In the Shadow of Old Games Remembered

December 20, 2007 at 9:02 am (Video Games)

Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes

(I refer to the Playstation game as Metal Gear Solid, its sequel as Sons of Liberty, and its remake as Twin Snakes. This way, I don’t make my writing ugly with numerical taxonomy!)

Have you ever been in love before? Have you ever felt, with your entire being, that you want to devote yourself to someone, that the rest of your life should be spent with that someone? That they are your soul mate, and that you will never leave them?

And then you actually don’t leave them. They’re still your soul mate, but the amount of time only spent with that person ruins the potential of other relationships, turning that special someone into your sole mate: Their jokes become repetitive, they use the restroom without closing the door, and you can pick out the odor of their farts from a crowd of people.

I get the feeling from Metal Gear Solid that Hideo Kojima refuses to close the door when going to the restroom, or at least while making a videogame. The fantastical elements of a video game are all here, dystopian future setting, a psychic agent to decipher unattainable information, a heroic individual to save the world and yet, they’re always constrained by reality. The setting is ruthlessly exposed by lengthy captions, a president of an arms company has fortified himself against psychic procedures but can’t withstand physical torture, and Snake must crawl on his belly and hide in a box to evade enemies, because he cannot take the world on alone. Like Contra would have us believe.

Instead, we must duck under tanks, run past enemies, and run across an entire military complex when a sniper rifle is not nearby. We must actually infiltrate a military base, instead of the fake shadow of an infiltration the Metal gear games on the NES gave to us. When Metal Gear first came down from the sky and walked toward me, I can tell you with the utmost certitude that I dropped my controller wondering how in Hades I could best this machine. And then I did by repeatedly shooting stinger missiles at it and running out of its way: bosses may have required tedious tension like this before, but in no other game has the final boss landed with such a thud, such inevitability to an incredulous audience. We could not fight Metal Gear, a difficult tussle with a tank told us earlier, but we could not not fight Metal Gear: the entire game has shown Snake encountering and overcoming the impossible, and what better impossible enemy than a walking, nuclear equipped battle tank?

The reification of a video game experience is not merely limited to gameplay, though. The story can be charitably described as a maze with digressions. The setting is construed through the insertion of video and factual detours. Terrorists have threatened the United States’ government because of the overflowing stockpiles of plutonium and nuclear waste in warehouses owned by venal CEOs, not because aliens invaded the world and prompted a hero’s rite of passage. This is the product of an exaggerated reality, not a fantastical imagination.

This is what makes Otacon and Meryl such crucial characters. Snake, the character whom we play as, is already disillusioned to the horrors of war, and begins the game wrested from his idyllic (well, not so much, but he certainly wishes to return to his apathy) retirement. Meryl begins the game as wanting to see if she can really be a soldier, if she has what it takes, and yet she can’t look Snake straight in the eye when holding a gun, can’t stop herself from shaking. Otacon is similarly naïve. He falls for a member of the enemy team, a sniper enemy whom Snake must kill. He and Meryl both experience crushing disillusionment, the kind of stuff making Snake an eternal smoker able to slip past gaurds and dismantle tanks with ease, but, at the climax of the story, he saves them! He helps Meryl escape the horrors of war, or Otacon the melancholic landscape of love lost: It doesn’t matter in the end if Snake escapes with Meryl or Otacon, saving either lets Snake become philanthropic instead of reclusive, but reality intervenes and only one can escape the horrors in the Metal Gear complex. Naturally, this happens right after you beat the impossible, the Metal Gear. You have successfully infiltrated an enemy base and defeated a walking, nuclear equipped battle tank! You did it, you accomplished the impossible!

But reality must intervene even when trying to convey this message. Metal Gear isn’t really that difficult a boss. Missiles do not fire rapidly, and he can be ably defeated by the awful but stubborn video game player. Kojima can’t convey the wondrous event of accomplishing the impossible without conceding that the impossible really isn’t impossible.

All of this makes Twin Snakes an interesting addition to the Metal Gear Series, and I’m not sure if I love it or hate it. On one hand, Kojima ruthlessly wrangles the gameplay elements peculiar to Sons of Liberty and misapplies them to its more realistic brethren: You hear the soldier colonel telling the soldiers to continue their pace, to maintain their vigilance, a broach into fantasy unthinkable in the original Metal Gear Solid. You can view the game from first person, as Raiden could do in Sons of Liberty, and the cut scenes and graphics look beautiful by comparison. This is not the same game, the same harsh dose of reality like its antecedent.

On the other hand, it enshrines Metal Gear Solid into the deifying crucible of memory. After playing this, who’s really going to return to the polygonal Playstation game, the one that doesn’t even allow first person perspective when shooting? Twin Snakes makes Metal Gear Solid more real, as the term is used here when denigrating power fantasies, by being more unreal. It turns the original game into a video game, all by simply applying a shiny coat of paint and allowing Snake to shoot when we can see through his own eyes.

I should say that I like the inability to switch from third person perspective in Metal Gear Solid. We’re viewing the game’s actions as someone from the outside looking in, and are forever distanced from its actions on an emotional level. I like how Snake’s aiming cannot be controlled, and sometimes falters without any assistance possible from the video game player, how the complexities of espionage and infiltration are only implied, how they invoke a sympathetic response to the labyrinths of foreign intrigue instead of emphatic.

Twin Snakes makes the events personal. To almost all who would play the game, Metal Gear Solid has already been experienced. Revolver Ocelot has already has his arm chopped off, and Snake has already escaped the base with Meryl or Ottacon. It’s a memory of an event before the Gamecube (or Wii, as those newfangled kids would play it) is turned on, and then the game continues to truss the original as a beautiful new entity. Who cares if it anachronistically swipes controlling methods? It makes the game play better!

I think I’ve just decided how I feel about the game: I love it, and the ease of first person shooting doesn’t hurt either, but we will always have the memory of the harsher, more difficult original. And what are remakes for, except to make the crazy storyteller who used to walk five feet uphill both ways to the outhouse seem crazy?

Next: What makes Sons of Liberty so damn great! And why Raiden is so necessary.

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2 Comments

  1. Bacchants With Guns « Psychopomp & Circumstance said,

    […] (Again, I refer to the original Playstation game as Metal Gear Solid, its Playstation 2 sequel as Sons of Liberty, the remake of Metal Gear Solid as Twin Snakes, and the third entry as Snake Eater) The first part is here. […]

  2. Dear Readers, « Psychopomp & Circumstance said,

    […] plot and game mechanics instead of in appraisal of the game’s storytelling and mechanics here, here, and here. I may revisit this game someday in a similar thematic post later, because it does […]

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