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Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) artwork

Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) review

"Stuck somewhere between awkward social commentary and a one-series war against interactivity. "

Video gamers consider Hideo Kojima quite the big deal, but not as big a deal as Hideo Kojima seems to consider Hideo Kojima to be. Though he’s been around the block a few times and headlined the creative end of quite a few projects, he fell into worldwide provenance when Metal Gear Solid stopped toiling away on obsolete Japanese gaming rigs and started their arduous love affair with Sony consoles. Hideo’s been in the news again telling the world how he’d love to palm the franchise off onto someone else, but there’s no one good enough to continue his legacy. This struck me as an odd remark, because Metal Gear Solid contains nothing but self-congratulatory, overly-pretentious dribble and stifled sexual aggression spread egregiously over scant actual gameplay.

Not ready to take my word for it? Check this shit out:

Mmmm, repression.

This espionage opus starts life with the completely not cliché trope of tempting a retired super spy out of retirement because he’s, like, totally the only person alive that can save the world from a group of super agents all named after adorable animals who have stolen a giant walking robot with a nuclear warhead strap-on and have taken the entire world hostage. This only exists to give opportunity to cut away to tedious and grainy stock footage of atrocities while overlong soliloquies about the evils of war are painfully plastered throughout. Point being, for all his anti-war posturing and pseudo-academic babbling, if Hideo Kojima displayed half the intellect he’s regularly credited with by the gaming audience, he’d be writing “The Logic of Withdrawal”, not directing ostentatious video games.

Super-duper secret spy Snake, then, torn from his life of comfort, has a magic communicator grafted to his inner ear, called a codec, which is secretly the game’s main focus. Not even the slightest happenstance will unfold without Snake’s support team calling him up before and after the event to discuss it in great detail, while Snake obediently repeats the last half sentence of every remark so it can be explained to the player ad nauseum in between furious assaults on the forth wall. Snake’s first big challenge is bypassing the horrors of a waist-high pipe! Understandably worried that frustrated players will give up and play something less taxing when faced with this behemoth of a challenge, you quickly receive a call telling you the button you need to press to crawl. (Spoilers: it is X.) Later conversations stop gameplay dead to explain, slowly and carefully, in the tones of someone talking to a very young child, how to perform complex actions such as saving your game and moving. Answering your codec – which is rarely not ringing -- often leads to more patronising lectures, explaining modest game mechanics or breaking down the plot for your simple(r) mind to better digest.

Bypass that dreaded pipe, and you find yourself in an area patrolled by similarly dreaded Genome soldiers, biologically engineered super-troops cloned from the baddest of men ever to live. On paper, they’re one man armies tooled up with state-of the-art gear and blessed with almost superhuman abilities. In reality, they’re half blind meandering pansies with the attention span of a goldfish. Your handy radar (don’t worry; someone on the codec will explain to you, in great detail, how it all works) shows not only any hostiles in the area, but their cone of vision as well, which extends to several feet in front of them, and suggests peripheral vision is a trait largely discouraged in super soldiers. If, despite all their shortcomings, you manage to alert one to your presence, they will sound an alarm, jam your radar, (don’t worry; someone on the codec will explain to you, in great detail, how it will all revert back shortly) and charge you en masse. To escape, sit quietly in a dark corner for a handful of seconds, or just run back the way you came, and chill for a few. The search will be called off and all your would-be pursuers, despite only seeing you mere seconds ago, will completely forget you exist.

Despite being the most incompetent guards to ever step out of C basic, they’re sold in-game as the most skilled opposition ever. A big fuss was made about how they will track footprints in the snow – which they do, after exclaiming as loudly as they can either “Whose footprints are these?!” or their cover-all battle cry of “Huh?!?”. You can plant these tracks to help move guards off patrols or lure them into traps where you break their necks then leave their corpses to conveniently cease existing. Though happy to blurt out their discoveries, of course, if you just ignore suspicious trackers for a little while, they’ll soon forget the possibility of a neck-snapping super spy sporting a weird mullet hiding amongst them in favour of just getting on with their lives. Sneaking through their ranks eventually leads you to a choice; do you steal through the first air duct that you find, or do you continue your stealthing to a slightly harder to reach air duct that leads to the exact same location?

Moving through the vents allows you to peep in on a solder having a shit and overhear two guards, speaking in loud, clear voices custom-toned for pesky eavesdroppers about the exact whereabouts of your mission objective. This would be the black hostage who, in a cunning display of rallying against movie tropes, dies just as suddenly as he appears to the first of a long running series of mysterious heart attacks. This forces you to move on to the next hostage but, perhaps learning from how easily you sprung the last soon-to-be corpse from a simple cell, the next guy is elevated on a pillar in the centre of a small room, covered in delicious C4, with tripwires criss-crossing the area. Clumsy secret agents risk destroying the room and everyone in it with a single misstep, so having macho-moustachioed modern day gunslinger Revolver Ocelot pinging shots from his six shooter at you does conspire to make things a bit tricky. In a rare highlight, you need to sidestep explosive tripwires and dodge ricocheting slugs while chasing your quarry around the room, waiting for him to stop and reload long enough to plough some bullets of your own into his back.

It would be a shorter battle if super skilled super spy Solid Snake didn’t have a sidearm with the relative stopping power of moderately chastising words or a skillset that disallows any kind of shot not entirely aimed at the torso. The ability to score headshots (or even aim in series-breaking first person perspective) would have to wait another generation of console to give Kojima the excuse needed to remake the game and earn millions from old rope. In the meanwhile, he’ll just have to battle through Konami’s rogue's gallery of the bizarre and the fanatical. Raven will strut around bouncing his massive pecs and vocalising his schoolgirl crush on Snake after he defeats the massive pseudo shaman’s surplus WWII tank, pleading to be left alone for just five minutes with his adversary. Worrying characters continue; Psycho Mantis will read your memory cards then show off by reminding you that you’ve played better Konami games in the past (“I see you like… Vandal Hearts!”) in the midst of telepathically hurling furniture at you while modelling a skin tight leather suit and gas mask ensemble. Freakier still is the super erotic ninja who begs you to cave his face in with your mighty fists of manly justice while he spasms orgasmic, releasing waves of invisible electronic pleasure while he writhes around under your ceaseless onslaught, beseeching you to never ever stop bringing the delicious pain.

It all sounds a bit homoerotic, doesn’t it? What’s particularly odd is how the game tries to directly undercut all this by trying to present Metal Gear Solid with romantic overtones that are about as subtle as a half brick to the face. Officially unofficial game sidekick, Meryl, displays the cutting age of mid-tier PSX graphics by employing the first ever 3D butt wriggle when she walks, which is so mind blazingly important that it’s factored into a puzzle where she disguises herself as a genome soldier, and you have to sneak around clocking everyone’s arses in the hopes of identifying her. The other solution is to wait for her to blow her cover by using the woman’s toilet while dressed as a soldier from an army of clones comprised entirely of males in a move so criminally stupid that… actually, yeah, it entirely fits in with the usual behaviour of the genome crew. Locate her, and she becomes your painfully useless partner in crime as you sneak around capping incompetent guardsmen, and she holes up somewhere and spends ages talking about her feelings and how your actions are affecting her over the codec.

There’s a good chance that you’ll win the girl over by the end of the game. Not with your heroics and bravery, and certainly not with the striking chemistry between Snake and Meryl. The most complimentary comment offered is that she has a great butt, which she parades around in a pair of panties while talking and talking and talking and talking and talking about her lack of interest in men, and how she’s had her brain specifically programed to not care about the opposite sex. Juxtaposed, then, with the rest of the game, where she’ll ring you every fifteen minutes to ask what you’re thinking right now, and to enquire why you never tell her she’s pretty anymore. All of that, though, is just padding; all you need do to keep her on your arm is survive totally not suggestive torture where, chest bared and vulnerable, you’re strapped to an electric grid and have to tap the bejesus out of a button to stop yourself being enveloped in back-arching rapture, I guess. Fail this, and you get to ride off into the sunset with awful, awful consolation prize, Hal Emmerich.

Oh, god; I’ve just realised I’m already topping 1700 words and I’ve not got around to Hal fucking Emmerich yet.

Don’t bother memorising the name, because he’ll quickly insist that you call him Otacon, because he really, really likes nerd culture mecca, Otaku Convention. This is something he reveals to a super masculine spy who has just saved him from a groin-thrusting ninja within minutes of their first meeting. He’s the designer of Metal Gear, masterminding a weapon to destroy the world because of vague threats of harm to a few individuals but, more importantly, an ego-stroking meta-inclusion. You see, dorky Otacon’s office is plastered with Playstation™ paraphernalia, nerdy mid-90 tropes and… oh, look, a metric ton of Policenauts things, that other series Hideo Kojima made. Want to see two men sitting uncomfortable close on a snowmobile while chatting about the philosophy of love? Of course you do.

In between hiding under a cardboard box in the hopes that a passing wolfcub pisses on you, and a literal twenty minute conversation about love blooming on the battlefield, you’ll eventually be privy to the game’s big twist (predictably catered through the codec), watch your health bar drip down because you’ve started that self-lighting cigarette you’ve hidden up your arse and backtrack through entire bloody levels because your keycard is too warm to open a door. You’ll half-heartedly hide from guards, knowing that getting caught is both unlikely without performing jumping jacks in someone’s face, and inconsequential in execution of punishment. You’ll have the odd boss fight which is kind of cool, but will eventually find yourself fighting bare-chested (always with the bare-chest) atop the game’s namesake with flamboyantly British Liquid Snake, who is the effeminate foil to Solid’s gruff machismo. Because that’s how you design a good arch nemesis, kids: you take your hero and literally reverse all his traits to end up with a bizzaro version – extra facial hair optional – call him the villain, then sit back and congratulate your own genius.

Eventually, the game ends. Not before another wave of codec calls so you can all talk about how you feel about the endgame shenanigans, and not before Snake can ask everyone to repeat anything of note at least once, and you're forced to ask yourself what you've just gone through. Metal Gear Solid is a weird conglomerate of ideas and tropes that, when dissected, make very little stand alone sense. It's a failure as a stealth game; it's too hard to get caught, and too easy to repair any damage flagging alarms might cause. It's a failure as an action game insofar as the action outside the boss fights doesn't warrant mentioning. It's a failure as interactive fiction; anything of worth the tale has to tell is effortlessly buried in walls of pandering text, forth wall assassination and aimlessness. It's a failure as a social commentary; it's too rambling, too self congratulatory, too wrapped up in kitsch and silliness. Combining these elements does not magically excuse them of their shortcomings. In many ways, it only serves to highlight them.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 05, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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overdrive posted September 05, 2014:

Needs a good proofing, as there are a lot of little typos, but this was a fun as hell review to read. I don't think there's any point to me reviewing this one after reading yours. Damn brilliant, if a bit more harsh than I'd have been.

And the main thing I got from reading it. More regret over how I traded in Vandal Hearts a few years back. That's a game I'd really like to play again.
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EmP posted September 06, 2014:

It wouldn't be an EmP review without awkward typos.

Thanks -- I've gone through again and weeded out the ones I missed. That's probably all of them. Getting this out is another one checked off my reviewing bucket list. There's not many left now.

It was a fun review to write, but it's four million words, so I'm glad getting through it isn't too painful.
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wolfqueen001 posted September 06, 2014:

Wow. This is an amazing review, though I expected nothing less. I knew this game would be perfect for your sarcastic writing style, and it really shows. This was immensely enjoyable anx hilarious to read, even if I don't entirely agree with what you say.

I still like the game; I think its silliness is what makes it endearing. I do agree that the non-boss stuff is a joke, though. Also, iirc, you can skip the codec convos. On another note, I thought, at the time I wrote my review for MGS, that you appreciated the fact that I neglected the very obvious homoeroticism/BDSM. :P

Anyway, truly stellar read. You'll win the tourney for sure.

So how hard was it to play this game for you, anyway?
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EmP posted September 07, 2014:

Thank you, WQ. Those are some very kind words

Thing is, MGS isn't supposed to be silly; it's supposed to be this big social commentary that just so happens to have cut scenes of people taking a crap and certainly not objectified women doing press ups in their underwear just because. Skipping the codec is pointless, too, because they'll just be another one along next time you walk through a door or the wind changes direction.

"The wind changing direction?"

That's right, Snake. You see, air currents are not really controlled by osculating atmosphere temperatures, but by a secret government organisation that live under the white house and direct the worldwide media. Don't worry about stopping and taking this call right out in the open. Conveniently, no one will come along to ever interrupt you. Even though you'll take six billion of these things during the course of the game!

*Ahem*, where was I? Oh, replaying the game? Hated it. Bloody hated it.

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