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April 10, 2012

Sustaining Interest in MGS

I spent a little more time thinking about how Metal Gear Solid worked its magic on me recently; my post yesterday didn't really capture how the game worked its aesthetic on me, so I thought I'd try again today. I stand by everything I said in that post, but it just doesn't really get at the rhythm of the game that worked so well for me.

What really made MGS so effective wasn't just the pacing of its elements, but the rhythm and interplay between stealth, boss battle, exposition, and communication with the team. Although this last is really just another form of narrative, it's nonetheless generally initiated by the player, and provides a mechanism for slowing down the pace and also looking for suggestions or hints as to enemy weaknesses.

I felt the most appreciation for this rhythm in the battle with Gray Fox. I had had the lead-up animation to set the stage (complete with quivering dead guy in the hallway, and then Otacon getting chased into the closet). Next up was the beginning of the battle with Gray Fox, which stymied me for a time -- while I learned his methods and got pretty good at avoiding him, it felt like my shots on him were doing next to no damage. So I called up "The Master" on my Codec and got some tips -- switch to hand-to-hand! Eventually, through many attempts, I bested him, using the opportunities of him regrouping in the corner and talking at me to try and think about what I'd do next. After the battle was at last won, I had exposition with Otacon to work through to think about the next step. Terrific, terrific rhythm of combat.

The other time I most appreciated the rhythm was when it seemed to be gone -- fighting Liquid Snake atop the Metal Gear, there was a fairly brief cutscene after and no opportunity to consult my Codec. Then it went straight to another big action scene as I tried to escape the building as the gunner on the Jeep driven by Meryl. While I wasn't really bothered by this section, as I knew I had to be approaching the end, the rhythm of environmental stealth/comms/cutscenes/battles was nonetheless noticeably different to me, and highlighted the importance of that rhythm in maintaining my excitement throughout the game. This is how it plays out in my memory, in any case, though I know it's not entirely accurate -- that last Jeep ride out of the building felt far too long after the hand-to-hand battle which preceded it.

Other modern games do a good job maintaining a similar rhythm; I've seen it in the Uncharted series and God of War as well. But the agency of being able to step aside for a moment to converse with your team isn't something that I've seen in many other games, and it's a great tool to allow players to moderate their own gaming rhythm, not to mention a low-cost one. I expect it to return in the sequels, but I'd love to see similar mechanisms elsewhere in games, both to widen the cast and to give me an opportunity to make my own breathing room.

Posted by Brett Douville at April 10, 2012 08:28 PM