Dear Readers,

December 30, 2008 at 3:33 am (Video Games)

I have had a very good reason for not posting any content lately: I just got a PS3 + MGS4, and I can’t peel myself away from the game. It’ll take a little work to justify all my tense thumbs and lost writings, because the actual game as a final product is not very good: every cut scene is nothing short of a filmic atrocity, with (and I’m being literal here) hours of exposition, and in between these explanations there is either (admittedly cool and ridiculous) fight scenes, or blunt character drama as interesting as a science geek falling for another science geek. Or a member of the world-saving squad worried about Snake’s ability to fight. The soldiers responds with a dismissive hand halting communication, the newly quiet regarding him in sympathy and awe.

While this may be a shrewd move to court a male video game audience relating and literally acting as the ultimate soldier who goes from silent sneaking to robotic mech battling, it gets a little tedious when every mission briefing once again tells the player that the character they’re playing as exists in a class of their own. A particularly egregious moment has a (literally) five minute death scene and paints Snake as inevitable darkness and his younger partner in world-saving, Raiden as lightning in the dark. (He, apparently, took gamer’s insults at his effeteness to heart: he cuts off his own arm in the game for almost no narrative importance. I’m reminded of Titus Andronicus, but without the justification of Shakespeare’s later canon).

It’s hard to take seriously a deconstruction of Batman and Robin’s dynamic between duty and pleasure, darkness and saving light, especially when Robin is a genetically modified cyber ninja working too hard to appease earlier insulting fans. (“Ninja’s are the ultimate scouts!”- actual game dialogue).

Anyways, I can’t imagine what one would do while the scenes play. Personally, I read a book, trotting through about forty pages of House of Leaves all in all, and I’m not talking about the later pages where Danielewski painted a couple words on a page. Those who write of the game’s excellent, mind bending story must not have very good taste in movies (ign, gamespot, too many big factories of reviews and video game cultural documents that don’t need or deserve links). I’d imagine they think very highly of Forrest Gump.

Although this game doesn’t really mean to be taken seriously when it has its main hero trudge through an arduous half mile of microwave filled pathways, forcing the player to mash buttons while the hero slowly crawls towards his impossible destination. At least, I sincerely hope that this game understands that very few can take its cut scenes seriously, but I’m not so sure that Kojima and I laugh at the same moments. Particularly when every female character besides the sacrosanct daughter character of Meryl flops her breasts in front of the camera. Even the boobs of traumatized victims of horrific war screaming in agony has their moment in front of the camera. I can handle a lot of ridiculously male heterosexual moments, I read comics, play video games, and listen to hip hop, but moments like these actually unsettle me, and I am one desensitized cat.

***

…(meow)…

***

So, as a complete passive and active experience, the game is nothing more than an idiosyncratic trot through inaccessible moments the producers take too much time to explain improperly. Fortunately, one doesn’t always have the controller fifteen feet from your hands as one walks to the refrigerator to get some pretzels and cream soda: you get to actually play the game, too, and it’s one of the most sublime experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy.

If this game is anything, it’s tremendously deep. If you play on any difficulty above the lowest, a kicked over can alerts the enemy to your presence, and in every soldier’s peripheral vision any movement will cause them to investigate. With such stupendous routine interactions, the game is not content to rest on its byzantine, AI coat; there are at least five distinct settings for the game, a military complex as veterans should be used to and bored by now, a snow drenched, robotically operated military complex that requires completely different tactics to complete, a city with many hidden doorways and passageways, and a jungle teeming with life and light.

But if the game is tremendously deep, it tragically doesn’t demand that its audience explore its depths. WHen scouting an enemy through a woods, the game tells you to focus on footprints, later going into the importance of size or shape of them. If you just run blindly from the level from point A to point B, you would only have two options every time, and it is patently impossible to get lost when searching footprints for who could make them.

As it stands, it is a haphazard application of its cryptic themes, and we can only trace its own footprints at the game Kojima envisioned, and the one we get. We understand that he talked with hunters and scouts to determine actual scouting methods, but isntead of a sprawling forest where every path leads to potential danger and loss of direction, there is an A or a B, and only a slight reward in taking full advantage of the game: one can reach the next cut scene faster if you know the proper path. Why not take it?

Another pacing issue exists. As the game progresses, its locales become less and less exotic. None of the distinct locales I mentioned earlier, the jungle, the blizzard and the city, are nearly as good as the first game’s urban warfare, when dirt and concrete fly at Snake from every angle amid bullet shops and robotic monsters. Recalling the jungle more than the city, there are plenty of makeshift hiding places all around, and some of the most excitingly horrific enemies make their debut. When you walk out onto a street, and faceless robots that are mostly legs kicking and machine guns shootings, or the flying robots launching missiles and tossing concrete and dust everywhere, you know the horrors of war. Or when, in the jungle, you have to dodge a helicopter’s searchlights while hurriedly running over to a gate a tank’s about to smash into, AND you have to take out at least three guards so they don’t kill the driver…*

This game is littered with these delicious set-pieces, all demanding not only excellent aim, but also knowledge of the game’s environments. When you’ve finally taken the time to completely master an area, it’s exhilirating to sort order from warfare’s chaos, and although the game tries its hardest to paint war as a necessary evil and a debilitating compromise, the game’s best moments are when it embraces Call of Duty’s chaos but filters it through the lens of espionage.

*I feel I should mention that if you don’t play on the hardest difficulty, this game is not nearly as difficult as I’m making it out to be. But if you do play it on the hardest difficulty, Snake can only take a handful of shots before he dies, enemies are almost superhumanly aware of their surroundings. If played on lower difficulties, it can be a humorous, adrenaline rushed first person shooter of a title, but even then it still retains its Metal-Gear-Solidness in the face of modern warfare, with an infinite supply of enemies making spatial progression the goal, not complete enemy annihilation. You literally can’t defeat the enemy through aggressive combat, as more enemies will respawn and remind you that stealth is probably better when extracting a scientist instead of machine guns.

As excellent as the enemies are, the bosses are even better. I’m a little hesitant to compare them to other games in this series (Snake Eater has stupendous boss battles testing much more facets of the gamer’s skill), one would not find more imaginative battles in another game series. From Mega Man to Final Fantasy, these simply demand a slight change of tactics to defeat the bosses. They do not uproot setting and battle habits nearly as well as Screaming Mantis’ battle with a legion of undead soldiers, or the on-the-rails shooter of Raging Raven. Even Laughing Octopus’ hide and seek boss battle is not an annoying game of cat and mouse, but an exhilarating combination of pattern recognition where the player must acquire tactics.

And the game even wants you to play it on the hardest difficulty, offering a material reward for beating the game on “Big Boss Extreme” in under five hours, without killing anyone, alerts, deaths, and with no healing items possible. It’s taking me about twenty minutes of real time for every minute of saved time that I’m putting in, but it’s an absolutely satisfying reward in this game where it has tremendous depth in its game mechanics and design, and it can even push its mechanics to their limit, if the player so chooses to play an even more difficult game, instead of the easy modes blithely offered to connect poor film scenes.

I also feel that I should mention its absolute gorgeous visuals. The act taking place in South America is particularly splendid, where looking the camera up can show a range of mountains with tan sunlight bathing lightly green flora. A tiny hedgehog pops out and runs around until it finds another hole to hide, and finally the guard’s head has turned to let Snake pass unfettered.

***

I’ve talked about this series before, but mostly in interpretations of the game’s 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 have depth in the connections between its plot and mechanics as do its precursors, but I’m just exhausted from beating act one right now, and I can’t even imagine a larger agenda to this game than its button (lack of) mashing bliss.

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