There is a terrifying sequence in George Orwell's classic novel 1984 that finds main character Winston Smith tied to a chair with a giant cage full of rats attached to his face. Rats are Winston’s worst fear and, through the book’s exquisite writing, the audience feels the troubled main character’s pain and terror.
Shifting mediums, a memorable scene in the film A Clockwork Orange shares a similar power of drawing its audience into a twisted, visceral world of nightmarish torture.
As powerful as these two sequences are, they don’t possess one key element to take their emotional resonance to the next level: audience interaction. The reader or viewer doesn’t have to do anything outside of reading the next word or waiting for the next frame of film to flicker by on the screen. The audience is a mere silent participant as the dark stories unfold before their eyes.
But with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the PlayStation 3, one scene in particular not only elicits a pure, visceral feeling of pain and terror, it gives the player full control of what is happening on-screen.
It’s some incredibly powerful, truly revolutionary stuff.
My God, I love the Metal Gear Solid series.
Going into Metal Gear Solid 4, I knew I would love the game -- I adored Metal Gear Solid 3! -- but I never imagined the PlayStation 3 exclusive would bring the revered series to a (supposed?) close with such visionary style.
The game is so incredible, in fact, that it has already been featured on the Memory Card a couple of times already!
You can check out more of the game’s overarching, gloriously convoluted story by clicking here and here. For this Memory Card, I am going to focus on the specific events leading up to this week’s moment.
In Metal Gear Solid 4, you play as Old Snake, a gray-haired version of the Snake we have grown to worship in the previous Metal Gear games.
Snake is “old” because his body is reacting poorly to being a clone of Big Boss -- a plot twist revealed in an earlier game in the series.
Although his body is failing on Snake, forcing him to constantly inject his body with a life-saving syringe, the iconic soldier and mercenary shows no signs of slowing down.
Accepting a mission to defeat his rival Liquid Ocelot once and for all, Snake is dropped into the middle of a war zone at the beginning of the game. After journeying through a destroyed city, Snake encounters Liquid as he continues his plot to hijack the Sons of the Patriots, a massive system that controls all the nanomachines that are inside of Snake and others like him.
I know, it is all very complicated. But it wouldn’t be a great Metal Gear Solid game if it wasn’t for its ridiculously complex and dramatic storyline.
Avoiding capture by sending out an electronic signal that incapacitates Snake, Liquid eventually escapes in a helicopter just before Snake has a chance to confront him.
From here, Metal Gear Solid 4’s epic adventure begins, following Old Snake as he chases Liquid around the globe, running into many familiar faces (both good and bad) and facing some of his most challenging obstacles yet.
After reuniting with Meryl, Raiden, Otacon and others (and experiencing an endless amount of out-of-control set pieces and story twists!), Snake eventually learns from his old ally Mei Ling that Liquid has taken up in a massive warship called Outer Haven.
It is in this warship that Liquid plans on completing his despicable plan.
It is also on-board Outer Haven when this week’s incredible Memory Card moment occurs: A Snake in a microwave.
After being catapulted onto Outer Haven, Snake enters the gigantic warship all alone.
As he enters the foreboding base, Snake realizes he is about to face one of the most daunting experiences of his life.
Not only is Outer Haven equipped with some major advances in defense technology, numerous enemies swarm the complex. And in addition to all this, he knows that Liquid is waiting for him somewhere aboard the huge warship.
There is no turning back now. Either Snake will find and finally destroy Liquid ... or he will die trying.
Journeying farther into the ship, Snake eventually encounters Screaming Mantis, a very familiar foe that has taken Meryl hostage.
After defeating the creepy enemy, Meryl is saved and decides to help Snake with the rest of his mission.
Before they even have a chance to get far, they are ambushed by a large group of Liquid’s troops. Agreeing to hold them off, Meryl begins fighting the enemy soldiers, allowing Snake to move forward alone on his most important mission: to find and destroy Liquid. He learns that if he destroys the very core of the ship, Liquid’s plan will be put to an end.
Snake carefully heads in the direction of this core, a dark place at the center of a maze of metallic hallways.
As he approaches, his body is overcome by an extreme pain.
Snake falls to his knees.
His body is starting to fall apart.
Without any notice, a squad of Liquid’s soldiers runs around the corner. They see Snake on his knees, struggling to even stand up.
They draw their weapons.
As they get closer, Snake pulls out one of his important syringes. He jams it into the side of his neck.
But nothing happens.
The syringe doesn’t work.
The soldiers slowly inch forward, watching as Snakes rolls on the cold floor in pain.
Right before the enemies get to Snake, though, the door behind him slides open. From the adjacent hallway, Raiden flies into the room.
He lands between Snake and the soldiers, ready to fight. Since losing both arms in earlier tragedies, Raiden stands before the enemy troops, his huge sword held between his teeth.
Raiden’s electrified body (don’t ask!) starts to knock some of the soldiers down. Snake is slowly revitalized by Raiden’s presence.
The two of them step forward, past the fallen soldiers.
Raiden sees that Snake is hurting and volunteers to go forward in his place.
Snake knows the final corridor before reaching the core is full of deadly microwaves. He reminds Raiden that he has a life to go back to. Snake has nothing. He should be the one that makes the final sacrifice.
“From here on, this is my fight.”
With these words, Snake moves forward into the microwave-filled corridor, leaving Raiden behind to battle the recovering soldiers.
What happens next is the stuff of videogame legend.
The door to the microwave corridor opens up.
Snake’s face is immediately burned.
Despite the pain, he forces himself to move forward. Otacon remotely locks the heavy metal door behind Snake.
From here, the player takes full control. The screen splits into two parts. A gorgeous music score begins to play.
On the bottom screen, Snake starts to walk through the microwave-filled passage. On the top screen, the other events happening throughout the gunship play out: soldiers battling each other; Meryl struggling to stay alive; Raiden, armless, fighting a large squadron of troops.
At this point, Otacon tells Snake that he must make it through the passage as quickly as possible.
The player holds up on the analog stick to control Snake. Sadly, he moves very slowly because of the immense amount of pain he is in. Getting through the corridor is going to take some time.
The player wants to get Snake through as quickly as possible, but his slow movement prevents this from happening.
Smoke rises from Snake’s burning skin.
He jerks in pain and falls to the floor.
The player then must quickly press the triangle button as fast as possible to have Snake get back up on his feet. As they are doing this, Snake’s life bar starts to slowly deplete.
Snake stands back up, but he bends over and moves at a much slower pace.
He is in excruciating pain.
Again, Snake falls and must get up with the help of the player. His energy bar lowers even more.
He is near dead.
This time, Snake doesn’t even have the strength to stand up. By continuously tapping the triangle button, he starts crawling towards the end of the passage.
As all of this is happening, the haunting music continues to play. The top part of the screen starts showing Snake’s allies succumbing to defeat. All hope seems lost.
As a player, you are forcing Snake to move forward. Every tap of the triangle button causes him more horrible pain.
But you know this is the only thing that you can do to help him get to the end of the corridor.
Eventually, Snake almost completely collapses. With nothing left in his life bar, he barely has any energy left to move. His low crawl becomes slower than that of a newborn child.
But, still, he continues onward.
After what feels like hours, Snake finally reaches his goal; the combination of the player’s determination and Snake’s strength gets him through.
He reaches the end of the corridor, completely burned and destroyed.
The exit to the passage closes behind him.
Snake stands up. As his skin crackles and smokes, he takes a deep breath and steps forward towards his final battle with Liquid.
Despite the pain he is in, he knows he must move on to save the world ... to save his friends ... and to save himself.
You can watch Snake crawl through the microwave-filled corridor right here:
This sequence in Metal Gear Solid 4 is, hands down, one of my favorite moments in videogame history.
Gameplay-wise, not much really happens. As a player, you only hold up on the analog stick and repeatedly press the triangle button.
What makes this scene so unbelievably memorable is the emotional connection you have with Snake as the sequence plays out.
Going into the microwave-filled corridor, you already know Snake is hurting -- you can, literally, see it on his face. Right before he meets up with Raiden he is collapsing, his body barely hanging on.
As a player, you want Snake to succeed and will do anything you can to make this happen. You have followed him on many adventures and don’t want to see him fail -- especially by your own hand.
So as Snake steps into the corridor, you want nothing more than for things to turn out okay.
When the game starts to become playable, your initial reaction is to have Snake just run through the corridor as fast as possible. You see the life bar depleting, and, like any good videogame player, you know that rooms that lower your energy need to be exited as quickly as possible.
But when you try to run with Snake, he can’t do it. He is hurting too much.
As you try to run forward, Snake only writhes in pain.
At this point, Metal Gear Solid 4 doesn’t feel like a game anymore. With the combination of the brilliant split-screen and stunning music, the scene becomes a crazy visceral struggle for survival. You and Snake become one as you do anything it takes to save his life.
You start to feel his pain. You experience everything that Snake is going through.
Creator Hideo Kojima is the master of breaking the fourth wall in videogames (as evidenced by the incredible battles with Psycho Mantis and The End in MGS1 and 3, respectively). But with this sequence, Kojima’s genius is taken to a whole new emotional level.
When I was playing this sequence for the first time, I actually got up from my couch and starting hitting the triangle button as quickly as possible.
At first, I knew everything would be okay -- it always is! -- but I wanted to stand and give myself a better position to control Snake.
But as the scene played out and my energy was almost gone, I realized that Snake still had a long way to go. He was barely moving and not even close to the end of the corridor.
Maybe everything wouldn’t be okay ...
At this point I started screaming at the screen. “Come on, Snake!” COME ON!” I remember yelling as I mashed on the buttons.
I felt personally responsible for what happened to Snake.
If he didn’t make it, it was my fault.
And, man, I was not going to let that happen.
So I fought. I fought to help Snake. I hit the buttons as fast as I could. So fast, that my fingers started hurting.
I started feeling pain. Real pain.
Just like Snake.
As ridiculous as it sounds, Snake and I were in it together.
When he made it to the end and survived, I let out a sigh of relief. I shook out my cramped hand, sat back down on the couch, and watched silently stunned as Snake continued on his journey.
What did I just see? What did I just experience?
From a technical standpoint alone, this scene is pretty much perfect (the music, graphics, and split-screen are wonderfully executed), but there is something about the Metal Gear Solid games -- and this scene in particular -- that just have a way of emotionally connecting to the player.
And, boy, was I emotionally connected.
No matter how many years go by, I will always remember Snake crawling through the microwave-filled corridor.
The moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.
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