Haunted by the tepid fan response to what should have been his technological masterwork: Metal Gear Solid 2, Kojima san stripped off his clothes and went to live in Miyashita Park, where he existed on a diet of bin contents and frogs. “I’ll show them that I don’t need strangely attractive lady-men, high-tech ninjas and dubious tales of AI, genetic memory and high-tech super-secret cabals controlling the world to tell my stories,” was probably Kojima’s response to this possible scenario. However, his grand message took a couple more years to formulate…

Now comfortable with the technical aspects of the PS2, Kojima blindsided his critics by telling an uncharacteristically straightforward tale in Metal Gear Solid 3 with an equally surprising amount of emotional complexity. To placate the disappointed fan-boys he also placed the completely heterosexual Snake at the forefront, whilst installing a very deep and rewarding set of survivalist mechanics and wrapping the whole shebang in a delightfully tongue in cheek James Bond circa-1960s aesthetic. He also raised playground titters by calling it ‘Snake Eater’. And doth, it came to pass that, in taming his wilder impulses, Kojima created his true masterwork.

My first run-through of MGS3 took place upon its initial release, way back in 2005. And while I enjoyed it I held firm in my belief that part 2 was largely superior. The new iteration was too fiddly, with too many low-fi gadgets that failed to identify the many dangers surrounding you. Though perhaps your greatest enemy was the ineffectual camera system – a remnant of part 2 that didn’t really work with the new expansive areas. I worked my way through, enjoying each part but never really loving it. But, ever mindful of reasonable criticism, Kojima soon re-released the game with a camera system that was as loose as the villain’s sexual preferences, and it is this version that features on the HD re-release.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the difference is like night and day. When you finally get used to the unintuitive control scheme you’re in a position to make greater use of the environment and more ready to assume the mantle of ‘Big Boss’, instead of being a panicky half-naked man eating frogs in a bush. The series’ stylistic ‘gamey’ hallmarks help to conceal its age, as does the fact that, bar a few low-res textures, it still looks bleeding gorgeous.

Each area is in itself a mini-playground with numerous ways to make your way through. It’s gaming at its most refined, and even though the plot is entirely linear, each play-through yields a different story. Some may prefer to camouflage themselves and creep up on unsuspecting men from the bushes, before grabbing them and injecting a dart in their bottoms, while others prefer sabotaging food and weapon supplies before grabbing unsuspecting men and injecting a dart in their bottoms. There are plenty of individual choices to make with the single unifying factor that most are fairly inappropriate and involve tranquilisers and men’s bottoms.

With some of MG2’s flourishes toned down you’re also allowed to remember how clever and creative Kojima is without also having to worry about his mental well-being. There are tons of playful surprises and a number of action set pieces that would make any other game memorable. The major difference is MG3 is almost entirely made from them. There’s an encounter beyond the grave, the world’s longest ladder climb, some Bond-esque infiltration and what is often regarded as the series highlight: a protracted sniper battle against The End.

This measured duel against an Uncle Albert lookalike is one of the main reasons this second installment of my Metal Gearathon took so long to produce. I went through this protracted sequence three times in order to try and get his camouflage which, in the cold light of day, seems a little excessive for a pair of weathered mossy grumps. Anyway, after three failed attempts I put down my controller and resumed my life, which currently involves working on a long-form story (or whatever you might call a book these days), my day job and a few trips to the cinema. During this time the duel with my liver-spotted nemesis was put to the back of my mind. And when I finally resumed my duties, The End had expired through natural causes, and I felt slightly guilty.

While Kojima has the ability to harness technology in new and unique ways, he seems equally obsessed with the inherent danger of overreliance on things that take batteries and make bleeping noises. Like the duel with The End – and a large thematic portion of the Metal Gear saga – these messages often break the fourth wall, though not in entirely welcome ways. For example, each iteration of the Metal Gear series on a new platform tends to turn into a slightly overblown lecture on how the advancement of technology negatively impacts on humanity. I often take this as Kojima’s frustration of having to rely on technology to convey his ideas and tell his stories. In essence, he’s as trapped by machines as his characters.

It’s interesting that when not encountering a new system Kojima’s games tend to be far more playful, streamlined and enjoyable. It’s like he frees himself when he understands the technical limitations and can concentrate on applying his ideas.   Unlike Metal Gears 2 and 4 there’s no clumsy arrival of ‘deus-ex nanomachina’ in the eleventh hour to explain away the series’ eccentricities. It’s a relatively taut tale, told incredibly effectively. And by cutting back on plot twists, it also allows for a more complex character tale to unfold. In MGS3, you’re essentially playing as a villain, but it makes a great effort in humanising him, which is something of a double win, since he’s a bit of a perv, has a mullet and is called ‘Snake’.

I’m going to continue my quest into uncharted territory with Snake’s continued adventures in Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, so you can probably come back sometime next year for that. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

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