Monday, May 11, 2009

DFB – “The Virtuous Mission” (Metal Gear Solid 3) – Part X

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater remains deadlocked with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, solidly holding the number two spot in my personal hierarchy for the series overall. I tend to have a soft spot for strongly established arenas of fiction swinging their clock-hands back. It gives the audience a far greater and more intimate understanding of its world. It’s worked well for nearly every form of fiction imaginable, and it just narrowly avoids becoming cliché without necessarily being a prerequisite for the story itself. What Snake Eater remains is thus---Christmas Morning in the eyes of a child.

Unfortunately, there’s no real substantial collection of artwork for Snake Eater, so the Shinkawa-Well will be running fairly dry with these entries. I scrounged together what I could though. Enjoy.

As Always: The Plot Summary is here simply to provide the reader with a loose grounding on where I'm at in regard to what I'm writing about, and also because it's very therapeutic for me to type out prior to hitting the subsequent topics. It remains an expendable part of the blogs, so please skip them if you're not into it.

Plot Summary ~!~ My Progress

The clock swings back to 1964 now, and focus is being placed upon a relatively young soldier aboard a large aircraft. His commanding officer informs him that he will be attempting the world’s first HALO (High Altitude, Low Open) jump ever. As the sun rises in rises in the backdrop, the soldier approaches the rear of the ship, which is now opening for his nearing jump. After a warning from frostbite via his CO, the soldier submits himself to a free-fall. Just a few days prior to this, his CO briefly visited him (whose name is revealed to be Jack), informing him that they would be commencing the “Virtuous Mission”. This mission’s objective is the successful extraction of a Soviet scientist in weapons-development, Nikolai Stephanovich Sokolov. It is revealed that Sokolov is a Soviet defector, as he had become afraid from his own creations and wished a cessation of his work. Through the help of the CIA, they were able to sneak the conscience-ridden scientist (and his family) across the Berlin Wall.

However, a week later marked the events that would later become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Due to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Russians and the United States teetered on a hair-trigger from engaging each other in nuclear combat. In order to stop this from happening, the Soviet’s demanded an exchange. A cover story was then issued that the U.S. was to pull its IRBMs from Turkey, to which the Soviets would oblige by moving their own from Cuba. The truth of the matter is that the IRBMs in Turkey had very little strategic value and meant very little to the Soviets. Instead, their only true demand was the return of Sokolov, nothing more. Upon hearing the truth concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jack begins to cryptically speculate on the Soviet’s simple demand. His commander then tells him that this uncertainty is the whole reason behind this mission altogether; to halt the work that Sokolov is being forced to complete and bring him back to the United States safely.

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Jack: “So what did the Russians really want?”
Zero: “Sokolov. They wanted us to return Sokolov.”
Jack: “You mean the Soviets pulled out of Cuba just to get their hands on
Sokolov?”
Zero: “That's right.”
Jack: “What the hell was he working on?”


The soldier then lands near the design bureau that Sokolov is currently being held at, located in the jungles of Tselinoyarsk. Removing his oxygen mask reveals a robust soldier in his early thirties. After retrieving his backpack that was caught in a tree on the way down, he contacts his radio support. This consisted of his CO, whose codename is now “Major Tom”. Also present is a young female medical officer, titled only as “Para Medic”. The last person on Snake’s support team however, is none other than his own mentor. Known only as “The Boss”, this female soldier is regarded by many as a living legend; she is also noted as being the officer that gave birth to America’s Special Forces. Jack is initially flustered at her appearance on his radio support; she supposedly abandoned him five years prior and he still feels as if his training as a soldier is somewhat inadequate. The Boss calmly explains to him that her expertise given to him was as far as she herself could take him, and everything left for him to learn was meant for him to find for himself. Despite this, Jack welcomes the support of his old mentor and asks only that she call him by his new code name, Naked Snake. The code name was specially chosen as he’s to procure all his equipment on site on-site (hence “Naked”) and the legendary unit that the Boss organized during World War II, The Cobra Unit (hence “Snake”).

Proceeding with his mission, Snake is suggested (by The Boss) to once again familiarize himself with CQC, a simple yet highly effective means of disabling one’s opponent bare-handedly. It was in fact The Boss who developed these techniques, and was aided in their formulation by Snake himself. Making his way through the jungle, Snake encounters many members of the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoĭ Bezopasnosti), the Soviet secret police. After continuing across a rickety wooden bridge, Snake comes to a derelict factory where Sokolov is being held. After sneaking inside, Snake finds Sokolov burning the plans for the work he’s so afraid of. Snake ensures Sokolov that he’s under orders from Major Tom (Sokolov knows him as Major Zero) to escort him to the other side of the Iron Curtain. Sokolov quickly relates to Snake that he’s being guarded by the KGB in order to prevent his capture by Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin. Volgin is looking to oust the Soviet Union’s current Prime Minister (Khrushchev), in order to help install far more radical factions in his place. This could in turn mean the beginning of World War III. The KGB troops are present to keep Sokolov from falling under the hands of Volgin at any cost, even if it means executing Sokolov himself in the process.

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Snake then begins his extraction of Sokolov, but just as he’s making his way out of the factory, the KGB troops surround & ambush him. Just as they prepare to take Sokolov back however, the KGB troops themselves are surrounded by rouge GRU operatives being led by a brazen but talented young man known as Ocelot. As Sokolov notices the threateningly escalating situation, he hurriedly flees from the scene. Ocelot then uses his exceptional gunplay talents to execute every single one of the KGB troops himself, leaving only Snake standing to oppose him. Just as Ocelot turns his gun on Snake, he uses an unorthodox method to cock his gun, which causes him to jam it as it tries to shoot Snake. Snake noticed this however, and only flashes a smile as he uses his CQC skills to quickly disable now-shocked young commander. Snake then neutralizes all of Ocelot’s present subordinates by similar CQC techniques. Just as Ocelot regains his ground, he’s promptly slammed to the ground once again by Snake. Ocelot then receives a brief rebuke from the humored Snake, who light-heartedly advises the young man to acquire himself a revolver instead of the automatic he was using. Due to Ocelot twisting his arm in order to absorb his gunshot’s recoil, Snake voices his observation that Ocelot is better cut out for using a revolver pistol instead. Ocelot angrily denounces him but egotistically accepts Snake’s compliment towards his outstanding shooting prowess. Ocelot then passes out and Snake hurries after Sokolov.

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Snake: “You ejected the first bullet by hand, didn't you? I see what you were
trying to do. But testing a technique you only heard about in the middle of
battle wasn't very smart. You were asking to have your gun jam on you.
Besides, I don't think you're cut out for an automatic in the first place. You
tend to twist your elbow to absorb the recoil. That's more of a revolver
technique...”


He catches up to the scientist at the bridge he passed earlier. As Snake assures Sokolov that he will get him out safely, the two hear extremely loud cannon-fire in the distance. Snake uses his binoculars and witnesses what Sokolov announces must be a test run for the machine he was forced to build, The Shagohad. It’s a machine capable of launching nuclear attacks from any terrain without any type of support. Sokolov informs Snake that The Shagohad is only in its first phase of completion and once it reaches “phase two” it will be fully functional. Snake takes this as a sign to continue the extraction and the two make their way across the bridge. Just as they near the halfway point however, a dense fog appears to materialize out of nowhere and a swarm of hornets surround both him and Sokolov. The panicked scientist is then lifted into a helicopter that appears just above them, by an ominous looking soldier with alarming agility. As all this is happening, Snake finds himself facing a female soldier carrying two massive cases alongside her. As he’s able to make out her identity, he’s left in confusion as he realizes that it’s The Boss herself. The Boss acknowledges the occupants of the helicopter as The Cobra Unit and excitedly exclaims her desire to fight alongside them once again. A light rain then begins and The Boss airily remarks something that Snake doesn’t understand. He does however notice an apparition of a hooded soldier standing alongside The Boss (which she nervously acknowledges as well). Just as the ghostly man disappears, another soldier appears on the bridge, an extremely large and threatening man with scars carved into his face, it’s Colonel Volgin.

The Boss welcomes Volgin to the scene and Volgin in turn welcomes her to his country. She then informs Snake that she is defecting to the Soviet Union and that Sokolov is a gift to her new hosts (as are the contents of the two large cases she was carrying). Snake is flabbergasted at the situation but before he can react, The Boss quickly disarms him and takes apart his gun. Snake then attempts to engage her in CQC, but The Boss is by far superior in using the technique. She swiftly and effortlessly disables him, breaking his arm in two places. Volgin casually observes the situation and acknowledges that if Snake isn’t joining them, then he must die. Snake has seen Volgins face and could warn Khrushchev of their actions therefore preventing a problem if he’s allowed the live. Volgin then reaches into his pockets and slips four bullets in between each of his hand’s fingers. Seemingly generating a field of electricity around his own body, he readies himself an attack position in order to kill Snake. The Boss stops him however, stating that he’s her disciple and that she’ll kill him herself. She almost remorsefully informs Snake that he can’t come with them and holds out her hand in order to help him up. As Snake takes it however, she yanks his entire body towards her and thrusts her elbow into his abdomen. The Boss then grabs Snake from this position and launches his entire body from the bridge; Snake is only just able to grasp the bandanna she’s wearing as he falls into the river far below.

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The Boss: “Now that the five of us are together, it's time we go to the depths of
hell itself...”


Snake washes up on a riverbank further downstream. Fortunately he’s still alive but has suffered numerous lacerations in addition to the injuries inflicted upon him by The Boss. Thanks to Para-Medic’s guidance, he’s able to temporarily treat his wounds. Still clenching The Boss’ bandanna, Snake uses it as a makeshift sling for his broken arm as he observes the remains of someone’s body near him. Just as Snake watches many departing helicopters, he notices that a group of them are carrying The Shagohad away. Knowing that The Boss is present on board, he hazily reaches towards the sky. Snake then feels the extreme force of an explosion far off in the distance. He looks towards the sky and notices a monstrous mushroom cloud, typically signaling the detonation of a nuclear blast.

After Snake is recovered by his support team, he spends a week in an advanced medical ICU, where he learns the details of what actually took place during the failed Virtuous Mission. After The Boss’ defection, Volgin used the contents of the cases she gave to him in order to entirely destroy the research facility Sokolov was working at prior to his capture. The cases The Boss gave to him contained portable atomic-bomb launchers (The"Davy Crockett" Atomic Battle Group Delivery System). Just after this attack the Soviet government noticed an American aircraft violating their airspace (the same ship Snake was deployed from earlier). Rationally placing two and two together, Khrushchev calls The White House and informs President Johnson that despite the U.S.’ innocence or guilt in the affair, his military and political influence in his country is weak. If United States cannot prove it’s innocence within one week, Khrushchev will be unable to hold his own military back from engaging the U.S. in full-out nuclear war. Upon hearing of the legendary Voyevoda’s (The Soviet’s name for The Boss) defection, Khrushchev requests that the U.S. initiate a mission to execute The Boss in order to prove the U.S.’s innocence. Additional objectives for Snake include eliminating Volgin’s renegade actions and also disabling the now-stolen Shagohad.

Snake is then introduced to his new radio support. In addition to Major Zero (who reverts his name back after expressing his thoughts that “Major Tom” brought them back luck during the failed “Virtuous Mission”) and Para-Medic, Snake is introduced to “Mr. Sigint”, a weapons expert. Faced with the possible consequences of being killed (Snake & Major Zero), stripped of licenses (Para-Medic) and a subsequent nuclear war, Snake commences operation Snake Eater; named aptly for Snake facing off against The Boss’ world-renowned battle group, The Cobra Unit.

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To Be Continued...

Spatial Awe

Snake Eater’s surrounding backdrop makes it easier to grant imagination towards it. This is a combination of many things, some of which include:

1 – One's own nostalgic liberation from the otherwise boring industrial environments from other games near or around the stealth-action genus.
2 – An invasion of childish pleasure from feeling like one is hidden in natural vegetation
3 – Konami’s consistent proof of graphical skill with the Playstation 2.
4 – Choice of items available for use in an outdoor area.
5 – The overall length and path-scale of the game itself (e.g. from bridge of Dolinovodno to the flower-field of Rokojov Berg)
6 – etc, etc, etc...

Sure the game has flaws, but many of these “flaws” in themselves begin to weave in and out of otherwise undesirable game mechanics (in addition to the more enjoyable ones) and form a sort of makeshift Ouroboros out of its own mechanics. This is interesting when contrasted with the game’s overarching “Genesis of the Snake” theme coming full circle. The positive effect that these numerous mechanics are collectively accomplishing are at war however; something I’ve always been extremely vocal about when concerning my biggest complaint with this game, which is…

Open-Ended Failure

Snake Eater was pressed as a more open-world title than it actually is prior to release. Like an idiot, I fell for this and because of what actually came to be, this ended up being a hindering flaw of the game in my eyes. It wasn’t near glaring enough to ruin my experience, but it was glaring nonetheless. The game really only had a total of two or three areas that the player can really “lose” themselves in and one of them is simply a glorified arena for The End’s boss encounter (which tips the scales for so many people in how enjoyable he was as a result). The game is still very much a linear experience, but it narrowly avoids this by playing a dangerous game with the aforementioned section.

In many ways, the fact that Snake Eater is a strictly directed experience doesn’t hurt it because it’s still far more open than the previous titles have been. Like I said however, I fell for the pre-release "vision", and ended up being fucked in the ass for it. Two things still “pleasantly bother” me about this hangup however. One is the re-worked camera that was introduced in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, as it ties into the above topic as another bullet point on the list of countering aspects for the linear path through the game. The second is the presence of the actually more open ended areas. Paths that would later be turned into multiplayer maps for both Subsistence and Guns of the Patriots (Svyatogornyj East) served as optional areas where the player could veer off in. That simply bothers me because it leaves my thirst unquenched for that part of the game’s under-realized muscle.

Stalk More Plz

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I’m a bit of a D-pad whore, always have been, always will be. Metal Gear Solid doesn’t truly let go of its grid based puzzle structure until Subsistence, as it’s a franchise that's been pretty contingent on the BEO for a long time. What this title does as an almost homage to people like me is finally give Snake the option of stalking. Sound plays a far more integral part of the espionage in this game and the stalking is a major player in the experience. Regular movement is handled by the left analog stick, but using the D-pad initiates Snake with very slow steps, masking their sound. The mechanic is useful (though impractical as anybody can hear grass crumpling behind them) as it slips another layer over the core of the game, harshly punishing players for running around with no regard to the game’s nature.

My most fickle complaint with this is the degree of animation from Snake’s model. It certainly isn’t damaging, but if a player is engaged in the process of actions within close proximity of enemy patrols, it helps to have something like animations for the head's cognition to wrap its way around. Luckily, Metal Gear Solid has never really needed such an addition, but it does make me wonder how it could fit in nonetheless. This is especially interesting when contrasted with how Sam Fisher’s animation changes as he nears his enemy in some of the Splinter Cell titles. There’s also a lot to be said for Snake’s animation as it is, but coupled with the image of how Naked Snake’s visage is tied so tightly to the CQC mechanic (narrative and game-wise), I’d think this title is especially a good plug-in to tamper with the aspect overall. That’s just fickle ramblings though, like I said…

BEO-Eliminate

Again, with Subsistence’s release, the problem of the BEO was eliminated entirely (almost anyway). The game was made with certain design principles in mind and the change reflects this as well. Subsistence allows a fully rotatable camera, which immediately shows how obsolete and worthless the previous system was. The problem with this is what I noted above. The camera angle gave me a new perspective on the spatial luster of the game, and at the same time, it exacerbates how tight the tunnel actually is. Something really funny to note is that this is an underlying subtlety that made Act IV in Metal Gear Solid 4 so special, Shadow-Moses was taken in from another perspective entirely (albeit it being a very slight shift).

The downside of this of course is that these mechanics start to pile up and the game becomes far more inaccessible to anyone looking to get into the series. The realization of this comes once the player notices how much they may or may not be juggling their FPV with the normal view. Personally, I don’t really care about how accessible or not this game is to the newcomer (I’m an ass like that). What I do care about however is how lengthy the junction between mechanics starts becoming. Metal Gear Solid 4 began the premise at solving such things presented by Subsistence’s camera. It does this simply by letting the player move in FPV, but that creates an entirely new dimension in itself, which is at that point---simply more trouble than it’s worth.

Scene
It’s funny that my rambling in this post gravitates around spatial recognitions within Snake Eater. This certainly is the title that most calls the player’s awareness to its surroundings. Even Though Guns of the Patriots’ first two acts take the player on a romp outdoors, the dense vegetation in Russia still manages to trump it in that sense. This could be for any number of reasons, the two most likely being the emotional attachment for a fan of the series and the stereotypical nature-seduction that the game provides. The theme of the story itself is more about the “environment” humans create amongst themselves and how they tend to shift as time passes.

Taking me out of the drab industrial environments wasn’t a necessity in the first place. As a series, the MGS games infuse even those facilities with their own distinct aura anyway (e.g. Big Shell in comparison with Shadow-Moses for instance). Snake eater capitalizes on a cheap high, which comes from simply being outside. The kinesthetic pleasure that comes from hearing steps on grass and birds chirping simply can’t be matched anywhere else in the series. As an indirect tie-in, it loops into the narrative itself going back to its own origins. Despite the negative effect all the menu-hopping can create, there still remains a sort of fundamental survivalist theme that actually communicates through the play as well. Being on the ground while crawling amongst shrubbery provides some characteristic comfort that becomes a warming part of the experience overall. If nothing else, every other topic that I’ll delve into with MGS3 this week all trickles from the game’s own sense of “Scene”.

No "Recurring Thechanics" today, I’m saving them for Wednesday’s & Friday’s Posts

Wednesday’s Post: DFB – “Operation Snake Eater” – Germinal Events (Metal Gear Solid 3) – Part XI
Friday’s Post: DFB – “Operation Snake Eater” – Terminal Events (Metal Gear Solid 3) – Part XII