Friday, May 7, 2010

Metal Gear May #2 // Metal Gear Solid // Part II


Artistic Pixels // Canyon, Nuclear Weapons Disposal Building, Caverns

All of the Solid games have had a significant visual impact, but the ‘original’ was amongst the few to make gamers truly value underpowered systems for what they could accomplish in terms of graphical fidelity.

All of the cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid occur in the game’s own engine (with some effects masked over them), mouths/eyes appear more vague than most PSX titles at the time, and there’s an odd jitter to the characters as they speak. In fact, if one is looking for it, they can individually see the pixels in every corner of the game. Yet, because of these things --- not in spite of them, the game looks better for it.

The odd jittering helps to give the characters life and often presses forth the illusion of individual mannerisms. The lack of facial detailing is compensated for (though a better word would be ‘complemented’) by the codec sequences, where the player will spend a good chunk of their time watching detailed drawings of the characters actually animating. If you would like to try something weird, play through the game while closing your eyes for every codec sequence (the difference is definitely jarring enough to make note of). Also, even though Shinkawa’s illustrations weren’t prominent in the first title (I’m not counting the codec avatars), this game helps to form synergy with his art as well. Despite the highly detailed illustrations of the series’ mainstay artist, there is consistently a type of vagueness to the likeness of how he drew the characters in every single game.

Tack these visual ‘strengths’ on to the general ambiance of the music (e.g. the sharp piercing sound cues) and the game becomes ‘coldly’ attractive in terms of its aesthetics (meshing with the game’s entire backdrop). The problem with such strength is that it quite effectively alienates some people, killing a chunk of its overall audience by giving off a distinct vibe of ‘aesthetic grit’; luckily for me, that plays to my passions.

“Well boss, I hope you are happy. He got the card.”
-Vulcan Raven

The codec/radio mechanism sadly becomes less integral in the series as it progresses and what’s really beautiful is that this even extends into Metal Gear Solid’s predecessors as well. If you want an example of this, in the Famicom titles, the radio was an often vital source for information while at the same time being essentially worthless due to localization, area cues, and just general weirdness in presentation (e.g. see getting the the rocket launcher from Jennifer in the original Metal Gear).

Around Snake’s first meeting with Otacon, the game does manage to find some wiggle room for itself in terms of dialogue and cinematics, but this comes at a cost as well. Again, it’s far from perfect, but some of the cues, transitions, and deliveries are more than solid (no pun intended), even by today's standards in average films. This is mostly what Metal Gear Solid will be remembered for as well, its most sublime flaw.

“Huh, you don’t like girls?!”
-Psycho Mantis
(amusingly enough, it was that line that freaked me out more than Mantis reading my memory card)

So, after saving Hal Emmerich’s life is when Metal Gear Solid takes it’s most drastic and disappointing turn, which is also my harshest criticism of the game:

The cinemas take over.

Now, I don’t mean that in the strict literal sense some would take that as (especially concerning a Metal Gear game), but merely one where the Experiencism manifests rather violently in front of the players' eyes (as opposed to the ‘global senses’ that the best games are known for). After this point in the game, the rest of it essentially cuts back on all stealth mechanics and strengths, and this lasts until the credits roll. Now whether or not the player is engaged at this point is a purely subjective phase, but the progression is as follows:

>> Finding Meryl by her ass.

>> The iconic encounter with Psycho Mantis.

>> A backtracking sequence intergrated into a Boss encounter with Sniper Wolf

>> Detainment and backtracking throughout the game’s initial areas.

>> A sequence of tension throughout the communications towers culminating in a boss fight and a ‘first grade math class’ problem.

>> Yet another encounter with Sniper Wolf.

>> Descending into the maintenance base where Rex is held.

>> Shape memory alloy craziness.

>> Betrayal, information, and the iconic boss encounter with Rex.

>> A high speed chase.

>> End of game.

Now the point of that isn’t to downplay the importance of the playtime in between these events, but to highlight that Metal Gear Solid is a game of experience, rather than play. It’s also why I won’t really argue with those who often take the stance that Snake Eater is the zenith of the series (which harkened back to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake as a genuine synthesis of consistent ‘stealth play’ and story). The stealth portions in this game however, are so minimal they’re almost irrelevant for the latter 60% of the game. Every sequence not held in cinematic regard is merely edged along by a brief encounter with maybe two or three guards and every area is void of the terrorist occupation the game tries so hard to play with.

Metal Gear Solid lays its own definition out for the player, but the problem is that it’s the deviant of the bunch as well, drawing a rather fat-ass line between what should, could, and will happen in a Metal Gear game. It's the only game that truly uses 'the box' and that box has 'cinema' plastered all over it.