Homework: Metal Gear Solid 1 & 2.


This is the first installment of a new series we’re doing called Homework, wherein one of us gives the other some sort of game-related assignment to do. Some assignments may be short-term and need to be completed by the following week, and some may be more ambitious and take place over a longer period, with the “student” simply reporting on their progress each week. We’ll be playing with the format a bit as we get rolling with it and see what works best, and what you fine people are interesting in seeing it turn into.

Chris:  The Assignment.

It’s no secret to anyone who has read our blog for any length of time that Steve feels he missed out on some pretty big chunks of important gaming history – which I of course agree with. So most of my assignments for him are going to reflect that, and I’m going to have him play key games that I feel he should play in order to better round out his overall gaming experience. One game I am eventually going to have him play is Metal Gear Solid 4, not a super old title but one that I am anxious to have him play. Well, I happen to know that he already played and finished both MGS and MGS2, the two games that directly lead into MGS4, but in both cases it was ages ago. To best appreciate MGS4, you need to be relatively familiar with the events and characters of the previous two games as a big part of what makes MGS4 so great is the way it ties up all the story threads and gives all of the characters, big and small, really satisfying closure. But I didn’t want to make him replay those games; instead, my assignment to him was to simply brush up on the first two games. I left it up to him how to do that, be it watching YouTube videos, reading blog posts about them, reading plot descriptions on Wikis, however he chose to do it so long as he felt like he had adequately re-familiarized himself with the plot and events of those two games.

So, let’s see what he did with that.

Steve:  The Report.

Chris was kind enough to throw me a softball over the holiday break.  Knowing that I was going to have to travel a lot and might not have access to much in terms of game consoles, he allowed me to simply brush up on MGS story instead of actually playing like 20+ hours of games (not that I have ever disliked the gameplay of the Metal Gear Solid series).  So here is my report; it includes some story recap (and thus some spoilers, so beware), and my personal thoughts on the series.

Metal Gear Solid

I’ve mentioned it before but MGS is one of those defining moments in my gaming career.  It made me realize that there could be more to gaming than just cartoon silliness.  And for it’s time, MGS did a great job of portraying the type of serious content that growing gamers were looking for.  Looking back the game’s story is not without it’s problems though.

The first thing I did was go back and watch all of the MGS cutscenes on YouTube.  The thing that struck me was how awful the dialogue was.  The story itself is pretty decent, but the vast majority of the dialogue is really awful.  For the time it felt amazing, but looking back at it after nearly 20 years…it’s kind of a mess.

It’s also hard to revisit the original MGS now, after having witnessed some of Hideo Kojima’s more insane stuff (and from what I understand I haven’t even gotten to the really nutty stuff) and not see the seeds of some of his weirdness coming through.  The game does do a great job of dealing with some interesting issues though, including espionage, genetic modification, and the all-important daddy issues.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

When I originally played this game it was very polarizing for me.  I hated the ending…a lot.  Chris will be more than happy to recall the epic rant I went on after finishing that game.  I feel like this was the moment where I imagined Hideo Kojima’s head disappearing up his own butt.  If my memory serves me correctly Chris was a bit more forgiving of this installment in the series, but where he kept some of his loyalty, mine seemed to disappear.  MGS2 was the last game in the series that I played, and it was largely because I was so disappointed with the ending, and to a smaller degree, the story as a whole.  So after all these years, how do I feel about the game now?

Exactly the same.  I’m sorry to say but Metal Gear Solid 2’s story is an ugly, disjointed mess, with the ending being the fart flavored icing on a steaming turd of a cake.  Now, gameplay-wise, I have no doubt that the game stands the test of time marvelously.  There is no question that in terms of gameplay, the MGS series is always top-notch.  This story though, my god.  So.  Much.  Exposition.

First off, the story ends more times than Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  In fact, about 72 minutes into the ending (so about one-third of the way though) I thought that Frodo and Sam were going to pop out and have a pillow fight.  Second, why does Raiden have to sound like a 16 year old?  He’s supposed to be a member of the newly reformed FOXHOUND unit.  By definition that makes him one of the most deadly and skilled military operatives in the world.  And yet he sounds (and acts) like a boy in the throes of puberty.

Several things really bugged me while re-watching the ending that I feel I must mention.  Why is there live action footage interspersed with in-game animation?  What is that supposed to convey?  Also, there is a part of the ending where Raiden explains how we pass down our experiences through what we do, and then in the very next scene Snake says almost the EXACT SAME THING!  Now, I realize that this game is still on the older side of the MGS franchise, so Mr. Kojima’s storytelling skills may still have been developing here, but wow, talk about a ham fisted approach to conveying a point.  When you look at what really good directors do with film, presenting motifs and themes through color, lighting, camera placement, dialogue (or lack thereof) and all sorts of other ways, it’s hard to excuse this type of storytelling.

Oh, and one last note before I move on from my rant…  Revolver Ocelot being possessed by Liquid Snake by virtue of having Liquid’s hand attached to his body is one of the most absurd, ridiculous things I have ever heard of.  Ok…whew.  I feel better now, let’s move on.

Findings and thoughts.

  1. Gameplay is still king.

I said it before and I’ll reiterate it here.  The Metal Gear Solid series has some of the best gameplay ever, so no matter how I may feel about the story, the game parts I will always remember with great fondness.

  1. I think I approach the series incorrectly.

It struck me as I was writing this article that I feel that I’m approaching Metal Gear Solid series in the wrong way.  Let me explain:  The series doesn’t necessarily look like an anime, but it definitely acts like one.  If it had been presented in a cel shaded style that looked like Gundam I most likely would have been far more forgiving of some of the more illogical plot leaps.  To clarify, I have always found anime to have a more exaggerated sense of reality (when it’s even realistic at all).  Because of the aesthetic of anime it becomes easy to identify what it is.  So when you watch an anime and something crazy happens you’re not all that surprised.  Essentially that’s how Metal Gear Solid stories are told.  The only problem is that because the aesthetic is so much more realistic your initial expectation is also different.

  1. Perhaps I DO have a nostalgia gland.

As much disdain as I have for the ending of Metal Gear Solid 2, I still kind of want to go play it now.  The same feeling holds true for Metal Gear Solid, only stronger.  At some point Chris will have me play MGS4 (and hopefully MGS3 as well) and I’m still really excited to play both of those games.  I think that having taken a step back I can begin to appreciate MGS for its weirdness instead of in spite of it.