Metal Gear Solid – Cloning and nukes are bad!!

Okay, I’ll get this right out in the open. I have a love hate relationship with the Metal Gear franchise. I think it did a ton of revolutionary things for gaming and story telling in video games, but I also think it completely undoes itself time and time again. 

First of all, let’s address the story, which is the core of any of the Metal Gear Solid games. Basically this is completely polarizing. You’re either taken along for the ride, or you’re not. The story is always full of plenty of twists and turns, with a bunch of play between technobabble and downright mysticism. The first time I played Metal Gear Solid, I had never seen storytelling like this in a video game. At first I thought it was a cool enough story. By the time it accelerated to the huge climax, a fight with Liquid Snake on top of the smoldering Metal Gear Rex, I was so on board. 

Later, when the Twin Snakes came out on the Gamecube, I played through Metal Gear Solid again. This time, I was trying to relive the gameplay of it, and not so much the story, because I knew how it went. Maybe it was my career as an English student in between the two plays, but this time the story seemed so distractingly bad. Even if you do like the story, many hardcore fans complain about the length of some of the cutscenes, stating that you spend more time watching than you do playing. Several of the conversations between Snake and other characters come off as completely infodumps that are extremely preachy and hit you over the head with the political message of the story.

The Twin Snakes has punched up the graphics and cutscenes as well, where you get to watch Snake do REALLY cool shit that you can’t ever pull off in the game itself. This can absolutely be frustrating for some players, since they are told implicitly that Snake does awesome shit whether you control him or not. 

Usually the mysticism of some of the characters is balanced out by sci-fi technobabble. For example, a character called “Fortune” is said to be immune to bullets and never get hit by them. At first we think this is some strange blessing or psychic power. We later find out it is some type of nanomachine. Nanomachines seem to be the go to thing for the series in order to provide a real world explanation for anything weird that occurs. Believe me, weird shit occurs. When one villain has the arm of another villain grafted to his severed stump, and then starts to get taken over by the consciousness of that dead villain whenever Snake is nearby, it’s so stupid it can’t possibly be explained by nanomachines.

There’s plenty to be said that’s good for Metal Gear Solid. I like the fourth wall breaking and the excellent boss fights. There are moments of the story that are absolutely genius. Unfortunately, these are usually followed by a moment that is so unbelievably boneheaded. I’m thinking now of how several of the bosses have dramatic soliloquies as they die, usually instilling a sense of sympathy for them, as well as spelling out their backstory after the fact. This worked with Darth Vader. It doesn’t work with the sniper chick who shot up Meryl and tried as hard as she could to murder snake in two different boss fights.

The game constantly pulls the controller away from the player and makes them sit through a cutscene that preaches to them about the dangers of nuclear weaponry. This brings to the forefront the tension between the story and the gameplay. While the story and the gameplay support eachother nicely, if you can’t get on board with the story, you are absolutely doomed to hate the Metal Gear franchise.

A true fan doesn’t mind sitting through a 20 minute cutscene about cloning and Snake’s past. I think as the series went on, it became aware that it had a captive audience that would sit through anything, and it became even more transfixed by its own storytelling.


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December 2008
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