Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Top 50 Games - 2. Metal Gear Solid
The back of the box for Metal Gear Solid promises "A taut, gripping story." If anybody tells you that it's perfect, they don't know what they're talking about. Neither does anyone who thinks it a sloppy throwaway spy tale that doesn't have any power to emotionally affect the player. Kojima is a guy with a lot of ideas, and although that's admirable, sometimes it gets to be too much when it comes to the story. MGS is stuffed to the brim with ruminations on genetics, fate, love, nuclear war, and existential doubt. It's heavy stuff, and not all of it is approached with grace. Nevertheless, the combination of high-quality machinima, a memorable script, and unprecedented professional voice acting turns what could have been a headache-inducing anime plot into a supremely powerful narrative. Solid Snake travels along a believable character arc; his cold heart is slowly thawed by the friendship of Otacon and the love of Meryl. I was sad to see Meryl absent from MGS2 (yes, I know she's in 4, but still); I thought she was a great character. In fact, all of the characters are great. The plot of the Metal Gear series may appear to be nothing more than an impossible jumble of techno-babble and amateur philosophy, but its mythology is undeniably rich and packed with unforgettable faces.
This tense sniper duel is certainly a standout moment, but we're all aware of what may be Metal Gear Solid's most ingenious moment. I personally prefer The End, but many, many people will tell you that Psycho Mantis is the greatest boss of all time. They aren't lying. Before the encounter, mysterious chanting music can be heard reverberating on the wooden walls that surround Snake and Meryl. Pressing triangle normally allows Snake to look around in first-person, but if you try it within the hallway that leads to Mantis' office, the screen turns a sickly green as you stare at Snake from just behind and above Meryl. Upon entering, Meryl starts acting weird, pleading for Snake to make love to her while aiming her Desert Eagle at his confounded face. After knocking Meryl unconscious, Psycho Mantis reveals himself to Snake and proceeds to show off a variety of fancy parlor tricks: moving your DualShock controller across the floor and reading your memory card, commenting on both the games you play ("You like Castlevania, don't you?") and the number of times you save. After this freaky introduction, the real battle begins, but the trickery persists. Psycho Mantis will use telekineses to hurl a chair at you, and just before you dodge out of the way, he'll pretend to turn off the TV screen (with HIDEO in green running across the upper-right corner of the blackness). Mantis, a skilled mind reader, can anticipate nearly every one of Snake's attacks and appropriately evade them. After many minutes of confusion teetering on the verge of frustration, you call Colonel Campbell again, hoping to receive some help. Suddenly, the "retired old warhorse" has a eureka moment, determining that Psycho Mantis won't be able to read your movements if you switch your controller to Port 2. It works, and Mantis is defeated (I've actually managed to proudly defeat him without resorting to this method). Talk about a mindfuck; the fight with Psycho Mantis takes the 4th wall and tears it to subatomic shreds.
Metal Gear Solid is important. It was paramount in the invention of both the stealth genre and the cinematic gaming experience. Metal Gear Solid is fun. I still enjoy avoiding a guard's line of sight while setting up a Claymore mine for him to foolishly waltz onto. Metal Gear Solid is riveting. Rarely have I encountered such a bombastic, engrossing story in a video game. Metal Gear Solid is visionary and awesome and funny and wonderful. It's my second favorite game of all time.