*Warning: Monster article imminent
Hideo Kojima is a living, breathing genius. He is the pioneer of taking film-making and video games and working them in tandem to create an interactive and engaging experience. If you do not know who he is then I’m absolutely flabbergasted beyond any form of rationale. So I’ll briefly try to fill you in: He’s the creator and lead director for the Zone of the Enders series which is about a robot that fights colonies in space and attains upgrades to become a super duper robot! No doubt you’re thinking I’ve described it rather adolescently and it seems unappealing. However, after playing the 2 games briefly I knew it was a rather good game series.
Hideo has also helped direct the successful reboot of Castlevania (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow). The game was an immense pleasure to play and kept innovating to unparalleled and unexplored levels to keep it thrilling and new; easily rivals God of War. Arguably the most appropriate and best-fitting word to describe Hideo Kojima is quite simply “innovator” and I’ll be using it a lot.
Now if you STILL aren’t familiar with this legendary game director/creator yet, then by the beard of Zeus I repent your unfortunate misguidance in life. However, I think if I say the words “Metal Gear Solid” then your eyes will suddenly get that sparkling glint and you’ll realise the error of your ways. He has been the lead director and producer on all but 2 of the “Metal Gear” series. And he’s garnered universal praise for his contribution to gaming; rightly so. On Metacritic, the MGS series has gotten 90+ out of 100 for all the main games in the series (1-4). Metal Gear Solid brought tactical espionage into the limelight which is pretty much defined as the act of government spying and sending spies to uncover information etc.
But for some reason, my negligence towards the games struck me as unforgivable as I had barely played the MGS series at all, barely scratched the surface of them in fact. The first step towards my own redemption was to purchase Metal Gear Solid from the Playstation Store and enjoy. A good portion of the time I spent playing MGS I could only think the words “for a game that came out in 1998 its way ahead of its time”. That is the over-riding thought in my head and I just can’t get over how revolutionary it was for its time. If you look at games over 14 years on you’ll see many games that haven’t even come close to approaching that what would be considered innovation.
The sighting of the Hind D right at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid sets the tone for BIG STUFF to happen in the game and future games. The game sets the tone for the successful template of future MGS games: establish the basis for a story, have Snake eliminate a team of hand-picked elite soldiers before the eventual showdown. The glorified tactical unit known as FOXHOUND is headed by Liquid in MGS1 and they takeover Shadow Moses with the purpose of using a new project called “Metal Gear REX” which is capable of launching nuclear warheads on any given part of the planet. To avoid nuclear disaster, FOXHOUND wants the body of Big Boss (considered to be best soldier to have ever lived) so that they could clone him and amass an army of super soldiers. This is one of the simpler of the stories in the series and has some nice twists and turns to make the story memorable. Just the sheer magnitude of being introduced to this group of characters, who will soon develop a massive fan base, is overwhelming at first. Snake, Colonel, Meryl, Naomi etc. It’s brilliant and completely attaches you!
Metal Gear Solid used stealth like never before, the idea of using a cardboard box to escape detection, the masterful addition of working peripheral vision in enemies. Obviously it was limited to several meters and you could evade soldiers despite them clearly staring directly at you; but it was the idea that counted and this creation would be the basis for better detection systems in the future.
Different espionage accessories from Night-Vision goggles to Thermal goggles are at your disposable, a large quantity of guns from M4 Carbine’s to a full-sized Stinger Missile launcher and equipment from Claymore’s to C4. You’d have to worry about a man that could fit a stinger missile in his pants but regardless, you have so much at your disposal and the versatility of it made it break new ground. Games like Medal of Honor a year later would have your soldier running around with bazookas and a variety of guns too.
Just want to throw in a sly appreciative nudge here for HD remakes by the way. After the first MGS, I would get the Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection which allowed me to play the controversial follow-up, MGS2: Sons of Liberty, and the very different MGS3: Snake Eater. The first game was all about Solid Snake, a veteran and trained operative for all forms of combat and capable of using any type of arsenal because of extensive VR (Virtual Reality) training and many years of field experience.
But a few years down the line, Hideo said it himself that he wanted to attract new fans to the series and that fans didn’t want an “old character” to lead the story for the hotly anticipated follow-up; MGS2. It was a bold move and left many fans with a sour taste in their mouth….
……Snake is Legendary and that is without question. But Hideo Kojima took the bold strategy of replacing the protagonist of Shadow Moses with a younger, naive, pretty boy who lacked most the resiliency, legendary poise and toughness of Solid Snake. He was also capable of very obvious emotion, something that defines the difference between him and Snake. Snake was a mercenary, he looked out for number one, set his eyes on a task and completed it with little afterthought for others. Occasionally a character like Meryl or Otacon would bring out a different side of him, but primarily he was fuelled by foreseeable accomplishment and hatred of the enemy; such as his brother Liquid or Ocelot.
Raiden was a child war fighter and saw combat too early for his early development. He suffers emotional trauma and desperately tries to maintain a relationship with his beloved girlfriend Rose. Using Raiden I felt I had a different fighter, he had lots of the same tools at his disposable that Snake had. But having this different personality and set of characteristics changed the complexion of how MGS2 plays and it does make you feel one way or another in relation to the strength of your protagonist. With a new cast of intelligent war fighters who do what they can to stop Snake, we have that same kind of formula that was so successful with MGS1. A bomb expert, a seemingly invincible vampire and a woman who can’t be killed are amongst the villainous foes that lay in wait for our uncharismatic protagonist.
The other widely acknowledged criticism of an otherwise flawless game was the overly convoluted story. I find it difficult to follow the story at times as Hideo Kojima’s mind has somehow concocted a mammoth universe with characters, plots and enough backstory to satisfy a herd of Wildebeest. Unfortunately it can be a bit much at times and I’ve had to do lots of researching to try and understand some of it because Hideo manages to incorporate more themes into the game than there are people living in India (almost). MGS2 used memes, social engineering, political conspiracies, censorship and artificial intelligence. It’s quite conceivable that just one of these themes would suffice to drive the plot of any standard game, let alone multiple ones. But Hideo Kojima is an exceptional man with a warped, yet brilliant brain. For the absolute die-hard MGS fans, you will have internet forums to spend hours upon hours discussing the game and the story could have been different. But from a fan that loves the game, yet doesn’t quite know what Snake’s first word was as a baby, then you can be embroiled in a complex narrative.
However the innovation, continued in MGS2, was exceptional with hidden features such as being able to hang from a ledge and do pull-ups. If you had the patience to do several hundred of these then your grip strength would increase. This clearly shows progression to the point of adding RPG elements into the game (building your character into a better one by levelling up. Other inclusions were: hiding yourself in lockers, hiding bodies in lockers, aiming down the sight of your gun, hold up an enemy at gunpoint and accurately shoot enemy radios to prevent the alert status being raised. Furthermore, the AI had improved from being a bunch of short-sighted individual cretins. They were now capable of scouting an area more efficiently and capable of hunting in packs to find you. It increased the tactical espionage aspect of the game as you felt under more pressure to remain discrete and undetectable.
MGS3: Snake Eater is the most difference experience you can have in the series in my opinion. The industrial and more facility based setting are abandoned, Solid Snake and Raiden have both been ejected from the hot-seat and we’ve gone in reverse chronological order down the timeline. Strap yourself into your DeLorean because instead of future technological warfare focusing on nuclear missiles to obtain the corpse of a legendary soldier or to obtain $30 Billion dollars, it instead focuses on the Cold War and older technological warfare to overthrow a government and mass-create an army of nuclear missile launching capable machines! Phew.
The main character of MGS3 is Naked Snake (Solid Snake’s eventual father) and the setting is during the Cold War in Tarzan-like jungle settings and with a “Jane” to boot. The backwards nature of the story even means you can activate the game over process by causing a paradoxical effect by killing a young Ocelot.
It’s a far more naturalistic game and it exudes growth and development to the series with new additions such as the camo system whereby you can chop and change your face and suit camo’s to adapt and blend in with the changing environments. E.g you can change to a leafier green camo setup if you’re prone in the jungle or perhaps need to go all Arnie and platoon yourself in mud in the darker environments to avoid the predatory enemies.
To carry on the more naturalistic nature of the game, during the course of your mission it’s your job to capture/kill animals for energy; otherwise Snake’s energy depletes; affecting his performance in the face of combat. Sustenance can be found in the form of snakes, rats and various types of flora. Again though, realism dictates the strategy of the game because if you leave the stuff you have captured for too long then it becomes rotten, and if ingested then it leaves Snake susceptible to food poisoning and he’ll throw up and drain most of his energy. I have to admit I delighted in the hidden easter egg of spinning Snake’s avatar in circles for a whole minute, unpausing the game and watching him be violently sick. Oh and it’s one of the first games were you get to play the role of doctor and getting hurt actually influences It’s these elements that show that Hideo Kojima never runs out of ideas and finds way to keep things fresh yet revolutionary.
Snake Eater has a wonderful score, which I thought had to be included, and its main theme song is moving and has the feel of a James Bond song to ease you into the beginning. Once you’re led into the beginning of the game, you’re led to a whole new dimension of…yep, you guessed it, MORE INNOVATION. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to keep the brain pumping and thinking of all these different ways to make the game not boring. I just have this wonderful vision of Hideo grabbing a cane and assuming the role of Gregory House as he stands next to a whiteboard whilst his subordinates sit around brainstorming ideas for his Differential Diagnosis of how to improve MGS.
Swiftly moving on however…….
Initially I didn’t know how to feel with Snake Eater, it was difficult to comprehend the diversity of the game, the new environment, new era etc. But the simplified story was rife with cohesion and a better understanding of proceedings, plus the bosses pierced me with curiosity more than any other Metal Gear Solid game to this day. I’ll get onto bosses later but for now, Snake Eater showed that Metal Gear could breathe new life if necessary and it facilitates this with aesthetically pleasing environments and an interesting introduction to the past.
Now put yourself in Hideo’s designer shoes, when you’ve become an accomplished director, earned countless game of the year awards and other similar rewards over nearly a decade; you’ve now got standards, BIG standards which are becoming increasingly difficult to emulate. Nearly 10 years of greatness and creating one of the greatest video franchises to have ever existed. Unfortunately that’s the past and 2007 has come calling and so with it the inauguration of Sony’s mammoth third-generation console; the Playstation 3. Expectations are colossal and you’ve got more power in that electrical box than you know what to do with. Fans are literally tearing skin off and trying to hide under it as if it was a cardboard box; Metal Gear Solid 4 HAS to be made to appease the general populous before they go all Donkey Kong on your arse.
Do you panic? Do you perhaps fraternize with your staff to avoid working on a new MGS title? Wrong and most definitely wrong. You actually spend lots of time moulding and sculpting the ultimate game that has the grace of a bird in flight and the supreme skill of a Street Fighter world champion. MGS4 defies the boundaries of what is visually possible in gaming and creates a story so emotive, so deep, so emotionally tethering that Leonardo DiCaprio falling off that piece of wood into the icy abyss below would barely produce a yawn in comparison. Metal Gear Solid 4 has to encapsulate EVERYTHING the series has stood for and wrap it into a masterful package. Just imagine the construction of a bridge, Metal Gear Solid 1, 2 and 3 are all supportive girders for the overall construction. MGS4 is the final girder but has the pressure of being the final supportive girder to keep the whole bridge sustained and concluded. Without a solid girder like the previous girders, the whole bridge would collapse and be destroyed.
Metal Gear Solid 4 achieves near perfection, like its predecessors, and fulfils its sky-high expectations. If I have to be a cynic then I point to the only true downside which is the exceptional story being told through multiple hours of cutscenes. You can play the game for 10 minutes and then have to sit-through a documentary length cut-scene to address and setup current/future proceedings. If you can overlook this and appreciate that it’s going to great lengths to tell an incredibly detailed and emotive narrative, then it’s merely a formality that you’ll get swallowed up the exquisite gameplay and enjoy yourself.
You’re back in control of Snake, but not Solid Snake, instead you’ve been gifted the controls of the soldier formerly known as Snake AKA Old Snake. His genetically manufactured DNA and nanomachines has caught up with him and he’s aging very rapidly. His smooth-talking dark hair has transformed into a Dumbledore nightmare and his skin is the opposite of what you’d want to see in an anti-aging advertisement. Despite these setbacks, he’s still the robust mercenary that has skilfully commandeered the battlefield over the years.
You will re-unite with old allies and adversaries, operate large machinery (don’t be dirty) and finish an astonishing adventure that is 20 years in the making if you date back to the 1987 Metal Gear. As always, you have new gadgets to play with and in MGS4 you have a small robot called the Mk. II which is manually controlled surveillance bot essentially. It can also stun enemies and scout ahead. Snake now has to maintain his Psyche which can be negatively affected through stress, temperature and being hunted by the enemy. If this starts to decrease then his skills will suffer e.g shaking when aiming and even the potential to pass out. It can also be restored through eating, drinking and even having a cheeky glance at an inappropriate magazine; he may be older in body but he’s still got the raging drive of a youngster!
2 other major factors in the game are the addition of the Solid Eye and also Drebin. The Solid Eye is an incredibly useful tool that enhances environmental awareness and increases peripheral vision. It can identify enemies, ammo, items and other useful tidbits. The device can switch between night-vision and act as a binocular. It has a battery that will dwindle down, but can be restored if you unequip it, yet it will be your greatest ally in the game. As for Drebin……..well…….he’s a gun laundering, soda drug drinking, ATV driving, weird monkey owning man who assists Snake throughout the game. He’s not quite Frank Drebin but he’s one of many Drebin’s doing the same job of buying and selling weapons that are not ID tracked. Meaning if Snake finds a weapon in the game that is ID locked then he can either sell it to Drebin or have the ID removed. Prices vary based on the real life day of the week and the ferocity of the fighting happening at the time of purchase/selling. He necks down can after can of “NARC” which is some kind of addictive drug drink that aids the nanomachines in his body. So does his bizarre monkey that wears silver underpants and even adopts Snake’s smoking habit. Just think of Michael Jackson’s beloved monkey Bubbles wearing silver underpants instead of a diaper.
That sentence was the most ridiculous sentence I think I’ve ever written….
To summarise, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a mammoth adventure, not necessarily in its length, but in its actual content. The game is Hideo’s greatest visions and ideas that make this game what it is; a masterpiece. This game has to be replayed multiple times to even begin to appreciate what it achieves.
But in essence, all the games should be replayed multiple times to be appreciated as it gets practically everything right. They even have the rare honour of doing what virtually no other games can really do, which is make interesting, fun and not cringe worthy boss fights (Deus Ex: Human Revolution should’ve taken note *cough*). All the way through the series the boss fights are innovate and reinvigorate the mundane concept of boss fights. Only in Metal Gear Solid would you have to switch your controller from Controller port 1 to Controller port 2 to break the telekinesis mind manipulation of an evil genius. Only in Metal Gear Solid would you be able to fight a flamethrower bearing cosmonaut WITH a jetpack as he incinerates most of your environment. And only in Metal Gear Solid would you be able to leave a boss to die by not doing a damn thing.
I make special reference to that last boss of Snake Eater who is known as “The End”. Not only can you save your game and leave the 104 year old sniper to just die of natural causes, but there is a part earlier in the game where you actually have the chance to catch him unawares and chew his face up with bullets to end him early so to speak. Failing these options, you can just hunt him down and kill him. I quite amused myself then at how simple I made it sound because it’s not even close to being a simple case of hunt the old codger down and permanently put him in a morgue. There are 3 BIG areas he could possibly be in so you’ve got yourself a good ol’ treasure hunt to find X. He also has a parrot that scours the setting and if it sees you then The End will know where you are and make things difficult. So it’s recommended you ignore Polly’s request for a cracker and smear a near-by tree with his blood. It perhaps the most iconic boss battle in history purely because of the endurance and the sheer audacity to have this kind of scenario. It’s incredible and left me in complete awe at just how unique the fight was, especially when you realise you can never actually die in this fight. The End uses a variation of a normal sniper rifle called the Mosin-Nagant which is basically a non-lethal sniper rifle that fires tranquilizer darts. He is an old war veteran that won’t kill as to keep his mind at peace that it long deserves.
If a 3,500+ word article about Hideo Kojima and the Metal Gear Series hasn’t given you the hint already, well I’ll state I’m quite an advocate for the Metal Gear Solid series. Hideo Kojima has seen his glorious vision turned into an embryo; develop into a foetus before finally giving birth to the devastatingly successful and influential Metal Gear Solid franchise.
The saga doesn’t end with Metal Gear Solid 4…not……by…a….long shot. Metal Gear Revengeance will soon be released and will focus on Raiden and his story after MGS4. Unfortunately the game is being made by Platinum Games, but don’t get me wrong, I love Platinum Games and the games they’ve made: Bayonetta, Vanquish etc. But the idea of complete emphasis of hack and slash for a Metal Gear game just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll probably end up playing it through loyalty alone though and grit my teeth to enjoy it, just like Snake grits his teeth as he sees Meryl bending over.
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is a follow-on from Peace Walker (the original PSP release that was ported to console as part of the HD collection) and again puts you in control of Big Boss. Everything I’ve seen and read makes this game a must-have, aside from the fact it will be running on the new revolutionary Fox Engine which Hideo said he set-out to make “the best engine in the world”. It’s going to be open world, provide unparalleled levels of freedom, a whole new set of resources to complete missions, the ability to travel back and forth to locations, use a helicopter and even listen to the famous track Ride of the Valkyries very loudly; which could result in your helicopter being shot down! Still worth it though…..
I am unbelievably excited for Ground Zeroes and it will carry on the trend for the Metal Gear Series by setting standards higher than Tapei 501 or the soon-to-be completed Freedom Tower.
Finally, sometime in the future, we will have a Metal Gear Solid 5. Despite Hideo’s wishes to have Snake finally have his heroic demise; Snake will be back in the follow-up to MGS4. It’s too early to tell what characters will be in it but surely we’ll see the likes of his trusty sidekick Otacon. All we know for sure is that it will run on an enhanced version of the new Fox engine so the game will be more incredible and will eventually take over the world with its supreme awesomeness……..probably.
The Metal Gear franchise is one that has taken the world by storm and has captured the hearts of millions and I’m sure with new releases it will continue to capture many more. Hideo Kojima, born in Tokyo, Japan in 1963, is an exceptional man and a visionary. His work is remarkable and his ideas never seem to run out, so as long as he is the gearhead behind the Metal Gear series then I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be yelling SNAAAAAAAAAAKE for many years to come.