The War Epilogue is a series focussing on the Metal Gear Solid Series, from 1, through to 4, in release date order. I’ll analyze where the series used to be, all the way up to where it went, and the themes that lay behind the games. Metal Gear Solid, much like it’s creator, is a larger than life series with layers of complexities that flood the veins of gaming culture, even to this day. With the controversial final entry The Phantom Pain firmly lodged in my mind, I will journal my experiences with these groundbreaking, genre-defining titles having never played a single one. Having finished Sons of Liberty, I have far too much to talk about, especially with that ending.
Big Shell is a brilliant location for Sons of Liberty, but as well designed as big shell is, and I really do appreciate how it logically changes over time, this does often lead to extreme and sudden spikes in difficulty that cannot be predicted. Some times you simply have to die in order to predict a trap laid ahead and while the game does its best with most of these moments by providing Raiden with gadgets to detect hidden threats, there’s often moments where you simply must die in order to know what hidden menace to avoid. Much later in the game you must crawl across a long a thin balcony about the width of Raiden himself. As you crawl the platforms give way beneath you and you simply have to out manoeuvre them or suffer death, and there’s no real hint that any of this will happen. Oh well. Just reload and try again… Except… Your last checkpoint was on the other side of big shell. Sometimes it just feels horribly cheap. It’s not that the game wanted to kill me, it’s that it was entirely unpredictable. Even if the trap was so subtlety signposted that you’d still probably miss it, I’d appreciate the small environmental details. In Dark Souls, for example, you can subtlety predict the rolling death boulders in Sens Fortress due to the weathered indentations in the stone steps. You’ll probably still get pancaked by the boulders but at least it’s there. You can then reason with yourself, logically, that you should have been paying attention. Instead there are times in MGS2 where you die with no warning given and get sent back to your last checkpoint, which could have been anywhere on big shell. Some of the engagements and set pieces too can sometimes be pretty crude affairs, with no clever trick to work out or no stealthy alternative, you simply have to just brute force your way through it and hope you don’t die. The security team sent to investigate your stealthy slip ups for example are just entirely bad news. There’s no getting around them, just hide and wait for them to leave.
Boss fights in general suffer from being less memorable which is a gross shame when contrasted against the standards set in Metal Gear Solid 1. I was expecting tense exchanges and situations that felt more like a human battle of wits, a battle where subtle mind games and logic thinking bore the greatest fruits, where the fights are built up subtlety as you play and end in a graceful ballet of dramatic flair that we know all too well from Kojima. Here they feel far more generic, and working out the “tricks” to beating them is much less of a brain tax. The fight with Olga on the tanker is for example quite bland, simply avoid her bullets and pop a few shots at her between cover. When you consider the last game involved tense sniper stand offs and the laying of sneaky traps, followed by wonderfully Kojima-esque dramatics to send your foes off with… what raiden faces in Sons of Liberty seems like a bit of a step back. Especially when some of the campiness here reaches near laughable levels of accidental hilarity. Revolver Ocelots ghost arm, for example, is an utterly ludicrous stroke of near insanity in the middle of such po-faced militarised postmodernism. later on you’re confronted by a flamenco dancing vampire (which, actually, is one of the better fights) who can float, fly, and apparently survive a whole bullet to the head. You’ll not know weather to laugh or frown with a lot of these characters. While The Phantom Pain is a decidedly serious affair (comparatively, anyway) it feels like the level of camp here will either sour the experience for you or make you love the games even more. Personally speaking, however? I don’t mind them too much. I mean, they’re ridiculous, but better to be utterly insane than painfully boring.
And yet, as Sons of Liberty drew to a close, I can forgive these transgressions because the parting hour is just so incredibly strong. See, there’s a reason why the early fourth wall breaks feel much more subtle and muted. As the credits rolled for Sons of Liberty, I layed on my bed, mouth wide open, staring at the screen in sheer disbelief. The story itself is just one gigantic post-modern 4th wall breakage. Infact, that wall isn’t just broken, it’s practically blown to smithereens by several hundred tonnes of explosives.
As mentioned previously, Raiden doesnt hold a match to Snake. In fact, throughout the game, Raiden is constantly compared to Snake. Snake is a sort of mythical hero, playing on the fact that by the time Sons of Liberty had been released his trademark sneaking suit and headband had already become part of gaming’s cultural lexicon, much like the red and blue mario colours or the blue hedgehog, Snake was now another gaming reference point. Raiden is decidedly less charismatic, he is emotionally distant and closed off, and is constantly typified by a kind of permenant sense of bemusement for almost the entire duration of the game. He simply has no idea what’s going on. It’s almost infuriating. He’s a constant storm of “huh?” and “what?” It’s despairing, sure, but it turns out there’s a reason for all that. Raiden was bred from the ground up to be a killer. He has no feelings. He has no character. His entire time on Big Shell is one big VR mission, built to look and feel like the real thing, but is in reality entirely fake. He finds out he’s been living a sham existence this whole time. No wonder he’s a question mark – he no longer knows what’s real or not. And Raiden spends most of the duration of Sons of Liberty desperately trying to figure out what’s real, what to believe in and who he is. In reality, he doesn’t know.
To reflect this, the game slowly and delicately begins to loosen its grip on reality. Like a dancer wobbling atop a high-wire act, Raidens world begins to fray at the edges. The wallpaper peels away piece by piece and eventually there is nothing but an empty digital void in its wake. The Colonel that sent Raiden to Big Shell, the man who had been feeding Raiden orders all along now seems to be digitally glitching out, spewing incoherant details not relevant to the mission, at one point admitting to Raiden that he has money troubles because his wife left him, and commanding Raiden to end the simulation by litterally turning off the video game console, only adding to the spiralling sense of disillusionment. The post-modern bits of Metal Gear Solid were stripped out to make way for Sons of Liberty, a game that constructs a reality around Raiden, and you, the player. By the end of the game, do you know what’s real?
This isn’t just lightly explored, either. It’s an integral part of the games core ideas. Towards the end of the game we learn of a plan to bring down the internet and censor thoughts online, a plot point so completely ridiculous that it almost seems comic book in nature. Though, actually, it has been given a lot more thought than that. At the conclusion of the game, Snake delivers a fantastic monologue about the nature of online discourse, about how the constant drip feed of information is going to slowly ring our minds out to dry, about how our race to be more connected to one another might not be quite so beautiful as it first seemed, That this unprecedented forward march to connect to each other will also give up our privacy and slowly ebb away at rights we’re legally allowed, and it won’t be taken from us, it’ll be givinng willingly. I’m not sure if you’ve used the internet in the last few years, but that sounds an awful lot like what what it’s like to be online in 2016. For a game released in 2001, it’s incredibly spot on in terms of predictions. Today, the constant open endedness of the internet, the neverending feed of information, has created almost a new kind of consumerism – a consumerism based not just on spending, but on culture too. We’ve learned to consume culture, art, humanist pursuits in the same way we consume products. Slowly over time this has lead to things like viral marketing, viral trends, twitter outrages, YouTube comments, Buzzfeed, Gawker Media, even Tumblr… now, we’re more informed than ever, and it’s increasingly impossible to not be informed. Okay, well that doesn’t sound too bad, and it’s not, at all. The internet has opened up our lives in a completely unprecedented manner, and being able to do things that generations ago would be a minor inconvencience in a matter of seconds is a binary, linear improvement in our lives. Though convenience like this? it comes at a cost. and Sons of Liberty warns against that.
Because we consume more and more online all the time, our consumption comes in more ways than one. We consume culture in the same way, just as we do our public figures through twitter, youtube. The rise of meme’s and viral fads help us to devour and cannibalize our cultural iconagraphy on a scale that was previously unimaginable. Now, we can identify heroes in a 140 character tweet, and find villains in small paragraphs on Reddit. The self immolating culture we have fostered online has given us so much, but it’s cost us something of ourselves, and now when we build ’em up high, we really, really know how to knock ’em down, too. Online commentary spaces are open battlefields for the new 21st century. Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, these are the new locations for our culture wars, and when anyone can be informed on any subject at the drop of a google search, you can be both right and wrong at the same time. You can exist in two equally contradictory states, and that level of existential crisis can only lead to cultural entropy. Perhaps this is overanalyzing, but i’m apparently not the only one to have this reading on Sons of Liberty. Super Bunnyhop’s retrospective of MGS2 is bang on the money, too, and far more in depth than what you’ll read here. If the fabric of your logic-based world starts to fray, how do you cope when you start to mistrust the digital world you live inside? Where does your digital self end and your real self begin? And how do we define truth in a world where we’re both right and wrong?
It feels weird to experience something that seems to be predicting the future. In 2001, this must have seemed like wild fantasy. How strange it is to see fiction begin the winding, irreversible road to fact. Raidens surreal breakdown of logic during the closing hours of Sons of Liberty is absolutely thrilling to watch. Our view of a blank, moral void of a man is slowly stripped away like layers of an onion, mirroring our online world. Raidens perceived reality starts to strip away and be replaced by lines of computer code, and this tenuous grasp on reality constantly phases in and out of believable lines of thought. There are times when it’s hard to tell if what Raiden is doing is part of a computer simulation, or part of the real world.
Finishing Metal Gear Solid 2 was a real achievement, and though the mid game sagged awfully, and I definitely have issues with some of the pacing of some segments of the game, a large part of the systems introduced into this thrilling sequal are entirely welcome. Controls feel incredibly smooth and the visuals have aged gracefully thanks to a timeless art style and HD upgrades. The final hour is a mind bending treatise on our obsession with online connectivity, a warning shot that has since come to pass as real. Sons of Liberty is a fantastic success on nearly all of its fronts, and it makes me even more giddy with excitement to carry on this incredible series into Snake Eater.