The Metal Gear Mondays Podcast is coming very soon, ladies and gentlemen! Sam Wright, myself, and newcomers to the franchise and the site, Cameron Hill and Isaac Lim, will be going through the series in book-club / bonfireside chat knock-off format starting with… METAL GEAR SOLID 1! Weird choice, I know, but it’s a logical jumping on point for Isaac and Cameron. We’ll get to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, bear with us.
Keep posted for new info and hopefully the show will be approved and on iTunes before next Monday!
The day is finally nearly upon us! Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain releases in one week of writing. I’m pretty excited, to say the least. For this week, I figured it may benefit readers for me to just make a big post of links related to the game’s release. So, enjoy, and let’s all talk about the game once it releases!
The day that all of the haters, skeptical fans, and Bayonetta fans have been waiting for is here, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is here! But is Revengeance the sharpest tool in the drawer? Come on, I’ll feed you, baby birds!
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360)
Plays Like: Devil May Cry and this cutscene from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had a baby.
Difficulty: Mid, with a well paced learning curve.
Since the original announcement of Rising‘s existence as a spin-off series, I’ve been eagerly anticipating more Metal Gear, knowing well that the spin-off would be a twist on the traditional MG gameplay made me all the more excited. I’ve never been a huge fan of Cyborg Raiden Mk. II of MGS4 fame (preferring his weak and “normal” version from MGS2 personally), but I love me some Japanese hack-n-slash action games, especially from the boys over at Platinum Games.
For those of you that saw my gameplay time with the demo, you probably remember my fears about the combat system getting tiresome over time, or the lack of other weapons hampering the main title, well, all those fears were for naught! Rising is kick-ass, fast-paced, and a hell of a lot of fun! Crank up some cheese metal and let’s get to dissecting this game!
Revengeance starts off with a brief cutscene and then that’s it, the game starts and never really slows down. One second you’re fighting a gigantic Metal Gear RAY, much larger than any other RAY in a Metal Gear game, then you’re on a train fighting Jetstream Sam, Raiden’s rival and Antonio Bandaras impersonator. The game feels like Zone of the Enders, in the way that you swim around the game world drifting in and out of battles, except with loads more gore and a much more over-the-top mentality. It’s like every idea that was thrown out by the writing and conceptual team just stuck, regardless of how ridiculous it was, and it just works so well.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if the game just was less ridiculous than I expected or if the game just presents the player with its view of “normal” so quickly that it just all feels right, but the game never really felt as corny as it really should have. I mean, the characters are all ridiculous and super stereotypes, and the plot seems to bend reality and the possible at every step of the way to make room for Raiden’s quest to be the best bad-ass to ever fight for justice and peace, but it’s never to such an absurd level that it makes you feel weird about it as a player. The world sets expectations and follows them, but not in a mundane way. It’s odd… like Adam West’s depiction of Batman, it all just feels… right. Really right.
And the gameplay fits just the same. It’s all just super fluid, fleshed out, simple yet complex, and so addicting, even if it doesn’t seem like it would be at first. Revengeance is the first game this year that I’ve stopped playing and craved playing it more while I was away. It just all makes sense. Platinum Games really pulled a number with this title, from the gameplay and performance to the pacing of the boss fights and reward system, all in a little over two years. Which brings me to my next point: this game is tough as nails as you progress into New Game+/higher difficulty territory. The tutorial level, in a sense, acts as a gut-check for all players, even in New Game+ modes, striping you of your power-ups and add-ons and forcing you to rely on your instincts and fighting mechanic expertise every time you start a new game. The game hits you with uneven odds sometimes, but every fight, besides the final boss fight, is fair. Nothing beats the feeling that you get after you’ve overcome a giant group of enemies, ranging from bigger bads to smaller foot soldiers, by parrying tons of attacks and chaining together blade-mode kills. Oh… sweet, sweet blade mode. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Overall, if you’re not into purely action based titles, or don’t like gore and massive amounts of violence in your video games, this one isn’t for you. However, if you miss a simpler time in video games, when the mechanics of a title were fairly easy to learn, but the mastering of the mechanics took hours and hours of practice and culminated in a triumphant endorphin release of glory as you destroyed the game’s big bads, then strap yourself in. This game is a blast! It’s a combination of the giant number of unlockables, VR missions, extra difficulty settings, enjoyable pacing, fast and addictive gameplay, and promise for actually interesting sounding DLC (involving playing as Jetstream Sam, some missions as Bladewolf, Raiden’s canine robo companion, and having a talking Solid Snake wooden sword) that make this game such a treat. Some folks may shy away from the $60 price-tag, but I definitely think that where the six hour or so campaign leaves you hanging as far as time x dollar spent, the number of extras and replay value more than make up for it.
– A new Metal Gear game, and hopefully the start to a nice spin-off series or series of spin-offs.
– Goofy, over-the-top, storyline and music actually make this whole experience coalesce in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
– Super fluid, thought requiring, minimalist combat that is also extremely addicting
– Unlockables in a modern video game?! YES!
– It ends.
– PS3 exclusive DLC
– Gray Fox Skin and Fox Blade only available through Gamestop pre-order
With Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance coming out in less than 24 hours, let’s finish our overview of Metal Gear Solid 2 by looking at the “Director’s Cut” version: Substance.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance
Xbox, PS2, PC | PS3, Vita, 360 [HD Edition]
November 5, 2002
Substance is a re-released version of Metal Gear Solid 2 that originally saw the light of day on the original Xbox a year after the release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for the PS2. Carrying on the tradition of Metal Gear Solid: Integral, Substance adds 300+ VR Missions, the ability to play as Solid Snake during the portions of the game where you originally could not, a fun Casting Theater feature where you can change out the characters in each of the game’s cutscenes, and a few other extras.
The PS2 version of Substance saw a delay, and as compensation for such a delay, it was released with free copies of The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 for a limited time. The PS2 version of Substance in Japan replaced the original Japanese v.o. with the English dubs.
Some Metal Gear fans see the release of Substance, especially due to its subtitle, as commentary from Kojima on how gamers perceived the original release. Metal Gear Solid 2 definitely received a fair amount of criticisms from journalists and fans for its hard to follow narrative and lack of any actual “substance”, so it is quite common among some Metal Gear social circles to believe that the subtitle was a direct response to these criticisms. This is made somewhat more believable at the ludicrous amount of content made available in the title’s PS2 iteration (i.e. the skateboard mode based on a system from Konami’s own failed skateboarding game: Evolution Skateboarding). There’s an interesting article that argues about why the “Director’s Cut” was more or less a push from Konami and fans for Kojima to stop messing around and put out more MGS related content available at MetaGearSolid.org entitled “Substance Abuse” that I’m a huge fan of, so please, check it out.
Another common belief is that Substance first came out for the Xbox as a way for Konami to try and pull more of the “hardcore” gamers into the Metal Gear series and that the release was chock full of content as a way to appease these “hardcore” gamers who needed tons of content to dominate, especially content with leaderboards and such.
It’s just interesting to think of how much of a pacifist Kojima is and how anti-war Metal Gear normally is when looking at Substance, which literally makes a game out of killing, more so than the core game. In a way, it’s this gun fetishism and obsession with competitive blood sport and the coveted “number 1” spot that fuels some of Kojima’s creative decisions going into Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
I fall into the former camp of Metal Gear fans, sincerely thinking that this version of MGS2 is more of a disservice to the original narrative, but one that a lot of people wanted. It’s really nice having a massive amount of MGS2 content to play with, espeically since it is my favorite Metal Gear title, but it feels bitter sweet playing this edition knowing that a majority of the content wasn’t originally intended to exist. But, guilt aside, I enjoy Substance for what it is, but I definitely consider the narrative as a standalone experience, which finds itself soiled and mostly ruined by the inclusion of the “Snake Tales”.
Everyone have a happy Metal Gear Rising day tomorrow! Catch you next week for my review of Rising, or my first article looking at MGS3, depending on how much of Rising I can finish in a week.
Time to end this thing. I’ve been loosely talking about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for nigh on a month and a half now and I think that this train has run its course. I wanted to end this section of Metal Gear history by taking some questions from the readers just so that I could flesh out any ground that may have come off as obscured or muddy during my articles. There is a lot to cover when discussing Metal Gear Solid 2, so if I don’t get a chance to cover it all, and if you’re more interested in the “actual” events that occur within the game, instead of an analytic overview, I strongly recommend downloading the Metal Gear Solid 4 Database for the Playstation 3. It’s a very useful tool for any Metal Gear fan!
1. “Fortune, what’s up with that?”
In my opinion, Fortune is just another tell, or another way that the game tries to demonstrate its nature to the player. Sure, at the onset of her appearance we are made to believe that she can deflect bullets with her mind, or some sort of luck, but later when it is revealed to be some form of technology that is assisting her (playing into the techno-babel themes that the game touches on) the player starts questioning. Again the player’s thoughts and outlook is tested whenever Fortune is, in fact, able to dodge/deflect bullets even after the tech assisting her is destroyed. This back and fourth with her ability is used to demonstrate Kojima’s point about information and “truth”. It’s all about perspective and slant.
2. “If Kojima wanted Metal Gear Solid 2 to be the end of the series, why wasn’t it?”
Apparently the fans weren’t happy with the news, and neither was Konami. Honestly, it’s a tricky question, because I’m not in the inside of the situation. Hideo Kojima, at this point, probably has enough connections and capital to fund his own small nation, but then again that’s probably subjective. He is a very influential director and writer, especially in the video game industry, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel A. some form of responsibility for the series (knowing that Konami may twist it or do something with the IP that Kojima doesn’t want, even if he isn’t directly involved) and B. feel some sort of responsibility to his fan-base. I mean, it’s easy to say “Kojima is misunderstood and his fans’ interpretations, as a whole, of MGS2 disappointed him and shattered his romantic view of gamer culture”, but then again it’s just as easy to say, “Kojima could tell all of his fans to screw off and do whatever the hell he wants for the rest of his life”. I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is.
3. “What is the best version of MGS2 to play?”
Personally? I think that the original PS2 release is the way that the game was meant to be played initially and stands the test of time very well. As a poor Metal Gear fan I have since parted ways with a majority of my original copies of the games, what with many moves, lending to friends, and dire financial situations, so the HD Collection on the PS3 is how I currently have replayed the game, but the PS2 original is a dream. The frame-rate stutters a bit here and there on the PS3 and Vita, with the 360 version running smoothly, due to some of the trailing effects and smoke/fire particle effects, but all versions are definitely playable. The original Xbox version, Substance, runs really well, but I hate the non-pressure sensitive buttons and controller layout for MGS, so I say nay.
4. “How many times have you beaten MGS2 and are you morally opposed to Substance?”
To date, I have completed Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Substance at least fifteen times a piece. I collected every single dog tag on all difficulties on the original PS2 release of SoL back when, primarily due to a rumor that it would unlock Gray Fox as a playable character, and then I beat the game on Extreme and European Extreme when Substance came out, as well as countless other times with the HD versions and what not.
In short, I’ve beaten the game many times… many times. And I’ll talk more about my feelings pertaining to Substance next week.
5. “Is the Tanker portion made up too?”
Honestly, one could make the chase that the level of absurdity in the game is perfectly justifiable and that none of the game is “made up”. That’s what makes the title so amazing and layered is that it makes sense on a series of levels and for all audiences, and I honestly think that that’s Kojima’s real success. I personally feel that if you buy into the theory that the whole game is one big simulation, we could just as easily be playing as Raiden playing as Snake when we’re on the Tanker, or you could believe that the Tanker portion (originally MGS2) is a separate section from the Plant (originally MGS3) and that Solid Snake really does die during the events leading up to the Metal Gear RAY hijacking. It’s all up to you, the interpreter. I’m not trying to set any rules or tell you how the game is “really” meant to be enjoyed. I’m just sharing with you guys what I got out of it. I could very easily be buying into an eccentric philosophy just to rekindle some of the magic from when I first played the game. Who knows?
6. “Do the Zone of the Enders games tie into the Metal Gear universe in any way?”
The titles aren’t specifically set in the same universe, but Kojima Productions and Hideo Kojima like to reference their other works within each other. MGS2 definitely shares a lot of design principles and aesthetic with Zone of the Enders and the 2nd Runner, but other than references and cameos for fan-service, I don’t think there is a definite connection. Snatcher and Metal Gear, on the other hand, seem to occur within the same universe.
Alright kids, that’s it. Next week we’ll discuss Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and then we’re on to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. We may be interrupted part of the way through by the release of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which I’ll have to review for obvious reasons! See you guys at the same Metal Gear time at the same Metal Gear place. Next canonical article is out tomorrow. Deal with it.
… Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Realized Solid Snake Wasn’t Real.
Time to get into the real meat of these opinion pieces, the intricate system of themes, motifs, metaphors, false flags, symbolism, post-modernism, and possibilities of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was written and produced on the coat-tails of one of the greatest games ever made, and this is made all the more intentional and evident when looking at Hideo Kojima’s design document and realizing that this meta-sequel was supposed to raise a lot of important questions about the previous entry, video games in general, the culture that Metal Gear created in its wake when coming into the current-gen, and the repercussions of our new information based society. On the surface, Metal Gear Solid 2 is about Solid Snake’s passing on of his ideals to another generation, Raiden coming into his own and choosing to follow a path of his own making (regardless of whether his past is fabricated or not), and the importance of message and culture, artificial or not. Here’s the key, all of those names in my previous sentence could be replaced with “Hideo Kojima” and “us” coming into “our” own, and I think that it was all done intentionally.
The game opens, immediately following the “Tanker” situation that I’ve already covered in my demo focused article, with Raiden (or Jack) entering into a “Plant” that was artificially created, allegedly, to mask some illegal activities and shadow government conspiracies surrounding the tanker that capsized during Solid Snake’s portion of the game. Raiden’s mission intentionally begins the same as Solid Snake’s PS1-era mission and Raiden even has codename Solid Snake for a short period of time, but then the first twist occurs. Hideo Kojima has the player input their own information into a terminal, for the first time in a Metal Gear game to date, and surprisingly so the terminal menu bears a strong resemblance to Metal Gear Solid 2‘s own main menu. One could argue that the menu was skinned this way as to keep consistency with the look and feel of the title as a whole, but I think the same evidence could be used to argue that Raiden is inputting our information to further solidify (pun intended) his role as the player or player’s avatar and that the menu shares the same graphical design as the game’s main menu because it hammers home the fact that we’re playing a simulation in a simulation, a game within a game.
Moving on from there, Raiden (with us towing the line behind him, both physically and metaphorically) is re-introduced to Col. Campbell, Solid Snake, and a lot of stand-ins for the same roles we saw in the previous title. A lot of Metal Gear Solid 2 is our re-introduction to a lot of the same motifs, both in a way to point at the structuralism of Japanese games (see Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, etc.) and to really draw our focus to why these events are seemingly recurring. For the same reason that handicam-style shooting is used in films to draw attention to the movement, I think that the game resembles Metal Gear Solid in its plot and pacing to draw attention to the fact that it bears resemblence to Metal Gear Solid. Kojima is criticizing himself, by having less fleshed out bosses that are more driven by singular reasons and emotions in order to lampoon the previous bosses, stripping the variety of the environments to plain corridors and hallways to draw attention to the sterility of the previous game, and by subtly criticizing his own fan-base and, in a lot of ways, testing them.
The “Ascending Colon” portion of Metal Gear Solid 2’s plot is always the sequence that people cite as being “weird”, “scary”, and “self-referential”, but you can look to a lot of evidence before the closing portion of the title to see the self-referential and post-modernism facets of the title. Clicking in the thumbsticks during Codec calls will result in the player hearing the thoughts of the game’s characters, on top of being able to manipulate the camera angles, thus giving the player another sense of being an omnipotent being in this world. A lot of the dialogue in the game is intentionally ambiguous and there are many Codec conversations that raise some very interesting questions, often literally, but then never answer them. But yes, the “Ascending Colon” really tackles all of the subtlety of the rest of the game in a ham-fisted, “THIS IS WHAT WE’RE TRYING TO TELL YOU” kind of way, and yet many players just shrugged the whole sequence off as absurd and just a cool, fleeting, moment.
Solid Snake tells Raiden, and the player, that he has infinite ammo and his bandana flails in an imaginary “wind” whilst in the “Ascending Colon”, but even before then Solid Snake does everything in his power to keep the player focused on the mission, because that’s what he represents. Raiden, much like us, has completed the Shadow Moses simulation (and it could be argued that we were playing as Raiden playing the Shadow Moses simulation in MGS1) as well as 350 VR missions, which were the exact number of VR missions included in the VR Missions bonus disk. The Solid Snake that appears in MGS2 plays on Raiden and our pre-determined belief of who Solid Snake is and what he should say, and he acts and speaks just like we want him to, when we want him to. Solid Snake represents the hero that we want to be in these fantastic scenarios, and it was a conscious decision to have him not be the protagonist for this game.
This train of thought extends to all parts of the game. Col. Campbell may or may not be real, but he is a relic of MGS days of yore, pushing the player in a direction because the player demands being given a mission. The floor pattern when fighting the massive, unrealistic, horde of Metal Gear RAYs, which is absurd even by Metal Gear standards, is the exact floor pattern from the photo sessions in the VR Missions game, and its all accented by Solidus Snake, Fortune, Solid Snake, and Ocelot all just appearing out of thin air and flying around, breaking handcuffs, and dodging bullets. Sure, Metal Gear always rode the fine line between realism and absurdity, but Metal Gear Solid 2 raised the stakes in massive quantities to make a point and this was supposed to shatter our suspension of disbelief… but sadly, a lot of players rode the wave and didn’t question a thing.
Food for thought: replay Metal Gear Solid 2 replacing all instances of Raiden’s name with your own during Solid Snake’s final speech in the streets of New York as an ethereal population appears out of thin air and walks in slow motion around a building that was just destroyed in the middle of the city by a giant robot battleship. All of this information is pretty “heady”, and I accept that, so for the final part of my Metal Gear Solid 2 analysis I want to field some questions. If you are at all interested, please tweet @acsummerfield and I’ll try to answer any and all questions. There is a lot to Metal Gear Solid 2 and I tried to cover a vast majority of it, but there just isn’t enough digital paper and ink in the world for me to go in-depth with everything in the title. It’s super ambitious, it says a lot of different things at the same time, it’s fun, and it’s one of my favorite games of all time, but I also think that it’s a very misrepresented and under-appreciated game, and I don’t mean because folks don’t see the same things in it, but because people don’t take the time to really tear it apart and talk about its pieces. I think that that’s why Kojima made such a masterpiece, to spark conversation about games and game convention. We owe it to him and ourselves to at least talk about these things.
I’ll catch you guys next week.
I missed deadline… yet again, and on a national holiday to boot. I apologize. And, to show how apologetic I am, let me postpone my Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty discussion even more! Kidding! Mostly… This week we’re going to take a look at the “real” Metal Gear Solid 2. And by that I mean the pack-in demo disk that came with Zone of the Enders on the PlayStation 2 when it was released on March 1st, 2001.
The demo disk of Metal Gear Solid 2 that shipped with the original Zone of the Enders PS2 release was a bit of an experiment on Konami and Hideo Kojima’s part. Konami didn’t just want to help a new IP prosper by packing in a demo for what was considered at the time to be one of the most hyped video game releases ever, they also wanted to boost expectations and sales for MGS2 in the process, but Hideo Kojima’s design document shows evidence that this pack-in demo was supposed to be Metal Gear Solid 2, with the Plant portion of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty being released as Metal Gear Solid III, just to add another twist to the narrative structure and the self-referential nature of the game, which we will discuss in full later.
Apart from that tidbit of information, the demo is fairly straight forward. For those of you who have played the full retail release of Metal Gear Solid 2, the demo was simply the Tanker portion, or first chapter, of the main game. The demo shipped on a CD instead of a DVD, Solid Snake could actually procure a FA-MAS (a fan favorite from MGS1) in the demo, and some of the posters are different than the full release. Other than that, it’s essentially the first chapter of the same game.
I remember playing the demo over and over and over, just being completely and totally blown away by how something could be leaps and bounds more robust than its predecessor, especially one that I held so near and dear. I was pumped. Little did I know that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and later the ironically titled Substance version, would end up being one of my favorite games of all time. As we continue discussing the legacy of MGS2, how it could easily be considered one of the first truly postmodern video games, and how Hideo Kojima desperately didn’t want to continue working on the series following his magnum opus, I just want to remind all of you to keep an open mind, check out my citations, and comment below. These next few articles will simply be me expressing my views and opinions based on the evidence that I’ve seen, as well as presenting a few other arguments, in a manner that is primarily rooted in interesting observation and analytic discussion. Seeing as I’ve almost gotten into a fist fight at one of my previous places of work over Metal Gear Solid 2 and my interpretation of it, I just felt that I should preface myself with a fair warning.
Let the flame wars commence next week!
Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions (PSX, 1999, Konami)
Last week we finished up our look at Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, which spiraled out of control in three parts all trying so desperately to sound intelligent, clever, and well versed in symbolism but ultimately just being a bunch of hot air. Now, the smoke has cleared, and so has the facade of a real game! Tally-ho to more Metal Gear action without all of those stupid cut-scenes with the people talking about the things and how guns are bad!
Following the release of the original Metal Gear Solid the Japanese were treated to Metal Gear Solid: Integral, which was an expanded release of the title that featured 300+ VR Missions, the ability to play as the Cyborg Ninja (which fans had clamored for), and several other extras such as Tokyo Game Show videos and commercials all bundled in with the main game. The extras from this version were released as a separate disk in Europe (Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions) where you needed the original game in order for the Playstation to allow you to access the content and as a completely separate game in the United States where it was released as Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions.
The game was a response to a large group of players’ complaints that even though the original title spanned two disks and was a full featured game it still lacked the action that they had expected or wanted. So, Hideo Kojima responded by having many more VR Missions made, to accompany the original batch that were released as training with the main game, and the other aforementioned features. But, as always, the extra features came with their own quirks and bizarre nature, which I completely commend Kojima for. If there is one thing that we’ll be talking about in later articles it is that Hideo Kojima absolutely knows how to slip in his own personality, comedy, and responses into titles that he doesn’t necessarily want to make. The man knows how to be both a god and a traitor.
VR Missions plays just like Metal Gear Solid, except the whole affair is broken into little bite-sized trials and puzzles that have their own objectives. Honestly, a game like this would’ve done very well on a handheld of this generation. Regardless, this is pure mechanics over narrative, who-needs-context, MURDER EVERYTHING YOU SEE! or hide until you can reach the goal cotton-candy, all fluff with no sustenance. The player gets to slash-slash-jump-kick as Frank Jaeger, a.k.a. DA N1NJA, take oddly staged pseudo-erotica photos of Naomi and Mei Ling, and even fight Godzilla-sized soldiers, which I totally infer as Kojima telling us what sort of things we must want if this type of point-less skilled based romp through a world he so fondly created is what we want. I mean, whenever you spend so much time crafting a narrative and a plot for the player to progress through with a hard-coded message for your audience and they respond with “give us more of the pew-pew-kablohy” I imagine that it’s easy to be a bit hurt and upset with your fan-base. I’m going to let myself finish, but this is all stuff that we’ll tackle in my mind-breaking discussion on Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty which will consist of terribly borrowed fan-theories, interview snippets, and as many links as I can think of. But that won’t come for a bit. I mean… we still have Metal Gear Solid: Ghost Babel for the Gameboy Color to talk about. Obvious choice.
Quick Aside: My favorite thing about VR Missions is the use of a reworked version of the music from the original MSX2 releases as the level music.