Monday, May 3, 2010

Metal Gear May #1 // Metal Gear Solid // Part I

I intended on picking a single theme to blanket over the entire series' playthrough, but when I actually sat down to play, all that will jumped out of the window. So, I decided to tackle each game as an individual by using whatever arbitrary idea pops into my head, which still manages to complement the mess I pulled off last year. For Metal Gear Solid (PSX), I decided to write up on each individual sequence in the game as I play through them. The difficulty is on extreme this time, as I wanted a drastic change of pace.

Omnipresence Beyond Castration // Docks, Heliport, and Tank Hangar

Despite the fact that I’m playing on extreme, the warped sense of realism that it’s meant to inspire is pretty much mutilated by the concept of perspective. Angles, views, and corner-cameras all of a sudden become immensely important as the difficulty is kicked up. Placement in any stealth title is a top priority and a fair sense of surrounding just isn’t granted in this game on the extreme level (The Soliton Radar is stripped from the player here essentially leaving them ‘naked’). The sense of distance in a third person game reeks strongly of the omnipresence always granted to a player in ANY title. For Metal Gear Solid specifically, there is an individual aspect to it which exacerbates this distance, and it’s a feature I’ve hated all the way up until Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

...The damn camera...

The bird’s eye view essentially puts Snake in a terrarium for the player to look at only semi-joyfully. Once he/she realizes the nature of the game (which will happen pretty damn fast), they'll start seeing some glaring flaws in design. For MGS however, this has sort of in itself worked to series' favor (astonishingly enough). Consider the point I made above. Basic psychology can come into play when addressing Metal Gear, as the brain is simply more likely to recall events laced with negativity and despite the love one may or may not have with the game, Metal Gear Solid does this lacing. I'm certainly not suggesting this was done on purpose (I think Kojima admitted the camera was meant to hinder Asian proneness to motion sickness). Not only is it embedded with fundamental design flaws, but it's layered over with the visual design of the game as well. I'll detail this point later, but the heliport has to be one of the most memorable experiences in the game due to the small touches of ambiance granted by the lack of music a and the snowstorm backdrop. The player will be forced to engage this as a sort of half-hearted tableau vivant. The fact that the player is stationary during most (if not all) of their observations in this game is immensely important to it as an individual title.

For all the love-harping I’ll do on Metal Gear, it will remain the most minimal stealth game series as things currently stand (people get usually get confused here because thematically the games are a mess). Most other purposefully designed hide-and-seek titles will introduce variables that the player is to be aware of constantly (e.g. light meters). Metal Gear didn't even formally adopt that until Guns of the Patriots (though it kind of started in Snake Eater). Metal Gear Solid forces the player to rely on basics during every sequence. Particularly on the harder difficulties, the player will be stopping every few feet to hit triangle and survey their surroundings. This is obviously frustrating to even the most patient players, but lovers of stealth are rarely impatient to begin with, so they’ll probably eke out some sort of begrudging enjoyment here. It’s a retroactive sense of engagement to always be enclosed by surroundings and palpably grasping one’s own deficiencies in surveying it. Metal Gear shines (and burns) here.

“Maybe so, but I’m starting to develop kleptomania, I just keep putting things in my pocket.”
---Solid Snake


Due to this aforementioned distancing, the player will have grounds to engage the game's story as well (I will admit praise of the game's minimal mechanics leaving room for this to happen between players at their own individual pace). Now whether you think the game is a beautifully crafted tale or a cinematic mess of glory is totally irrelevant at this point, as both extremities can/will/should appreciate the concept of a game with a message (no matter how contrived it is). Metal Gear Solid certainly wasn't the first (nor the best), but it was a bold and perhaps relatively new step for games to make nonetheless (it still kind of is in many respects too). Within the first few hours, the player will be introduced to the concepts of nuclear deterrence, technological politics, and various other real-world counterparts in terms of 'information'.

Metal Gear has always gotten an A for effort from me due to it consistently going just a foot beyond what most games only do by allegorical function (and even that's a generous stretch on my part). The sad reality however (other than the fact that it still remains one of the few big-name series to do as much), is that Metal Gear (as an overall series) often doesn't deliver its messages coherently. It will typically leave the stupid confused, the critical appalled, and the remaining fans unable to articulate the true strengths of the series. It makes sure not to cross any lines that will be upsetting and it even actively retreats in some aspects of its narrative. That said, it does go to notable lengths to accurately introduce to the player just the general importance of nuclear waste, and by the time they make it to the nuclear weapons storage building, the mechanics actually try (albeit miserably) to become an extension of the narrative. We'll get to that in the next entry though.

In short, there's a difference between blaming Metal Gear games and criticizing them. If it can inspire even one twelve year old to go crack open a book and find the half-life of plutonium's isotope (239), then that message is far from a failure. Most of the things that people paradoxically whine about in the Metal Gear games are delivered elsewhere by titles such as Splinter Cell, but that's another sad story for another sad day.

"So they just close the lid and pretend like it'll go away?"

"Essentially, yes. And they're not even doing a good job of storing it. Many of the drums are corroded... with nuclear waste seeping out of them.
"Unbelievable"
---Solid Snake & Kenneth Baker

What would truly be naïve is to simply assume that there is absolutely no truth to claims like that no matter how fictional they may be.

~sLs~