Monday, April 27, 2009

Revisiting the Metal Gear Solid Saga

Call it foolish or some version of vain anticipation for the Hideo Kojima announcement at this year's E3, but I've made a lofty decision that might be too big for me.


If you’re a gamer that wasn’t excited for June 12, 2008, then you weren’t a devoted fan of "Metal Gear". It can easily be said that for those who moved on from the series this day in video game history was of little significance, but for the rest of us it was special. This was the day, where everything, in the sometimes loopy fiction of Metal Gear to finally be answered. After all the teasers, the promotional materials, and the great Kojima Productions podcast series that the fans were finally ready for a grand opus.

Indeed, "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" was glorious (depending on your perspective) and then it ended up stuffed in the game corner of my shelf with the rest of my personal collection.

This was my experience almost immediately after conquering the army of Outer Haven, after thwarting Liquid Ocelot’s nefarious plan, and after finally bearing witness to love blooming on a battlefield. The finale to MGS4 was so big that after it all settled I immediately sought a ‘much needed’ retirement from the world of tactical stealth espionage. The ending to MGS4 brought a satisfying conclusion to all the unanswered questions that the series had conjured, even if the long-form self-indulgent cut scenes were a bit pretentious. But immediately placing this game back on the shelf did something major for me. It broke an unspoken (and somewhat sacred) tradition I had with the franchise - much like movies, this is a game series that just gets better the second time through.

Only after a second play-through could I really see the wind from the trees and offer a clearer take on what MGS4 is. And rightly so. Your perspective is clearer tackling a game like this much later. The hype machine has past, and coming back to a Metal Gear the second time is a great opportunity to hunt for easter eggs, a notable series tradition that traces back to the original Metal Gear Solid.

Aside from the usual second-time-through-for-the-story approach, a greater appreciation sets in for me this time: this one focusing on advancements over the prior games in this stealth series. This is when the bigger picture comes to play (at least, for people like me it does). This playthrough becomes the a pivotal moment for feature sets, trying additional controls, or just trying the wacky shit you were too scared to try the first time through.

In this regard, MGS4 truly holds ups as the most replayable Metal Gear - the biggest proponent for this argument being the reworked control scheme. After all, there was enough evidence in MGS3: Snake Eater that the complex web of added functions and improvements to the controls needed some rethinking, a fact made evident by revisiting the older games. Only then can you witness the seemingly ridiculous system of old. Take, for example, the separate attack functions - physical attacks and CQC mapped to circle while all weapon attacks mapped to square. It’s only by looking back at a series a a whole that we can appreciate these things. It's then a wonder how we ever finished the prior Metal Gear games, or how miraculously carpal-tunnel syndrome never set in. But I've decided to use this second play through as something more than typical comparisons.

So for the past few weeks (thanks, in part because of the awesome Kojima keynote at GDC 2009), I've been replaying all the Metal Gear Solid games for the purpose of just admiring the series as a whole. Hell, I’m even considering going back even further to the original MSX "<b>Metal Gear</b>" and "<i>Metal Gear: Solid Snake</i>", simply to have a better perspective of the entire saga. The amount of discoveries factored in with the huge amount of in-game man-hours interspersed within these games should make this series replay totally worth it, right?

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