Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Thoughts on Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

In my downtime, while I'm searching for things to do now that I'm no longer entrenched within the mud and blood of academics, I've been catching up on a few "last-gen" games that I missed. I know these games have been out for years but this is my blog, dammit, and I'll write about whatever I want to write about.

I had never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, so when Substance (the Xbox version of Sons of Liberty) arrived in the mail the other day, I was moderately excited, especially now that the semester is over, I'm officially finished my third, count 'em third, undergrad degree, and I have some extra time on my hands, which, I know, could be more profitably used - by, like, reading Joyce's Ulysses (honestly, I'm getting to it) or finally sitting down and writing something meaningful - but I'm tired of all that shit. I need a break. I've read enough and written enough in the last eight years that I really want to just lay about, mentally speaking, for a while. So game on, I say. Where was I? Oh, excited about Metal Gear. I'd say that in terms of anticipatory arousal I was about a 7, 10 being an almost undeniably urge to couple with the game, like with Silent Hill 2, and 1 being the flaccid disinterest I feel every time Square Enix announces yet another excursion into hermaphroditic heroism. There's an aura about the MGS franchise, a tone used when speaking of it usually reserved for religious ceremony. Solid Snake is one of those icons of gaming, one of those god-like figures apotheosized by millions of devoted (and, let's face it, probably sweaty, lonely, and sexually confused) fans. I knew a bit about the franchise. I knew, for instance, that the games are strangely fixated on Snake's ass, which in all the games have been very lovingly and carefully designed (see) so as almost to give players a whiff of Snake's musky greatness. I also, and more importantly, knew that the games have a tendency to be... um, bombastically dramatic. By which I mean incomprehensible. But, I was still excited, ready to feel up this franchise. Only an hour into my Metal Gear dalliance, I already knew two things: one, this game is old and two, it's still pretty fun. The mechanics are ancient. They were ancient, I fear, when they first launched. Just one year after Sons of Liberty's release, for instance, Ubisoft would launch Splinter Cell, which in terms of stealth gameplay absolutely eclipsed Metal Gear Solid. All the stealth aspects of MGS2 just feel like a game, as if mimicking anything approaching reality was the furthest thing from the designers' minds. Stealth in MGS2 is governed by very rigid sets of rules and parameters. You can run, flat out sprint, past a guard and unless his very short and limited field of vision is aimed at you, you are invisible and silent. So it all feels very contrived. But that's not all that wrong here. I'll make a list. The weapon combat is clumsy as all hell, basically requiring you to switch to a fixed first-person view if you want to hit anything. The hand-to-hand and sword combat (yes, a sword... stealthy) is even worse and basically only lets you fumble about in the dark, like a clumsy and desperate teen attempting to unclasp a bra and reach the promised land. But, worst of all, the camera seems to be alligned not with the player but with the terrorists as it continually refuses to show you anything. On top of all of that, the game is a clinic on how not to pace your game. Hideo Kojima, the mind behind Metal Gear, is apparently in love with every last freakin' word he writes and so makes you sit through hour after hour of exposition and talking heads. In the last 45 minutes of the game, I played for about five minutes, the time it took to beat the boss. The rest of the time was spent watching character after character pontificate, reveal plot twists, confess parentage, etc, etc, on and on, until the player is rendered comatose, which I'm taking as a mean-spirited gameplay mechanic: lull the player into torpor and then laugh when he tries to rouse himself to fight. But, despite these archaic limitations, despite gameplay that has been improved upon by almost every other entry into the stealth genre, despite the game's best efforts to leave me unconscious, despite my better judgment, I found myself having fun. There's a lot here that I don't like, and writing it all down I realize that I should not like this game. It's pretentious, over-written, and ludicrous, yet it also has something else, an X-factor if you will, some unquantifiable aspect that keeps all those criticisms from locking the game away forever in limbo somewhere. It's a fun game and, I assume based on this second entry alone, a fun franchise. Not by any stretch of this writer's imagination (and that imagination is stretchy, let me assure you) is this game art, which is what I'm always looking for these days. It didn't even fulfill the expectations I had for it, but it was a decent holiday distraction and I'm glad I finally caught up with this franchise, if for no other reason than that now I know what it's all about.

1 comment:

Nevis said...

You haven't read Ulysses yet? Even I've read that.