Spoilers: Metal Gear Solid (PS1). Please also note that this is only concerning the game I played, not the rest of the series. I have not played the rest of the series. I do not yet want to discuss the rest of the series until I play through it. I also want to figure out my own way through the main series before delving into its minutiae.
Over the weekend I started, and finished, Metal Gear Solid. I feel I should preface this with the fact that I’ve known about this series for quite some time and have some basic knowledge of it—enough to know it is intricate and says a lot of things people really like, as well as to know I am only aware of the tip of the iceberg. From my time with roommates in college to my time in Chicago, I have been on the periphery of one roommate who almost always seemed to be replaying Metal Gear Solid 3, and heard eggs frying in a pan and a little girl singing in Metal Gear Solid 4 at least twice as two separate roommates played through it in the other room.
So, going into the first game was a rather different experience. I had been primarily under the impression this was a stealth game series, and in many ways this game is. Going up against multiple opponents is suicide. Snake is painted as a soldier who is extraordinary, but even he has his human limits. He may be genetically altered (not sure on the full story, only operating on what I know from playing the first game—I ask you not to spoil it for me), but even human genes have their limits to some degree. Therefore, like many stealth games, you have quite a few limits, and outright combat is not really probable in your chances for survival (though probably not impossible).
That being said, it doesn’t quite work in this game. I found the controls to be a bit finicky. Reading the manual, I know pressing a directional button while grabbing an enemy would throw him, but even when I did not, half the time the guards would fall through my hands, rather than be held while I was going to attempt to choke them. It left me avoiding combat whenever I could, and later sneaking behind enemies and just shooting them with my silenced pistol. This is not necessarily a problem, but left me frustrated in the early portions of the game—it felt the game was inconsistent and I could not trust it. Perhaps that was the goal, though my gut instinct says no.
Instead, the game really shone for me during the boss fights. While I find the cutscene generally not my preferred method of information delivery in a game, Kojima is rather known for the ridiculous lengths of his. What resulted was it felt like a different flavor of the play experience in Shadow of the Colossus: focused so much on these boss encounters with the world in between forming the feel of the environment and my place in it. The codec transmissions would be the extra flavor that weave a more wordy story than SotC had, however—the trade off of roaming an open, desolate world would be a world with distinct other people who have their own personalities and specialties.
So, instead, it felt like I was entering a Western, ready to engage in a duel. Considering each of these bosses was a personality unto his or herself, it really felt like a clash of personalities in which you were able to know your opponent. Raven’s stature along with spirituality made for a curious blend when he was using these very man-made weapons to try and kill you. Sniper Wolf’s expertise with her weapon of choice led a calm sense of superiority which was only confirmed in the cutscenes. Psycho Mantis was perhaps the most unique fight, and seemed the most psychotic of your opponents; in order to defeat him easily, you have to actually physically change the way you input your controls.
Therefore, while the game deals with the macro conflict of nuclear proliferation and use, the micro conflicts are what steer it along and remind us that behind the macro conflicts of the world are human beings who make these decisions. It is not so much the nuclear weapon that is a threat as it is the person who would be willing to use it. There will always be a means to destruction, the question is who will use it, and for what goal.
Considering how each person has an organization to which they are beholden (even if it is a terrorist group), and how even those organizations are not infallible—after all, Snake is betrayed by his own government—even the group, or the nation, are held together by a group of people whose loyalties are in question, whose motives are not always clear, and who are not so easily labeled friend or foe. Snake’s world is one where all the people aid him, even the ones he kills, because they provide him with some form of perspective—something he has been receiving via codec transmissions since the start of the game. And even those people, who have been helping him since the beginning, are betraying him in various forms.
Other points that caught my attention were that in the end it was revealed Liquid Snake was the dominant gene experiment, while Snake was recessive. I was under the (perhaps erroneous) impression that blonde hair was recessive, but Kris Ligman assured me that Snake dyes his hair. Which makes me wonder about Snake himself. I will likely write another post, purely about this singular game, about how Snake’s sexuality is presented. Largely because he goes through a similar action hero sexuality shift, where he is seen as a womanizer until he isn’t, when he somehow falls for Meryl (around the time she is wounded, which creates a whole power dynamic about saving the
princess niece of your superior), who ends up humanizing him a bit. I know Meryl shows up later, so I will keep an eye out on that in future games.
In fact, knowing bits and pieces about the rest of the series, I am curious to see what will change, what will be further explored, and if any of these themes will be later subverted or changed (as I imagine they might in such a series that deals with political issues).