sneaking difficult and generous usage of the Soliton Radar System and first person mode mandatory in order to avoid combat. Even then, the camera is so close to Snake that enemies can see him from off-screen and you’re very rarely going to be shooting at enemies that you can actually see.

Of course, things just get worse when you set off an alert. Like previous games in the franchise, Metal Gear Solid features instant alerts when spotted which jam your radar, but the camera makes these so much worse to deal with. At least you could see the whole screen in Solid Snake and could deal with enemies with the appropriate knowledge. In Metal Gear Solid you can’t tell if enemies are approaching without leaning against an object or by going into first person mode, and if you get spotted again then you’re not even going to know where they are because they will do so off-screen. Making things worse, in some areas running around causes the orientation of the camera to lag a little behind Snake, meaning that you’re going to have even less time to react to enemies in front of you as even less of the screen shows enemies ahead of you. This all means that getting out of alerts can be a massive pain in the ass as you gun down anyone nearby and just try to find somewhere to hide when no one’s looking. The fact that the Japanese original release didn’t feature first person mode and that any difficulty beyond normal removes the radar is just baffling to me. The game is clearly balanced around having the radar and without it you’re basically just being masochistic.

That’s not the end of the camera woes though. The game also sometimes changes the camera angle into a more cinematic view, sort of like the system employed by the PS1 Resident Evil games. The issue here is that, while the perspective is on an angle, the controls remain identical. So, while the game’s perspective looks like you need to go up-right to avoid a security camera, the game actually wants you to press up to go straight, and pressing up-right will actually walk you right into the security camera’s view (and into an instant alert). This caused me no end of trouble in the early sections of the game before I realized what the issue was.

Furthermore, the mid-to-late sections of the game just push the camera frustrations to their limit. This point of the game often leaves your radar jammed, at which point Kojima just seems to delight in placing gun cameras in places where they don’t even appear on the in-game camera until you’re right inside their range. As a result, you end up having to go into first person view quite frequently to avoid taking damage from such cheap sources. Clearly, Metal Gear Solid‘s camera is its biggest weakness, adding quite a bit of frustration and somewhat souring the series’ translation to 3D, even if it is otherwise a great improvement.

I laughed very early on in Metal Gear Solid when Mei Ling warned me that the Genome Soldiers have heightened senses, because their vision cones are rather pathetic in-game. This is likely due to the limited camera, but they can only see a few meters ahead of themselves and have no peripheral vision. They’re also total idiots – if you knock them out or shoot them, they’ll look around for about 5 seconds and then go back to a normal patrol as if nothing happened. That said, they do get a few cool tricks that they can use to find you. Like Solid Snake, they can hear footsteps depending on the terrain you move along (including puddles now) and can see your footprints in the snow at one point in the game and track them.

However, as at least one reviewer has pointed out, the core gameplay of evading regular guards is quite limited within Metal Gear Solid, which is clearly why the game features as much backtracking as it does. The game seems to value set pieces and boss battles at least as much as its core gameplay. Solid Snake featured a few gameplay twists, such as following the green beret through the jungle, but Metal Gear Solid shakes things up constantly. In addition to the frequent boss battles, the game also features a rappelling section, shootouts up a seemingly-endless stairway, an elevator ambush and a prison escape sequence. While some people might decry the lack of core gameplay, I do appreciate the ambition involved in creating such a diverse group of set pieces, which really goes a long way to making Metal Gear Solid feel like the playable action movie it so clearly wants to be.

Metal Gear Solid also features the first of many torture sequences which would become a series staple. Personally, I absolutely hate this sequence, as button mashing is not my forte in the slightest. I do like that success or failure results in a narrative split, but I am just a horrid button masher. The first time I beat this game, 7 or 8 years ago now, I didn’t make it very far and submitted, although I was left very disappointed when it turned out that Meryl died because of me. As a result, for this playthrough I resolved to complete it successfully and save Meryl. I must have tried almost a dozen times but couldn’t even get close as I tried desperately to cheat the game by messing with PS Vita control remapping (it turns out that the sequence is looking for button presses and releases, so if you map the O button to every single button on the system or onto analog sticks, then it’s going to register this as you simply holding onto the O button rather than tapping it). In the end, I paid one of my brothers $5 to complete it for me, but even then it took him 3 or 4 tries to finish it, with us suspending the Vita part way through to let his finger rest. That was when we discovered that, if you succeed, then you have to beat it at least 1 more time!!!!!!!! Thank God I saved when I got into the prison cell, but holy shit did the torture sequence ever leave me incredibly frustrated and ended up stretching out my playthrough for a few more days as I felt so deflated by how irritating it was. So, uh, yeah… this part actually annoyed me far more than the camera woes, but for most people I imagine that this won’t be quite so big an issue.

One other aspect of the gameplay design I want to cover before moving on to the boss battles is that disc 2 is definitely a hell of a lot weaker than disc 1, at least until REX is activated. Disc 1 has quite a lot of momentum propelling the story ahead at a breakneck pace and a lot more involving gameplay. Disc 2 involves considerably less interesting gameplay, as you largely throw chaff grenades to disable gun cameras and backtrack quite a few times. The radar is also jammed quite often in these areas, which makes it very annoying when you end up in areas with gun cameras and mines hidden off-screen without receiving any sort of warning ahead of time. It is clearly largely annoying filler and busywork to keep the game going for another hour or so (with the loss of the PAL key being the most egregious example), but at least the Vulcan Raven fight and story sequences keep this part of the game afloat until the climax hits.

With the jump to the PS1, Metal Gear Solid‘s boss battles have gotten far more interesting than they were in previous Metal Gear games. In fact, this game might just have the absolute best batch of boss battles in the entire series, as the FOXHOUND unit has very distinct personalities, interesting gameplay twists and reasonable challenge to make for some of the most memorable encounters in the whole franchise.

The fight with Revolver Ocelot is, in a lot of ways, a rather straightforward and easy gunfight, but it is very enjoyable and features just enough twists to keep it interesting – the center of the room is booby-trapped with C4, you have to be careful about not hitting Kenneth Baker with a stray bullet as you try to track Ocelot, not to mention that Ocelot can ricochet bullets and has a reload count that you need to exploit to catch him off guard. It’s a much deeper fight than you would reasonably expect a shootout like this to be, and that’s not even covering how enjoyably hammy Ocelot can be.

The fight with Gray Fox is quite fun and is clever for harkening back to the minefield fight with him in Solid Snake. Furthermore, while it is a simple beat ’em up in a lot of ways, Kojima makes the very wise decision to add different “stages” to the fight – a feature which is a staple in many of Metal Gear Solid‘s boss battles. The first stage of the fight is a rather straightforward fight, the second stage sees Gray Fox utilizing stealth camouflage to get close to Snake, while stage three involves powerful but slow attacks. These sorts of boss fight progressions go a long way to keeping Metal Gear Solid‘s bosses interesting and challenging, even when they feature otherwise-simple mechanics.

The Psycho Mantis fight is also often considered one of the greatest boss battles of all time for Mantis’ extremely creative attacks and parlour tricks (which are still hilarious, even though they have been so widely covered since the game was released). The fight itself is rather simple (boiling down to “dodge the things that Mantis throws at you”), but it is quite enjoyable and the fourth-wall breaks involved in fighting and beating him are very clever. Probably the biggest boon to the fight though is Mantis’ insane and unabashedly evil personality, which makes him extremely memorable and satisfying to defeat.

I found the Sniper Wolf fights to be the most frustrating during my playtime. It’s a reasonably fun confrontation, but the game’s shooting controls with sniper rifles make it very challenging to line up a shot without getting hit first (and worse, when you get shot, the camera gets thrown far to the side, meaning that you’re going to get shot again before you can line up another shot). I ended up burning through all 4 of my rations to just barely beat her the first time. The second fight is actually harder in this regard, but thankfully there are some exploits – you can easily defeat her in this fight by using nikita missiles or stingers if you aren’t adept with the game’s sniping mechanics. Sniper Wolf is made much more interesting thanks to Otacon’s infatuation with her and her tragic history, which makes her defeat an extremely sombre moment and easily one of the highlights of the entire franchise.

Vulcan Raven is a rather fun fight. You don’t stand a chance if you try to take him on directly, meaning that you have to hide from him and try to lure him into C4 or claymore traps, or shoot him with nikita missiles. It’s kind of like the anti-shootout boss battle, as stealth is basically the only way to get through alive. That said, it’s a rather easy fight to get through without a scratch, but it can be quite tense trying to track him with a nikita missile and then seeing him approach your position on the radar. He’s a rather strange and ridiculous character, but somehow also manages to come across as absolutely badass at the same time (which I’m sure is helped by his epic minigun).

The game also features quite a few fights with Liquid Snake, and they’re all very thrilling. The fight with the Hind D is easy but very fun as you basically play hide and seek and lock on with your stinger missiles. This is definitely the best Hind D fight in the franchise by far. The two-stage fight with Liquid in Metal Gear REX (which, by the way, is the coolest Metal Gear design in the whole franchise by far) is also a fantastic fight and extremely impressive for a PS1 game. After the extremely simple Metal Gear fights in Metal Gear and Solid Snake, it’s awesome to see a Metal Gear actually able to follow you around and move to try to kill you without getting gimped by the limited hardware. In fact, I’m still shocked and impressed that they managed to get it running on PS1 at all. That said, with chaff/stun grenades and stinger missiles, the battle is incredibly easy to complete without taking any damage.

Of course, that’s not the end of Liquid, as you end up fist fighting him on top of REX. This sequence clearly draws a parallel to the Gray Fox fight from Solid Snake, with a time limit making it even more intense. Liquid has enough health that you have to be extremely aggressive while also avoiding his heavy attacks, or you are guaranteed to run out of time. It’s a simple but extremely satisfying battle. The game also concludes with an amazing escape sequence as Snake fires a machine gun on a jeep into enemy patrols and Liquid, who is pursuing in a jeep of his own. The fight is notable for actually letting you fire the machine gun in first person mode, making it much easier to actually hit Liquid during the fight, although I wonder why the hell they didn’t let us shoot this way through the rest of the game as it would have helped matters quite a bit. All-in-all, Liquid makes for a fantastically smug final antagonist and is easily one of the greatest villains in the entire franchise, despite only appearing in this game (although Kojima has admitted that he would have kept him alive if he had realized that the series was going to continue).**

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

With the stronger emphasis on storytelling, Metal Gear Solid finally reaches a point where the specifics of the plot and characters actually drive the game forward. Solid Snake certainly made great strides in this regard, but Metal Gear Solid has a much more involved and interesting story to tell which is, in a lot of ways, more interesting than the sorts of blockbuster films that the game seems to emulate. This is in part due to the fact that Metal Gear Solid is not content to just tell a straightforward B-movie story (like Solid Snake did), but rather tries to add some depth and feature a couple key themes. Foremost amongst these is the question of whether a person’s fate is controlled by their genes. A number of characters’ actions are defined based on the way that they perceive this question, and much of the plot is advanced based on their changing beliefs.

Naomi Hunter is probably the most obvious example of a character who fits squarely into the “genes theme”. Naomi is a doctor and states that she got into her field because she was a war orphan. She grew up with no knowledge of her biological family or native land, leaving her with no connection to her past. By going into the field of biology, Naomi was able to look directly into her genes to study her specific legacy in exact detail. Through this study, she developed a belief that a person’s fate is built directly into their genes via their biological predispositions. This ties directly into her relationship with Solid Snake. Naomi is aware that Solid Snake is a genetically-modified clone of Big Boss, designed to be the ultimate soldier. As a result, she believes that Snake is an monstrous killer, especially after he kills her adopted brother, Frank Jaeger. Naomi sums this up rather succinctly when she declares to Snake that “It’s your genes, they make you predisposed to violence!”

However, over the course of the mission, Naomi’s perception of Snake begins to change. Her picture of Snake as an emotionless assassin is tested on a number of occasions as he begins to assert his own agency and begins to develop feelings for Meryl. Naomi is audibly shocked when Snake refuses to leave Meryl after she is wounded by Sniper Wolf, and when he resolves to save her life rather than continue onward with the mission. She also finds it surprising that Snake still considers Frank Jaeger a friend, despite having to kill him as part of a mission, which causes her to declare him an “animal”. However, when he encounters Gray Fox during the Shadow Moses incident, he demonstrates that he still considers him a friend and tries to help, showing that Zanzibar Land wasn’t a personal vendetta.

By the end of Metal Gear Solid, Snake’s actions have shown Naomi that her beliefs about genes were far too extreme, as he has proven that he creates his own fate. In the ending, Snake questions Naomi on when (or if) he can expect to succumb to FOXDIE, but Naomi refuses to give him a straight answer. Instead, she tells Snake that:

“You mustn’t allow yourself to be chained to fate, to be ruled by your genes. Human beings can choose the kind of life that they want to live. What’s important is that you choose life… and then live. […] Genes exist to pass down our hopes and dreams for the future through our children. Living is a link to the future. That’s how all life works. Loving each other, teaching each other… that’s how we can change the world. I finally realized it. The true meaning of life…”

Similarly to Naomi, Liquid is completely obsessed with his genes (despite having a wretched understanding of how they actually work). Liquid has been led to believe that, because he received Big Boss’s recessive genetic traits, he is therefore the inferior clone whereas Solid Snake’s dominant genes make him superior. As a result, he feels that both Solid Snake and Big Boss have robbed him of his future and forced him into obscurity. While he, like Naomi, believes that genes define an individual and set their fate, his entire life struggle revolves around fighting back against his fate regardless. Liquid also espouses the “Selfish Gene Theory“, claiming that he wishes to save Big Boss’s genetic successors from extinction – since Solid Snake, Liquid Snake and the Genome Soldiers are all based on Big Boss’s genetic code, they are all susceptible to the same diseases and lack the diversity necessary to adapt. Of course, he will do so by defeating Solid Snake, set himself up as the last son of Big Boss and diversify the Genome Soldiers to keep them from extinction.

In contrast, Solid Snake doesn’t care about his genes at all, but rather believes that he is free to do what he wants. Whether or not this is true is a major question throughout Metal Gear Solid and ties into the ending of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake very well. If you remember, in the ending of Solid Snake, Big Boss tells Snake that whichever one of them comes out on top will be fated to fight forever, to which Snake claims that he will live his life however he chooses. However, by the time Metal Gear Solid rolls around, Snake is once again killing professionally. Psycho Mantis really brings this into perspective. In his dying monologue, he states that he hates humanity because all that they care about is sex, but that Snake is different. He is like Mantis, someone defined by violence who isn’t concerned with carrying on his genetic legacy. Furthermore, the reveal of the Genome Soldiers as genetic successors of Big Boss essentially means that Snake has been committing fratricide throughout the whole game. Whether or not Snake is truly in control of his fate is an ambiguous question for about the first third of the game due to his actions.

However, as the mission progresses, Snake begins to display more examples of agency. Initially, Snake tells Meryl that if she slows him down, he’ll kill her. However, Snake begins to develop feelings for Meryl as the mission goes on and refuses to finish her and carry on with the mission when she is wounded by Sniper Wolf. He also expresses genuine sorrow and weakness when Meryl is captured (and possibly killed), causing him to fight back in an effort to redeem himself. When Mantis insists that Snake is destined to kill Snake rebuffs this assertion, stating that “A strong man doesn’t need to read the future. He makes his own.” Snake also chides Naomi on a couple occasions, telling her that she is too worried about her past and what her genes say instead of living in the “now” and doing what you feel is right. Ultimately, despite now knowing his exact genetic legacy and facing down potential death as a result of FOXDIE, Snake finally asserts himself unequivocally as he decides to live, riding into the sunset with Meryl (or Otacon) into a bright future.

There are also a couple other aspects of the game which demonstrate the “genes theme”. FOXDIE itself is a pretty clear example, as it is a weapon which attacks a person based on their genes (put another way, it causes a target’s genes to literally decide their fate). Meryl also fits into the theme as she claims that she became a soldier in order to understand her father, who died in war when she was young.

Like most Metal Gear games, there is a strong anti-nuclear sentiment running throughout Metal Gear Solid, although this is the first game in the franchise to truly hammer these feelings home. This is expressed most obviously when Kenneth Baker tells Snake just how real the threat of nuclear attack is in this day and age, whenever Snake speaks with Otacon about the horrifying capabilities of Metal Gear REX, and whenever Snake calls Nastasha on the Codec – in a lot of ways, she seems to be Kojima’s espy to espouse his feelings about nuclear weaponry. The threat is also just ever prevalent throughout the narrative, with lots of reminders throughout the story stemming from the fact that Shadow Moses is a nuclear disposal facility (not to mention the giant, nuclear-equipped threat that is the primary threat in the plot).

Metal Gear Solid marks the first game in the franchise with that utilizes frequent and complex plot twists, a narrative trick that would become a series hallmark from this point onward. Unfortunately, some of these plot twist don’t hold up quite as well under scrutiny as the twists in later game in the series, which actually undermines the otherwise-engaging narrative. In addition to the aforementioned poor understanding of genetics which messes with the “Snake and Liquid are Big Boss’s clones” twist, Metal Gear Solid also revolves heavily around a major plot twist near the ending which throws the rest of the game for a loop. This is the reveal that FOXHOUND has manipulated Snake into activating Metal Gear REX using the PAL key system after making him believe that this will stop it from launching. It is honestly a rather cool idea for a twist and is set up cleverly throughout the story (such as having Decoy Octopus give you a lot of the early objectives while in disguise). Unfortunately, for each good set-up attempt, the game undermines it with some strange narrative decisions which I can’t chalk up to anything other than gaping plot holes. One problem with this is the fact that Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf and Vulcan Raven all seem to have been in on the plan, but yet all of them do try to kill Snake and are willing to sacrifice their lives for… some reason? Or what about all the myriad of ways that the FOXHOUND unit puts themselves and Snake in danger when they could have easily just put up minimal resistance, allowed Snake to reach Metal Gear and then have to fight off all of FOXHOUND together? Why do they even need Snake to activate the PAL system anyway? They had both Meryl and Kenneth Baker in custody and had already broken Baker under torture, could they not have gotten him to admit the location of the PAL key and how to activate it? Why did they need Snake at all? That’s not even the end of the plot holes unfortunately, because Otacon and Kenneth Baker are both under the impression that the PAL key will override the launch codes as well – how could they get this wrong? The game doesn’t really give us an explanation.

Luckily, the other twists are all handled in a far better fashion. The whole game sets up that there’s more to Naomi than meets the eye, so when it is revealed that she was a spy all along, her motivations and actions actually make sense. The twist regarding Master Miller is also rather clever, although I do have a hard time believing that Campbell and Snake would mistake Liquid Snake for Miller. The post-credits sequence also adds a ton of twists and manages to tie into subsequent games in the franchise surprisingly well. This scene alone lays the foundation for a number of future plot points, from the reveal of the third clone (Solidus), to the importance of Ocelot (who was really a seemingly-minor character here) and the reveal that Snake is actually the inferior clone. Considering how the Metal Gear franchise was clearly cobbled together piece by piece, it’s interesting how these plot points and some future retcons tie in so well and actually make Metal Gear Solid‘s story feel even richer in retrospect (particularly the identities of the DARPA Chief and Dr. Clark).

It’s also worth noting that Metal Gear Solid throws in a huge retcon with surprising deftness. This would be the reveal that Solid Snake knew that he was the son of Big Boss, a plot element which many of us who didn’t play the first two Metal Gear games would have assumed was revealed there. However, this is not the case and it is only casually brought up by Snake here in a codec call. While this doesn’t contradict Metal Gear or Solid Snake, it does make it rather odd that Snake or Big Boss wouldn’t bring up their familial relationship during the battle and it does make it rather unclear exactly when Snake became aware of this – all we know for certain is that it was sometime before he killed Big Boss, meaning that it either happened prior to Metal Gear or sometime off-screen just before the battle in Solid Snake. Not that I should really nitpick it all that much, as it was an inspired retcon which also makes the previous 2 Metal Gear games’ narratives richer and would open up some fantastic future plot points.

Moving on to the characters, Metal Gear Solid definitely has one of the best casts of characters in the entire franchise. Every character has a very interesting and distinct personality, from the protagonists, to the villains, to the support staff. In fact, it’s quite impressive that the support staff get a ton of interaction within the plot, whereas in basically every other Metal Gear game they tend to be relegated to exposition dumps or hint sources. The only expendable support staff member is Nastasha, as you can easily play through the whole game without ever contacting her if you don’t want to. That said, she still is a very interesting and well-rounded character who, unfortunately, disappears after this game. She has some background importance within Sons of Liberty, but I was quite disappointed when she was left out of Guns of the Patriots entirely, making her basically the only surviving character from the Solid games to be left out of the series’ conclusion.

As for the villains though, we’re absolutely spoiled with a wealth of fantastic antagonists. As I wrote earlier, Liquid Snake is easily one of the best villains in the entire franchise, with his imposing figure, clever strategy and his relationship with Snake setting him up as a natural match. However, his supporting crew are all just as memorable. Revolver Ocelot is already quite interesting as the cowboy-and-torture-loving sadist, and that’s before we even find out that he has chronic backstabbing disorder. Psycho Mantis is extremely interesting and unique, but is really pushed into the upper echelons of villains in the franchise due to his fantastic dying monologue (not to mention his tragic final words: “This is the first time I’ve ever used my power to help someone. It’s strange… it feels… kind of… nice”). The same goes for Sniper Wolf – she is incredibly interesting due to her code of honour and her extremely tragic backstory and you really feel for her by the time that Snake is forced to kill her.*** Vulcan Raven is probably the strangest FOXHOUND member, but he is quite badass when he runs around after you with his minigun and his dying monologue is interesting (although not nearly as good as Wolf or Mantis’). All-in-all, Metal Gear Solid easily has the best cast of villains in the entire franchise, none of the other games even come close to recapturing the personality of the FOXHOUND unit.

Metal Gear Solid‘s key players are all also quite well defined. Snake continues to be a really great lead, and now that he has much more dialogue (with great voice acting to go along with it), he comes across as being exceptionally badass with a ton of personality. Meryl has a great emotional journey as she wrestles with her desire to become a soldier and understand her dead father, while also falling for Snake over the course of the mission. I was really feeling for her and this was a primary motivator for me to not submit to Ocelot’s torture… no matter how much that part frustrated the hell out of me. Otacon is also an inspired addition to the cast. He starts out as a lovable loser who pisses himself and hides at the sight of danger, but as the plot progresses he gains his own type of unique courage and even offers to sacrifice himself to allow Snake and Meryl a chance to escape the island before it is nuked. Gray Fox is also quite interesting and is wisely used in a very sparing fashion, making him into an effective wildcard. You can never be sure when exactly he may show up, but when he does show up you know something insane is going to go down.

Also, before I wrap things up, I have to give special mention to some of the fantastic lines in Metal Gear Solid. While the writing can be awkward at times (the line about ending up as “worm food” stands out as being incredibly strange to me for whatever reason), there are some really inspired moments, many of which have become personal anthems of sorts. Here are just a few of the great character moments captured in the dialogue:

Otacon: “Snake… What was she fighting for? What am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?”

Solid Snake: “There are no heroes in war. The only heroes I know are either dead or in prison. One or the other.”
Meryl Silverburgh: “But Snake, you’re a hero, aren’t you?”
Solid Snake: “I’m just a man who’s good at what he does: Killing.”

Solid Snake: “Never doubt yourself. Just let it make you stronger. Learn something from it!”

Sniper Wolf: “I finally understand. I wasn’t waiting to kill people, I was waiting for someone to kill me. A man like you. You’re a hero.”

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

All-in-all, despite a terribly inadequate camera, a wonky plot twist and a infuriating torture sequence, Metal Gear Solid is a landmark game well-deserving of the praise it has had heaped upon it since its release. It take the already-great foundation established by Solid Snake and improves upon it in nearly every way, making it significantly more accessible, while also introducing fantastic new cinematic elements, telling a very engrossing story and featuring some very ambitious, action-packed gameplay. There’s a good reason why this game is still so highly regarded to this day. If you can get used to the camera and try not to worry too much about the big twist, then you’re going to have a hell of a time with Metal Gear Solid. It’s truly a masterpiece of gaming excellence.

9.5/10

*Note that I include codec calls in this umbrella definition, especially when a pair of cutscenes are interrupted by a codec call – you don’t get to take control again and at that point it’s basically just a part of the cutscene.
**Personally I’m glad that Kojima did kill Liquid here. This is actually the nice thing about having the franchise’s story get put together over time – we get cool, one-off villains with a lot of importance to the overarching plot without having to involve them in every event.
***Although she could stand to button up her shirt, it’s cold in Alaska!!!

Retrospective: Metal Gear 2 – Solid Snake (1990)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the second canonical game in the franchise, 1990’s Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. How would Kojima build upon the foundation he set up in 1987’s Metal Gear? Read on to find out…

(Similarly to the first game in the series, I will be reviewing Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3 on Original difficulty. Also, unlike Metal Gear, which I had gotten about 30 minutes into on a couple occasions, I went into this game completely blind and relied heavily on a guide to complete it.)

DEVELOPMENT
The NES port of Metal Gear ended up becoming a big success for Konami, despite being an inferior bastardization of the MSX version. As a result, Konami ordered the creation of a NES-only sequel, Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge, without the knowledge of series creator Hideo Kojima, who had been busy stretching his storytelling and directing talents on the cult classic Snatcher series. In fact, Kojima didn’t even know that Snake’s Revenge existed until a fateful train ride where he met a member of the game’s development staff. In the meeting, the developer asked Kojima to make a “true” Metal Gear sequel. While he hadn’t planned on making a sequel to Metal Gear, by the end of the train ride Kojima had come up with the game’s storyline and got the go-ahead from Konami. As a result, Solid Snake was considered the Japanese sequel on MSX2 and Snake’s Revenge was considered the North American sequel on NES (similarly to how Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels was the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2). In fact, the game would not see an official release in North America until 2006 when it was included in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

PLOT SUMMARY
The year is 1999. The Cold War is drawing to a close, and nations seem to be moving towards universal nuclear disarmament. However, the mercenary nation of Zanzibar Land, begin attacking weapon disposal sites and take them for themselves in order to become the world’s greatest nuclear power. Meanwhile, an energy crisis grips the world as oil stocks plummet. At the height of the crisis, a scientist named Dr. Kio Marv creates an algae, OILIX, which synthesizes petroleum-grade fuel efficiently. Before he can present these findings to the international community though, he is kidnapped by agents from Zanzibar Land and held hostage. As a result, Zanzibar holds the world’s fuel supplies and its nuclear weapons, making it the greatest threat to international security ever known.

With the fate of the world in the balance, a PTSD-suffering Solid Snake is forced out of retirement to save the world by the new leader of FOXHOUND, Colonel Campbell. Infiltrating the Zanzibar Land complexes in search of Kio Marv, Snake is contacted by CIA agent Holly White who offers to help him during the mission. He follows Kio Marv’s transmitter signal, but is ambushed by a man calling himself “Black Ninja”. Snake defeats him, but is shocked to discover that Black Ninja is Kyle Schneider, the leader of the resistance against Outer Heaven 4 years earlier. Schneider reveals that NATO bombed Outer Heaven after Snake’s mission was complete, causing staggering amounts of collateral damage which killed many resistance members indiscriminately. Schneider himself was captured and used as a research guinea pig for NASA. He reveals that he was saved by the leader of Zanzibar Land and tells Snake to “follow the green beret” before succumbing to his wounds.

Following Schneider’s dying advice, Snake follows a man in a green beret into the jungle to a prison cell. The cell is empty, but Snake hears someone knocking from the next room over. Snake translates the tap code and discovers Dr. Drago Pettrovich Madnar is the one in the next cell. Madnar reveals that he has been captured to construct a new Metal Gear for Zanzibar Land, Metal Gear D. He also reveals that the leader of Zanzibar Land is none other than Big Boss. Madnar advises Snake not to worry about him and to search for Kio Marv as quickly as he can.

Snake then tries to make his way towards Zanzibar tower. In the process, he encounters a speedy mercenary named Running Man, who tries to kill Snake with poisonous gas as he stays out of Snake’s reach. However, Snake outsmarts him and places landmines in his path, killing him. Snake then heads towards the Zanzibar tower after acquiring Stinger Missiles, encountering and destroying a Hind D along the way. Snake then has to rescue Holly, who is captured by Zanzibar Land forces, but she tells him that there is a carrier pigeon at the top of the tower that has info on Marv’s whereabouts. After defeating a mercenary named Red Blaster, Snake locates the pigeon which has Marv’s radio frequency written on a note. Unfortunately, Marv doesn’t speak english, so Madnar suggests that Snake search for Czechoslovakian state security agent, Gustava Heffner, who was Marv’s bodyguard and is undercover in the facility.

Snake manages to locate Gustava, who is posing as an enemy soldier. The pair descend into the sewers and manage to rescue Dr. Madnar as they make their way to Marv’s cell. Madnar stops for a quick bathroom break while Gustava tells Snake about her past in Olympic figure skating and how she wanted to defect to the west to be with her fiance, Frank Hunter, but was denied asylum. When Madnar returns, the trio continue on their way and exit the sewers. However, when they attempt to cross a bridge to reach the detention camp, Gustava is mortally wounded when Metal Gear D, piloted by Gray Fox, suddenly shows up and destroys the bridge. Madnar is captured again and a dying Gustava gives Snake her brooch for unexplained reasons as Gray Fox gives Snake one last chance to turn around with his life.

Snake manages to get ahold of a hang glider to cross the destroyed bridge and battles a series of Zanzibar Land mercenaries, the Four Horsemen, Jungle Evil and Night Fright. Eventually, Snake is able to make his way into the detention facility and reach Dr. Madnar and Dr. Marv’s cell. However, he arrives too late – Marv has succumbed to torture and died. Holly then calls Snake and warns him that Madnar was not captured by Zanzibar Land, he joined them willingly. With the truth out, Madnar admits to accidentally killing Dr. Marv and ordering Gray Fox to attack them at the bridge. Madnar then attacks Snake and tries to strangle him, but Snake wounds him with remote controlled missiles. Snake manages to open a locker in the cell by using Gustava’s brooch as a key and retrieves the OILIX formula.

Before he can leave with the formula, Snake falls down a trap door where he confronts Gray Fox in Metal Gear D. Gray Fox tries to kill Snake, but Snake destroys Metal Gear by blowing its weakly-armoured legs up with grenades. However, Snake is forced to discard all his weapons as the explosion lights them on fire. Fox then leads Snake into a room ringed by land mines, where Snake discovers that Gray Fox is Frank Hunter, the man who was engaged to Gustava. Snake and Gray Fox then engage in a fist fight, with Snake beating Fox to death, with his last words of comfort being that Fox would get to see Gustava again on the other side and that they could finally be united.

Snake then is confronted by Big Boss. Snake tells his former commander that he intends to kill him to rid himself of the nightmares he has suffered due to the operation in Outer Heaven. Big Boss says that he and Snake have tasted battle and can’t go back to normal life anymore. The only way they can feel alive is on the battlefield. He and Snake would face one another, with the victor being fated to fight while the loser will finally find peace. Big Boss then pursues Snake, but Snake manages to create an improvised flamethrower using a lighter and aerosol spray can, burning Big Boss alive as he screams in rage. Snake and Holly then fight their way out of Zanzibar Land and to their extraction point. Snake and Holly hand over the OILIX formula to the government, and the world celebrates the end of the energy crisis. However, Snake claims that his fight is over and retires for a second time, disappearing without a trace…


GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
As soon as you boot up Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, it’s easy to tell that the game is a big leap forward from the original Metal Gear. For one thing, the game has an awesome opening soundtrack and cinematic for a game from this period, which shows off how much Kojima’s storytelling prowess has improved between Metal Gear and Snatcher. The opening cinematic hypes up Metal Gear D really well and actually lays down a rather interesting and (at the time) relevant backstory which contextualizes the game’s story quite well. As for the game itself, the graphics have significantly improved since Metal Gear, despite having the exact same hardware limitations. I felt that Snake looked really terrible in Metal Gear, with his character model being noticeably less-detailed than the enemies around him. However, in Solid Snake, he looks quite well-defined and even has a turning animation which is an unexpected extra attention to detail. If you need a better illustration of the improvements in Solid Snake, it’s kind of like the graphical difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3.

After this initial impression fades away though, the game has other aspects which are straight-up improvements on the formula established in the first game. For one thing, the silly respawning items seem to have been fixed. They do respawn occasionally when you leave an area , but you can’t farm them with nearly as much ease as you could in the first game. Considering that this exploit in Metal Gear was likely a hardware limitation, it’s impressive that they were able to get rid of it here, especially since Solid Snake is such a significantly larger and more ambitious game. The game also has a radar, which shows you enemies within all adjacent screens (basically giving you a view of 8 whole screens, in addition to the one you occupy). This is a very impressive addition which makes sneaking all the more strategic and potentially more difficult. Alerts and guards are persistent unless you enter certain locked rooms, meaning that you can’t just sprint to the next screen to escape an alert anymore, and enemies won’t instantly respawn as soon as you walk back onto their screen. You can also make noise by walking on certain types of flooring, or intentionally lure guards by punching walls, which is a great strategic option and makes the minute-to-minute sneaking more interesting.

Oh, and they’ve added a crawling mechanic! SCORE.

These additions to Solid Snake make it a more engaging stealth game than the original Metal Gear, but they also make it quite a bit more challenging. Having persistent alert phases makes escape quite difficult, especially since enemies will pursue you relentlessly. Worse, enemies spawn from exit points and your radar gets jammed during alerts. As a result, you can be a step away from freedom when an enemy will appear out of nowhere and get the whole alert going all over again. At times, getting through an alert can feel like a matter of dumb luck. The lack of gradient to an alert phase is also an annoyance – you can set up an ambush for an enemy, but if he suddenly turns at the last second then the alert is instant and everyone in the area is going to come after you. Not having any warning on when they might change direction makes this kind of approach dangerous. There is an exploit to quickly and safely end an alert phase though, which I used copiously throughout my playtime – when spotted, immediately enter a small room and then stand just off from the entrance. Enemies will enter single file every few seconds, but if you just spam the punch button you will catch them all off guard and not even get spotted.

That said, guards are much smarter than they were in Metal Gear. For one thing, they now have vision cones rather than vision lines, and if they’re on the same screen as Snake, then they can potentially spot you from the opposite side of the screen. This makes stealth much more skillful and difficult to pull off successfully. When spotted, they move far less erratically than before as well, usually heading straight towards you without running into pathfinding issues. They also have some tricks in certain areas, such as guards who can turn off the lights so you can’t see where you’re going without night vision goggles, or the guards who hide in a room full of dummies!

The game does have some other small touches which improve on the systems from Metal Gear. For one thing, gas rooms are far more infrequent and are less infuriating with the addition of the O2 meter. This means that you get a small grace period before your health begins to drain, making these sections much funner to go through. The game will also fully heal you after you finish a boss battle which is nice, and it seems that certain boss battles have replaced the “class” system from Metal Gear, providing you with equipment and health bar upgrades. This is a better system in my mind, since most POWs were hidden away in elusive places, whereas adding rewards for narrative completion is more sensible and easy to design encounters around. The gameplay is also a little more diverse, with some puzzle-solving, a section where you have to follow a soldier without getting detected, and a room full of sleeping guards that you have to be careful not to wake up. These additions help to make the minute-to-minute gameplay just a little more interesting.

Even some of the more annoying aspects of Metal Gear which have carried over to Solid Snake have been refined. The checkpoint system is basically identical to the first game, with it only activating when entering a new area. However, this game has far more access to new areas, so checkpoints seem to be much more frequent and death results in much less lost gameplay in my experience. Solid Snake also retains the crappy key card system from the first game, but with a welcome change: after acquiring a certain number of key cards, you can exchange them for a red, blue and/or a green key card which has the functionalities of three normal cards in one. While this is a welcome improvement, it suggests to me that Kojima knew that key card swapping was an inherent problem with the game, but decided to keep them in anyway for design convenience. If this is the case, then it rubs me the wrong way… especially because it’s basically the only reason why backtracking exists in this game (but I’ll get to that soon enough).

It’s also worth pointing out that Solid Snake might be the silliest Metal Gear game in the whole franchise. Here are just a few selected examples:

  • At one point in the game, Snake has to comically chase a carrier pigeon around the roof.
  • You can play a recording of the Zanzibar Land national anthem to cause enemy soldiers to salute you instead of attacking.
  • There’s a room full of dummies that look like enemy soldiers, just to make you nearly shit your pants when you first walk in.
  • You have to hatch an owl egg and then getting it to hoot in order to convince an idiotic guard that it’s night time (somehow).
  • There’s a room full of vicious rats which can kill Snake with ease (somehow).
  • Oh, and you defeat Big Boss with a slapstick improvised weapon.

The game also has some fourth wall-breaking moments, such as requiring you to check the game manual to decode a tap code or to figure out the frequencies of the various support characters (although this was likely included to give a middle finger to pirates, since you have almost no direction on where to go or what to do without these support characters). The silliness makes Solid Snake very funny at times and definitely had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

Fans of the franchise would also be interested to hear that Kojima directly ripped off some elements of Solid Snake and re-purposed them for Metal Gear Solid, including some of that game’s most iconic moments. A small list of examples (not including moments that I would deem “homages” to Solid Snake) includes checking the back of the box for a radio frequency, the elevator ambush, a comically-long stair run, temperature-based keys and even tailing a woman disguised as a soldier into the ladies’ washroom. For fans who have never played Solid Snake before, it can be quite interesting to see what parts Kojima re-purposed, although it does slightly diminish their uniqueness.

I feel it’s also worth pointing out that Solid Snake is a much lengthier game than Metal Gear. This is mainly due to the more refined and engaging gameplay, not to mention that the mission objectives in general just result in a longer, more enjoyable experience. With a detailed guide, the game took me about 4 and a half hours to beat, although with continues I imagine that it’s closer to the 5 or 6 hour mark.

Solid Snake‘s one huge negative though is the unforgivably ridiculous amount of backtracking. Most egregiously, you have to backtrack all the way to the start of the game at least 3 or 4 times in order to finish the game, which just reeks of attempting to pad out the runtime. You also don’t usually have a good idea of where to go if you don’t have a guide, meaning that you might backtrack to an area just trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do next. Oh and you also have to backtrack through a really annoying swamp maze on a couple different occasions. Basically, there’s a narrow maze that you have to go through which is hidden underneath the surface of a swamp. This would be a minor annoyance if it was just a 1-screen-maze, but this swamp stretches across 7 or 8 screens. Without a map, you’re going to be sinking as you trial-and-error your way through and then try to remember the exact pattern the next few times you are forced through this swamp again. Hardcore retro gamers: is it really so bad that modern games will let us know where we’re supposed to go? Is wandering around in directionless frustration worth the small satisfaction that comes from accidentally stumbling upon a solution to the problem? Frustrating design decisions like this just turn the very act of playing into a chore.

The game’s punching mechanics are also a bit of a negative point. I don’t think that they’re much different than they were in Metal Gear, but the much harsher punishment for detection makes their imprecise nature a bigger problem. Specifically, the direction you punch in is a major factor in your success or failure. The game is clearly designed around having Snake punch downwards or to the sides and his punches in these directions all have a surprisingly long reach. However, when punching upwards, Snake’s punches all of a sudden have much shorter reach, meaning that you have to poke out further to hit enemies, meaning that you are likely to get spotted while trying to set up an ambush. Considering that most of the stealth gameplay revolves around hiding around a corner and bashing enemies when they get close, this is a real frustration and eventually I was just avoiding having to punch enemies above me on the screen entirely. If I needed to take them out, then it feels like the silenced pistol is my only viable option.

Luckily, the bosses in the game are much more interesting and challenging than they were in Metal Gear. Most could be downed with a half dozen bullets, but the bosses in Solid Snake have more health, recognizable attack patterns and some sort of exploitable gameplay twist that you can take advantage of to pull through. Most of these bosses were quite fun to fight, although none of them were all that challenging (I have heard that many people find Gray Fox very hard, but I beat him on my first attempt after taking a negligible amount of damage). I think my favourite fights were the battle with Black Ninja, Running Man, the Four Horsemen, Metal Gear D and Dr. Madnar (just because he made me laugh out loud).

The Hind D is the only boss battle which left me very frustrated. Once you understand its movement and attack pattern, which always moves in the exact same way, avoiding damage is laughably easy. However, the method to destroy it is the problem. First of all, after encountering it you have to backtrack to the start of the game to acquire Stinger Missiles, which instantly makes it an annoyance. Secondly, you only get 6 Stinger Missiles, and you need 4 to connect to actually destroy it. Thirdly, the method to destroy it isn’t really well explained and can lead to some bafflement as you wonder whether or not you did any damage. Basically, you get a crosshair on the radar which you need to line up with the Hind’s radar blip to score a hit. I thought that I had to center this crosshair over the Hind to cause damage, which would have made more sense, but the actual way to hit it is to get the Hind inside of the edge of the crosshairs and then fire so that the Hind runs into the rocket. It’s a system that isn’t well explained and made me just committing in-game suicide a few times to avoid having to run all the way back to the beginning of the game to get more ammo to try again. That said, by my 3rd try, I beat it while only using 4 rockets and not getting hit once, so you can get a handle on it… it’s just the “getting a handle on it” that’s the annoying part.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
As I mentioned in the previous section, Solid Snake opens with a rather interesting and elaborate backstory cinematic touching on such relevant topics from the time as the end of the Cold War and energy supply concerns. The game’s opening area also suggests a much more futuristic design than the first game, with Zanzibar Land’s trucks appearing to be from some sort of sci-fi movie rather than a 90s-era military tale. These sorts of design decisions quite subtly suggest an advanced, near-future society unlike our own. Between the opening cinematic and the design elements that appear in the opening moments of the game, Solid Snake sketches out a rather compelling setting which is still engaging 15 years after its release, and must have been mind-blowing when it first dropped.

Due to the much more fleshed-out narrative though, Solid Snake retcons and twists the relatively simple Metal Gear storyline almost immediately. For one thing, Snake having PTSD is never really even hinted at as a factor in Metal Gear, as it seems like he didn’t really face that many true horrors. The very first boss fight hammers the retcons and twists home as well, as the Black Ninja ends up being former ally Kyle Schneider. While Big Boss was obviously just meant to be the cackling bad guy in Metal Gear, Schneider paints a far more nuanced and sympathetic view of him which ends up being more in line with his portrayal in later games in the franchise. In addition, having a former ally (who was believed to have been killed) switch sides because of a callous bombing action (which was never suggested in Metal Gear) makes the events of the first game seem much darker.

Having Gray Fox as a villain is also a clear retcon because, if he was working for Big Boss before, then why would he have been captured in Metal Gear and then have Snake come in to complete his mission?* The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that it’s possible that he didn’t realize that Big Boss was a traitor until Snake exposed him, at which point he he decided to stick with his commanding officer. In any case, it’s obviously meant to turn the narrative of Metal Gear on its head (much like the Kyle Schneider revelation), which is fine because Gray Fox makes for a great villain. He is clearly modeled to be the “anti-Snake” archetype, similar to other villains in the franchise, such as Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, Python in Portable Ops or Skullface in The Phantom Pain. Gray Fox’s dying monologue is also a fantastic moment, nearly as impactful as the acclaimed Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf death monologues in Metal Gear Solid, although the shorter length and lack of voice acting are the only things holding it back.

Solid Snake also features some much more interesting characters than the first game. Snake himself actually has a bit more personality this time around, and his support staff interact with him far more often. The addition of radio pictures helps personalize everyone just a little more, since it actually puts a face to the various people dispensing information at you. While Holly White is an unfortunately boring and poorly defined generic love interest, I felt that Gustava Heffner was a very cool character with an interesting and sad backstory. In fact, despite her limited screentime in the game, I was legitimately heartbroken when Gustava was accidentally killed by her former lover. I also felt a little better for Gray Fox when he was dying, knowing that he and Gustava were finally going to be able to reunite in the afterlife, where borders and politics can no longer separate them. Fleshing out Big Boss was also a great idea, although I wish that they had done so earlier in the game – he doesn’t really get a chance to explain his ideology until the end of the game. In some ways, he still comes across as a cackling super villain, but I found the endorsements of the children in Zanzibar Land especially to soften his evil veneer in my eyes (even if he does plan on raising them as soldiers… but so what, he’s still helping people no one else cares for).

Oddly enough, some elements of the game’s story seem to have been shoved to the wayside in subsequent Metal Gear games. Obviously you can’t put Solid Snake to fault for this, but since most fans are going to come to them after playing the other entries in the series, it’s worth noting. For example, global nuclear disarmament is a notion which seems to disappear entirely by the time that Metal Gear Solid was released. Metal Gear Solid hints very subtly at disarmament talks, but it seems like Solid Snake‘s insistence that they were in a world on the brink peace is actually just a pipe dream. It seems like this idealistic notion is just thrown out the window or handwaved away as actually being far more simple than we were led to believe, with small-scale nuclear disarmament. There’s also no mention of OILIX in subsequent Metal Gear games, despite it being hyped as the solution to the game’s sudden energy crisis. It’s also definitely worth mentioning that the showdown between Solid Snake and Big Boss is a little anti-climactic, especially in relation to how it is hyped up as this epic clash in subsequent Metal Gear games. For people who come to the this entry after playing the newer Metal Gear games, this is a revelation which will likely disappoint fans of the 20th century’s greatest soldier.

That said, Solid Snake is still well worth experiencing, as it makes some plot elements from Metal Gear Solid much stronger, particularly Snake and Gray Fox’s relationship. I can now truly appreciate and understand that Gray Fox’s forced resurrection is basically torture and makes his madness throughout Metal Gear Solid much more understandable (that said, it also makes his role in Portable Ops unforgivable, but we’ll get to that another time…). It’s also very cool seeing recurring characters show up here, such as Colonel Campbell and “Master” Kazuhira Miller. Of course, the narrative is still rather shallow, and is basically just an elaborate and interesting b-level action story, but it is quite engaging for what it is (and considerably better than many games of the time).

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is a fantastic 8-bit experience that I heartily recommend trying out. My only real complaints are that enemies spot you a little bit too easily, the backtracking required is absolutely ridiculous and the game’s puzzles can be rather obtuse. If you haven’t played it, then this common summary turned out to be quite apt: it’s like playing Metal Gear Solid in 2D… or, more accurately, playing Metal Gear Solid is like playing a more refined, 3D version of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. This game was definitely way ahead of its time and is worth checking out if you have any interest in the 8-bit Metal Gear games.

8.5/10

*The Phantom Pain‘s twist can now be used as an excuse for this to make sense, but that clearly wasn’t intended when Solid Snake was released. What I mean is that, when Solid Snake came out, this plot element was just intended to be a straight retcon of the situation from Metal Gear.

Retrospective: Metal Gear (1987)

Kept you waiting, huh? It’s finally time for the Metal Gear retrospective! I’ve spent way too much time over the past few months getting through every canonical game in the franchise and then writing up my analyses, so hopefully you enjoy the fruits of my labour. For this retrospective, we’ll be only looking at the 11 canonical installments in the Metal Gear franchise, and then I’ll cap everything off with some final words, a ranking of the series’ 10 greatest moments and my personal ranking of all the games in the franchise! First up is the game which started it all, 1987’s Metal Gear for the MSX2.

(Note, I will be reviewing this game based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3, which I beat on Original difficulty to try to get the “authentic experience”. I will also mention that I hadn’t completed Metal Gear before this playthrough and was relying heavily on a guide, so my review is probably going to be somewhat skewed as a result.)

DEVELOPMENT
A young Hideo Kojima joined Konami in 1986 as a planner, but was having trouble getting his ideas completed. After the cancellation of a game he had been working on for six months, Konami asked Kojima to come up with a war game for them for the MSX2. Due to hardware limitations, Kojima was becoming frustrated by the lack of bullet and enemy sprites he was able to get on screen at once. A massive film buff*, Kojima took inspiration from The Great Escape and decided to make a game where the goal was to avoid combat as much as possible. Konami wasn’t too keen on this idea, and Kojima nearly left the company due to internal friction, but eventually these differences were sorted out and the game was completed and released in 1987.

Shortly after Metal Gear‘s completion, the game’s code was given to a separate team to release a NES port without Kojima’s knowledge or consent. The heads at Konami specified that they wanted this version to be as different as the team could make it, and gave them a 3 month development window. The resulting game was markedly different and much shoddier, with notoriously bad Engrish and with the game’s Metal Gear boss being replaced by a supercomputer, among other questionable changes. This already-inferior port was further tarnished by being ported again to the shoddier Commodore 64 and MS-DOS, resulting in two practically unplayable versions of the game.

As I played the PS3 re-release, which is very slightly changed from the MSX2 version, I can’t really give much commentary on the NES port or its bastards, but I will link to this review for an analysis if you’re interested. For quite some time though, the NES port was the only version of Metal Gear available in North America, and actually received its own non-canon sequel, Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge. Suffice to say, that game will not be covered in this retrospective.

PLOT SUMMARY
In 1995, intelligence reports begin to leak out that there a weapon of mass destruction has been constructed within Outer Heaven, a mercenary fortress in South Africa. The US government gets Big Boss to send FOXHOUND operative Gray Fox to infiltrate their fortress and determine if their intelligence was correct. Gray Fox does locate the weapon, but is captured by Outer Heaven forces, his last transmission being an ominous utterance of “Metal Gear…”

Shortly after, FOXHOUND member Solid Snake is sent into Outer Heaven for his first mission by Big Boss. He is instructed to locate and rescue Gray Fox and then find what he can about Metal Gear. After freeing many prisoners of war, including the local resistance leader Kyle Schneider, Snake is pointed to Gray Fox’s location. He is intentionally captured and then breaks into Fox’s cell, where he is told of Metal Gear’s capabilities: it is a walking, nuclear-equipped tank, but luckily is still inactive. Fox instructs Snake to locate Metal Gear’s captive creator, Dr. Pettrovich Madnar, in order to discover how to destroy it.

After fighting his way through Outer Heaven, including taking down some of the group’s lieutenants, a Hind D, a battle tank, a bulldozer and an imposter Dr. Madnar, Snake makes his way to the real Dr. Madnar’s cell with the help of the resistance member, Jennifer. However, Dr. Madnar refuses to help Snake until his daughter, Ellen, is saved. A resistance member, Diane, advises Snake on where to find Ellen, and he dutifully hurries to rescue her. After fighting through more of Outer Heaven’s soldiers, Ellen is rescued and Snake returns to Dr. Madnar. He tells Snake that Metal Gear is in the 100th basement floor 20km north and would need to place plastic explosives on its feet in a specific order to destroy it.

Determined to complete his mission, Snake hurries to Metal Gear’s hangar, but is constantly ambushed by enemy troops and nearly led into a series of traps due to poor intelligence from Big Boss. Eventually, Big Boss orders him to abort the mission entirely. Disregarding Big Boss’s orders, Snake enters Metal Gear TX-55’s hangar and places the explosives on its feet as per Dr. Madnar’s orders. Metal Gear is destroyed and a self-destruct sequence is initiated. Snake hurries to escape, but is confronted by Big Boss! Big Boss tells him that Snake had been sent in to acquire false information, but he had gone too far. The pair fight, but Snake defeats his mentor and escapes Outer Heaven just as the facility is destroyed.

However, as the credits draw to a close, Big Boss vows revenge on Snake for destroying Outer Heaven…

 
GAMEPLAY & DESIGN

It should probably go without saying that Metal Gear‘s gameplay is incredibly simple, but I was actually really surprised by how many of the series’ distinctive elements were still intact here. For example, Metal Gear has remote control missiles, cigarettes, rations, card keys, a Hind D, post-credit twist and even the cardboard box – elements which would be intact through most (or, in some cases, all) subsequent releases in the franchise. As a result, this lends the game a sense of familiarity for someone like me who got into the series with Metal Gear Solid, and makes it quite interesting to see how the game’s systems were iterated upon over time.

Naturally, the stealth gameplay is incredibly simple – enemies and cameras can basically only see things that are right in front of them and you’re going to be punching most enemies to death to sneak around. A methodical approach is very much necessary though, especially in the early moments in the game as you are still learning how to remain undetected. I was trying to rush at times (especially when I died and redid a section), but when I did so I was making all sorts of little, critical errors which would get me killed all over again. As a result, the game has a very clear skill gap which rewards replays, similar to many 8-bit classics of the era.

Rewarding replays also ties into the map layouts. The game gives you very little direction and lacks a map system, so you’re probably going to end up wandering around a lot if you don’t have a guide. It’s also worth noting that most items and enemies refresh when you exit a room, so you can farm for necessary items by entering and exiting rooms. This is, in fact, a crucial key to success, and a factor which I was ignoring in my noob-ness in the first hour with the game. Once I figured this out though, the game became significantly easier and I enjoyed it much more. Guide-less exploration also helps to memorize map layouts and these critical item locations. While the game contains quite a bit of “Metroidvania”-style backtracking, it becomes rather satisfying to be able to navigate throughout the buildings to get to a specific destination without having to refer to a guide or map to get you through. There are quite a few parts of the game though where you need to punch specific walls to figure out where to place plastic explosives in order to advance, and if you are unaware of this then I imagine that these sections can be quite frustrating.

There is definitely a vein of old-school charm to be had in Metal Gear, but it also has a punishing skill gap which is going to be a major turn-off for many who might not even get past the first 15 minutes. I myself was tempted to throw in the towel a few times. The game can be very difficult, especially in the first part of the game where every death can cost you 10-15 minutes of playtime. This is primarily due to the game’s poor checkpoint system, which only triggers when you reach an elevator or achieve some sort of major progress (eg, getting captured in order to rescue Gray Fox). From what I understand, the frequency of the checkpoint system is also tied to your “Class”, a system which also increases your inventory size and health bar based on how many POWs you rescue during the game. This system further makes the early parts of the game significantly harder than the latter sections, but can also make completion of the game impossible – if you don’t have 4 stars and there are no POWs left, then it becomes impossible to destroy Metal Gear, prompting a full-restart. To make this worse, one of the last bosses that you might before Metal Gear uses POWs as human shields, and if you shoot a POW, your class will decrease.

Detection is also very punishing, if only due to the inadequate shooting controls on the MSX2. Snake can only shoot up, down, left and right, meaning that there are huge chunks of the screen which he can’t hit. Considering that enemies can shoot diagonally and move very fast and very erratically, chances are that you’re probably going to take quite a bit of damage on every detection. This is mitigated somewhat by having most alerts refresh as soon as you move on to the next screen, but this isn’t really a foolproof solution – for one thing, it makes the enemies seem extremely stupid, but it also is really inconsistently implemented. Sometimes detection results in enemies pursuing you constantly, with total annihilation of them being required to end the alert. However, you won’t know if this is the case until you have left the screen and the alert is still in effect, as there seems to be no audio or visual cue to show what state of alert is in effect.

Arguably the worst aspect of the game though is the reliance on key cards. This is a major source of frustration and is the main reason why the backtracking is so prevalent in the game (not to mention that it pads out the runtime significantly). The game has 8 unique key cards, so if you don’t know which card works for each door then you’re going to have to cycle through your entire inventory to see if a card will work on the door you’re trying to get into (and you may not even have the required card in your inventory, which is even more of a kick in the balls). Considering that you may be under fire when this is happening or in a room filled with poison gas (and not wearing your mask because you can only have 1 item equipped at a time), you can very easily die because of this inexcusable, frustrating piece of archaic game design.

The game’s graphics are also pretty bad. This is actually more than a petty complaint (although the graphical style is strikingly reminiscent of the notoriously bad Bible Adventures game), because the graphical design does a poor job of letting you know when you’re in danger. For example, the security cameras can be annoyingly inconsistent – normally you have to hide behind cover to avoid them, but I had a few instances where I was certain that I was in cover but would get spotted anyway. The land mines are also major offenders here, as I was constantly stepping on land mines… with my upper torso. I had a quite a few inexplicably cheap deaths from the game’s ambiguity about whether you’re safe or not. The absolute worst offender in the game though is the infamous “trap rooms” in the late stage of the game – these floor traps are one-hit kills and if even 1 pixel of your character model brushes against them, you die. There’s basically no warning when or where these traps show up, so getting through them is just a matter of frustrating trial, error and route memorization as you try to remember the few places where you won’t get killed if a single pixel touches the edge of the pits.

Guards in this game are incredibly stupid. In addition to completely forgetting you if you leave their screen most of the time, when they are alerted they will run around randomly and bump into objects as they try to home in on you, meaning you can hide behind a corner and punch them to death easily when they finally manage to get to you. When they are unaware though, they follow a standard, set patrol pattern which will feel instantly familiar to Metal Gear franchise vets and makes for some fun gameplay. The game also features jetpack enemies, which can be panic-inducing the first few times you encounter them. They’re very fast and hard to actually hit, making combat with them inadvisable. Luckily, they only show up at parts where you should run like hell away from them, but if you aren’t following a guide then I imagine they could be a major headache.

The game also has quite a few distinct bosses which, while very simple and easy, are quite fun and often feature the signature Metal Gear gameplay-twists that make these battles so exciting… plus in the original release they have some pretty hilarious Engrish names like Shoot Gunner and Coward Duck. I think my favourites were the fights against a tank and the fight with Shotmaker (aka Shoot Gunner), in which you start the battle with no weapons. Also of note is that the MSX version of the game has a showdown with a non-active Metal Gear. This fight is a bit disappointing and artificially challenging – you have to put plastic explosives on its legs in a specific order to do any damage for some inexplicable reason. Meanwhile, laser cameras shoot at you, with each shot taking off half of your health bar! It’s not particularly challenging, especially if you’ve farmed for rations prior to the fight, but it is certainly noteworthy as the first battle with Metal Gear in the entire series. This is then capped off with a fight against “Big Boss” himself, although it is quite easy as he doesn’t seem to know enough to not run into your rocket launcher’s shots.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

It should probably go without saying, but Metal Gear‘s story is significantly more simple than any other game in the franchise, and is only marginally better than your average 8-bit game. Most of the plot points are just meant to pad out the game’s length (eg, all the hunting for Dr. Madnar and then having to rescue his daughter before he’ll actually help you). As a result, it is probably the most heavily-retconned game in the entire franchise, with even its direct sequel, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, making some pretty substantial changes to the game’s story. Unfortunately, this can lead to some retroactive disappointment, such as Solid Snake’s lack of characterization and Outer Heaven getting dispatched so easily after being hyped up so much in the prequel games (not to mention the multiple issues that The Phantom Pain‘s ending throws into the mix). At best, I guess you can argue that the simple nature of the plot means that there’s a lot of room for background plots to be unfolding which are implied by the other games but never really explicitly shown in Metal Gear itself.

Put simply, Metal Gear was obviously never intended to become the first chapter in an epic saga. It was clearly just meant to be a fun, 80s-style action story, including the requisite “traitorous commander” twist. Considering that the game’s art (and the art of its sequel) use images of action movie stars as the basis of Solid Snake and Big Boss, it seems fair to suggest that this was the intent. The concept of Metal Gear itself though is quite an interesting one for such an otherwise simple game and one which definitely deserved expanding upon for its own merits. Metal Gear TX-55 has a really cool, unique, old-school design which I wish that Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain would have tried to emulate.

As I’ve hopefully made clear, Metal Gear is a very simple, if at times frustrating, game with a lot of old-school charm and a great (if sparse) 8-bit soundtrack. Not not sure that everyone will have what it takes to get through it, but completing it with a guide should only take around 3-4 hours. In fact, now that I have gotten through the game and have acquired the necessary skills to succeed, I’m kind of itching to play it again – this time, without a guide. Considering that I still have to play through the rest of the series to get this retrospective done, it probably won’t happen, but if that isn’t a testament to how fun this game is almost 30 years later, then I don’t know what else will sway you.

7/10

*As a child, Kojima was apparently forced to watch 1 movie every night before bedtime.

Circular Logic (aka, Let’s Blame the Feminists for Gaming Sexism)

So recently my morning started off in fantastic fashion as one of my friends on Facebook shared a forum post by Merlynn132 which blamed feminists for the issues with female representation in video games (click on the picture for the full-sized image):

Now admittedly, I actually found this guy’s points to be quite interesting at first glance and there may actually be some kernels of wisdom in here. However, the more I thought about the points that he was actually making, the more I realized that his argument is fundamentally flawed and falls apart under just a little scrutiny. So you know what time it is then, good reader: it’s time for yet another I Choose to Stand feminism post!

One big disclaimer before we move on though. I get the distinct feeling that Merlyn132 is directing some of these criticism specifically towards Anita Sarkeesian, but unfortunately its context has been removed to make it “shareable”. Admittedly, I haven’t looked into Sarkeesian’s criticisms myself, although I have found some of her examples to be at least somewhat suspect. If this post is intended to be a direct response to specific criticisms that Sarkeesian has made, then that’s fair enough (I would still disagree with its ultimate conclusion, but I could at least get behind some of its points). However, the tone and body of the post is written in such a way that it ends up being directed at feminism in general, which makes it fair game for a general response as far as I’m concerned. The lack of overall context for the post is unfortunate, so be sure to keep that in mind as the reality of the original post may somehow be shifted if we could see the whole conversation it was a part of.

As usual with this kind of criticism, Merlynn132’s first problem seems to be a lack of understanding of what feminists are actually campaigning for. His critique opens up with a statement that female characters aren’t allowed to have negative traits or feminists will cry out “sexism”. This could actually be the case with Sarkeesian based on some of the examples that I have heard her use for Feminist Frequency, but even that could be a misunderstanding of her intent when using these examples. As I have written previously, these examples are likely not intended to be blanket moratoriums, but rather ways to make writers make more deliberate choices when they write characters and to avoid lazy stereotypes (such as objectification, sexual violence for shock value or the desire to “fridge” a female character to give the male lead a motivation). An example of this in action would be the Tomb Raider games. Critics (not just including feminists) complained for a long time about how ridiculous Lara Croft’s boobs were, for good reason. However, they also praised Lara Croft for being a great character, in spite of the game constantly sexualizing her. Consequently, when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider series, their much more realistically-proportioned Lara Croft was praised as she was still a very interesting character with a much less garish visual design to go along with it. Despite what Merlynn132 would suggest, this actually earned Crystal Dynamics two separate purchases of the game from me (not to mention that I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the Xbox One’s exclusivity deal on Rise of the Tomb Raider, whereas before I wouldn’t have even looked twice at a Tomb Raider game). All of this is comes down to Crystal Dynamics deciding to listen to their critics and making a better product for it.

Let’s tackle Merlynn132’s assertion directly though, that women can’t have a negative trait or it will be deemed sexism. Merlynn132’s own examples are less-interested in physical traits and more in reference to their character, so we’ll leave objectification out of this. I’ll address his second example first because it is just flat out wrong. He claims that women aren’t allowed to be mentally unhinged as they walk across a hellish battlefield, but this is just not true. Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot is made far more interesting as she feels remorse as she is forced to kill for the first time (although the gameplay-narrative dissonance in this aspect is annoying admittedly). I also just replayed Metal Gear Solid for my upcoming retrospective series, and found Meryl Silverburgh’s admission that killing for the first time made her not want to be a soldier anymore to be a fantastic character moment. If anything, I find it offensive that more men aren’t given this sort of treatment, as most big shooters just force you to stupidly mow down hundreds of enemies like a psychopath (with the Uncharted series being one of the most egregious offenders in this regard).

The first example that Merlynn132 gives is that men are allowed to be lecherous drunks, but women are not, because “sexism”. “Sexualizing women and what all” as he puts it. This is an example that I can actually see possibly happening, but the context of the character is probably the most important part in whether it will be accepted or not. Does her character start and stop at “lecherous drunk”, or does she have some actual depth? Are they a main character? Or are they background dressing that exists just to give the player something to ogle at? Such considerations make all the difference in this sort of situation, as there is no quick-and-easy answer. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s a contextual difference as well, since men are rarely sexualized in video games whereas women are quite frequently. Since it’s so prevalent for women to be reduced to sex objects, it can come across as very lazy if you put in a lecherous drunk background character unless you’re being very deliberate when doing so. Think of it this way: if I made a white character who loves watermelon and picks cotton, it would be fine. However, if that character was instead black, it would obviously be ridiculously offensive. This is because meanings change based on the contexts that they are placed within, so you have to be aware when you’re falling into a stereotype and, if you are aware, you have to have good reason for doing so.

Merlynn132’s third example revolves around a theoretical situation where Guybrush Threepwood is replaced with a female protagonist in Escape From Monkey Island. He is convinced that “Galwood” would never be allowed because she would be a cowardly, weak and socially awkward character hated by everyone around her. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that this would cause a feminist uproar or even be considered sexist for that matter (depending on how the game handles these elements in a female context, as I said before). For one thing, this sort of character actually sounds rather interesting and would fit into the very different sort of characterization which feminist critics have been asking for for ages. I can’t be the only one who thinks that this description fits Amanda Ripley, the extremely well-received heroine of Alien: Isolation, right? Ripley is a strong, positive female character, not because she is a Markus Fenix-style meathead, but rather because she is absolutely terrified, avoids confrontation as much as possible and just tries to stay alive by being resourceful.

Secondly, Escape From Monkey Island was just a poor example for Merlynn132 to use for this argument. The main thrust of Merlynn132’s overall argument is that feminists are actually being sexist, and by being sexist they are making female-led games economically unviable. Using the Monkey Island games to support this idea is very strange to me as they are hardly a mega-selling franchise. In fact, the Monkey Island games have far more in common with the modern day indie-game scene where female-led games are far more common and interesting than in the AAA blockbuster space. I can’t even remember the last time that we had a proper adventure game, although Quantic Dream and Telltale-style narrative adventures seem to be the closest analogue… and what do you know, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Beyond: Two Souls and Until Dawn all tend to have pretty solid, flawed and interesting female characters without causing a feminist uproar.

The third, and probably most ridiculous, aspect of the argument is in regards to Merlynn132’s conclusion. Basically, they believe that feminists force female characters into a very specific mold, which makes female characters boring, which doesn’t sell, which is why we don’t have female characters leading our games. This is just so obviously bullshit that I shouldn’t really have to explain why… but will, naturally. The games market would be boring if there were more female-led games? Seriously? The market has ALWAYS been dominated by male characters, many of whom are the exact same macho-fantasy repackaged over and over again (Contra, every Call of Duty ever, Gears of War, Booker in Bioshock Infinite as the generic/requisite action game hero, etc). Despite featuring the same stereotypical leads over and over again, they still continue to sell and are often some of the highest-selling games of the year. It’s not feminists’ fault that female-led games are in the minority, it’s because publishers believe that their teenage male target demographic won’t play unless they offer them a male fantasy.

Just to look into this claim a little further, I decided to check the list of best selling video games of all time. I was actually surprised to discover that most of these games feature no distinct characters at all, either being 100% gameplay-based (Tetris) or 100% player determinant (Minecraft). Only three franchises dominate the list. Mario has the most entries, with 8 games selling over 15 million copies each. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that Mario has a personality that is anything other than boring, not to mention that the franchise formulas of his various franchises have been nearly the exact same for well over 20 years now. Call of Duty comes in second with 7 games selling over 15 million copies. The franchise is notorious for featuring paper-thin characters, iterating very lightly from game-to-game and for its macho-fantasy, male-dominated plots. While I, along with many others, would definitely argue that this franchise has gotten extremely tired in the last few years, the fact that the series still continues to sell is proof enough to me that the claim that “boring” female characters are the reason why they don’t get any representation is bullshit. The third highest-selling franchise is Grand Theft Auto with 5 games, and it’s a bit of an oddity since these games actually are known for their interesting characters and writing. However, I have a strong feeling that this is not the main reason why these games have had so much success, but rather that their core gameplay is extremely appealing. If this is truly the case, then the picture that these three franchises and the characterless mega-sellers paints for me is that characters are not a major factor in determining the success of a game, but rather fun gameplay. As a result, whether or not a “feminist conspiracy” caused female characters to end up being a bunch of bland copies, it shouldn’t matter because we already have a bunch of bland male copies running around and raking in the cash. Of course, if the actual argument being made is that “real gamers” don’t want to buy games with female protagonists, then at least be honest…

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I don’t really know the exact circumstances that prompted Merlynn132’s original post, but I kind of wish that I could understand where his perspective is drawn from. Is he directly responding to arguments made my Sarkeesian? As I have hopefully shown, his arguments will still end up being incorrect in the end, but if Sarkeesian’s arguments are just as flawed then that might make a difference in the way that this is all handled. Or perhaps Merlynn132 just misunderstands the whole point of feminism, having equated feminism with the opinions of its more extreme or unlearned factions, or worse, with the gigantic strawman feminist which is so often evoked in these sorts of rebuttals. In all honesty though, I’m glad that I came across this post. While I think that the overall argument is extremely flawed, it is quite interesting and is a good reminder that feminists could actually hurt their own cause sometimes with their critiques. I hope that Merlynn132 is open to this sort of critique, as I think that both sides in this debate could learn things from one another and hopefully come to a point where we can understand one another.

IC2S Playlist Update 21/10/2015

Unlike recent weeks, I don’t really have a theme tying the songs together this week. We’re going to start out with “Nuclear” by Mike Oldfield from Man on the Rocks. I’ve been listening to the Metal Gear Solid V soundtrack for a couple weeks now and it’s making me really dig this song. It was a good selection for the game, as its apocalyptic imagery fits the games’ themes perfectly.

Speaking of Metal Gear, the preparation for the big retrospective is underway. I’ve been writing up a review for The Phantom Pain and have blazed through Portable Ops in the past week. I’m currently working through Peace Walker and then we’ll see where it goes after that. I’m planning on sticking to canon entries only (including Portable Ops of course and Rising as well), but if I’m not sick of the whole series after all of this then I might do a couple entries for the Ac!d games because I remember enjoying both of them quite a bit. So… yeah. That’s what my life looks like for the next couple months. It’s gonna be a mammoth undertaking, but it’ll be very fun and hopefully will give me a better appreciation for this franchise I enjoy so much.

Anyway, secondly we have “Hearts Alive” by Mastodon from Leviathan. I was really debating between this and arguably their most popular song, “Blood and Thunder”, but “Hearts Alive” won out in the end. For one thing, if you’re familiar with the playlist then you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of good, long songs. “Hearts Alive” definitely fits that bill at over 13 minutes in length. Mastodon has such a classical style to their metal, that it always shocks me that they are a post-2000s band, as they sound like nothing else that I’ve heard from their era. Like, when they put out their debut album, nu-metal was probably the most commercially-successful force in metal. Maybe I just haven’t explored the genre well enough yet, but I have always found Mastodon to sound very regressive, but in a very intentional, intelligent and good way.

Video Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V – Ground Zeroes

As you probably know if you read the blog, I’m a big Metal Gear Solid fan. Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots are amongst my favourite games of all time, and I’ve played through each probably at least a half dozen times. Naturally, I bought the game almost immediately, despite some trepidations about its short length. Is it really just an over-glorified demo as some are stating, or is it a solid prologue for The Phantom Pain? Read on to find out…

First of all, I have to get this out of the way: Kiefer Sutherland is fine as Snake. Fans were talking about boycotting the game if David Hayter didn’t get the role, but if you seriously skipped out on this game only because you thought only Hayter could be Snake, then you’re an idiot, pure and simple. I think I would have preferred Hayter, but I was surprised to find that Sutherland brought a more serious edge to the role. Rather than Hayter’s awesomely over-the-top voice, we get a more subdued performance which sounds like Snake could actually be a grizzled veteran. In any case though, Sutherland does a fine job, and is not distracting in the least.

Now for the real talking point about the game – the length. It’s true, the main mission in Ground Zeroes is pretty short – probably on par with the Tanker chapter or Virtuous Mission prologues from MGS2 and 3. I spent somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours on the mission and wasn’t even doing all that much exploring – mostly just trying to get from point A to point B while minimizing kills and alerts (well, until I stole a LAV anyway, at which point I couldn’t help myself…). However, that said, there is a lot more freedom to approach the mission, which makes it much more replayable and can vary the playtime significantly. Like any Metal Gear game, I can see myself playing through the main campaign a few times to try out different strategies and search for secrets.

The game isn’t just restricted to the main mission though either; it also ships with 5 side ops. Unlike most open world side missions, the side ops are surprisingly compelling. Kojima has clearly gone to a lot of effort to make them interesting and varied. There’s one mission where you have to visually identify two targets and stealthily assassinate them both. This would be fun in itself, but as we play the mission, we’re given backstory into the war crimes these targets committed. Learning about how awful the targets were makes the mission completion all the more satisfying and compelling, rather than a chore. That’s only one of the side ops too, the others are equally as enjoyable, and well worth playing through. People are getting way too caught up on the short length of the main mission itself, because I imagine on a reasonable playthrough you could get another 3+ hours out of the side missions themselves, and that’s not including the inevitability of replaying missions to increase your score. If you really want to squeeze every second of value out of the game, there’s also a bunch of collectable cassette tapes and XOF patches to find, and some weird tiki heads you can shoot too for a reward, all of which should keep dedicated players occupied for well over 15+ hours. So really, the game certainly has plenty of content for $30, but you have to be willing to work for it. In any case, if you’re a Metal Gear fan like me, you already knew you’d be willing to spend $30+ up front. At worst, wait a few months for it to drop down to about $20, or wait until the inevitable Ground Zeroes + The Phantom Pain bundle that will drop in a year or two.

Anyway, now that the big controversies are out of the way, it’s time to move onto my impressions in proper. First of all, the game is very much Metal Gear, but with a lot of needed refinement. The cutscenes are far less overbearing, which is welcome. As much as I enjoy the cutscenes in Metal Gear games, it becomes annoying having to wait upwards of an hour and a half to play the game again, only to have another cutscene interrupt me 30 seconds later. In Ground Zeroes, the cut scenes are still key, but they are spaced out far more infrequently, and don’t meander nearly as much. The open world trappings also work very well and provide a lot of freedom and replayability for the player. Some people wondered if an open world was appropriate for Metal Gear, but I always thought such thinking was very short-sighted – these games have always aspired for an open world setting (yes, even since the original Metal Gear on MSX), but always lacked the technology to make that a reality. Instead, they’ve been restricted to maneuvering through linked corridors and open jungle and urban settings, but I can’t have been the only player to think “damn, how awesome would it be if all these areas were seamlessly linked without loading screens?” Now that is a reality, and I couldn’t be happier.

As far as the gameplay goes, it feels a lot like 2010’s Peace Walker. Gunplay is certainly better than it was in the early games in the series, although it doesn’t feel quite as smooth to me as something like, say, Uncharted does. Luckily, the game is about avoiding combat as much as possible, and so that’s not a major issue by any means. Appropriately, Ground Zeroes also seems to have taken some cues from Splinter Cell: Blacklist, most notably the “last known position” mechanic, marking enemies on the HUD and Reflex mode. Reflex mode was a bit of a controversial addition, but I welcome it – sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating to sneak through an area, only to have an unseen enemy suddenly spot you and set off an alert phase. Reflex mode gives you a last chance to take that enemy out, although if you panic fire there’s a good chance you won’t pull off the shot. Perhaps best of all though is the fact that the developers made Reflex mode completely optional for those who want a challenge. I really appreciate when a developer gives players this sort of option, and it’s just further incentive to become more skilled at the game so that you won’t need to activate Reflex mode at all.

I would also like to point out that the game looks gorgeous on PS4. I’ve seen some comparison videos online and it looks quite good on last-gen too, so you really can’t go wrong in terms of graphics (although current-gen is clearly superior). On the negative side though, there are still some issues I noticed with the engine which need to be ironed out before The Phantom Pain is released. Most noticeably, there’s some considerable pop-in. I’ve tranquilized enemies, looked away from them and then looked back, only to have their bodies disappear for a couple seconds before the game reloaded them into the scene. It’s not a major issue, but it is distracting and a surprising issue to see in a released title. I also notice that objects completely disappear at long distances, but can reappear when you zoom in on them. In the helicopter extraction side op, I noticed that exploding barrels were completely missing until I zoomed in on them – a pretty egregious issue because I could need to shoot those to kill enemies (or, theoretically, could accidentally shoot one and kill my target). These are relatively minor technical issues, but noticeable and annoying none-the-less.

I should also probably mention that the enemy AI can be pretty stupid at times. They’re fine in general until an alert gets triggered, at which point they crouch through the open to try to attack Snake head on. When a full-on shootout occurs, it’s not uncommon to gun down a half dozen idiots as they try to get closer to Snake (although I’ll admit their animations when they get shot are very nice). That said, I was playing on Normal, so maybe they’re improved in Hard mode… but somehow I doubt it. In my opinion, MGS2 continues to reign with the best AI in the series.

Moving on from gameplay, how is the story in Ground Zeroes? After all, for all its convoluted threads, story is just as important as gameplay to a Metal Gear game. In that respect, I’m pleased to announce that Ground Zeroes lives up to the previous games in the series, despite its short runtime. Of course, it’s merely a prologue, but it lays the groundwork for The Phantom Pain very well, and am absolutely certain that that game is going to be gripping. It’s also a far more mature story, touching on themes of torture and suffering in war (and explicitly drawing real-world parallels to Guantanamo Bay). Of course, there are still hammy bits, and lots of signature Kojima humour, but in general the story feels much more dark than normal. The ending is also not very satisfying, but it definitely leaves you pumped for the next chapter.

However, there are some rather shocking, and dare I say gratuitous, moments due to this mature emphasis. Paz ends up being subjected to some truly awful stuff – she has to have a bomb removed from her stomach sans anesthetic (which is shown in gory detail), and we find out that she was raped by the villain as well. That’s pretty dark stuff, although it definitely tows the line of the “rape as plot device” trope. It certainly fits into the themes of the game overall, but Paz herself is reduced to nothing more than a torture plot point… a distressing reality which doesn’t bode so well for Quiet’s characterization later on. To be fair though, these sorts of dark moments have been a part of Metal Gear for quite some time now (probably most memorably with the origins of the Beauty and the Beast unit in MGS4, whose stories could probably rival anything on display here), but such moments tended to be off-screen and de-emphasized compared to what we have here.

All-in-all, it really is hard to score this game. It’s fun, but it’s clearly divisive. There’s also some technical issues that need work, and its narrative leaves you hanging, but the core game play is very liberating. I think the best I can say is that you probably already know if you want to buy Ground Zeroes, and what price point you’d consider it to be worthwhile. If you aren’t yet ready to take the plunge, hold off until it gets cheaper, or wait for the inevitable The Phantom Pain pack-in. If we take price out of the equation though, Ground Zeroes is undoubtedly a ton of fun.

7.5/10

5 Reasons Why Raiden (Still) Sucks

I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, counting Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots among my all-time favourite video games. Yes the overarching story is very convoluted and loopy, but the stories in the individual games are amongst the best in gaming. Equally importantly, the gameplay is very fun, free and humorous, giving you the sorts of options that no other game series can get away with.

That said, the series isn’t perfect. There has been much ink and fanboy rage spilled over the issue, but upon the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 there was a lot of criticism leveled at the protagonist, Raiden. The flowing blonde hair, the whiny attitude and annoying girlfriend were all starkly at odds with the series’ regular hero, Solid Snake. Of course, most Raiden apologists have clung to this notion, saying that people simply don’t like him because he is not Solid Snake, and for no other reason than that. As a result of the criticism, series creator Hideo Kojima gave him a major makeover in Metal Gear Solid 4, turning him into a sword-wielding  cyborg ninja. The makeover seemed to work, as many peoples’ opinions turned around and suddenly people wanted to play as Raiden again. That wish is finally coming true soon, as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is going to be released in the coming weeks. It looks like Raiden has finally redeemed himself…

…actually, no. He really hasn’t.

Put simply: Raiden still sucks. “Why’s that?” I hear the fanboys crying, demanding blood. Well let me enlighten you through 5 reasonable points…

Note, I unfortunately haven’t played MGS2 in quite some time, although I have played through MGS4 recently. This might affect my views on MGS2 somewhat, although I’ve made sure that my reasoning doesn’t hinge on that game too much. Also MAJOR FREAKING SPOILERS!!!

5) Whiny as all hell

Watch this video. Within the first couple seconds Raiden’s bitching about not having the card key he needs. Then skip to about 0:45 and see how long it takes you to throw up in disgust…

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not a flattering appraisal when your action hero’s most consistent character trait is that he’s very whiny and angst-ridden. It makes it incredibly difficult for me to empathize with a character who refuses to help himself, but this is basically Raiden’s defining feature. In MGS2 Raiden spends much of the game uncertain of himself, whining about his situation to his girlfriend over the Codec whenever you try to save. Basically the only reason why he gets through the game is because “Iroquois Plisskin” motivates him to do so. In the process Raiden actually begins to develop as a character. By the time he got ahold of the ninja sword near the end, it was time to nut up or shut up, and I actually found myself enjoying Raiden finally. Ok, so they laid the groundwork for the character here, getting the painful origin out of the way so we can have a badass sword-wielding dude in the future…

…except no, this bright future kind of got thrown to the wayside in MGS4. Raiden believes that his girlfriend has a miscarriage and runs away from home because he’s so sad, becoming a cyborg ninja in the process. So clearly Raiden hasn’t learned his lesson – if anything, he’s even whinier and angst-filled than ever. Seriously, half of his dialogue in MGS4 is in the vein of “You wouldn’t understand…” and “I have no future…“. Kojima gave Raiden a ton of power, but Raiden just doesn’t care and it really robs his character of any real essence. I mean, he looks cool when he’s battling a dozen Gekkos, but it’s really a superficial fight – there isn’t a lot of narrative weight behind it because Raiden just doesn’t care. Worst of all, when he reunites with his family at the end of the game, Raiden doesn’t even acknowledge Rosemary – clearly he still wants to run away from his problems, and it’s exceptionally grating.

Now with Revengeance on the way, the question is – is this element going to continue into the future? And if not, is the character still going to feel like Raiden?

4) Revisionism
Remember what I said about the ends of MGS2 and how all Raiden’s character development got thrown away? What are the chances that this is going to happen again in MGR:R? Pretty damn strong I’d say. At the end of MGS4 Raiden became human again, putting aside his cyborg ninja get-up to live with his wife and son. Once again he finally seemed to have some sort of happy future ahead of him, but MGR:R looks like it’s giving Raiden another make-over.

This reminds me of the (terrible) Resident Evil movies. Its main character, Alice, is very badly defined, and in every single movie in the series they have been rewriting her in an attempt to make her interesting. Of course, this creates a jarring tonal shift between each movie, but it’s painfully obvious that their attempts at revisionism are hurting any chance of establishing a character identity for the series’ freaking protagonist (for example, Alice went from an everyday security guard, to experimental warrior, to superhero, to badass bitch and now she’s a Ripley-wannabe). Similarly, the constant revision of Raiden is making the character arcs of the previous game worthless. Ideally, each narrative should build upon the next and give us some development. Despite all my criticism, Raiden has a great backstory which can be mined for material with ease. With any luck, MGR:R will do so and finally give us a consistent story for Raiden.

3) God Mode

When I first saw Raiden destroy a half dozen Gekkos and Vamp in his introduction in MGS4, I almost shit myself in amazement. In the back of my mind there was something niggling me, saying “this is totally ridiculous” but it was also really, really cool. Suddenly everyone wanted to play as Raiden again if he could pull off moves like that. However, it soon becomes apparent that Raiden is retardedly unkillable. He nearly dies from stab wounds from Vamp, but later he gets crushed by a giant battleship and somehow suffers even less damage. Even then he’s able to continue fighting despite missing both of his arms. Unlike Snake, whose death it seems is inevitable and very possible at any given moment, Raiden is basically invulnerable and overpowered in MGS4, making him a rather boring character (and making his whininess even more grating). One of the best moments in MGS2 was when you controlled naked Raiden through Arsenal Gear – he was very vulnerable at this time but it was one of those moments that endeared you to the character.

2) “Badass” to the detriment of the story
This one is related to the previous point. Remember the part about Raiden getting crushed by a battleship? I’m not done with that yet. Just watch this:

While I’ll admit that the ending of that sequence is very sad and incredibly well directed, this is probably my least-favourite sequence in all of Metal Gear. It’s just so stupid and makes absolutely no sense. “Well wait,” you might say, “you’re arguing about sense in Metal Gear? This is a series where psychic connections are made with severed arms (amongst other things)!” While that is the case (and, I might add, most of the retarded plot points in the series come from MGS2…), this one just takes the cake in my opinion. Just watch it again… Raiden somehow stops a massive, speeding battleship… by standing in front of it… on flat ground… which is breaking up (and has had no trouble breaking up until that point I might add)… and somehow stabbing himself in the foot makes the ship stay in place longer… the idiocy of the whole situation is just head-smackingly terrible. It literally is one of the main reasons why MGS4 isn’t my favourite entry in the series. Here, Kojima overcompensated to make people like Raiden, and did so to the detriment of the game (and considering how important story is to any Metal Gear game, that’s pretty bad). If he had died it might have made this a little less criminal, but the fact that he lives with nary a scratch (somehow he lost another arm?) means that this whole sequence was horrendously unnecessary.

1) He’s not Snake

Ok, I made fun of this argument at the start of the article, but in all honesty it really does boil back down to it… although not in the way that a defender of Raiden would hope it to. A Raiden-fanboy would argue that people hate Raiden simply because he is not as badass as Solid Snake is. However, I believe the real case is that Raiden is simply a worse character overall. Look at MGS4 again – Solid Snake is an old war veteran, fighting his last battle and racing against time to kill his arch-nemesis before he dies. He’s frail, beyond his prime, and fighting on anyway. All that matters to him now is completing the mission and ending his father’s legacy. Solid Snake is badass, but it’s because his character has been defined as such, and he earns the distinction. Similarly, Big Boss (Snakes father/genetic progenitor) earns his distinction as a badass through his character development, rather than because he looks like Snake… in fact, Big Boss is easily my favourite character in the entire series simply because he has such a great character arc. Unfortunately, Raiden isn’t nearly as compelling as either character, in part because they insist on rebooting him in each subsequent game.

That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement – as I said earlier, Raiden has a great backstory as a child soldier and the effects this has had on him provide the perfect material for a great character. Sadly it has been wasted thus far, but I can always hope that they actually go somewhere with him in the future.

BONUS: MGS2 Commentary
I, like many MGS fans, was rather disappointed with MGS2… not because of Raiden (I knew about the twist by the time I played), but because of the ridiculously convoluted plot, which was dense and incomprehensible even by Metal Gear standards. In recent times, people have been defending this, saying that Kojima intentionally was creating the first post-modern video game. To that I say… yeah, you’re right. It was damn impressive in that sense. At the same time, I have hated most of the post-modern fiction I have read. I might appreciate them on a technical level, but they typically refuse to be enjoyable. MGS2 suffers from this by having plot twists invalidating plot twists that had been revealed 5 minutes earlier, logic that was tenuous by the series’ standards (the psychic arm…) and confusion piled on top of confusion. In a sense… the story is a total mess, and in a game where the story is as important as the gameplay, that really hurts.

In addition, I have a lot of difficulty going back and playing MGS2 now… I had fun with it when I played the first time (I fondly remember disarming the bombs on the struts still), but now the controls are exceptionally clunky. Compared to MGS3, which struck a balance between complex controls and player freedom (not to mention the free camera in Subsistence, MGS2 feels ancient. I dunno… at some point I’ll try my hand at it again, but I honestly had an easier time going back to MGS (or even the first 2 Metal Gear games for that matter).

FPS’s and Innovation

I have a couple ideas for blog posts on a backlog. I’ve been planning on posting them for the last couple days, but I want to give them a better time commitment than I plan to for this one. So I came up with a short rant about the current console gaming landscape so this blog doesn’t whither and die like all my others have, haha.

It’s no secret that console gaming is pretty much dominated by First (and some Third) Person Shooters at the moment, specifically Call of Duty. At present, many people have been complaining that the market is flooded with shooters with no innovation, and the two biggest targets of this diatribe are Call of Duty and Battlefield.

This is where my little rant comes in. I can definitely understand the bitching in regards to Call of Duty: the series has had at least one new release every year for the past 9 years. Of these, the last 6 have been running  on the same engine with little in the way of differentiation between games. Admittedly I was quite a fan of the series up until around Black Ops when it started to get boring. The story mode was fun, as was 4-player split-screen, but the online multiplayer was never really my thing – give me Metal Gear Online any day of the week (speaking of which, can’t wait to play MGO3 when Ground Zeroes comes out). Furthermore, I had always played COD for the story modes – I remember having my socks blown off by the Russian campaign in COD: Finest Hour, and COD4 was absolutely brilliant. However, by the time that MW3 rolled around, the story was… predictable. Every single bloody level ends with a massive moment, whether it be something getting blown up or a main character dies for no other reason than because they needed to fill their body-count quota.

However, I do not understand why Battlefield gets tacked on with Call of Duty when people deride the current gaming landscape. Is it because it is setting itself up to dethrone Call of Duty? Is it because they’re both shooters? Is it because they’re popular? Is it because it’s not art either? Hell, I wouldn’t mind if they were bashing the modern Medal of Honor games since they pretty much are Call of Duty (cue enraged fanboys). Battlefield has only had 3 main releases in 10 years (not counting spin-offs). You might be able to make this argument when Battlefield 4 comes out because it looks like EA is giving BF a semi-annual rotation to coincide with MOH, but that’s not the current state of gaming, that’s the future.

Admittedly, I am currently a Battlefield fanboy. Bad Company 2 was like a revelation after so many stale hours spent playing COD online, and quickly became my multiplayer title of choice. BF3 has been in and out of my PS3 regularly for well over a year now. While I could give less than half a shit about the single-player, the multiplayer is where it’s at. It’s a far more team-based and wide-open game than COD, and suits my style more as a result. So when people compare the two games… is it because they both have guns? Because if you have more of an interest in shooters than simply dismissing them, you’d see that they play quite differently.

That said, I’d like to see the gaming landscape open up a bit, but considering how expensive it is becoming to make a AAA game these days (especially since the next-gen is a year or 2 away), I can’t see that happening soon. But then again, people are always bitching about how the end of ______ is near, and it’s no different with the shooter market. People need to nut up or shut up…

Wow. This ended up being longer than planned… eh oh well. Don’t turn the comments section into a flame war.