A few weeks ago Sony finally launched PSone compatibility to the Vita much to everyone's delight, despite the somewhat botched job of it all it still meant I was able to finally give Metal Gear Solid a go, a series that I have barely touched throughout my gaming history. Hell the most contact I had with the series was the MGS4 demo which left me running away confused by it all, from then on I'd continue to see it here and there in the gaming news and it always intrigued me. With the somewhat recent PSN summer sale I decided to finally give the series a go especially since I wouldn't have to play it blown up all ugly on my TV.
I'll be honest in that I somewhat expected myself to never finish it, I've started many classic games in the past to see what all the fuss is about only to stop playing half-way through but this time was different, I was loving the game despite my doubts and reservations and was able to see it to completion. However I wondered how I enjoyed it so much, don't get me wrong I'm happy that I was able to get into it but stealth games have rarely delivered any enjoyment for me and I have very short tolerance and attention span for cutscenes, how is it this 14 year old game was able to worm its way into my heart? The answer has a lot to do with this generation.
Let's face it games aren't exactly known for their subtly, many tend to focus on mass amounts of violence and explosions, it's all guns blazing with heroic manly action heroes usually pumping bullets into whatever opposing army of the week is on stand. But there's nothing wrong with that, despite its overuse and over-saturation there's still games like that I can easily enjoy such as Gears of War.
But it's precisely because of its prevalent over-use in the gaming world that makes MGS all the more appealing to me in this current day.
Which is amusing considering what the game is all about, playing as the legendary, iconic Solid Snake who not only looks bad ass but is also highly trained in the fields of combat. You're out to stop a terrorist group which features a colorful rogue of characters with the threat nuclear war and the feature of a huge fucking robot war machine ready to devastate the world and only you as Solid Snake can save the day! But as we know the story isn't executed as some grand heroic adventure, quite the opposite in fact, this is no celebration of violence.
Due to the prime genre use of stealth you'll quickly find violence to be discouraged and only as a last resort act. Here you have to avoid what all look like everyday soldiers, the everyday soldiers that we frequently shed to pieces with ease in current games. In fact alert to your presence means a wealth of soldiers will rush in to kill you which can quickly get over-whelming. One grievance I had with the game was precisely how difficult it could be at times to shake all the soldiers off and get out of alert mode.
You can stand your ground and shoot them down but this will only save you a few pixels worth of health and time, you're reduced to running away and hiding as best you can, which could be viewed as a cowardly act in the face of today's manly tough heroes, especially for a man with such a legendary status. This creates a strong contrast to what I'm use to, a strong contrast to what I tend to expect from games. The gameplay is perfectly made so that the idea of running in with the biggest and strongest gun you have to tear everything up is actually a bad idea and not all that satisfying, the most you can do is take soldiers out silently with your pistol but hesitate or take too long and you'll be met with a group of soldiers once more.
There are no heroic brave battles here, only survival.
Another thing that we commonly see in games today are heroes who run around shooting people bigged up to be great inspiring people that we can either idolize or worship. Characters such as Nathan Drake are actively encouraged to be built up as likeable, relatable, legendary and heroic figures. The actions of these heroes are rarely questioned. With Snake however you have a different story, I'll admit from the start I was expecting a character living up to his legendary status yet straight away we have him dis-crediting his status.
Almost every character in the game is aware of him and he's sometimes met with enthusiasm and excitement just to his very presence, yet we always have him down-playing that fact, he actively separates himself from his legend, that the reality is not as pretty as the myth. Despite his expertise in what he does he holds no pride in it, he carries with a slight burden of guilt whilst never getting too mopey about it that we get tired of him. He isn't someone who doesn't care about killing people but has distanced himself from having the emotional capacity for such a thing.
Simply put killing is all he really knows in life, it's his only purpose, the only identity that matters. He has no family to love or lose, he claims to have never been interested in love or anyone else's life, as Meryl said he's a lonely man. Isolated from being able to connect to anyone on any deep level. The only people he can have some frail form of similar connection to are those he has to gun down, characters like Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf have also known only death and murder in their lives, all of which who themselves are also incredibly lonely.
Snake is no hero and is rarely built up as one, he's a walking example of that the legend rarely matches up with the truth. There is no glory in murder.
But that brings me onto my next point, the villains of the story, the big bad's and the bosses. Again taking the stereotype of heroes in games today the defeat of a boss is often met with pride, glee and a level of happiness to be rid of them. Again take Lazarevic from Uncharted 2 for example, Drake and us the player aren't exactly sad to see him die. A more recent example would be the bosses of Lollipop Chainsaw, obviously a tone of being sad when bosses die would be entirely out of place within the game but again it's all about the victory.
However with Snake there isn't much victory or pride to be had when he puts one of the members of FOXHOUND to their grave. Victory isn't full of honor here, when we first start fighting Psycho Mantis he comes across as nothing more than an insane, freaky mad man who's here to vibrate your controller and throw chairs at you. Yet in his final moments we discover that he just like Snake carries his own burdens, a tragic past that never ceases to haunt him, one that has clearly pulverized any potential faith for humanity.
He's been subjected to the darkest and most deprived corners of the human mind throughout his life, the only thing saving him from that being his mask, however both options lead him down a lonely life.
We see him as a pitiful figure who also has existed for nothing else besides murder, yet his final moments involve him helping Snake, his first time helping someone, he expresses it as being "kind of nice", an inkling of change within him appears ever so briefly as he quickly descends into death. The result left me feeling sorry for the character, although I felt relief that the fight was over I didn't hold all to much enthusiasm for my victory, something that Snake himself shares as he holds no joy in his win.
Sniper Wolf I also felt pity for and was quite upset to see leave. Despite the fact she shoots down Meryl into a temporary crippled state would argue that we as the player and Snake should hold a level of hatred against her but it becomes evident she isn't some blank evil character out for blood. Otacon reveals a softer side to her. She has a kind affection wolves and dogs leading to her refusal of letting them be put down, she also displays some kindness towards Otacon (which leads to him falling in love with her.)
We see these main members of the terrorist group aren't just extreme shades of black and white, again like Snake all she may know is killing but she carries this with zero joy or enthusiasm. When she shot down Meryl she intentionally didn't end her, she refuses to kill for sport. In the end these are people who are victims of war and murder, it has plagued them from their early lives and now they themselves continue the bloodshed however they've ended up incredibly sad and lonely people, waiting to be put out of their misery.
As Sniper Wolf put it "I wasn't waiting to kill people... I was waiting for someone to kill me."
These characters end have a somewhat sombre tragic yet bitterly sweet end, even the two other boss characters Raven and Liquid I share a sense of sadness for. Despite them being Snake's enemies I'm not happy to see them go and almost wish they had the chance to live and turn over a new leaf, but war is shown to be unkind, such is the reality.
The only boss character I felt victory for defeating was Ocelot, perhaps it's a testament to the voice acting or the writing or maybe even both but right from the get go it's made evident he's a man who has no qualms with killing, he clearly takes joy in a what he calls a 'good fight'. In fact we never even truly defeat him as the Ninja quickly appears to slice off his hand which ends in Ocelot scurrying off with it. This ties up nicely at the end as it's made clear this is a character to hate and be positioned as the true villain.
In the end the point I'm trying to get across is that this isn't a game that takes luxury in violence and murder in both its gameplay and storyline, something which we rarely see today and for me personally made it all the more compelling. Despite Snake's slowly tarnished image throughout the game we never come to dislike him since we see a change in him that is able to bloom before his death. Meryl isn't just the "get the girl" character, she of all people manages to get past Snake's armour, to get past his defences and walls and see the real man behind the legend.
She's one of the few characters in the game who although is trained in combat she will hesitate before she pulls the trigger, she will shake with terror and glimpse of disgust at the very action of murder which leads to her not loving the idolized legendary idea of Snake but instead loving the man behind the legend. He connects to her on a deeper level than we see with anyone else in the entire game, he's blunt and honest yet confused by what he feels however by the end of the game he's bloomed enough to even tell Meryl his true name and finally diverts off the path of killing, because it's no longer the only thing he knows, he no longer needs to live for himself, now he has someone to live for.
Metal Gear Solid is a game that took me 14 years to finally play I loved every moment of it, it not only brought up interesting topics and characters but also never took its self too seriously with plenty of intentional and unintentional humour to help lighten the mood. I can only hope that I love it even more as I go onto play the various sequels.
Hopefully I didn't come across too preachy or pretentious here but I'll never forget my time with this game and to me it's truly impressive and remarkable that even today a game from the PSone era can still live an effective mark. You could even say "IT TOOK A WHILE BROTHER" I'll leave now...