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April 09, 2012

I Should Have Finished... Metal Gear Solid

When I received a PlayStation 2 for Christmas from my then employer, LucasArts, there weren't a lot of launch titles that held my interest, save SSX, so I asked around for recommendations from the last generation that might be of interest, since the system was backwards compatible. Many suggested Metal Gear Solid as one of the finest games ever made.

When I first tried it out a dozen or so years ago, I really didn't care for it -- I really enjoyed the systemic stealth aspect, but I complained to friends about the individual boss battles, and they made it clear to me that there would be more of that coming. I stuck with it for a while, though, until I had an encounter with Sniper Wolf I simply couldn't surpass. I got frustrated, put the game down, and never returned to it.

A few years ago my friend Tim Longo wrote up his playthrough of the series¹. I can remember being there when we all first saw the game... I was working on what would become Star Wars: Starfighter at the time. His return to the whole series was in some ways an inspiration for me returning to unfinished games on my shelves.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the plot, though my overriding feeling about it was that I truly appreciated both its detail and its ultimately anti-war stance. (The bit about Decoy Octopus impersonating the DARPA Chief, and the three-day-old body was particularly inspired, because I puzzled over it just as Snake did.) In a way, the nuclear paranoia intersecting with a terrorist act is particularly prophetic of the paranoiac society in which we now live; these themes resonate even fourteen years on, even if modern players would be put off by the low polygon models. With regards to the narrative, I also appreciated the idea of a team of people backing up this lone agent, giving the sense that he wasn't alone in there. I found the frequent focus on Meryl's polygonal hip sway and "wiggle" a little less endearing.

The play holds up terrifically -- doling out elements at a reasonable pace but making them really pay off by reinforcing them with the narrative. Although certain parts felt like unnecessary lengthening (such as returning back through most of the first half of the game to retrieve a sniper rifle to face Sniper Wolf, or the second torture session with Revolver Ocelot), I generally felt propelled forward even when I was dying frequently.

Around the time I was finishing up with MGS, the New York Times Magazine had a "riff" lamenting the fall of the Hollywood action movie, which reached its greatest heights in the 1980s, and which has been supplanted by unsurprising CGI-laden films for the most part ever since, in a long decline². But an audience looking for those sorts of films should instead turn to games: when Solid Snake downs Liquid Snake's Hind helicopter, he quips, "That'll take care of the cremation." Pitch perfect, as is Liquid's frequent return, just like Die Hard's Karl (Alexander Gudonov). Hollywood action films didn't go away... they just went somewhere we can experience them more viscerally.

I have the Metal Gear sequels on my shelves, and I'll get to them eventually. I'm very much looking forward to them.

¹I had to track down Tim's posts via the Wayback Machine, which makes me think he's abandoned his blog (or at least, forgotten to pay off the domain name registrar or whatever). I hope he'll come back to blogging at some point, I enjoyed giving him a hard time.

²I think this winter's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a welcome counter to that, but even so, it was no Die Hard.

Posted by Brett Douville at April 9, 2012 09:07 AM