The Metal Gear Diaries: Guns of the Patriots

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we completed Snake Eater, and now we sit on the edge of a game I feel like I know everything about, but have been told that I know nothing about. Playing Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is going to be an experience of separating truth from lies, of seeing the collision of expectation, assumption and reality all play out as this cultural object I knew only second hand finally becomes a real thing that I understand.

So here we go, let’s begin as we always do, and start the journal into understanding the end (well, kinda) of Metal Gear Solid.

Mission Briefing

What shocked me about the ending of Snake Eater was just how damn tidy it was. There really aren’t any loose ends; America got the Legacy and so The Patriots now control the entire world, the last of The Wisemen Council died in the 30s. It’s only a cliffhanger because we’ve not seen The Patriots be defeated, but defeating The Patriots has never, ever been the point of Metal Gear. Big Boss is the character who tries, as does Solidus in 2, and they’re the villains. It’s a series about navigating the tension of trying to be a human being in a world in which you have so little agency or control.

So that leads me to wonder: what is this game? I know it goes back to Shadow Moses, I know you fight Big Boss at the end, I know there’s a big happy ending and a wedding at the end, I know REX fights RAY, I know fucking everything. And yet, like Matt tells me, I know nothing. I don’t know what the plot could be, because there’s nothing really left hanging. Yet, going into Guns of the Patriots I was convinced it was going to be just beginning to end epilogue on every unresolved plot point.

And maybe it will. I’m expecting a return to Sons of Liberty’s meta discussion, more of Kojima giving the player what they say they want but in the shittiest way. You want to be Solid Snake again? Fine, he’s old and dying now though, does that mesh with your fantasy?

Plus, this is a sequel to Sons of Liberty, a game defined by its pre 9/11 critique of America, yet also a devastatingly prescient post 9/11 critique. But I can’t imagine a game with that pointed a political statement could be made in 2008, at least not in the same way. Not only had 9/11 happened, but so too had the Iraq war, the conflicts in Afghanistan, and the continued expansions of PMCs into what was previously state-fought wars. All of these are elements that complicate and dramatically change Metal Gear’s politics on war, and I wonder if any of these will be confronted and addressed in the game.

But we shall see. Now that Snake has finished smoking, it’s time to begin the game, and fight the Guns of the Patriots.

See you on the other side, soldier.

Starring David Hayter, As David Hayter

What the fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

No, seriously, what the hell? That’s amazing. That opening was a-ma-zing. Why on earth does Guns of the Patriots begin with the goofiest live action interview with eyepatch wearing David Hayter? Who can say! Is there any other reason than “because it’s fucking amazing?” You know, probably not, but it is, and I’m glad.

If I was to read theme into that, it’d be Kojima getting angry at everyone misreading his creative work, and god I hope that’s the intention, because there’s really no better avatar for Kojima’s audience tension than a man in an eyepatch going “I didn’t say that.”

I’m onboard. Where are we going, Guns of the Patriots? Take me on your journey.

War Has Changed

“Huh I wonder if they’re going to address the changing nature of warfare in the last decade?” he asked, oh so innocently.

The imagery of Guns of the Patriots’ opening is pointed in a way that I have no idea how it got away with. It begins with a voiceover about how War is now an industry, how wars are fought in places far away from those with power for no other reason except to keep the cycle going, whilst two opposing factions destroy an Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™. Whether they do name it later is irrelevant, because that’s how they got away with it: this kind of imagery was everywhere in games in 2008, and it still is everywhere to a lesser extent. Metal Gear is just using it to make the world’s least subtle critique of American foreign policy rather than sell jingoistic fantasy. It’s remarkable how much Metal Gear just looks like all its ideologically bankrupt contemporaries from a distance.

The opening itself is bizzare, and it’s very… un-Metal Gear. Even Sons of Liberty, which was a textbook case of fucking with expectation, very clearly operated on the same framework as the game that preceded it. Sons of Liberty was almost cel-shaded, it was beautiful in its stylistic choices, but this just looks like a videogame. And whilst that certainly makes some of its critiques stronger, I miss the days when a Metal Gear game had some real colour in it.

Also, the lack of spinning items? Weird. I feel wrong. The items need to spin otherwise how will I know that they’re items? Come on, think this through! It’s such a strange direction to take the series design wise, because Snake Eater was a step towards abstraction. It was a game designed to achieve immersion through unrealism, but Guns of the Patriots has that late 2000s Realistic Video Game aesthetic all over and I have to say, I am not a fan.

Another weird gut reaction? Everyone sounds a little wrong. Granted, I’ve only heard Otacon and Snake, and Snake’s now Old Snake so that makes sense, but Otacon has sounded radically different in every single game I’ve heard him in, and he’s the same actor each time! It doesn’t make any sense! Anyway, I immediately press the select button and there’s no codec (at least yet) so this is basically the worst game ever made.

It’s strange to me how little context has been established, though. The first three games each had two introductory briefing sequences! And here we’re just in some country, running around, watching weird mass produced human-legged Metal Gears jump around with zero reason given as to why we’re there or what on earth is going on. It’s interesting, but I do feel like I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here. I just have to trust the game and go with it, because it will fill me in eventually, I’m sure. It can’t not, it’s a Metal Gear Solid game, I’ve played and loved three of them already.

I’m sure it won’t steer me wrong now.

Death

Snake is dying, and there’s nothing he can do. The conversation between him and Otacon about trying another doctor is truly heartbreaking to me, these two characters that we love and who love each other having to confront their mortality in this really subdued way. It’s honest and real, an underplayed moment in a series which is so often full melodrama.

Otacon and Snake’s relationship is one of the most feel good buddy buddy teams in games so to see it so strained and sad like this is just, man, it chokes me up to see. If this is the way that Guns of the Patriots is going to introduce itself then I’m in for a far more subdued and emotionally raw time than I thought. This is meant to be the bombastic finale!

Campbell shows up and gives us the closest thing to a briefing that we have; Liquid Snake’s in Unamed Middle Eastern Country™ and we’re going in to stop him. The game is real stingy with information off the bat, maybe it’s going to be parsing out its exposition in a more refined manner than it has in the past? With each game it’s moved further and further towards a story hinged by emotion rather than mystery, and everything about this intro continues this trend.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the graveyard. The graveyard scene from Snake Eater was heartbreaking itself, so bringing the series back to that visual context is great, and centres Snake’s relationship with Big Boss. These characters are take so much of the burden of what their mentors did to them, and all they have are fading memories to remember them by, so much information they were unable to pass on. And soon Snake will be a memory too.

What will they say about him when he’s gone?

I have nothing but questions, but none of them are burning. What’s Liquid up to? What’s happened to Philanthropy? What on earth is happening with The Patriots? This is Metal Gear, why is everything so restrained and sad? If David Hayter is turning in a performance this great as Old Snake why the fuck do they recast him? Should I order Pizza tonight?

Only some of these questions will be answered as we continue, but that intro got my hooked in a way I didn’t anticipate. Guns of the Patriots is a real game that I have played with my hands, it is not a thing that only exists through expectation and inferred information, and it’s both exactly and nothing like I expected.

Begin the mission, Snake. One last time.

Sunny Side Up

Who is this girl making Eggs? What do the numbers mean? Why is she talking about Solidus? What is going on? How is there so much Live Action nonsense in this game? Is it the best game ever made?!?!

Probably.

Codec

I miss the old design of the Codec. This makes more sense as a piece of visual design for a communications system, but as in Snake Eater, you lose something by not being able to see Snake’s face. The original Codec design clearly framed its interactions as watching a conversation between two people, this design shifts your perspective and puts you in Snakes shoes. Otacon is looking into the camera, talking directly to you, the player.

Metal Gear has always addressed the Player Character as if they were the player, when it came time to give instructions or tutorials, but this change — which began in Snake Eater and is exacerbated here with Otacon being fully animated — is a step further. It’s probably fine, because whilst it makes the Codec less dramatically viable, I assume it’s not like we’re going to have any serious reveals taking place in Codec conversations anymore. Those days are long past. Even Snake Eater was light on the Codec.

They set the state of the world a little here, most of which still has to be inferred from the thematic monologue Snake gave at the start of the game, but it seems like PMCs are the order of the day, and wars just kind of happen and no one questions why? When war is something done for profit, then like Snake says, war becomes routine. Otacon even acts surprised at the use of Geckos in the area and says that so many of those robots are outside the area’s “War Price.” Continuing the motif of Metal Gear’s commentary being the most pointed and the least subtle, here directing its ire at the idea of a military-industrial complex that exists outside nation states.

It’s strange heading straight from Snake Eater to this, because Snake Eater is so explicitly about the idea of nationalism, focusing on the fight between three nations to see who will control the fate of the world. But those nations had goals, things to fight for, purposes that drive them. War was an awful means to a selfish end, but finally Metal Gear comes to the place where War is its own self-perpetuating end. It’s a strangely cynical place for an always earnest series to start its final entry.

My goal seems to be to reach Otacon, who’s waiting down the road. This is clearly a tutorial segment, he’s going to hand over the Mk II, which will allow me to view maps and battle data, which means more cool UI. The UI in this game is both great, and achingly 2008. I enjoy it a lot.

I’m surprised that I don’t seem to actually know my objective. I know my next goal: I have to get to Otacon, but I don’t know why or what that leads to? It’s such a deviation from the norm in terms of Metal Gear structure, this is a series that lives to give you lists of objectives and sub objectives, to give the player the feel of taking on a mission. Maybe that’s coming soon, because I’ll be surprised if this game structures its play by moment to moment goals coming in over the radio.

Is this… just going to be a videogame? Is that what’s happening here?

Level Design

Yes, is the answer. Huh.

It’s remarkable, playing these in quick succession, just how vastly different each games sense of play is from each other. Guns of the Patriots level design philosophies, at least in this starting area, feel so much more conventional than those from the games that came before. Which leads me to wonder how much of that feeling is me being ahistorical — game design in the AAA space hasn’t changed that much since 2008, yet pretty much up until that point it was constantly changing. When Metal Gear Solid was released, the commonly held ideas for how to make a 3D game did not exist, let alone how to make a military shooter with a stealth focus.

Perhaps this discomfort that I feel, which I perceive as the series abandoning its gameplay concepts for more conventional ones, comes from my own lack of understanding of the evolution of 3D gaming? I’m completely ready to admit that! I’ll throw my hands up if its true.

And the best/worst part of this is that my immediate reaction is both a “hmmm this feels like Metal Gear is losing its identity” and “this is the best Metal Gear has ever felt ever.” Guns of the Patriots feels so smooth, it is a perfectly balanced engine at the moment, getting the feel of slowly crawling through a warzone, emphasising every small movement and giving Metal Gear a sense of physicality it has never been able to achieve.

I snuck my way through the areas without being spotted, without engaging an enemy, and without firing a single shot. The series has always been one which encouraged slow movement and progression, but never has it conveyed the feeling of moving slow like this before. I’d stub my stick forward in the bushes in Snake Eater, jitter it back and forth to find the perfect hiding place. Through these ruins, I move smooth and slow, always in control of my momentum, letting go and finding a new camouflage.

Still, I do think the immediate takeaway is that the level design is the least interesting that it has ever been, but probably for good reason. After Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear moved away from the idea of a singular space that is traversed through multiple times and builds up familiarity with the player. Without that idea, and with the next story point always the highest priority, of course Metal Gear’s level design tends to a single funnel with a couple of alternate pathways for every area.

I’m playing on Normal again this time, I think I missed that aspect of Snake Eater, so I’m going to be in for a slow playthrough, and this is literally only my very, very initial impression of the gameplay, I’m curious as to how it changes when I get access to the Mk II, and the maps and modes it is apparently going to provide.

One big complaint though: oh wow items are so hard to find, they’re like pixels just scattered on the floor, that’s an abstraction they should not have removed.

Look At That Thing!

OH MY GOD!!! The Metal Gear Mk. II is the cutest thing, seriously, it’s a walking dancing tiny portable Otacon that keeps Old Snake company on his mission. It’s adorable, this whole thing is adorable, I want one I want one.

The sadness of Otacon and Snake’s situation manages to come through in this incredibly cute interaction, however. There’s the sense in every single dialogue that this is the last time they’ll ever have this interaction, this is the last time Snake will get briefed by his friend, this is the last time Otacon will hand him a new invention. The voice acting is so much more human and soft than it has been before, the rhythm of Metal Gear’s sound completely changed with the budgetary and technological hikes that come with being a Big Deal Videogame Franchise for a decade.

I like that it took like twenty minutes for Solid Snake to get his Kurt Russell eyepatch. Can’t not give that protagonist the eyepatch, otherwise it might be too subtle that your character called Snake is a reference to Escape From New York. But these gadgets all seem incredibly cool! I’m glad I have a tranquiliser pistol now, I’ve only interacted with one soldier so far, and I took them out with a single shock from my Stun Knife. Long may my non-lethal approach to this game continue!

And apparently we’re just going to move from objective to objective and only then will we be given the next objective? It’s fine, it’s probably better writing, because Guns of the Patriots is so less concerned with the mysteries that its building (there are questions, but there aren’t any mysteries right now) than establishing an emotional context and tone. And those are things far more important than expositional plot dumps, but this is Metal Gear! It’s a series that has matured from entry to entry and nailed down the things that it wants to achieve with its writing and themes, but it still feels weird when these previously core elements are jettisoned, even when that is very much the right choice.

Sneaking Mission

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the MkII, and ducked down into the hideout, everything’s starting to click a little more. The map design changes in the menu when you enter bases, and everything starts to feel a little more traditional. Not too much more, though. There are areas off the path where items can be found, but everything funnels you down a straight line in a way that I’m still getting used to. The dissonance in Metal Gear’s evolution is all in my head though: this game plays great.

The addition of the Solid Eye clears up my main complaint, in that it identifies items and allows puts them in the UI. It’s all very Ghost Recon Advance Warfare, which is a game that I feel like has been completely forgotten, but aesthetically it’s the game that Guns of the Patriots is either similar too or deliberately riffing on. Ghost Recon, as a Tom Clancy game, takes an implicitly pro war angle, but superficially is also about the advancement of technology and the effects on the soldier that such progress brings. The glowing UI, the Picture in Picture communications, the sense that the UI is seen by the soldier themselves and not mere abstraction — these are all themes the two games share completely.

I wonder if this is intentional or merely incidental. Looking back, Guns of the Patriots design, its future-tech soldiers and Middle Eastern Insurgency all setup to be criticisms of the Call of Duty franchise and its acolytes, but the game was released just a few months after Call of Duty 4. Regardless, the similarities in design play to me as implicit criticisms of its pro-war peers, clearly stating to the player that if these fantasies were real, they would be as hellish as any other war.

Anyway, I’m just musing. I know eventually Guns of the Patriots moves away from its Middle Eastern setting, and I have to say that calling this area “Middle East” is gross and shitty, even if it is in the context of games at the time (and to this day) using Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™ constantly as a setting.

Still, despite some of the critical tone of my reactions so far, Guns of the Patriots has made one hell of an impression.

Camouflage

I found a disguise in the locker, and then begun to walk around. No one suspected I could be an imposter, I wore the same clothes and held the same gun. I had to me on the same side.

These moments of disguise, where the enemies see you as peers and you are constantly aware of their designated position of adversary, are some of my favourite moments of humanisation in Metal Gear. Just taking the time to say that given different contexts, you would not be killing these men, you would be fighting alongside them, is so much more than other war games do.

Though obviously, Metal Gear has a leg up on humanisation by its nature as a stealth game. In most shooters both you and the enemies are in combat mode continually, you only see each other at the point of conflict. In a stealth game, when the enemies are unaware of your presence, you see them as vulnerable, the games design draws attention to the immorality and responsibility of your extreme power over them.

This is why so many Stealth Games, if not all of them, have a focus on non-lethal progression. The despicable nature of killing is made so more obvious when you, the player, are an unseen avatar of death sneaking through your enemies home. And here, Metal Gear makes that idea even more explicit by stating that neither side is your enemy, the soldiers warring here are doing so under contract, and you are bearing witness to a sad and futile situation.

Probably Racist Gun Wizard

Well, I met Drebin, the probably racist gun wizard! I knew two things about Drebin going in: he sells you guns, and he has a monkey. Why does he have a monkey? That, we can never know. But why does he sell guns? The answer there is more interesting.

In the context of the world that Guns of the Patriots has set up, Drebin is a bad guy. He directly profits off the war economy, engaging with this awful system that sacrifices human lives at the altar of perpetual profit-generating conflict. Yet his introductory scene gives him the time to express his own motivations, which gets us into difficult grey areas far earlier than I expected to in the game.

Drebin decries the state of the world, he is fully aware of the consistent tragedy and exploitation going on around him, but whilst Snake is an old man railing against the way of things, Drebin accepts them. He may play both sides to survive, but is he any less complicit in the system than Snake, a soldier on this battlefield? Drebin was born into war too, it’s all he knows, and it’s the status quo for now, such a status quo can’t be toppled immediately, he just has to find a way to survive within it.

Plus, while his motivations are self-interest and survival, the way he talks about his role in this conflict certainly allows him to be seen as a positive agent. Or, at least an agent of neutrality in a world where the power dynamics are so clearly weighted. The power rests with the PMCs, and ultimately with The Patriots, carrying weapons that their victims cannot pick up and fire back. Through selling to everybody, Drebin levels the playing field in a way.

But even Drebin isn’t so naive to think that entirely, he’s aware that the strict enforcement of control on ID weapons and nanomachines directly leads to a black market, almost as if its intentional. As if it gives the companies somebody to fight against.

Drebin is the avatar of Guns of the Patriots newfound cynicism. Metal Gear has been many things on this journey, but it has never been so cynical, but the world changing around it has brought it to this place. Drebin’s worldview borders on nihilism, he sees that the world is broken and awful, but it can’t be changed, so why pretend? Why live to fight for a better future when you can survive today? After all, Big Boss tried and look what happened to him. Better to just accept the way that things are.

Otacon convinces you that you need Drebin, that to fight against this system, you have to accept the realities of it, and if you’re complicit in its horrors regardless, you may as well use them to your advantage. There’s no point standing on principle when there’s progress to be made.

War Economy

Otacon’s explanation for the war economy is confusing in literal terms but it makes sense in metaphoric terms. This entire situation is inspired by the Iraq War and the conflicts in Afghanistan, and all the characters know they’re involved in proxy wars that have nothing to do with them as soldiers and everything to do with the whims and wants of those more powerful than them.

Guns of the Patriots focus on PMCs and economy makes its setup just as explicitly a critique of capitalism as it is a critique of war; it portrays a system where human beings are routinely dehumanised and turned into resources for others, for the generation of greater profit. The more human lives are spent, the bloodier the conflict, the higher the war price and the greater return on investment. “The war economy” is a dumb phrase that I’ve seen lots of fun poked at over the years, but like everything Metal Gear, It’s only dumb because it’s so on the nose and earnest about the statement that it’s making.

“What should we call the economy that sustains itself by prolonged warfare, Hideo?”
“Why, the War Economy, of course! What else?”

Fragile Collapse

Sneaking through the collapsing building feels like Guns of the Patriots making a mission statement, or justifying itself in an underplayed way. Getting this feeling of the world collapsing around you wasn’t possible on the technology that existed before the power of the mighty cell processor!

But seriously, this opening has been a departure in many ways, but in just as many it’s been justifying and contextualising the reasons for the changes. You’re not sneaking into a base, you’re moving through a warzone with troops fighting against each other. It changes your relationship with the battlefield, the fact that soldiers care about fighting each other, and not just fighting you.

It really hammers home Metal Gear’s continuing ideas of decentralising the player as the most important person in its universe. The games are built around them, but they create a universe which doesn’t care and uses the player characters for its own ends, and as the technology increases the games emphasises more and more elements which place the player as just one small part of a larger world. Before, it was the wildlife and the feeling of being in a natural environment. Here, it’s the sound of the guns that aren’t aimed at you, and the feeling that the floor could just fall out from underneath you.

Come On, Snake

Snake sees a man taking a shit in a canister and thinks “I’ll have that.”

Let it never be said that Metal Gear is not also consistently the stupidest series of videogames ever made.

I Am Not Your Ally

I crouched in the robes of my fellow soldiers in the shadows by the frontline. I waited for the gunshots to stop ringing out, I waited for silence to fall for a brief moment. And when it did, I walked out among the dead, collected the weapons, and returned to wait again.

Once I was satisfied with my bounty, with the profits I reaped from the deaths of others, I pushed forward, and cleared the building in front of me. The rebels who I had been fighting alongside set off a firework and cheered, they had made it, the sacrifices of their brothers were not in vain, and I was their hero.

Fuck me, Metal Gear is brutal sometimes in its portrayal of war as dehumanising and repugnant. It takes systems present all over games, weapon collection, an economy and upgrade system, and infinitely respawning enemies, and combines them into a cohesive whole which loves to make me feel bad about what I’m doing.

Guns of the Patriots is just as much a game about games as Sons of Liberty, except whilst that dealt with ideas of player entitlement and audience expectation, this is a far more striking commentary on the language of shooters specifically. It’s like Spec Ops: The Line, but five years before that game, and at least a year before the games it was directly riffing on.

Two seconds after someone shits in a drum, Metal Gear goes back to imbuing the concept of infinitely respawning enemies with themes of the futility of war and the dehumanisation of its fighters.

These are the hard swings I live for, thank you Metal Gear.

Hiding In The Menu

So, it turns out that all along, as I’ve been saying “huh the story is more streamlined this time, it’s weird there hasn’t been a briefing that explains the concepts at play,” that in the menu sat the exact briefing I was looking for, that explains literally everything. Now I feel like a bit of a dummy.

Luckily, all that I inferred from the main cutscenes is correct, this just gives some more info as to the role of the PMCs and the practical function of the War Economy. It also makes America’s responsibility for the rise of PMCs far more absolute, placing the Manhattan Incident (Big Shell) as the series’ 9/11 analogue, the start of people’s beginning to lose faith in state controlled armies. The independent private military has no ideals or values and so unlike the protection that America “provided” to the rest of the world, these PMCs are reliable.

Also, hey, the game explained what the mission actually is. There’s five PMCs that are really one massive PMC and Liquid Snake controls them all, trying to drown the world in war in order to bring about Big Boss’ ideals of Outer Haven — a world where the soldier will always have a place. What this means in relation to the patriots I don’t quite know, I had up to this point assumed The Patriots had control over the majority of the PMCs and were using these proxy wars to affect the state of the world. But if they’re formed as a response to the control of The Patriots? Who knows!

We’ll see. I’m excited to meet Liquid and see where this game is gonna take me, thematically speaking.

Oh, and this briefing cutscene is also the introduction of Sunny, who is adorable and great. Everyone’s kind of shitty to her, too busy with their Serious War Business, but she’s just trying to make some eggs! She may be terrible at making eggs, but that’s not going to stop her. Just try the eggs, Otacon, don’t be a dick, now.

Rat Patrol

Meryl’s here!

[sitcom audience applause]

I’ve forgotten so much of Meryl and Snake’s relationship from the first game — it was the key relationship of that game, but Snake and Otacon is the one that’s continued, and the amount of things that have happened in the games between are thousandfold. I simply let that information slip from my mind, because I didn’t care all that much in the first place. It centred around Meryl’s inexperience, her status as a rookie who didn’t understand combat in order to highlight the ways that Snake has been affected by being a veteran.

Now, she’s the commander of a FOXHOUND team, someone who fully buys into the ways of being a soldier, but has not become disenfranchised by them. She’s Snake, before Shadow Moses. Before Outer Haven.

And… she kind of sucks? Well, she’s alright, but her team definitely does. Akiba is perhaps the stupidest character ever place within a Metal Gear game, his defining character traits being “is shit” and “needs to shit.” He interrupts the team’s battle pose by doing a little dance, like he’s trying to play it all off and be cool. And the other members just boil down to “has a Mohawk” and “black dude,” so all in all, this does not scream lovingly crafted cast of characters to me.

She talks to Snake about the AT System of ID control, goes into the methods that are used to keep soldiers in line, and my understanding of the state of the world becomes a little clearer. This is where The Patriots are involved, with the SOP program, this failsafe that prevents any PMC from turning on them or doing something unexpected. They have a global killswitch for every weapon on the planet within every single soldier. Liquid can raise an army, but he can’t fire more than a few bullets before he is immediately stripped of his power.

This progression sets the stage for the battle that will, I’m sure, be the focus of this game. The Patriots vs Outer Heaven with Snake and Co caught in the middle. The Soldiers, more violent than ever, more needed than ever, more used than ever. At some point, Liquid will make his move, and attempt to turn his guns on those who would control him and the world. What his move is, I have no idea. We’ll just have to wait and see.

God, this squad though, I wonder how long we’re going to hang around with them. It’s cool to see Meryl again, I guess, but these characters reek of Snow, of hey this is what The West likes, right? Groups of American Soldiers being meatheads? Okay, we’ll put ’em in, but we’re gonna let you know that we know, that they’re the worst.

Cover Shooter

Holy shit, a Metal Gear Solid game just had a cover shooter sequence. I waited for my squad leader to move through respawning banks of enemies as we stopped at perfectly arranged cover points in order to have a shootout. What is happening?!?!

I feel like this cements my reading of Guns of the Patriots, at least in its opening act, as a response to and critique of Modern Western Trends in game design. The Rat Squad suck, but they fill the role of your cool power fantasy team in a Call of Duty or what have you. You progress down the stairs and fight these waves, and it’s certainly fun, but it’s numbing in a way, it doesn’t have the tension or the physicality of the moments of slow sneaking.

I’ll have to look, when I’m finished with the game, into the design process for Guns of the Patriots. I know Ryan Payton was brought in to mold the game into something that would be more marketable in the west — which the game itself is clearly aware of in the way it frames its story, it’s not suddenly switched its focus without calling attention to it. But I don’t know how early that happened, or what a modern Metal Gear game would have looked like without this assistance.

And whilst I’m definitely curious, I know there are some things we just can never know.

The System

There’s something about Snake and Otacon consistently bemoaning The System (capital S) in order to mean a specific thing and not just banging out conspiracy theories about the extent of The Patriots control that is hilarious. Metal Gear always opts to name its ridiculous nonsense, but nope, one of its many outlandish sub-systems gets to be called The System because that’s what the writers decided.

The game links these nanomachines that Meryl and her team wears to the VR missions that Raiden got all his experience from (not really, but you know). With each game, the experience of The Soldier matters less and less, they’re crafting the human beings they want and denying their agency or autonomy. Snake was grown in a lab to fight war, and Big Boss would surely find that idea as repugnant as Snake finds the idea of VR Training, and now nanomachines.

For as positive as Metal Gear is about the progress of technology, and make no mistake it definitely is positive about that, it is critical of the ways technology can be used and co-opted by those with power in the status quo. Because the technology, the nanomachines and the ID system, they aren’t the villains in Metal Gear, The Patriots are.

Doctor Octopus

Holy shit what are those?! Seriously, I walked down a street and then these… things just came out of nowhere and destroyed the rest of the rebels. They seemed to be Gecko-like in design, they had the tendrils that Gecko use, but two of them were clearly women, whilst the others were clearly drones? Who knows, I’m sure they shall explain soon enough.

What is interesting is just how much more use of silence that Guns of the Patriots makes. The first game was nothing but people standing in rooms and talking back and forth at one another for the entire duration of their scenes; we have come a long way in the series cinematic language in the last decade.

Base Of Operations

It has taken me sixty whole minutes to make it through to the door into Liquid’s base. The extended stealth sequence, from the road, to the yard, to the tents, is when Guns of the Patriotslets you know that after all the strangeness that it’s been throwing at you: this is still very much a Metal Gear game.

There’s a base in front of you, an objective to get to, and nothing between you and legions of guards patrolling the place. When Guns of the Patriots goes hard on making a Metal Gear sequence, it goes all out, leading to an intense sequence which teetered on the edge of disaster multiple times. I fought a wave of re-enforcements, snuck around another wave, and made it through to the door.

In previous games, I’d never feel willing to engage in combat in this way, I’d always want to wait it out, either run away or stealth, but Guns of the Patriots can be played like a shooter, if so intended. And it’s honestly a really fucking good one, when approached that way, because the stealth elements give it a versatility to its encounter design that isn’t allowed for in most other third person shooters.

I’ve barely started, but already I think I’m going to play this game again when I’m done. I really love this gaaaaaaaame.

BROTHER!!!

Well damn, that happened.

What that is, I have no clue whatsoever. But it’s certainly something to do with the Nanomachines. Liquid Ocelot (I can’t keep up) has found a way to turn the System (capital S) that enforces the Patriots’ control against itself, and use it to buy him the room to carry out his master plan. But we don’t get a look into what it is, he mostly just walks around in silence being all menacing, and showing off his newly grown hair.

But as with the earlier scene, so much happens in silence — and with strange sound mixing as well — that it feels more surreal than straight up impactful. It should be a moment of propulsion, a moment where the rug is pulled out from under you, yes, but one where you also stand up, cheer and get ready for the rest of the game. But what they go for instead is this incredibly effective feeling of the loss of control, and the heartbreaking image of a dying Snake struggling to even raise a gun.

I want to know what Akiba’s deal is, too! His uselessness had previously been just a part of his character, just a recurring joke to illustrate how ineffective this team really is, but he’s the only one able to operate here — meaning he must be immune to nanomachines, right? That’s the only explanation I can think of at this stage. There’s been nothing explicitly said about whether that’s even the cause of Liquid’s attack, but nothing else make sense, so I’m going to run with that assumption.

If Akiba is immune to the nanomachines, that puts him as a Raiden-type character, someone used to illustrate the effect and dishonesty of the nanomachines the same way Raiden illustrated the effect and dishonesty of VR training. It makes him far more explicit as a player insert character, framing him as the true face of someone who knows about war only as a simulation and a program — completely inept and consistently useless.

Naomi’s here, too! Everyone from the first game is back, apparently, save for all the Bosses you killed and like, Mei Ling I guess. But I’ll bet she’ll find a way to show up somehow. Guns of the Patriots is already a remarkably dense game, existing both as a collection of things you remember from other games, building off of those in strange ways, and introducing a thousand new concepts in order for there to actually be a plot. There’s just so much stuff!

But despite being bad now (or always? I remember coming away sympathetic to Naomi even though she almost killed me), Naomi saves my life with an injection, and the screen fades to black.

What is going on? Will we ever know?

Act One

The first act of Guns of the Patriots is a strange thing. There’s so much going on, a thousand juggling balls in the air, and yet it all feels so strangely sparse. It gives me the space to sneak around, to walk through warring streets and take my sides, to poke and prod at its systems and find out where the edges are.

It’s also surprisingly low stakes for now. I know this is eventually going to be a fight for the fate of the world, but as it stands, we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on. Liquid hasn’t really done anything other than kill a few soldiers, there’s been no move for world domination, and the prevailing feeling is one of confusion more than excitement.

Not that I’m not excited, I just mean in regards to the game’s tone and the effect it has. It is at once conventional and unconventional, exactly what I expected and the complete opposite.

But I’m having a great time.

In The Air Tonight

Oh, hey, we begin with the Mission Briefing put right into the middle of the story mode, thus raising the question: why on earth didn’t I see it before Act One? I went from live action eggs straight into Snake back in the Middle East. And given how crucial some of that information was, I must have just missed it or skipped it or done something wrong. But I can’t remember now, and it’s all in the past.

This mission briefing subplots of Sunny trying to cook eggs for everyone are really sad. There’s something tragic about magical computer wizard orphan wanting nothing more than to cook for her adoptive parents (I assume Otacon is basically Sunny’s dad at this point), and then being really shit at it. And both Snake and Otacon are so bad at dealing with this! They can’t talk to her about it, they can’t eat them, so they just kind of pretend to not be insulting her in a way that hurts her even more than if they had been honest.

It’s actually a really apt look at how dysfunctional family dynamics are able to form and how growing up with certain types of well-meaning parenting can leave deep emotional scars and trust issues but, BUT, now is probably not the time.

I hope Sunny cooks her eggs one day and shares the biggest hug with Otacon. I hope they live happily together in a farm somewhere developing only the coolest technology and then Snake comes by every Christmas to hang out and drop by gifts. I hope Guns of the Patriots is secretly a sad dad sitcom. It basically is. This cutscene was longer than an episode of Louie anyway.

The mission itself is in South Africa, and we’re going after Ocelot’s base. I’m sure that we’re definitely going to stop him this time for reals, and there will be no complications or twists whatsoever. I do think Naomi’s message to Snake is real though, I don’t think that element of this whole scheme is specifically a trap, because Naomi’s too cool a character for that. She’s morally grey but her motivations are consistent and in the first game she had acted out of love for Gray Fox rather than blind hatred for Snake.

Plus, something as simple as “she’s lying” doesn’t seem like enough for a Metal Gear twist, even though every single Metal Gear twist has just been on a variation on “everyone is lying to you tho.”

It was also cool to see Campbell’s house! He lives in a ridiculous mansion in America in the 1920s, it looks like, with the chairs from the Matrix. I’m looking forward to when he and Meryl have it out, he’s so affected by her even caring about him that he doesn’t even mind that her reaction is one of anger.

So much of the drama in Metal Gear comes from people’s conflicts with their ancestors, with this link in genes and circumstance between people not being strong enough to carry understanding and truth. Even if it isn’t literal, the conflict lines of Metal Gear so often fall between parent and child, Big Boss and The Boss, Big Boss and Snake, even the unforgivable clusterfuck that is the backstory of Otacon’s family! And Campbell and Meryl’s conflict occurs in this same way, the child has a need and cannot understand why the parent is unable to fulfil it, whilst the parent is heartbroken at their inability to explain.

In many ways, this idea was the emotional core of Snake Eater, as it took Big Boss on the journey from child to parent, from betrayed to betrayer, we see that line play out uninterrupted, the line which continues through everything in the series.

There’s definitely space for a more pointed critical read of Metal Gear’s text from this angle, probably from someone who understands the theories of parent/child relationships and how they’re portrayed within art better than me. But I think it’s interesting at least, for a series so concerned about the interconnectedness of the human race, the way that we “pass things on,” that the conflicts are almost all about those closest to each other being unable to pass things on.

Which is what makes Guns of the Patriots so sad. Snake is coming to the end of his life, and he’s out of place, his reluctance to hook up to the System comes from a principled place that the audience understands, but to Meryl he’s just an old man stuck in his ways, unable to see the changing of the times.

If only there was some way for these characters to bridge this gap, this gap that separates them from all those close to them. Why did Meryl try to take needless revenge on Snake? Why does Meryl keep thinking of her father, why does Snake stand at Big Boss’ grave, and why does Sunny keep trying to cook for Otacon when all this brings them is more distance and pain?

Same answer as ever. They need the eggs.

(I am not even a little bit sorry)

La-Lie-Lu-Li-Lo Airlines

One hilarious thing about the briefing is just how long it takes them to come to the conclusion that Liquid Ocelot has found a way into the SOP system and is using it against The Patriots. It’s actually the first time The Patriots are really talked about outside of that initial SOP briefing, and acts as a nice refresher for what Metal Gear is actually about.

They talk about the pain Liquid must be feeling, being forced to submit to being used by The Patriots as he builds up his plan. They’re incredibly sympathetic — as Metal Gear always is — to the desire of its obvious, human antagonists, who want to break free of this oppressive system of control. But Snake and the others understand that the world is how it is for a reason, and to take out The Patriots and their entire System would mean to upend society as it is known.

And maybe after the smoke has cleared, something beautiful will be built in the ashes of whatever is left, but Liquid doesn’t want that — he wants the chaos, the perpetual war, somewhere where the Soldier will always have their place.

The core ideological tension in Guns of the Patriots, as with Sons of Liberty, isn’t stopping a bad guy from destroying the world. It’s being caught between these two extremes and attempting to find a way to live with the dissonance. But the difference here is that Guns of the Patriots is the ending, and I know it is as final an ending that you can reasonably expect from Metal Gear. Whereas Sons of Liberty ended in this beautiful ambiguous place of Raiden having the tension revealed to him, and finding the things he cared about to keep living for in a world like that, there’s no way that Guns of the Patriots will do the same.

Which begs the question: how does this end? I know so much, but I have no idea where when forced to make its final choice, where Metal Gear ends up landing. Do they try to take a third option and completely defeat both Outer Haven and The Patriots? Does the world end completely free of tyranny and everyone goes home happy?

I can’t imagine a world in which that is the case. This is going to be messy. And I want to know how.

No Shit The Vampire Didn’t Die

Snake, he’s a Vampire. Do you know what the core principle of vampire mythology is? They don’t fucking die! You going to tell me that in a world in which the possessed hand of your dead clone brother has taken over the body of a cool as hell cold war spy, you’re shocked that the vampire survived? I shake my head, Snake. I shake my head.

And he’s working with Dr Octopus from earlier in the game! This could get very interesting, by which I mean will certainly lead to a two hour series of cutscenes in which the motivations of all twelve competing factions are revealed one after the other and my mind will just melt into goo in the best way. I’m ready for it, give me this Metal Gear. Your time is now!

I wonder what purpose framing Snake for this attack serves at this stage. The Patriots have already tarnished Snake’s legacy, he’s a legendary soldier forced into hiding and now thought a terrorist who fights against the world’s order of things. He’s not a popular person, and the only thing I can think of that framing him achieves is to implicate the UN in this attack. Unless it’s far simpler and just gives the Soldiers on guard a reason to shoot at you as you show up?

Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. If I’m asking the wrong questions, don’t tell me, just enjoy how off base I am in all my assumptions and lines of enquiry, because by the time you’ve read this, I’ve known the answers for months.

Act One, in its environmental design, was a riff on the modern military shooters of its time, with the buildings and streets, with the war taking place around you, and with the Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™. Act Two begins with a clear homage to Snake Eater, as Snake crawls through the natural environment, animals moving over him as he blends in.

I wonder how much Guns of the Patriots is going to be re-inventing its gameplay ideas every act? I know we’ve got one coming up that is basically a noir chapter, so I’m very very excited for that one. But I know nothing about South America as a location in this game, it’s not appeared in advertising or been talked about much in places I’ve been listening.

Let’s press these buttons.

Open Spaces

The level design is completely different, holy shit! This is really cool. Guns of the Patriots moves straight from the linear streets (linear as in, literally lines, not the videogame meaning), to vast spaces with little cover and various points of interest. It makes exploration particularly difficult, turning the challenge away from navigating through a series of rooms, into testing luck and being more thorough with clearing out what’s in front of us.

After sneaking into Liquid’s base, I’ve had no qualms about killing the enemies I’ve come up against, and playing Metal Gear lethally changes the entire approach. I talked a few entries ago about how Guns of the Patriots works just as well as a shooter as a stealth game, and that remains true, but removed from the corridors and knee high walls of Act One, it is near on impossible to just shoot guys all day and live to tell the tale.

I finally made it through this area, when after dying for the fourth time, I found a Sniper Rifle in a barn, bought myself a silencer and took out the enemies that stood in my way. I made sure to kill someone guarding the prisoners, and incite a skirmish between the rebels and the PMCs; it gave me the perfect path through to sneak without being spotted. After a good fourty five minutes of trying, I picked up most everything the area had to offer, and made it out to the next area without so much as being scene.

Opening myself up to the possibilities of Metal Gear as a stealth sandbox is the best decision I made! I’m tempted to play through all of them again with reckless abandon, just using the tools I can find to get out of scenarios, employing the creative thinking that the series wants you to use.

I wish Guns of the Patriots had VR Missions so much, I want a place to toy with this combat system that isn’t limited to the constraints of a linear story mode, I want more explicit combat puzzles and a variety of situations to get myself through.

“Try Metal Gear Online!” I hear someone yell, from the distant, distant past.

Jack Drowned, Probably

A w-w-what?!?!?! Whatttttt/????!?!!!!

W H A T!!!!!!???

Rose and Campbell? Are? What is happening?! Is — hang on. No, give me a second, I mean –

Okay.

What the hell happened to Jack? The ending of Sons of Liberty set up Raiden’s life as a small and intimate one, he was now a man that knew what he wanted and wasn’t going to let even The Patriots take that way from him. But now Rose and Campbell are straight doin’ it, and Jack has disappeared? I know something must have happened to him to cause him to become a cyborg ninja man but c’mon.

I like that Snake calls out Campbell’s relationship with Rose as being the mid-life crisis indulgence that it is, as if I’ve just walked into an episode of Mad Men. I want more elaboration on what happened to Rose, because her role in this relationship was yada-yada-yada’d away as “she was sad, I was there, now we fuck.” I was hoping that with how strong Meryl’s reintroduction has been, compared to the spending-most-of-the-game-dead role she had in the original, that we’d be on an upward trend for the way that Metal Gear writes its women, but that was not to be.

Rose may as well not exist as a character. She was a plot device in the first game, and she’s a plot device here. Her only role is to emotionally serve the needs of other men, and provide emotional labour in their times of need. A thing that the game, without any self-awareness or intentionality, makes completely explicit!!!!!!

Her role in the game is to be a battlefield counselor to Snake, to be constantly on call to give him advice on how to raise his psych meter. If it was a deliberate commentary on her role or the dictated role of women (in fiction and society) to exist to ease the emotional burden on men, it would be amazing, but it clearly isn’t, so it just ends up being sad.

Psych, Starring Dulé Hill

The Psych system itself is a re-interpretation of the Stamina system from Snake Eater, but with less of an emphasis on survival and more of an emphasis on careful and considered play. Instead of directly affecting your health, the Psych meter affects all other abilities, the ability to aim straight, the ability to run fast, the ability to crawl smoothly. And it’s always raising or lowering based on how stressed you happen to be.

The idea of a war game trying to systemise the mental stress that is placed upon a soldier is not new, and it isn’t presented in a particularly complex manner in Guns of the Patriots, but it underlines Snake’s fragility, and I appreciate that. This is an old man, not just in terms of his rapid aging, but because he’s seen enough combat to last three lifetimes, and that takes a toll on him. He speaks to Rose of his dreams, of the nightmares that the battlefield leave him with, and it’s one of the most potent moments of humanisation for Snake.

It uses the disconnect between player and player character, the dissonance that comes from playing a war game to enjoy it, to hammer the point home harder. We don’t have these nightmares, we get to shoot as many people as we want, die as much as we want, and the choice as to whether to leave the battlefield is completely in our own hands. But Snake mentioning his dreams, dreams that we never see because when the console is turned off our burden is lifted, reminds us that we can never understand what it’s like to be in a war zone, and we shouldn’t pretend to.

Jack Drowned, Definitely

“Jack Is Dead,” says clearly Quentin Flynn.

Give me the Raiden answers and give me them now! I need to know what’s going on here, somebody hook me up with this sweet sweet info.

You Do Not Fight Alone

The addition of allied soldiers changes the dynamic of Metal Gear in fascinating ways. I talked before about how they are only allies in relative terms (o7, boss), as rebels who only fight alongside you because you both temporarily have the same goal. And whilst I’m no longer watching them die and stealing their guns for profit, I’m always using them, seeing them as resources to further my own mission. I caused this fight, I incited the rebels against the PMC in order to give myself a better chance at sneaking my way past these enemies. And I’ll always choose my life over their own, exploiting their decisions to increase my personal odds.

By adding other soldiers into the standard sneak pattern of Metal Gear, the feeling of complicity for awful acts of war increases. It makes it clear to the player that they may be able to not personally pull the trigger on enemies, but your actions still influence the soldiers around you, and people still die. It’s a way of pointing out to the player that their actions have consequences beyond their specific scope, and encourages them to think about a larger picture than just whether or not they use lethal or non-lethal ammo.

I’m so glad that Metal Gear’s anti-war rhetoric is systemic rather than focusing on how bad the player is. It’s as anti-capitalist as it is anti-war, finally tying those two ideas into one central idea within this game. It seems so explicit to me that it’s baffling just how many folks see Metal Gear as this ridiculous and cool stealth game and either write these themes off as eccentricities or just discard them entirely.

Artillery

Guns of the Patriots’ level design is far more willing to depict literal battlefields. The AI soldiers fight each other, which changes the dynamic, but usually there are places to hide and sneak and remain hidden. But as we get into the meat of Act Two, we’re presented with a large open space, with the PMCs on one side, the Rebels on the other, and no cover in between. Just shells and bullets raining down constantly.

For as much as Metal Gear talks about the effects of the battlefield, until now it hasn’t attempted to portray one, to attempt to communicate its dynamics to the player and allow them a view into the effects such an environment can have. I die repeatedly, trying to cross from one side to the other, but I’m simply one man. Eventually I have no choice but to take the high road, and turn the artillery shells against my enemy, raining their own shells upon them from the sky.

When I arrive at the other side, I can hear nothing but silence.

A Man And A Van (And A Monkey)

Drebin’s here! I think I like Drebin, because he knows he’s ridiculous. He’s not a perfect character, clearly created by a team that understands precisely jack about how to portray blackness outside of a set of gross and harmful stereotypes, but his viewpoints are incredibly interesting with how they fit into what the game’s been doing.

In many ways, it’s strange to have this brand new, unrelated character take up so much screen time in a game dedicated to continuing and concluding plotlines and the arcs of characters which begun as long as two decades ago. But talking to Drebin is like talking to the id of the Metal Gear universe, for good and for ill. He’ll make these on point and detatched monologues about trying to survive under The Patriots, and then he’ll do jive hands at his pet monkey who just wants a smoke.

And so Snake and Drebin talk for a good ten, fifteen minutes about the state of the world, because when Metal Gear does exposition, it doesn’t do it by half. The main purpose of this scene is to fill us in on the technicalities of The Patriots control, because the game’s been deliberately vague with that since the start. The Patriots have 3 AIs, one of which is the SOP system, one of which I assume is G.W. (or an equivalent of), and one of which I don’t know. The Master AI must be whatever the hell it was that I talked to at the end of Sons of Liberty, the ideals of America made sentient.

What I loved about this clarification, this exposition dump on the conspiracy of The Patriots, is how it served to deflate the idea of them as all powerful beings who control the way that things are. Systems are not held in place by the hands of their masterminds, they are self-sustaining engines propelled by the status quo. Like Drebin says, the truth is much less complicated than people think.

As a portrayal of systemic inequality, it’s remarkably nuanced. It may be the monologue behind the truth of these cartoonish powers that represent Metal Gear’s America, but it’s also an astute and self aware argument that speaks to the truth of the proliferation of oppression. And it’s delivered by a racist stereotype Gun Wizard.

That moment is Metal Gear writ small, the dissonance between the smart and stupid, the progressive forward thinking and stunningly ignorant worldview. It contains everything that people love and everything that people despise. I may be heading into Ground Zeroes later, but from what has come here and before, I’m not surprised Kojima put the awful things that are in that game in. Because the awfulness has existed alongside the excellence the entire time, and to pretend it wasn’t there in the first place serves only to separate Metal Gear into “problematic” and “unproblematic” years, with a clear transition point between the two.

But there isn’t one. Metal Gear never changes.

Beauty And The Beast

Speaking of! The Beauty and The Beast unit sound like they could be fucking atrocious. They’ve been traumatised by war and turned into beasts, but underneath their shell, they’re still hot babes! (One: no. Two: Who says hot babes anymore? Did anyone ever say hot babes?)

I’m intrigued, because they sound like they’re heading back to the Metal Gear boss formula that has served the series so well: characters with motivations which examine the tragedy of war and the various ways it breaks people down. But by linking their hotness to this idea of a pure being that exists underneath the trauma, it becomes incredibly fetishistic in a way I am not at all comfortable with.

It could go the opposite way, the stories of these women could be moving and poignant, revealing greater humanity to the audience and making them question the morality of war and where the blame for it lies. But with every game, Metal Gear pushes deeper into the sheer level of how fucked up war is, and there’s only so many times you can make the anti-war message stick when the releases indulge themselves with greater and greater levels of depravity.

But I haven’t met them yet, so I’m not going to write them off immediately. I’m definitely interested in how they’re connected to Shadow Moses, being given the code names and powers of four of the Bosses that I fought back in The Twin Snakes, what may as well be seven years ago.

Also, I’ve been playing this game for a while already, and I haven’t yet had my first Boss Fight. What’s happened to your pacing, Metal Gear? Is this game just as long as all the other games put together? How much more do I have ahead of me?!

Raiden Comes Closer

Huh.

I’ve just had the Codec conversation with Raiden, in which he reveals that Jack is Dead, and only Raiden remains. I knew a reveal of this type was coming, because Cyborg Ninja Raiden is the way that Raiden is portrayed in games culture generally, but it’s sad to see it happen now that I know the context.

And what that context is, is a complete and total retcon of everything that I loved about the ending of Sons of Liberty. After the events of Big Shell, after he accepted his past as part of himself, Jack became violent and alcoholic, and eventually disappeared altogether. The memories that he had kept repressed were too strong for him to deal with, and it has lead to his downfall.

Which feels like a Star Trek III level spit in the face of the prior work. Sons of Liberty had such an intimate ending, something so strong and poignant due to its smallness, and Jack had learned that it was only through accepting himself, and accepting the truth of the world, could he begin to live a compassionate and empathetic life. So often do games present the narrative of someone saving the world to great personal loss — something Guns of the Patriots is clearly doing — but Sons of Liberty put forward the alternate option: You don’t have to save the world, you just have to save yourself. The tragedy of legendary heroism, which is core to the arc of Solid Snake, was put in direct contrast with the importance of mundane heroism, and treated both with equal respect.

I find the idea that Jack’s acceptance of himself and his past is directly what leads to his character falling apart directly contradictory to everything that Metal Gear has been thematically about, and I hope there’s more to it than that. But as it stands, I’m grumpy about this shift in direction, because Raiden’s happy ending in Sons of Liberty meant so much to me that to dismantle it without purpose makes me mad. So hopefully I will uncover the purpose as I get further into the story.

What I did like about this reveal, however, was that it finally gave Rose a chance to speak for herself. Until now she’s only really existed in direct relation to men, to Jack, to Roy and then to Snake, her own motivation and desires have been given little consideration. But her point about not wanting Raiden to know she’s with the mission finally gives her character a moment to talk for herself. She’s been through too much and doesn’t want to open old wounds again: she’s moved on.

And Snake respects that wish, it isn’t questioned or dismissed, which made me smile. Sometimes Metal Gear surprises me when it doesn’t fall down its usual holes of grossness and makes the right decision.

Even though my reaction to this reveal is to be bummed out about how it colours the themes of my favourite Metal Gear ending, the real revelation here is that Raiden’s recovered the corpse of Big Boss for “her,” the leader of a private faction not associated with Liquid. I can only assume that “her” is going to end up being EVA, because she’s still alive at last count and is the only character who hasn’t showed up or been referenced.

I’m ready to meet Raiden. To finally see him in the flesh. This prolonged introduction through Codec entries has done a great job of building anticipation, but it’s time for Act Two to kick into gear and throw down its reveals.

The House

The next area in South America takes us through an extravagant house, while fighting is going on all around. The house is safe, mostly empty, but the sound of bullets echoes in the air. The shift away from only setting Metal Gear inside explicit military bases allows for these moments of domesticity, as you walk through someone’s bedroom, head into a living room and see remnants of real life that war has long since thrown away.

All the games have had moments like this, descending into the second building in Twin Snakesbrought you to an area no longer covered in concrete and metal, but wood panelled and lavish. The long walk to Groznyj Grad took Naked Snake through food depositories and soldier’s dormitories. And now Old Snake has fought in the high streets and hotels of Unnamed Middle Eastern Country™ and this mansion that was once a lived in home.

Many war games rely on domestic iconography in order to create an emotional core. The most obvious of which is perhaps Modern Warfare 2, where soldiers fight to hold an off brand Burger King and a Gas Station from invading Russian forces. It’s a conflict designed to pull on the (assumed American) audience’s sympathies, with the sight of tanks, soldiers and drones in a suburban landscape drenched in Americana.

This is the most common use of the intimate within war games, a tactic that frames the violence as tragic but necessary, using familiar iconography to create animosity towards the invaders and motivate the player to shoot. Guns of the Patriots, and the other Metal Gear games, do it to point out to the player the absurdity of the acts of war taking place, something I’ve only seen done as effectively in Spec Ops: The Line. This isn’t taking place on American Soil, these moments of intimacy don’t serve primarily to dehumanise the enemies, but instead humanise them.

I expected to enjoy Guns of the Patriots story, but I didn’t expect to keep finding its moment to moment gameplay such a well-crafted element that meshed thoroughly with the themes of the series. I wonder how much that will disappear as the game continues to reinvent itself act after act, but I hope it stays consistent as the game continues to progress into more Boss Fights and Set Pieces.

Choose Your Eyes

The sequence where Snake walks up to the lab is a great example of the evolution of cinematic language that has continued throughout Metal Gear into Guns of the Patriots. All that happens is Snake walks up to a door, opens it, and walks into a lab. And this takes about two whole minutes. But if you press R1, you get a look at Snake’s perspective, and the camera angle completely changes. This added layer, where you can directly put yourself in the eyes of someone peeking around unknown corners, or distance yourself and simply observe their reaction, creates a tension throughout the scene, which is functionally just “a man walks into a room.”

It’s continuing the work that Snake Eater did in this area, where you could press a button to see through Snake’s eyes, sometimes used as a joke to get a peek of EVA’s boobs, or to see The Sorrow giving you extra information and a goofy gag. Guns of the Patriots advances it by limiting it; you can choose to view the scene from Snake’s perspective but this time you don’t have control of the perspective. I can draw a direct line from these ideas in Metal Gear to the way in which P.T. plays with perspective, locking you into animations and taking control of where you are going to look, but making you make the choice to look in the first place.

Metal Gear is not a horror game, but the manner in which it plays with cinematic language and adds interactivity into its scenes demonstrate a remarkable understanding of the ways in which composition and perspective is used to create tension.

I guess the conclusion to this little entry is what everybody was saying last year, the loss of Silent Hills ever existing and PT ever being played by new people is tragic, and I hope the team at Kojima Productions gets to continue elaborating on these ideas somewhere else in the future.

Liquid’s Plan

Hooray! Naomi! It’s good to finally meet her, she was just an animated gif in the first game, appearing on my codec screen. Be good to catch up, see what she’s been up to these days, apart from helping Liquid Ocelot enact a plan which will surely plunge the world into an age of perpetual war?

Well, I guess that does take up a lot of time, not much space for hobbies when forced into the pursuit of assisting someone’s revolution. She starts by filling Snake in on the specifics of Liquid’s plan, the majority of which I had already put together, but puts in some interesting twists on the ideas present.

Liquid was trying to hack into the SOP system, to free his soldiers from The Patriots control. And what we saw back in the Middle East was a success, the soldiers were freed from all forms of nanomachine control — but their minds couldn’t handle it. By shielding the human mind from the effects of war, the soldiers are completely mentally reliant upon the SOP system in order to simply continue functioning.

This has so far been a recurring theme in Guns of the Patriots, the difficulty of fighting against a system on which the very thing you are fighting for has become reliant. They could destroy The Patriots immediately, but the world would not recover from its need for the war economy overnight. The series presents an understanding of how culture functions as a symbiotic relationship between values and people, and demonstrates that no matter how harmful a culture, a value system or way of life may be for the people it is enforced upon, it is still relied upon by those who operate within it.

This plot point is also the continued examination of the idea of The Soldier; almost every Metal Gear character is shaped and traumatised by war in some way, a constant in the Metal Gear universe is that war leaves deep scars that will never heal. So now, the universe has changed to allow anyone to fight and avoid the consequences of those actions, but they can’t be avoided forever. If they are to be free of Patriot control, the soldiers — and the world — is going to have to confront these consequences themselves. And they are too much to bare.

Whilst I’m still grumpy at the reveal of Raiden’s inability to handle his past once he acknowledged it, it fits into the themes that Guns of the Patriots is dealing with. The world’s wars are essentially fought by armies of early-Sons of Liberty Raidens, trained by artificial means, with no instinct or experience to help them on their way. Raiden’s inability to cope without his constructed reality foreshadows these soldiers inability to cope without their nanomachines.

So the question becomes: how does Snake fight against an evil that has become so engrained within society that to remove it would tear the world apart? How does Liquid rebel against The Patriots when The Patriots control is absolute?

The answer to the second question is simple, and to me, extremely sad. Upon seeing that he cannot free his soldiers from the control of SOP, Liquid decides he will merely take control of SOP from The Patriots instead. With the structures of control established in the world, Liquid sees no difference between destroying them and taking over them. Each way he gets his revenge, each way he gets his war.

I like to think that Solidus wouldn’t have done the same as Liquid. Solidus is the most sympathetic of all the mastermind bad guys in the series — well, The Boss technically is, but her tragedy is brought about by her success rather than her failure, making it a completely different beast, so I’ll say Solidus fills that role in me for now. His aim was to disrupt The Patriots’ control of the economy, to spin off territory their control as America once did from The British. If he had control over the fate of the world would he choose to allow SOP to continue? Would Snake?

I get the feeling these are the questions that are going to be answered at the end of the game, these are the real meat of Guns of the Patriots. And I’m ready to see it play out.

Ageing

Snake stands in front of a full length mirror, examining his aged body. Naomi simply gasps, shocked at what she sees in front of her.

But the thing is, Snake’s in pretty good shape. He’s Old Snake, yes, but his muscle tone is good, his body isn’t withering away and breaking down. This moment stuck out to me because it captured the honesty of what scares us about ageing. What’s horrific about Old Snake to Naomi — and to us — isn’t that he’s mutating or genetically wrong or anything so complicated. It’s that he’s mortal.

When we see Snake, his OctoCamo removed, his bare skin looking back at us in the mirror, we are reminded of the inescapable nature of death in a way more powerful than any of the abstracted moments of killing in the game.

And it scares us.

Fox Die

After some tests, Naomi figures out the truth behind Snakes condition: he was made this way. The Les Enfants Terribles project wanted soldiers, bred for the purpose of war and war alone, and they didn’t want them to fall into enemy hands. So Snake and his brothers were stripped of their ability to reproduce, and their ability to survive longer than they would be needed. He should be dead already, but his sheer force of will is keeping him alive.

It’s a heartbreaking scene, for Snake, our hero, to be presented with the finality and inevitability of his death, at the hands of those who created him. His heroism is his continued fighting against what he was born to be, and finally he has been presented with an obstacle too large. Ultimately, no matter what he does, he will always be a soldier, a tool of the state, his life is not his own.

And as sad as it is, for that to be the steps that Metal Gear Solid takes, here at the conclusion of Solid Snake’s arc, it does make complete sense. The series is consistently showing characters trapped by their nature as tools to those more powerful, and with its endings (of Metal Gear Solidand Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater is specifically an inversion of this idea) passes on its optimistic and universal moral by showing these figures trapped by the immense weight of circumstance still fighting for what they believe in. So for this final chapter, raising the stakes to tackle the most final and crushing of circumstances is the only way the series could have gone.

I knew about Snake’s condition coming from his nature as a military clone, though it was still wrenching to see it play out in front of me. What I didn’t know, however, was that the FoxDie still in Snake’s body has mutated to the point where it’s about to become airborne, and start indiscriminately attacking anyone close to him. Snake may have only months to live, but he has even less time until he becomes a walking biological weapon.

Which presents him with a choice: does he choose death? End it just a couple months earlier and sacrifice himself to save everyone he loves? Or does he keep trying til the bitter end in order to find a way to cure the virus? Neither of those questions can be answered, they’re just going to sit there and fester in the back of his mind until the time comes where he will have no other option but to make a choice.

But for now, he’s got a mission to complete, and that matters above all else. These are just the conflicts that will have to be confronted by the end of the game, as Metal Gear makes its final (lol) thematic statement.

Sidenote: this is what makes these posts interesting, but also less useful as true Critical Analyses of the games. They are documents of the moment to moment, cataloguing the headspaces that I move between. They are scattered and without a true coherent argument, but that’s because I experience the game in progress, before its coherent argument has been formed. Right now, Guns of the Patriots is juggling a bunch of ideas, and more than any game before it — even Sons of Liberty — is raising the stakes of its impossible binaries. The Patriots or Outer Heaven? The Mission or Snake’s Life?

It’s gotten to the point where I am actively scared about Guns of the Partiots’ ending, because whilst I know it’s meant to wrap everything up with a bow, I don’t see how that can be done at this point in a satisfactory manner. Metal Gear is ultimately everything to everyone; it’s a thematically dense anti-capitalist and anti-war melodrama, it’s a nonsense video game anime, it’s a tightly designed stealth game. And whilst the ending of every game prior would have been satisfying as the final place for the series to rest, none of those games had imbued themselves with the sense of finality that Guns of the Patriots has. The ending of Guns of the Patriots doesn’t have to just be a great ending, it has to be an all-encompassing full stop on one of the broadest and most indulgent series’ ever made in anything ever.

I trust the series, it hasn’t steered me wrong yet (at least in this sense, there’s a fuckton of gross elements woven throughout), but I’m as nervous as I am excited about Metal Gear reaching a definite end.

Laughing Octopus

Here we have it, Guns of the Patriot’s first Boss Fight! (Jesus, this is the 10th Guns of the Patriotspost already and we’re on the first boss fight now? I’m never going to be free. The next three acts all better be two screens long).

Metal Gear Solid is a series for which Boss Fights are incredibly important. In the first game, the Bosses were the main supporting characters, existing as shadows of Snake’s personality. This has been a repeated theme throughout Metal Gear, the thin line between antagonists and protagonists in the context of all being soldiers on a battlefield out of their control. And this theme has most definitely not gone away, but its intersection with encounter design has changed dramatically.

Dead Cell were less important in and of themselves than FOXHOUND, tools of The Patriots brought in for their similarity to the prior group. Cobra Unit as a whole were important through their proximity to The Boss, because the entirety of Snake Eater hinged on Snake and The Boss’ relationship in an intimate and singular way. But with Laughing Octopus, the first member of Beauty and the Beast, things feel a tad hollow, and in a less purposeful way than the hollow nature of Sons of Liberty’s Boss Fights (and literally everything else).

Laughing Octopus exists as a character to invoke seemingly two reactions: 1. “Hey, remember Metal Gear?” and 2. “WAR IS BAD AND GIRLS ARE HOT.” The way the Beauty and Beast dichotomy is presented is every bit as shitty as I feared from Drebin’s earlier exposition, more trite gimmick than fully realised character. In “beast” form, she laughs with anger, launching herself at Snake, and when defeated she sheds her shell, shaking and crying during her “beauty” form.

I’m not okay with the increased fetishisation of feminine fragility in order to re-iterate the same anti-war point that has been made with every other element of this entire series. On some level, it feels like the end result of the need to keep going deeper, to keep raising the stakes, making each game more than that which proceeded it. To achieve the same impact a second time, when everybody knows the punch that’s coming, the only option is to hit harder and harder.

All of that was expected, and not even a surprise to me, I knew this kind of bullshit would continue to rear its head within Guns of the Patriots, and as the series moves further forward. What I found most disappointing about Laughing Octopus was not the nature of her character, but the fact that she does not even get to speak for herself.

The function of her character is a clear callback to Metal Gear Solid, a soldier wrecked by war whose defeat is rewarded with an explanation of her backstory. There, there the explanation would be delivered through overwrought but empathetic monologues, in which a once objectified enemy, previously defined purely through their combat relationship to the player, was crucially humanised and allowed to exit the game with dignity. Here, she dies because I kill her twice, once as a supermech that attacks me, and once as a catsuit wearing broken woman who slowly walks my way. And after I gun her down in cold blood, Drebin contacts me on the codec to give me the oh-so-tragic backstory.

This completely changes the effect of the cruelty her character suffers from humanisation to increased objectification, as Laughing Octopus is more concept than character, as well as making it more blunt that she exists purely to re-iterate thematic points about Snake with no agency of her own. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Snake is perhaps the cruellest and most evil warmongers to ever exist, a pure being of war unlike all others. (FYI: these are totally the phrases the game uses to describe its own situations)

There are three more BnB members to take out, maybe one of them will start turning my perception of this unit around? (I severely doubt it tho.)

Oh, I Guess I’ll Talk About The Fight

Also, you fight the boss! That happens too, it’s not just an hour long cutscene.

Guns of the Patriots has brought about an incredible shift in the design of the moment to moment play, core concepts of the series entirely thrown out for the “No Place To Hide!” action game that they’ve been making these last two acts. I’ve mentioned multiple times how Guns of the Patriots feels like a response to western design trends, a game that knows it has to move away from the core values it created to more currently accepted western ones in order to be well received, but isn’t going to make that shift without consistently commenting on it.

And that’s worked incredibly well so far, the game having been — for the most part — a series of well designed ‘rooms,’ with a single third person shooter setpiece, which is a dark horse in the running for the most bizarre moment in any Metal Game. But the games that Guns of the Patriotsis imitating in its superficial design don’t really have boss fights, the genres of military shooter or stealth game had moved far past holding these ideas as central by 2008. So how does this effect Guns of the Patriots’ need to include these pre-determined moments and sequences as a Metal Gear game, as the Metal Gear game?

The answer, at least in this case, is fairly well. The fight against Laughing Octopus is this tightly contained and really scary encounter, in which the technology you’ve come to rely on is turned against you. Laughing Octopus can jump through the walls out of nowhere, can transform into inanimate objects, and hilariously can also turn into the MkII and pretend to be Otacon. It’s a very pure expression of the series’ relationship to the fourth wall, simultaneously using breaking it as a device for horror and comedy, without any real separation between the two.

And it brings a smile to my face, because it’s in the middle of a parade of the series’ most disappointing elements. Metal Gear is gross and Metal Gear is cool at the same time, this consistent expression of a particular thing which brings interest and value just as much as it veers into fucked up territory. I worry that the balance is beginning to shift in Guns of the Patriots, given what I’ve heard about later games, but it’s a journey I’ll keep taking myself.

If there’s one criticism I have of the Laughing Octopus fight, it’s the same criticism of many Metal Gear boss fights; she has too much health. The End has really been the only boss in the entire series who’s been defined by the battle of attrition, designed around concepts of waiting and tracking and taking your time. But Laughing Octopus is a weird mixture of a puzzle boss (see: The Fury) and a boss of repetition and escalation (see: Vamp). Once I’ve worked out Laughing Octopus’ pattern, figured out the tricks to overcome her hallucinations and strange effects, I then just have to be good enough at running back and forth, shooting and dodging to take her down.

This form of Boss Fight design is basically the Nintendo style of three, in which the same basic task is performed with increasing levels of complexity and subversion, creating a satisfying arc within a single fight. But Metal Gear doesn’t have the restraint that a Mario game does, these bosses take far more than three hits to take down, and this robs the player of any substantial reward for their creativity, instead I’m just relieved that the fight is finally over.

It’s a shame, because I really like Metal Gear boss fights in concept, but I love so few of them in execution, despite the series being damn near built around them in the first two games. It’s moved away from them in this one, but Sons of Liberty stopped having anything other than Boss Fights at a point so maybe we’re almost there?

I sure hope not.

Tracking Naomi

Huh, this is a really unexpected but welcome little set piece. Raiden gives us a call — he’s a Ninja now, you see — to explain the basics of tracking to veteran Alaskan Dogman, David Snake. What follows is an understated sequence, created through extrapolating elements of Metal Gear’s play to a logical confusion, something that these games have been incredibly good at in their set piece design. Instead of searching for explosives, or avoiding enemies, I get to use the Night Vision Mode to track footprints through a maze, and make my way to find Naomi.

What I liked about this was that it changes a moment of narrative urgency and intensity into one which forces the player to take a contemplative approach. You can’t go and find Naomi by chasing after her, you have to take your time, be careful and ensure you’re not going the wrong way. There are traps laid out along the way, as well as both helpful and funny secrets to discover; everything is set up in order to encourage me to be part of the space. I think Snake Eater was a turning point in the series, as was changing the camera and removing the radar, because everything done since has had a greater emphasis on simply being within a space. The first two games had excellent spaces, but were cold and mechanical — even the beautiful and vibrant Big Shell — which served a purpose, but often made interactions feel like the abstractions that they were.

Act Two, with its greenery and greater emphasis on open, natural spaces and far less corridors, streets and stairways has been this game’s callback to Snake Eater’s sensibilities, with Act One acting more directly as a commentary on modern military shooters and western design sesnibilities. I’m sure Acts Three, Four and Five will be just as divergent in their presentation, and also, I’m told, way, way shorter. Apparently I’m way over half way through Guns of the Patriots, or at least I would be if I skipped all the cutscenes.

Which I’m not going to do.

Crop Circle

OKAY WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT

SOMEONE TELL ME

61

Drebin And The Escape

Well, Act Two certainly is reaching a climax! After the calm, almost sedate section of tracking, in which the narrative time pressure is completely removed from the player, the plot just explodes; Snake shoots Vamp in the head, all the soldiers had a meltdown, and Drebin shows up to take everyone away! All aboard!

I don’t know why Vamp is working with Liquid Snake, and I don’t know if this is ever going to be addressed — he’s from Dead Cell, he’s actually got very little to do with the goings on of the plot in the series, apart from the fact that he just happens to still be alive, so he’s gotta be worked in somehow. I remember when we first run across Vamp at the beginning of Act Two, I thought that maybe there was a third party involved that I hadn’t heard about, but that’s pretty clearly not the case by now. So hopefully at some point Vamp will give a long ol’ monologue and explain just what the hell is going on, because I’d like to know, thank you!

The way this action beat plays out just emphasises how much Guns of the Patriots pacing is different when compared to the prior games, although things had always been moving in this direction. Less emphasis on Codec calls and lengthy monologues — though the latter are still incredibly important — and more moments of excitement within its cinemas. So much of the series is about information, knowledge being shared between characters, interpreted and re-interpreted in the passing; nearly every moment of intensity or excitement within the first two games was about the gaining, losing or re-understanding of information.

This changed with Snake Eater, primarily in the escape from Groznyj Grad, which is a nod to the escape sequence from the original game but far more comprehensive. As greater technology has been available to play with, the games have become far more ambitious in the way they play with cinema, and with this change of focus comes a massive change in how the stories are structured — which is compounded by the act structure of Guns of the Patriots. We’re two fifths through the game, and already we’ve reached a cathartic climax of a sort, the stage has been set and all the pieces are moving into place. This series began with Snake on a Solo Sneaking Mission, and at the end point, it’s him and all his buddies stuffed into a jeep and running away together.

Which is a common storytelling trope in final entries — and I don’t care how many numbered Metal Gear games exist after this, Guns of the Patriots is a god damn finale — the moment where the busywork is dealt with and everyone’s together for one last ride. It’s the escape from Jabba’s palace of the Metal Gear series.

I’m surprised Drebin is so active in the goings on here, because a) he’s one of only two new characters and b) he’s the individual within the story that represents the War Economy, and is far more complicit in it than Snake or even Meryl, who’s bought into the system just as much as Drebin, except lacks Drebin’s self awareness about how awful it clearly is. I’m glad he’s getting a lot of play, because What To Do About The War Economy is basically my favourite part of Guns of the Patriots, but I didn’t expect Drebin to ever explicitly play the hero.

But he does! And we get a cool escape sequence, and no answers whatsoever, but a lot of Gecko’s do get shot. Plus, we get to ride out the way we came in, which is great and completely recontextualises your relationship with the space. Far more than Groznyj Grad’s escape, in which you drive in circles around the base and then make your way into areas hitherto unexplored, this escape makes tangible the scope of the slow progress that you make as Solid Snake. In a series which focuses on the limits of any one individual’s agency against various crushing systems of control, it was nice to have a moment where you just rip through a couple hours of hard human sneaking in just a few minutes in a machine.

Say Hello To Raiden

At long, long last, Raiden shows up as more than just a voice on the Codec! Hooray! And he’s more machine than man now. Just by being around games twitter the last few years, I knew that Sexy Cyborg Raiden was a thing, but I didn’t realise the sheer extent of his cyborg-ness. The series has had Cyborg Ninjas before (Metal Gear is fucking nonsense), and they’ve had a defined aesthetic, one far more suit than exoskeleton. But Raiden’s been through the wars, I don’t quite know exactly how or why, because when we left him he was fine.

I’m still not sure how to read all the stuff with Raiden, I talked before about how frustrating this plot line appears to be, but that it fits in with MGS4’s focus on how removing the systems that are causing you harm doesn’t actually end up well for people, just see every single SOP soldier when the system is shut off. So while I’m anxious for now, the game hasn’t steered me wrong yet, and I’m ready to go along with this. I do know, however, that I’m way more invested in the character of Raiden than almost anyone else would have been. Playing these games in a row, in 2015, creates an incredibly different experience to playing these at release. At the time, all the focus on this game going in was on Solid Snake, would he die? Would he live? What does it mean for Solid Snake to even be capable of ageing and dying? What does that say about our heroes?

Those conversations, which I wasn’t part of but remember occurring around me, focused far more on Solid Snake as cultural icon, which is certainly the largest and most obvious impact Metal Gear Solid had on games as a whole. But that was 2008, entire series have played out arcs from excellent to atrocious since then, and games are in a completely different place. So while my reactions to the games, the things that I focus on and consider important, are totally valid, I understand that they’re very specifically brought about by me being me and now being now.

This is all to say that I understand I may be setting myself up for disappointment, and I realise I’m placing importance on areas that may not have been central at the time of creation.

Anyway, I’m glad Raiden’s here!

The Market

It’s such a short scene, Snake running from one side of a Market to the other, before another parade of cutscenes begin, but it actually takes time to show collateral damage, and give some much needed humanisation to the spaces that this war is taking place in. Big Shell crashed into Manhattan, but Manhattan was empty until morning, and so much of the crash scene ended up being cut due to 9/11 in order to downplay the implication that these fantasy wars are having a real and measurable impact on outside human lives.

But here, we see a road, we see people selling, buying and living life, until Gekko’s land and they all immediately disperse. This is the first instance in these games in which we traverse an area outside of a war zone, and I think it’s an important step for Metal Gear to take in the humanising of its world.

Getting Out Of Here

Well, Naomi’s dead. As she entered the helicopter, she took a long look at Otacon with the most doey eyes the cell processer can handle, and making eyes at Otacon is almost certainly a death sentence for any individual! But then again, there is a marriage at the end of this game, The Comedie Of Metal Gear, so perhaps Naomi’s going to be the one that make it and her and Otacon will fly off into the sunset! Which I assume is actually what happens, because I can’t think of a single other heterosexual pairing in these games between two characters who are currently alive. Outside of that scope, I guess Big Boss could show up, make out with Ocelot in order to bring back that personality and banish Liquid Snake forever.

After a rare two seconds of heterosexual tension, the pendulum swings back the other way and we get Vamp throwing off his shirt and having a knife fight with Raiden. I’m not being glib, by the way, I think the homoerotic tension that finds its way into Metal Gear’s fight scenes is a large part of why they work (and also a cultural read based on the fact we read Men expressing emotions as G A Y). There is always a mutual respect between combatants in the series, and the objective is very rarely just “fight the guy and win.” Vamp wants Raiden to beat him, to finally be able to kill him and set him free from his immortality. The dance-esque fights of Metal Gear’s fight scenes are so often the physical expression of one character’s emotional yearning and need for something from another character, something made never more clear than with everything about The Boss and Naked Snake in Snake Eater. But aside from that specific relationship, the characters of the series are almost entirely men, and that’s where the tension comes in.

Anyway, that tangent on Metal Gear and Sexuality could easily be an article itself, and maybe I’ll write it one day, but this act isn’t over yet. Oh god.

Snake and Raiden make it to the helicopter as Vamp watches them go, ominously telling Liquid that “we need the original,” which I assume is how Big Boss is going to factor into all this. Vamp gets a very Saturday Morning Cartoon moment as he goes “it’s all part of the plan,” just to let you know that this is going somewhere.

As our crew fly away in their helicopter, we get to see Raiden’s blood for the first time, it’s all fucked up and white and gross. It’s the most jarringly inhuman part of his current character, and it’s genuinely affecting to watch him splutter and squirm as he does here. Guns of the Patriotsrevels in putting its characters in situations of powerlessness, on removing the illusion that these people are invincible heroes that exist for us to pour our dreams into. It’s a nice continuation of Sons of Liberty’s examinations of how games let us be the hero, and what it means to want that and to have that wanted from you.

And then he passes out, and we get a nice stinger line, giving us the hook for the next act and quite possibly the worst character name in a series which uses bad character names as fuel.

WHO IS BIG MAMA?

Act Two

Guns of the Patriots is in a strange place at the end of Act Two, in that while the stage has been set and we’ve had the information delivered in terms of just what is happening to Snake, there’s no real extreme urgency? I’ve no idea what the next chapter is going to be, and I’ve no idea how things get to any real sense of conclusion.

All we have at this point is Find Big Mama, and who knows what on earth that actually means! These first two acts have been far more busy than that of the games that came before it, which used the Prologue chapter to great effect. But here, lots more has happened, but it’s all been either groundwork or peripheral stuff, or things that merely serve to raise more questions. Nothing as propulsive as Liquid sinking the Tanker or The Boss turning on Naked Snake has occurred in this game, despite the fact that certain characters have had what feels like entire narrative arcs.

This act itself was an interesting shift in style, almost entirely ditching what little angular design existed in the First Act in favour of wide open spaces with multiple sides warring against each other. It continued to focus its encounters in such a way which emphasised the dehumanisation of your fellow soldiers, showing the player as complicit in this system of violence. From a Middle Eastern Warzone to a Poor South American Country, the locales are spot on for a jet setting western military game made in 2008, and I really appreciate that Guns of the Patriots doesn’t deviate from its roots and move towards a more acceptable and western design without making commenting on that a primary focus.

I assume the game ends at Shadow Moses, and I know one chapter that follows is essentially a Noir Movie, so hopefully that one’s next! I hope it’s just shady people talking and smoking, delivering reveal after reveal, so we can finally understand what Guns of the Patriots is.

Sunny

They call these segments Mission Briefings, but they’re really not. Hell, this third one hardly focuses on Solid Snake, instead choosing to highlight various characters and develop them a little more. I love that the act based mission structure allows for there to be far more downtime between characters, and we see them just interact with each other in a quiet and calm state. One, it gives the story a real sense of scope, not in terms of the wide-reaching consequences of these epic missions, but in terms of the sheer totality of how much these characters are affected by this. Guns of the Patriots is, I would say, at its best in moments of difficult contemplation, when characters are unable to effect the change they wish, and must come to terms with their situation.

Act Three’s briefing begins with Sunny and Naomi bonding, in a way that I think was written by someone who has never actually watched human beings bond, through Gilbert and Sullivaning the periodic table! Metal Gear has never been realistic with its character interactions, but that hasn’t usually been a problem due to the heightened nature of the situations. But in this downtime — which I love, don’t get me wrong — we see the limits of the series’ writing style. It’s forced, it’s goofy, it’s awkward and with very little sense of flow or voice in the characters. But it’s always earnest, and it’s always functional — the surface level might be awkward but it just works. I can’t believe I didn’t think of the connection until this moment, but the writing across the entire series is basically the western translation of Final Fantasy VII.

I feel bad for Sunny. I like her character a lot, she’s pretty much the heart of the Guns of the Patriots crew. Everyone else is older and more cynical, and specifically each with blood on their hands. Otacon designed Ray, Naomi designed seemingly everything else and Snake is Snake. But Sunny’s young, Sunny’s not yet had the chance to create sins to pass on, and is instead dealing with the sins of her guardians being passed on to her. I do like that here in the final entry, one of the new central characters is an adopted child, considering how this series began by arguing if people’s fates were determined by genes.

Sunny’s character is informed by her mother, Olga, remembered in this game as a hero, but it’s clear that her main influence is Otacon. Hal is now a dad, for all intents and purposes, and Sunny is inheriting her personality, interests and demeanour from him. She’s her own person, though, and is rubbing off on Otacon just as much as he is on her. It’s almost — almost — a healthy family dynamic. In a Metal Gear game! It’s a nice little touch that pushes Metal Gear away from some of its earlier deterministic themes.

Big Boss Lives!!!

Ahhhhhhh there’s a lot of ridiculous bombshells in the main portion of the briefing, which isn’t surprising as it goes on for about a decade, but then again so does everything in Metal Gear, if it was concise we wouldn’t be on our thirty-second diary entry. I knew that Big Boss was still alive, because I know he shows up, but I didn’t expect it to be dropped so casually. We’re going to get the currently comatose and brain dead Big Boss from “Eastern Europe” (this game has a phobia of naming its locations, apparently), and I expect this mission to bring with it one heck of a lot of revelation.

One thing that seems strange is that Big Boss’ DNA is the key to the SOP system. Big Boss isn’t a member of The Patriots, he’s fighting against them, he’s the first one in the series who saw all that and said “burn it all down.” When I started the series, I always expected Big Boss to be revealed as the ultimate leader of The Patriots, and the True Big Bad of everything, but that assumption is based on a foundation of not knowing what the fuck Metal Gear is. And now that I do know what Metal Gear is, I can’t imagine that happening, so I’m looking forward to what the actual answer is. I’m sure it’ll change back and forth a thousand times after this anyway.

Though! Speaking of Metal Gear’s deterministic themes and its use of DNA, I really liked the reveal that neither Snake nor Liquid are a 100% match for Big Boss, but Solidus on the other hand is. It puts all of their roles within the stories in a nice perspective — Liquid’s form of rebellion has always been cruel, whereas Solidus’ rebellion against the Patriots was far more morally grey and by the time Raiden took him down, Sons of Liberty had made it clear that he wasn’t the bad guy here. Positioning Liquid as something slightly out of line with Big Boss’ legacy (and Solid Snake similarly in the other direction), and tying Big Boss and Solidus together through Metal Gear’s weird interpretation of genetics gives extra depth to the dynamics of the Snakes as a unit.

I hope that soon the game introduces an antagonist other than Liquid, however, because he’s easily the least nuanced of all the Snakes, and his position as Head Antagonist right now just means I’m waiting for how The Patriots are going to play into all this. I’m waiting for the game to bring in the Sons of Liberty a little, and start tackling the systemic problems that game raised. Like, this is a sequel to a game of which the villain was the systems and ideals of America made sentient. At some point, I know the game is going to get into that, and I’m just sitting here on the edge of my seat getting ready for the time.

Fixing Raiden

It hurts to see Raiden this way. He’s being treated less like an ailing Human and more like a broken machine, who cannot be repaired without the right equipment. Luckily, the equipment that he needs is next door to Big Boss’ corpse! Hooray!

I’m honestly a little surprised at just how strong an emotional connection I formed with Raiden in 2, because god did I hate him at the start. I wonder how he’s going to play into the rest of the game, considering his whole point is that he has literally nothing to do with the overarching plot of Metal Gear. He’s an irrelevant character in the eyes of The Patriots, in the eyes of Snake and Otacon and everyone else. He mattered in 2 in so much as he was useful to The Patriots and the situation, but that game ended with him being set free from the need to be Solid Snake, the need to keep playing, and he could go back to his life.

That didn’t happen, and now he’s lying in a bed, ready to get patched up presumably so he can have another fight with Vamp later.

They’re Gonna Bone

Otacon and Naomi’s flirting is excruciating. It is bone chillingly cringeworthy, it pours glass through my pours and into my heart, rendering me unable to move, breathe or ever accept happiness in my life again. It is the kind of pain that only that is only rivalled by the time I broke my arm, which I need to stop writing about because I can feel a pain in that arm right now, a phantom pain, if you will.

Anyway, aside from acting out the entire arc of Ross and Rachel in friends in a single cutscene, they also bring up E.E. (lolllllll), and discuss Sunny a little more. I like how the game links Sunny and Otacon together, even if I think the pointed attack on the player through their characterisation is a bit silly. They’re two characters who find or found meaning primarily through this world of unreality, who stare into a screen in order to fill a hole that cannot be filled this way. Otacon is shocked that Naomi would even be worried about Sunny — after all, Sunny herself has never expressed an intention of leaving the Nomad, so she has to be doing fine, right? (Let it never be said that Metal Gear is a series of Good Dads).

Otacon’s speech about the exploitation of science-holics for evil — yes, I know — coming right after this, serves to greater interrogate his complicity in the awful things that have occurred. The game is essentially talking to the player, and says hey if you’re just playing video games and don’t know shit about the world, that ain’t any excuse to be an asshole.

And then immediately after critiquing the immaturity of its audience, its medium and its genre, the game cuts to a nice boob shot of Naomi, the hot hot girl who wants to make out with the sad sad nerd.

Dammit, I just don’t know sometimes.

Off The Train

YAY! It’s the chapter that’s literally just a noir movie, holy shit I am so excited. That first cutscene was a blast, just this small little genre setpiece, using one of my favourite tricks in the book, the checkpoint queue. Like 95% of all spy thrillers could be boiled down to a man in a queue waiting for the way out to arrive. It’s tension incarnate and dressed in a trench coat, god it was great.

Snake Eater was a riff on James Bond, but Guns of the Patriots’ structure allows it to be way more loose and fun with its play on genre. The act structure means it can go from location to location, genre to genre, almost as if this game is more of a last ditch attempt to hit every single thing on Kojima’s “I wanna do this!” list rather than a way to wrap up the Metal Gear story.

The queue sequence is actually one of my favourite moments of direction in the games. The series is defined by having long cutscenes, but because this is a first play, I’ve not really been breaking down the cinematography of the games as perhaps I could. But here, this queue sequence, as an execution of a well-worn cinematic idea, is incredibly effective. The use of low angles which keep Snake’s clearly camouflaged face out of sight, the way the camera pans to highlight the crowd, the slow movement speed over gothic architecture, it’s a fantastic introduction of tone and place cinematically constructed.

It’s such a small and insignificant moment in the scheme of Metal Gear’s bombast, but it says everything about why this series — and in particular this game, which has been kind of meandering so far — is hooking me in.

It’s Ya Boy Akiba

Hahahahahaha, oh my god, Akiba yelling to Snake in the middle of a stealth mission. Good job, video game. Gooooood job.

Okay, okay. No, I’m fine.

Hoooooooo.

Old Friends

Their interactions in act one, made it clear that Meryl and Snake were of two different generations, two different ideals, but this really dug into the melancholy of both of their situations. To Meryl, Snake is a legend and an icon who happened to become incredibly real through the intensity of shared experience. He is both a figure that she loved and a man that she loves, and seeing them so separated by not only rapid aging, but diametrically opposing ideologies is too much. There’s definitely a way to read the scene as the tragic tale of old lovers drifted apart, but I read it as highlighting their initial and constant incompatibility. Meryl wanted to be a Soldier, whereas Snake just doesn’t know how to be anything else. Meryl buys into the system which she is upholding, Snake merely knows it is not his place to question it.

Which is why their interactions here feel so sad, they’re two amoral soldiers working for two amoral ends — Meryl to attempt the obviously doomed method of using brute force to take out Liquid, and Snake carrying out a hired hit. Because of this, none of their attempts to convince the other to their side have any weight, they’re both standing on compromised ground. Meryl can’t accept that Snake is willing to go through with an action with which he does not believe, and Snake can’t accept that Meryl has any belief at all as a soldier.

When Meryl leaves Snake as neither friend nor foe, not only is it made clear the sheer stakes of this operation (holy shit, everyone on earth is after this Body), but the game underlines the loneliness of soldiers in this understated way. These four games have focused so much on the idea of The Soldier, on the tragedy of The Soldier and the way an individual is crushed by having to bear the will of the state upon their backs, but almost always in moments of death or betrayal or terror. This is none of those things, this is just two people proving themselves to be in this moment incompatible, and it is the understated nature of that tragedy in a series dripping with bombast which makes it hit so hard.

Also I want to say that it’s remarkable that the series manages to combine a study of the way the individual is crushed by the state and a pointed anti-capitalist critique, I don’t think you’d ever see those two ideas combined in a western game.

An Actual City!

A city, in a Metal Gear game! A city with roads and streets and shops and signs and… okay, no people, but we’re getting somewhere. The atmosphere of this smoky Eastern European city is goddamn perfect, even though it is so clearly placed into a game not built for this kind of environment. It’s empty for a reason, which means we don’t get the sense of passing through crowds as we follow the guy but not too close, like this is some kind of Assassin’s Creed or something.

But aside from not quite getting the full crowd blending experience of playing Snake as a PI in a fifties noir thriller, everything else is intact: the breath in the air, the coats, the lights and the architecture. God, I love this chapter already. This game is great!

Follow The Guy

As a stealth game, Metal Gear often makes patience a central focus of its play, particularly in Snake Eater. You have to wait for guards to pass, you have to line up the right shot, and if you’re unseen there is usually little reason to rush your actions. The game’s scenarios set up a situation in which acting slower and rationally is vital to your survival and success within the areas you have to traverse. But this patience is almost always countered with options, an itemset with far too many weapons and gadgets for any one player to keep track of. The games emphasise patient play, but ultimately put the pace of the play in the hands of the player themselves rather than dictating a set rate.

This city section changes all of that. You follow a single, whistling resistance member through a series of increasingly complex and illogical stealth puzzles, and your every moment is reactive to theirs. There is no way to speed this up, you cannot arrive at the destination before your target regardless of if you know where to go. He even needs your help to pass certain obstacles and guards, in which you must act as a guardian angel and take out threats before they can damage him.

Much like the tracking segment at the end of Act Two, this is Guns of the Patriots playing with its own ruleset, and instead of giving increasingly complex encounter areas, it changes the focus of its mechanics in order to highlight the genre on which it’s trying to riff. When you track Naomi, the game emphasises Snake’s extra vision within a wooded location in order to form a sort of Hunter/Prey relationship between you and your target, as well as your enemies and you. Here, the focus of the mechanics is on Snake’s strange combination of power and powerlessness. He can’t go anywhere without a lead, he’s on the back foot narratively and needs to find his answers. But he’s the legendary soldier, able to rain down protection from above and ensure his unwitting ally can get to where he’s going safely.

Metal Gear games are always aware of their abstraction, aware of the ways in which they fall short of the expected rules of reality, and with that awareness are able to play into that. But here, when my target reacts with a ? above his head when I shoot three guys around him, and reverts to his path, I can’t help but feel that abstraction is shattered somewhat. It would be different if part of ensuring your target’s safety meant removing these bodies from view, but the game never pushes that far because as it’s currently designed, that would be impossible.

So I don’t know how to feel about this section. It’s atmospherically fantastic and its evocation of a genre that Metal Gear usually stays far away from is sublime, but technical and design limitations end up making it seem like an imitation of genre rather than an execution. There are brilliant moments, where you shift from streetlamp to streetlamp, staying behind a car as your target looks over their shoulder, your hands shoved into the pocket of your coat. But then you crouch behind your target for a block before tranqing a fellow guard in the head, and he doesn’t seem to notice.

It’s ultimately a good thing, I think, because I come down on the side of enjoying the fact that they tried to pull this off despite having a game built for completely different tasks. It still allows this brilliant change in pace and tone that wouldn’t have been possible without such a swerve, but the specific construction of the scenes and encounters unfortunately undermine that atmosphere. I’ll take rough earnest ambition over something safe, complete and coherent anytime, though.

Big Mama

Holy shit, that was a retcon and a half. That might be the biggest, purest and most impactful single exposition dump in a series that is built on big, impactful exposition dumps. The TV currently sits paused with a save screen, after which I assume there will be more cutscene, because we can’t reasonably be expected to watch all of this in one sitting.

But man, what a cutscene. Act Three doesn’t waste any time, after a single segment of gameplay, it’s straight to the plot kicking in — which we’ll get to in a minute. First I want to talk about how said cutscene, which is basically the closest thing to a single thematic core for the entire series, begins with the silliest line in the games: “My name is Mama. Big Mama!” I don’t know why I find that name so silly, considering she’s talking to Solid Snake, brother of Liquid and Solidus Snake, all three of whom are sons of Big Boss, who is himself the protégé of The Boss. You’d think, after four games of this amazing bullshit, I’d be completely unaffected by someone exclaiming a combination of profoundly stupid words with heartfelt conviction, but here we are, in tears laughing at a character called Big Mama being the lynchpin of the plot right now.

Somewhere along the way, Snake went and trained in CQC after Big Shell, purely so EVA can recognise him by the sheer power of close quarters combat. I can’t lie though, that fight scene in the hallway is great, the hand to hand combat of Metal Gear has this amazing physicality to it — especially in this game and Snake Eater with the introduction of the CQC system. In Twin Snakes, which I think is ridiculous and great but I see why folks are against it, Snake fights hand to hand like he’s walked out of The Matrix. But this fight, similar to the first fight with the ocelot unit in Snake Eater is a military brawl, a man with a gun taking on men with guns, and using his body in order to maneuverer through that situation. It’s a neat touch.

After that fight, the first thing that drops is the reveal that EVA is Snake’s mother! Complete with an immediate cut to a statue of the Virgin Mary as EVA picks up an apple and literally says “The Forbidden Fruit… Appropriate.” What a silly game.

The way EVA’s character is written completely backs up what I said about Metal Gear’s female characters back when I was playing Snake Eater. The characters go from sexy and young to older and maternal, two sides of the same coin in being written purely in relation to male characters. In EVA’s case, she completely actually went from sexy and flirty towards one Snake, to being the Mother of the next, bearing this theory out in real time, thank you Kojima for that.

But while it’s totally got icky stuff with regards to gender (as everything Metal Gear does), and uncomfortable elements of biological determinism with the importance of the mother’s womb and all that, I think there is value inside this plot point. It humanises Snake, allows him — and us — to see that he’s not just a product of military cloning and someone for The Patriots to control. He’s a human being born and loved like any other, and in the conversation with his long lost mother we get to see perhaps what life would be like for Snake if he was allowed to be something else. Maybe he didn’t have to be this. Maybe this isn’t inevitable.

And it’s that element of hope that underscores the whole scene, which plays entirely with Metal Gear’s ideas of inevitability, of sins repeating and being passed from Father to Son. Maybe Snake can end this pointless, pointless war that is revealed to be the entirety of Metal Gear Solid.

The Patriots

So let’s get into what matters: the reveal of what The Patriots are. I actually think reveal is an incorrect term for this, it’s closer to a retcon. But that’s the wrong term too, because it isn’t exactly contradicting information from prior games. I think what this scene shows — that is, the reveal of the true nature of The Patriots — is how the Metal Gear games were not constructed as one coherent story with a pre-determined throughline. Each was made, one at a time, as a single thematic vision, and whilst it might build on the other entries, its not a series that concerns itself with the intricacies of its chronology. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking that it does, considering how much time it spends tying things together.

This scene reveals that The Patriots are an organisation started by Major Zero in order to further the will of The Boss. It changes The Patriots, who were presented in Sons of Liberty as an inhuman and unknowable organisation, as a tragedy far more intimate; an organisation of friends who were bonded together and split apart by the very same thing — The Boss. This woman, or at least the idea of this woman, is loved by all of these people in some way but she’s passed on different legacies to each of them. And thus, with the Philosopher’s Legacy in the picture, the basic tragedy of Metal Gear, that generation on generation the same mistakes repeat as we’re caught in the same cycles that could be broken if only we could talk to each other, plays out again on a global scale. The sad reality at the core of The Patriots is the same sad reality as the relationship between Campbell and Meryl, as the relationship between Otacon and Sunny.

I don’t know what I expected as The Answer to the identity of The Patriots, mostly because I don’t think “who are The Patriots?” is a question I was asking. This explains why Big Boss’ genetic code is the key to the SOP system, but aside from that I’d just accepted from Snake Eater that The Patriots was just The American Government, but had since become just an automated system re-producing toxic American capitalism again and again and again. And that’s still true, the game doesn’t discount that reading at all, but it does shift the emphasis of The Patriots into something far smaller. It makes it clear that Guns of the Patriots is not really the sequel to Sons of Libertythat you’d been waiting seven years for, it’s a sequel to Snake Eater, and is going to continue the themes and motifs established there.

What’s also important about this reveal, is that it gives The Patriots a face. Their dehumanisation was core to their portrayal in Sons of Liberty but now they have a living, breathing leader: Major Zero. EVA says at the start: “Liquid is locked in a bitter war with Zero,” which means finally both sides have a face, and Liquid doesn’t just have to be the sole antagonist despite clearly fighting against a bigger foe. And EVA says as much: defeating Liquid won’t fix anything, Zero’s SOPs have to be taken out in order to break the cycle. But Zero’s system has been responsible for all advances in culture and technology in the last thirty years, and how can the world risk losing them?

One thing that is strange to me is how Zero’s AIs relate to the years old sentient beings that live in the walls of the White House. Is the game just ignoring them now, and fully treating The Patriots as the creation of one man? They’re still a clear metaphor for Self-Perpetuating American Ideals, but two games ago that was a canonical character. Sons of Liberty never made the relationship between The Patriots (as in the list of 12 names), the AI (as in GW) and those beings at the end explicitly clear, but it did treat talking to them as talking to The Patriots.

But like I said at the beginning of this section, these games are not made together, they are made one by one, and they’ve retconned and ignored other elements of the series’ chronology in the past. So it’s a shame, because I’m personally invested in answers to that question, but if the game isn’t then the game isn’t. And that’s okay.

Tying Up Loose Ends

THAT SAID, the back half of that cutscene, after the thematic meat of the war between Zero and Big Boss, is a goddamn spreadsheet of connections and motivations for prior Metal Gear games. EVA walks you through who was who, retconning the entirety of Metal Gear Solid as an attempt by her and Ocelot to recover the still-alive Big Boss. In like two lines, they completely change the context of everything in that game in ways that aren’t at all reconcilable with the text, whilst also going HEY SIGNIT WAS THE DARPA CHIEF PARA-MEDIC MADE THE CYBORG NINJA K BYE

It’s kind of majestic to watch all the Ts get crossed and the Is get dotted in such a half-hearted way. This game was sold to people on answering all the questions of Metal Gear but it doesn’t, it brings in new ones and then monologues through people’s trivial concerns. I love that Metal Gear has such an abundance of plot but is willing to throw anything out and change all of history if it suits the themes they’re trying to emphasise at that moment. It goes in the face of, well, everything fans had told me about the game before I played them.

Meet: Big Boss

And then suddenly everything happens at once. Naomi disappears, presumably having defected back to Liquid in order to complete his plan, because Otacon isn’t allowed any happiness. The PMCs find you, and begin to converge on your position. So EVA takes Snake outside to meet the man himself: Big Boss. Who isn’t actually brain dead?

He looks like a Skeleton, but I’m sure nanomachines will fix that soon enough. I know Walking, Talking Big Boss is totally a thing in this game so we’ll see how that happens when it does, but for now he’s in a sorry state. Being kept alive because he has to be, because the idea of Big Boss is more important to Zero and the world than the right for his body to pass on naturally.

You guys, I don’t think Kojima wants to make Metal Gear anymore. Is it just me getting that impression?

Lol Gamers, Know What I Mean?

Ohhhh man, EVA’s speech to kick off this setpiece. The PMC’s are closing in and we have to get Big Boss’ body to the canal in order to stop Liquid. To do this, EVA has a small army of now grown child soldiers, all of whom want to grow up and join the PMCs one day. They’ve grown up on FPS games, and hold petty revenges for rival PMCs responsible for the deaths of their friends and family, without any self-awareness about the systemic forces that propel the war economy.

It’s certainly immature and petulant, and far less nuanced than Sons of Liberty’s engagement with player agency and complicity, but fuck me is it scathing. The game literally stops to tell you that your favourite FPS games are funded by the military in order to give you the impression that war is cool and instill an ideology in you that makes you want to sacrifice yourself to benefit their own ends. It’s more than a little hypocritical considering Guns of the Patriots is totally one of those military games (albeit a self-aware one commenting on what those games are and mean), but I gotta admire the sheer arrogance and confidence to pause the game for such a speech.

Damn, Metal Gear, damn.

And then immediately afterwards, EVA dives into the most pure fanservice mode as she repeats her speech from Snake Eater, tells Snake to call her EVA and drives off into the night on her classic motorcycle. And I sit there and think, fuck yeah, this is cool, this is fucking cool.

Metal Gear’s reach will always exceed its grasp, and for the most part, that’s okay.

The Chase

Fffffff, and then you literally just do the Groznyj Grad chase but with better cinematography and pacing. This entire section of the game is the most naked “HEY, REMEMBER THIS” so far, and this game has been pretty heavy on that before now. But damn, I can’t lie, it’s working on me.

I don’t even think this bit of the game is particularly well designed. The cinematography in the chase is excellent, but it switches incredibly fast and there’s no consistency in the way that you lock into over the shoulder view. This makes aiming a matter of luck in far too many instances, as you fight against your movement and weight in order to hit any of the targets that pass. Which, to be fair, would be exactly what would happen if I had to shoot an SMG on the back of a moving motorcycle, but it’s not going for a realistic effect.

The sequence is designed to make you feel awesome, to give the rush of a kinetic chase scene in an action movie, it’s a fanservice laden catharsis offering you something you’ve been waiting for. EVA keeps calling out to Snake, either insulting him or praising him in ways that remind you of her character, of Snake Eater, and of their relationship. And the effect of this sequence’s narrative is so strong that it overcomes how clunky and awkward it is to play.

It’s remarkable that this act has had absoloutely zero straight up Metal Gear gameplay, though. We’re probably going to have to fight that boss soon, but maybe Acts One and Two really are the meat of this game in a the sense that they contain the bulk of the play, and we’re just gonna fly through til the end. I wouldn’t be surprised, given the pacing of Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater, but we’ll see.

I Need You

I don’t really care if I’m weak for this, I got a little teary eyed when Snake bent down over an injured EVA and said, “I need you.” This sequence doesn’t seem to offer much reason for Old Snake and EVA’s encounter playing out identically to Naked Snake and hers except to deliver feels, as they are called, but it’s certainly effective at that.

Plus, it connects Snake to Naked Snake in this tangible way. EVA is Snake’s connection to Big Boss just as he is her connection to him. It’s nonsense, but it’s perfect for the operatic melodrama that Metal Gear is, especially in this bombastic final chapter. This story that has played out across generations, seemingly destined to repeat itself endlessly until the cycle can one day be broken. It’s indulgent and silly, but goddamit, it just feels right.

I also appreciate the sombre tone this scene takes at the end. Our heroes are in a bad place, their escape cut short and the enemy approaching. An old woman sits bleeding out against a wall, a single rifle in her hand, while an old man aches as he walks his way to the stairs. These are spent people, the weight of their tragic, epic lifetimes bearing down of them, and now they are at the end of their journey. And after all the callbacks, all the fanservice, all the excitement and nostalgia, the game realises there is no glory in this. This may be one last ride to save the world, but whether they win or lose, it is their last ride regardless. And there’s no way that can be anything other than heartbreaking.

Raging Raven

Jeez, the Beauty and the Beast unit really are terrible. The bosses themselves are mostly third person shooter wars of attrition — the Laughing Octopus fight had some interesting moments as she toyed with reality, but even that one took six times too long. Here, you just kind of dodge attacks and keep shooting and twenty minutes later, the fights are over.

And you win, and a hot sexy lady (who was apparently intended to be naked, and according to info I’ve seen actually did the motion capture nude) does a seductive dance and you have to shoot her dead before she reaches you. These characters are paper thin, their backstory delivered by Drebin that always boils down to “they were so fragile but they were abused by war and now they are violent machines that you must cleanse” and fuuuuuuuck off.

These segments make me feel like everyone else does when talking about Metal Gear these days. It’s far more egregious than anything in the prior games, and I know it only gets worse in Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. They revel in both misogyny and cruelty and undermine the more nuanced points that surround them. Then, with the garbage Drebin monologues, attempt to comment on player complicity by calling Snake “War Itself.” It’s a throwback to the first game, and in keeping with the series, Snake is a greater weapon of war than the monsters he fights, but in this context it’s the most blatant hollow attempt to bothe have a cake and eat it too.

I’m going to have a drink of milk and a biscuit, I think we’re done for the day.

The Children

There’s something about the way that EVA refers to her army as “the children” that only just clicked into place until now. They’re clearly not children, they’re adults, but they’ve been referred to by the script as children. I assumed that was just EVA’s language, but now I think it means that this was genuinely written to be a team of Child Soldiers, and they changed it after recording the dialogue.

I know that child soldiers feature, in some way, in The Phantom Pain after being alluded to since the first Metal Gear Solid, so it makes sense that they’d be intended to show up in Guns of the Patriots also. I dunno, maybe I’m wrong and off base, I’m just musing as I play, but with the BB unit and this, I can feel what I knew was coming, slide of the series into more and more morally dark territory, and it’s definitely uncomfortable.

That’s not to say it wasn’t morally dark at the start, the series is explicitly about the horrors of war in a way few games even attempt to be, but I need to sort through my conflicted feelings on it. There are some times that I’m okay with it, because through the silliness of the genre setting it’s able to convey a genuinely affecting message, and there are sometimes which it’s purposeless and indulgent.

Which is okay, as the series moves in this direction I shouldn’t feel the need to classify it as Problematic Or Not. I can take each element as it comes, acknowledge every flaw and take value from the elements that provide it. I’m not here to defend Metal Gear to anybody, I’ve tore into it plenty in these posts so far.

Anyway, Snake and EVA just climed down into a manhole, and I got given an instruction to save, so I’m going to bet I don’t have anything left in this act but the final cutscene.

Fuck.

I was right, I guess. But what an ending. Just when I was souring on all the things Metal Gear does badly, it comes right in with all the things it does best. The end of Act Three is a powerhouse, the moment where three acts of tension explode in one single, heartbreaking second. Metal Gear is slow and deliberate in its pacing, it packs so much information into every scene, but when that all results in the intensity building to one single climax, then the payoff is massive. That groundwork is done for a reason.

I don’t even know where to begin. So much happened, and yet so little. The cutscene was mostly empty space, tension being ratcheted to its highest point, and then horrible consequences being played out in front of my eyes. But before the main event, Snake and Liquid had their first real confrontation, after making eyes at each other in Act One. Liquid talks about his creation at the hands of The Patriots, and his desire to be free of their control, and addresses the hypocrisy in his actions. He wants to be free of The Patriots, but his desire for revenge and power is greater than any philosophical disagreement. If Big Boss and Zero were Patriots, then fuck it he’ll be a Patriot too. If he was always part of this system from birth, then why try to fight it any longer?

I’m glad they gave Liquid a proper motivation here, and tied it into his learning of the truth about Big Boss and Zero. Before he knew this, when we last saw him, he was off in search of the (assumed) twelve members of The Patriots. At that point, none of the Sons of Big Boss would even think of controlling the world, they were all searching for some way to be free from their assigned role in the world.

But by the end of this cutscene, Liquid doesn’t just want control, he has it. Liquid has won. He’s killed Big Boss, he’s taken control of the SoP, and he’s on his way to kill Zero. After three games of getting there in the nick of time, of bittersweet victories, we finally see what a loss looks like, and it does not look good.

The sinking feeling in the stomach that this cutscene is able to invoke is kind of unparalleled by anything in games. It’s a gut punch which is incredibly hard to construct effectively in writing, the total loss, you know, the Red Wedding. I feel like so many shows these days are built around this singular moment, delivered over and over again ad infinitum, attempting to recapture that feeling of powerlessness that the audience takes a perverse enjoyment in, with inevitably diminishing effects. But Metal Gear was not a series which indulged in these moments — the ending of Snake Eater is crushing, but in a completely different way.

And so, when it hits here, it hits hard.

Defeat

What’s great about this scene is that it understands how these kinds of moments are constructed filmically, and so the writing and direction all work together to really emphasise that gut punch effect. It understands that the moment of the gut punch isn’t the release, it comes long before. The moment isn’t when Liquid starts to fire his guns, it isn’t even when he reveals that he has control of the system. It’s the second that Meryl says “freeze.”

From that moment, due to the work done in the earlier, longer scenes to set up both Liquid’s capabilities with the System, and the ineffectiveness of the military against such a foe. It underlines the good few minutes of just cars and helicopters and guns getting ready to fire with this incredibly sense of dread and inevitability. There is no way this is going to end well, and not a single one of these people knows it (well, except Snake).

This all sounds obvious, but as someone who has watched some bad movies in their life, it’s definitely not. This is a scene I would point to as a counter example to the folks who say that Kojima is bad at writing, because this kind of functional genre writing is a talent that I think it unfortunately derided. It takes skill to arrange the pieces in place, to feed the audience information at the right times in order to infuse what is really just a scene of soldiers raising their guns for three minutes with a tension that holds for the full time.

Compare this to a game praised for being an enjoyable action blockbuster, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, in which every scene is a maximum of ten or so lines. The writing is technically better, character is established faster, there is a real propulsion and pace to every moment. But when there’s no room for anything to breathe, there’s no space to construct affecting moments. It can only establish tone — when people are shouting and the music is loud, that’s when the game is supposed to be exciting. When people are quiet and the music is sad, that’s when the game is supposed to be sad.

It’s skilful genre writing that makes this scene feel awful when the villain is literally doing an air gun dance for two minutes. The reveal of his ultimate plan is accompanied by him pointing finger guns in the air, as he delivers the wham line and the camera zooms in! It’s the dumbest, best thing, and because the game plays it completely straight, it still works as a villain’s terrifying reveal of their plan.

So when Meryl and Akiba (now Johnny — we’ll talk about that another time) are the only survivors, and EVA throws herself into the fire to save her long lost love, despite the sheer incredulity of that situation, I’m still left with a tear in my eye. I feel something as David Hayer, in the stupidest voice imaginable, yells “OTACOOOOOOON” and a tiny invisible robot jumps aboard a slow-moving boat of evil.

And then EVA dies. Her death is a really powerful moment, used not to highlight the tragedy of any single death, but of the mortality of all these characters. Snake and Liquid both have to die. For the era of The Patriots to be over, the whole system has to go away, and he’s culpable within it. He is Big Boss’ shadow, SoP is Zero’s shadow, and all must disappear if there is to be a clean slate, if by the end of this journey people can start anew.

Guns of the Patriots is a game aware of the sadness of mortality. All the Metal Gear games before this have ended with a rallying cry to the audience, an order to live! And so, at the end, the main characters are all old, are all dying, and coming to the end of their time just as we are with the series. Life has to have an ending, as unfair as it feels. EVA says her final lines, and we realise just how much we don’t want Snake to die, the man who’s fought non-stop to finally live a life free from this.

As Drebin rescues Snake (again), and takes him back to the Nomad, we see one final shot of the carnage around us, soldiers lying dead on the bridge, the boats burning in the water.

And we know, that even if it means the death of our hero, even if it means the end of this series, that it has to end. This has gone far enough.

Act Three

Act Three is easily my favourite act so far. It contains about twenty minutes of total gameplay, but come the hell on, that’s not why we’re here. It completely re-contextualises the plot of this game, changing the focus on something on something far more intimate, a family tragedy with world-spanning implications. With EVA, Act Three takes the strongest moment yet to look back on what had come before, and as she dies makes it clear that this adventure is more final than we knew.

It’s an exemplary bit of stake-raising, when we came into this chapter we had all the pieces in play but we were yet to understand what the thrust of the plot would be. And even now, I don’t know how we’re coming back from this, but I know what we have to do: stop liquid from launching a nuke. Why is it always nukes?

Plus, as a setting, this smoky city is stunning. It’s atmospheric and beautiful, allowing for some hilariously ham-fisted religious imagery, and giving Liquid’s victory one heck of a stage. And Young Snake in a trenchcoat, walking through the streets with his hands in his pockets is honestly one of the greatest images I don’t even care.

This game is pretty great, bring on Act Four.

OH SHIT

AHHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

ahhhhAHHAHHHhahhHAHHAHAHHH!!!!

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming. They straight up just put a level of Metal Gear Solidin this game. And while I played Twin Snakes for this quest, I’ve played a fair chunk of the PSone version, and loading up the Heliport area without any explanation whatsoever: yep, that’s the good shit. That’s the good shit right there. Ugh, it’s even got the PSone Game Over screen. Heck and damn yeah.

Its inclusion has two obvious reasons: one, to make everyone remember Metal Gear Solid and get a real sense of nostalgia for the place to which they are returning. And two, to show how much the series has changed in just one short decade. After all, it’s been eight years since Guns of the Patriots came out and it doesn’t seem that old, does it?

For the first time, in this PSOne segment, I entered the building through the vent on the ground floor, rather than sneaking through the longer one on the catwalk. Who doesn’t go through the catwalk? I mean seriously, come on, it’s the way to go.

And then Snake wakes up, and implies that he dreams about Shadow Moses all the time. I’m glad that the game takes the time here to remind us that our nostalgic, warm memories are actually Snake’s nightmares. We get to enjoy the game and associate it with cool fun stealthy times, but the characters are tortured by these experiences, without fail. Our games do not come consequence free.

Welcome Home

And then it happens! After getting the MkIII, and walking through a terrible blizzard, Snake arrives at the Heliport again, only now it’s old and decrepit and empty. “The Best Is Yet To Come Plays” as you walk around the Heliport, with excerpts of dialogue from the original game scattered around the locations. But the environment and item locations are identical.

It’s a victory lap of sorts for the series, and now I understand why this isn’t the final act. It’s here to give this moment between player and creator, to acknowledge the series and its growth and the way it’s changed. Snake is almost irrelevant in this empty Heliport, the one time the game lets the player forget that they are playing this very specific character. Continually, Metal Gear reminds you that it isn’t about you as a player, and you’re inhabiting the body of someone specific — the way Snake stops sometimes and coughs, literally everything about Sons of Liberty. But now it’s just you, the space and the music. An indulgent moment, yes, but one that after all this time, I think has been fully earned.

A Sad Sight To See

Man, seeing Shadow Moses so wrecked and empty sure is affecting. You end up running through the first act of Metal Gear Solid in little over a minute, the rooms once full of guards and enemies now patrolled by laser-sight drones. Devoid of their original purpose, removed from the people inside of them, these rooms become haunting metal shells through which you must pass as a ghost.

It fits in with the pattern of how Guns of the Patriots has been invoking its nostalgia, always immediately subverting it with an element of sadness, never quite giving you what you want. Like Snake, Shadow Moses is old and broken, barely hanging on to be brought to your television screen today. These are people and places that belong in the past, and you get the sense that you’re transgressing by the very act of playing through them.

Last Time

Hahahahha, the comedy of errors that is the world’s greatest soldier and his closest friend and confident trying to reach and then unlock a single door, but getting confused because once they used a different door.

This is the goofiest game.

Otacon’s Office

Ugh, Snake and Otacon’s first meeting getting a big and elaborate callback is designed to hit me. That’s the moment that I went from “hmmm” on Metal Gear to “okay, this might be something,” and now here we are — *takes a giant breath and yells to the sky* — THIRTY-SEVEN ARTICLES LATER. Oh dear god, what have I done, save me from this, save me from myself.

Until Snake Eater came along and blew everything out of the water, Otacon and Snake was the core relationship of the series. It sure as shit wasn’t Meryl and Snake, and I’ll be damned if anyone’s gonna latch on to Jack and Rose. No, the series was Otacon and Snake, each ridiculous in their own way, bouncing off of each other like only best friends can. Despite being a set-up for a deliberate subversion, when I think of “classic Metal Gear,” I think of the tanker level from Sons of Liberty. I think of Otacon and Snake.

And so it’s fantastic that they finally get some chance to banter here. The lack of focus on the codec interactions has meant that Otacon has got short shrift outside of the super serious briefing sequences, there’s no time for them to joke, there’s no time for them to goof. But in this final calm sequence (because at this point, once things start kicking off I don’t think they’re going to stop til the end), the game comes back to that idea of classic Metal Gear, that idea that only really existed in people’s false memories of the first game before the Tanker made made that idea real. Otacon and Snake, on a mission, teasing each other.

Naomi

Hey! Then they find Naomi on a surveillance camera and finally have a discussion about why she’s betrayed them. I loved Naomi’s character in the first game, and I loved how Snake accepted her hatred of hid, understanding and forgiving it implicitly. It’s just how things are. So while Otacon is angrier at being used and more in shock, Snake is okay with Naomi’s betrayal, trusting that she has her own reasons and is following her own belief.

Plus, her actions don’t make sense with the information they have, and if there’s one thing that Solid Snake is good at, it’s going along with whatever until somebody explains that he didn’t have all the information and in fact everything is different! The man’s been betrayed more times than he’s had birthdays at this point, and I’m not even exaggerating with that.

So off we go, to find Naomi and Vamp, to stumble upon the secret of Shadow Moses and stop Liquid or whoever the actual final bad guy of this game is.

Nostalgia

This act has been really empty so far — which is totally purposeful, but I can’t help but miss actually playing some Metal Gear. There’s no guards to sneak past, no items to find (Drebin’s shop has really changed what items mean in Metal Gear), only drones that swarm upon spotting you and are all but impossible to hide from.

I assume Guns of the Patriots was on fire when it was released, because it’s an incredibly ambitious game that feels so small when the truth of it is revealed. Act Three’s city map is enormous, but completely empty and devoid of anything but one guy to follow. It doesn’t surprise me that a game like this would fall victim to an overreach of ambition, I bet that every single Metal Gear game is an overreach of ambition in some ways. But while the first two acts established a new core approach to the play, without that it just feels like Not Quite Metal Gear and that’s a shame.

Because apparently, I have affection for Metal Gear as a stealth game just as much as I have affection for it as a nonsense delivery system. But now let’s head off, further and further into Shadow Moses, and see what lies in store…

Gekko Floor

Okay, that sequence where you fight the Gekko on the electrified floor is pretty damn awesome. It’s this great moment of taking and changing an element from one of the older games, using the knowledge you have from playing them as the player’s weapon. You know the floor is electrified, you know you need to kill the Gekko, so you take the MkIII and do just that.

Plus, in this confined space, the Gekko is an incredibly interesting enemy, as you shoot it and run around a corner in order to save yourself for another few seconds. It puts you on the back foot and emphasises Snake’s smallness, because despite being the legendary soldier hero and all that, he’s also just one guy fighting a fuckin’ mech.

Gekko, Part Two

Haha, as soon as I write that, comes a sequence that’s entirely about the Gekko in close quarters as an enemy to be distracted and influenced more than defeated. It’s a neat idea, keeping the Gekko off the MkIII’s back in order to open the door, but it’s really just a lesser version of the prior scene, and I think serves to soften what would otherwise have been this really cool singular moment.

Crying Wolf

Guns of the Patriots boss fight sections are apparently designed to show off the worst of Metal Gear, and make me feel like “why do I like this garbage?”

The fight itself is a riff on the Sniper Wolf fight, in the exact same location no less, which was an excellent fight when I played it back in Twin Snakes, with Sniper Wolf’s death scene being a highlight of the series, honestly. But here, the fight is far too busy, as it’s basically Snake vs swarms of faceless bad guys, before he can find Crying Wolf and get a shot off. Metal Gear boss fights before this game were crucially isolated affairs, the game building up the idea of this one and one battle as an important and somewhat tragic showdown. But with each game, the emphasis on bosses as individuals and characters has decreased, to the point where it’s now just a shooting match on an open field.

And then Sniper Wolf’s backstory is even worse than the previous two! It’s pretty much identical — war turned this hot girl crazy, feel sad — except with an added dose of ethnic cleansing and the definite killing but maybe eating of babies. After which the game has the gall to re-create the iconic Sniper Wolf cutscene but with this insulting character that we never knew instead, and play it as if it’s a nostalgic and sad moment.

At least there’s only one more of these damn things. Because I get so grumpy every single time we have a boss fight and you know, I just can’t. I can’t!

Change The Disc

Lollllllll

Lol.

Blast Furnace

The Shadow Moses segment basically relies upon you re-creating the movements from your memory of the original game (which is a presumptive thing, but I’ll forgive it) and then going hey! Things are a little different now!

Which was cool the first time, but the rooms are almost empty, fighting the drones is far less interesting than the guards that originally patrolled here, and so it’s a little frustrating that you’re constantly being reminded of a better game that you’re not playing right now. Guns of the Patriots lacks its own identity, which on the one hand is fine because it allows it to re-invent itself with each new act, but it also means there’s no real spine for the game. Almost everything exists as a response to other things, whether western military shooters or other Metal Gear games, it’s become clear as we reach the final stretch what a hollow game Guns of the Patriots is.

And I don’t say that entirely as a negative, the game is persistently aware of its own hollowness, it’s easy to read the entire thing as a middle finger to people who wanted this game that nobody wanted to make, this Solid Snake sequel that is impossible to please any audience. Sons of Liberty was supposed to free us from our need for this, and Snake Eater filled in the final piece of the puzzle. Metal Gear was done, what is there left to say?

Which means my question now is, what happens next? How does a game, which is positioned as the final word of a series that had no more words left, sum up the entire franchise? Where are we going? There are so many balls in the air, this game has more plot than probably all three games before it put together. These articles have been going on forever, and we’re so close to the end.

Let’s head down the elevator and into the hangar, and see what REX has in store for us.

Vamp

After walking through the ruins of Rex’s original hangar, we meet Vamp, and Otacon is angry at him! It’s finally time to get revenge for the death of Emma Emerich, that bizarre little plot detour that could have gone oh so wrong just two games, and god damn over half a year ago.

The fight itself is probably the best Boss Fight in the game, Laughing Octopus as the only contender for that more-impressive-than-it-sounds thrown, as an actual one on one confrontation with a specific character. Vamp’s gimmick — that he can come back to life over and over again until you work out how to beat him — is a really neat one that I’m surprised they didn’t put mechanically into Sons of Liberty.

It also helps that Vamp doesn’t seem to take an entire factory’s production line of bullets to go down. The focus of the fight is on the puzzle of working out how to take out Vamp, and once you solve the problem, the fight is over. They very easily could have had Snake force the syringe into Vamp three times in a row, each time weakening him just a little more, but thankfully it’s one and done and onto the next one.

This game has been a rollercoaster ride back from “hell yeah to” “uh oh” and we’re almost, almost done.

Last Stand

Aw yeah this act is just going from strength to strength. Defending REX from an onslaught of Suicide Gekko as Raiden and Vamp duke it out in the split-screen is awesome, I’m not even going to front on that. It really manages to hit that action film feeling of fighting back this overwhelming force as a last stand. Its goddamn great.

The way the railgun is utilised in this sequence just amplifies that feeling in a really organic way; instead of a sequence in which you’re just shooting as fast as you can, taking out the enemies coming to you — which would have been a perfectly valid way to do this — it makes the action far more tense and deliberate. You wait for a meter to fill before you can set off a shot to take out a Gekko, as the timers on the enemy tick further and further down. It understands that the tension in these sequences comes from the waiting, comes from the build up to the moment of release, rather than just being a constant stream of release.

And on the other side of the split-screen (which I think is a first for the series, unless there were a few moments in Snake Eater’s cutscenes like this), Raiden and Vamp’s honour-bound final confrontation takes place. They set down their weapons and fight with scout knives on top of Metal Gear REX — it’s the best.

Vamp finally falls, free from his immortality at last, and our heroes get to breathe once more.

Naomi

After defeating Vamp, Naomi comes in to explain everything, and sacrifices herself for… well, seemingly no reason, other than the fact that it has to happen in order to wipe the slate clean so the next generation doesn’t have to inherit the fucked up world these people have created. Her being alive at all is a result of these nanomachines she created, she is literally kept alive by her sins. Which is the most Metal Gear melodrama, making a thematic thing literal, but what the heck, the scene works well enough, I’ll roll with it.

It’s heartbreaking to see Otacon cry again, because he does have a habit of getting into these situations, he’s like some kind of unstoppable fridge machine. And then something weird happens — he quotes Snake back to him, referencing that Sniper Wolf cutscene again: “I don’t have any more tears to shed,” and gets back to work. It’s played as Otacon’s final growth out of being this person who can’t hold onto his belief in difficult circumstances, but it’s weird because that line in the original was put there to emphasise Snake’s inhumanity.

You should have tears to shed, Snake’s just lost his through a life of war. Snake gets into REX joined by two mini-Snakes, people who have based their character development on this broken, tragic protagonist. They’ve fallen prey to the very hero-worship that Sons of Liberty and for the most part Guns of the Patriots seems to be about. But I think, in its moments of nostalgia for Metal Gear’s earlier days, Guns of the Patriots falls prey to that hero worship just as much as it undermines it.

Metal Gear!

And then you are controlling REX! You’re in REX! It’s happening! Metal Gear?!

This sequence is actually really awkward to play, but that doesn’t matter. By making REX a real thing that can be controlled and harmed, he certainly loses some of the power he once had as this unstoppable object, but again that doesn’t matter too much. This moment is here because it has to be, because it is cool, because fuck it this is the last one of these and you’re going to get in a Metal Gear. You’re going to get in the Metal Gear. (Please ignore all prior Metal Gears and the fact MGS is technically the third game).

The way it gives REX power is by bringing in Gekkos, enemies you were desperately pushing back not five minutes ago, and allowing REX to cut through them like a knife through butter. These Gekkos blow up in just one blast from the turret, the catwalks they stand on coming down with them. REX’s destruction is limited now that it’s more than an imaginary risk, but the construction of the scene actually does a good job of conveying what REX might be like as, well, a dumb as hell Walking Tank.

BROTHER ON BROTHER!

Oh shit.

Oh shiiiiit.

Shit shit shit it is ON.

Liquid shows up in Metal Gear RAY, and then suddenly it’s a REX v RAY, Solid v Liquid fight. This game is pretty goooooood. My favourite thing about the way this starts is that Guns of the Patriots’ aesthetic is the greyest and dullest of the Metal Gear games. Metal Gear Solid has that blocky, PSOne charm, Sons of Liberty has Big Shell’s colour and vibrancy and Snake Eater nails the muddy jungle feel. But Guns of the Patriots looks like a video game, because this game was made in 2008 and having an art style was forbidden by law. And into the grey and dull world, bursts goddamn Metal Gear RAY straight out of Evangelion or something.

It’s just extra hilarious to watch the absolute peak moment of Metal Gear’s anime bullshit play out in 2008 Video Game aesthetic.

The fight itself is clunky and kinda bad but who really cares, so are all mech games (NB: I have only played Armored Core don’t @ me). Guns of the Patriots has embraced the fact that it’s no longer about playing it anymore, it’s about sitting back and relishing in this climax that you — that is you, the audience, you — so richly desired. But I — that is me, Jackson — can’t help but keep thinking about how nobody wanted to make this game, and how that seems to have informed so many of the creative decisions.

I’m sitting here waiting for the game to pull the rug out, to reveal its endgame. What’s going to happen as we head inside Arsenal Gear for the second time? Aresnal Gear is basically a hologram cyberhell inside, so I’m looking forward to that being represented in the Guns of the Patriots’ aesthetic.

There was a brief moment where I genuinely thought Liquid was dead with the Fox… DIE callback, and the game would shift to revealing the bigger villain. I don’t know why I’m so focused on the idea of Liquid not being the real final big bad of Metal Gear, whether it’s my expectation for Big Boss to show up at the end or my need for the game to turn its attention to the Patriots and the more systemic themes of Metal Gear’s world. The series has grown so much from Metal Gear Solid’s family squabble, and whilst it makes sense to bring it back down for the final entry, it feels more than a little dishonest compared to what came before.

But then I remember, nobody wanted to make this. They’re doing the best they can to just get this game out the door without being actively on fire. It’s weird how much I know about the end of this game and how much I feel at a loss.

WHERE IS THIS GOING?!?!!

Raiden’s Sacrifice

Secret funniest moment: bringing back the King Kong argument as a sweet, romantic flashback. Has there ever been a less convincing, more asinine and terrible scene of relationship building? How do you live in New York and not know which building was in King Kong? How do you work as a tour guide and have this debate with a random stranger and then fall in love with him?! Howwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww?

Context aside though, Raiden cutting off his arm and then sacrificing himself was a shock because one: shouldn’t Sunny die? Isn’t her being alive connected to his heartbeat or something? That did happen right, I’m not just making up the plot of these games as I go along, because you know I wouldn’t put that out of the question, this could all be my fever dream. And two, and this why this move makes sense: Raiden’s the player! Of course after everything, after throwing away his life for Snake after Snake already freed him from that, he would sacrifice his own life in order to further Snake’s journey. With this moment, as Raiden watches Snake and slips away into the water, Guns of the Patriots returns again to subverting and portraying the unhealthy nature of hero worship.

As Raiden dies, his last thoughts are of Rose, of the real world and the life that he gave up on to continually chase this ideal of being Solid Snake. If Raiden’s use in Sons of the Patriots was to highlight the dishonesty of an audience demanding a sequel, here he’s used to highlight how video game franchises never end and their audience can never accept a cathartic ending. Instead of taking the catharsis that comes from a art and folding that experience into their lives, audiences chase that same experience again and again and companies are more than happy to give it to them. Instead of Snake being someone who — like a fictional character to us — exists to impart information and teach us something, to Raiden Snake is someone more important than him, someone he must protect and enable against his will if he has to.

Now, I know Metal Gear Rising: Reveangance exists and takes place after Guns of the Patriots, so who the hell knows what’s going to happen — he’s clearly not dead dead yet. But Raiden’s arc so far in this game has continued some of the most beloved and discussed elements of Sons of Liberty, and is in some ways far more pointed with its critiques of the audience.

Act Four

I miss the part where you play Metal Gear. The first two acts of this game set Guns of the Patriotsup as a culmination of 10 years of growth for the stealth design in the series, but it hasn’t been able to keep that up after the second act. I know I’ve complained about it, but it’s sticking in my craw, and I think it’s a shame.

However, that aside, walking through the frozen wreck of Shadow Moses was incredibly evocative, equal parts indulgent and reverent of the series’ history and condmening that very indulgence. Which is hypocritical for sure, but it is the core hypocrisy of this game and if I couldn’t get past that then I’d be here forever.

What am I talking about, I’ve been here forever already. Set me free, Snake. Set me free.

The Final Briefing

I loved that briefing scene. The way it played for a good five minutes with the young soldiers debating the best way to approach the situation while Snake sat ignored at the rear with his face in an oxygen mask: perfect. It highlights more than just Snake’s current unfortunate situation, it highlights his otherness from these characters, these characters who are able to connect with each other and fight for themselves in a way he never will. He’s just waiting for his orders, no matter how dismal and sad they may be, and he’s going to carry them out.

I know I’m a sucker for any moment that plays into Snake’s tragic status, but this really emphasised that as it set the scene for the final time in the way it needed to, and got me all sad about the upcoming end. Whether or not he survives this mission, Snake is dead, and that was never made as clear as it was in this moment.

This was accompanied, of course, with Johnny being a fuckin’ asshole and trying to pinch Mei Ling’s ass while Meryl grumpily reacted, because there ain’t no bad time for a spot of sexual hijinks and comic relief.

The plan itself is to destroy GW from the inside, to fight through Liquid’s defences and completely eradicate his presence inside the SoP system. The game has all but given up on the idea of The Patriots as the larger enemy, considering that at this point we’re pretty much working for The Patriots and acting as their last line of defence. Maybe that’s totally the twist, maybe this is Sons of Liberty all over again, but if that’s the case I don’t know what that means for the end of the game. All the setup, the War Economy, everything about how this game set up its stakes focuses on the fact that Liquid is not the bad guy, he’s trying to destroy a bigger one.

So I dunno. We’ll see, I guess. Maybe the Metal Gear series ends with The Patriots still around, just like Sons of Liberty did? After all, I loved that ending, and maybe there’s a way they can pull that off again. But I doubt it, because everyone keeps talking about how they have to atone for all the sins, EVA saying how the war between Zero and Big Boss needs to end for the world before they can pass this world on to the next generation. And that can’t happen with The Patriots around.

All this wondering, this speculation and confusion basically comes down to the fact that I don’t know what Guns of the Patriots thematic core is. In my writing about all previous games, I was able to quickly latch on to the central thrust of each game and tie it into my reactions and analysis. But while Guns of the Patriots is thematically dense, it’s so much more muddled than any of the series that came before, to the point where I think its central theme is “this is a Metal Gear game.”

Getting Ready To Go

Jeez, this cinematic really sells the climactic nature of this battle. Mei Ling in the bridge, giving the traditional “I’m scared too” to a nobody crewmember, Campbell giving a voiceover about how this is our last chance to be free from Liquid’s villainy. What Guns of the Patriots has lost in thematic coherency, it has gained in cinematic extravagance. Where previously a codec conversation and a monologue over live action would do, now the year is 2008 and we can have a full cinematic of people getting ready to sacrifice their lives, with music amping up the drama of such an event.

And then, a guy with a monkey can show up to do a synchronised burp. Give it up for Metal Gear!

I like that Drebin’s here, and that the game has basically given up on explaining what the hell Drebin is doing showing up in any particular place now. It’s just kind of accepted that he’s following you around and is your buddy, despite technically being this morally grey arms dealer who is fully complicit in the propagation of the War Economy.

Anyway, it’s time to go, to get on a ridiculous catapult device and make our way onboard Outer Haven and see how Guns of the Patriots is going to wrap up. There’s so many questions in the air, so much uncertainty, and probably six world-changing twists ahead of me.

Arsenal Gear

Apparently Liquid’s done some renovation on the Arsenal Gear design since Sons of Libertybecause it no longer looks like a hologram nightmare and now looks like any other industrial military base. Which is a shame, but I get it, that just wouldn’t have fit in with Guns of the Patriots’ aesthetic design at all.

This first stealth room, on top of Arsenal Gear, is near impossible. I can’t imagine getting through here without being spotted, it’s entirely set up to be the Groznyj Grad esque final base challenge of this game. It’s strange, but cool, that we’re going back to stealth rooms for the final act, considering there basically haven’t been any since Act Two at this point; the robots in Shadow Moses make those incredibly different.

After dying about eight times, I finally make it through by managing to avoid enemies for the first half of the area, before charging up my railgun and blasting the Gekkos away. Heck and damn yeah.

I wish Guns of the Patriots had VR missions or something similar, the missions in the main game have been severely limited by the requirements of the story. Metal Gear Online doesn’t exist anymore, so unfortunately that’s not available to me as hey, you want more of this game, don’t you? I’m excited to see how the MGSV controls, because I know it’s an extension of Guns of the Patriots method of control, and the game also moves away from the room-to-room design that has defined Metal Gear across every single entry.

I hope it’s good!

Psycho Mantis, For It Is He

Oh, we have a Boss Fight already?! Maybe that first room is actually the final stealth room and it’s all setpieces til the end. I’d forgotten that the Beauty and the Beast unit were still around, considering how you could completely excise every single one of their fights and characters from the game and the entire story would remain unchanged. They are entirely superfluous, meaningless and purposeless and then on top of that they are the grossest things.

Screaming Mantis’ Boss Fight is interesting enough as they go, but again suffers from the needless insertion of a swarm of enemies into the mix, turning what was once an intimate affair into one more broad and mindless.

And then comes the twist that the entire unit was being controlled by Psycho Mantis and Screaming Mantis’ is just as characterless and without agency as every single one of her BnB colleagues. After which, Drebin takes a break at the most narratively urgent moment of the entire series to deliver another insufferably awful backstory, holy shit do I hate the Beauty and the Beast corps.

At least we’re done now. The corridor awaits.

The Final Day

As Meryl takes her position at the door, and bids Snake on the way to make his final sacrifice, I know that I’m done for now. I’m going to go complete the game, which means that next week everything ends. My final reactions to the end of the Metal Gear saga, we’re going to find out what Guns of the Patriots’ is really about, after weeks and weeks of muddled but interesting setup.

What secrets await for us at the end of the corridor? What happens when we reach GW? Where is Zero? Once Liquid is defeated, what happens to The Patriots?

Will Jackson ever be free of writing about Metal Gear? It hurts him so much, he just wants to relax, why has he done this to himself?

Gut Reactions

Huh.

I have no idea what to think right now. This is the moment that we’ve been building towards for four games and (for those of you reading along), almost a year now. And I can’t tell whether I like it or not. My first reaction was anger, the ending seemed to be giving up on the themes the games had raised in order to somehow give the series a happy ending. The narrative leaps the ending takes with the state of the world specifically made me livid, even though they walk them back a couple scenes later.

But alongside moments of disappointment like that were others that were poignant, powerful, the series almost coming to the perfect bittersweet conclusion in beautiful echoes of the events that started the whole pointless affair.

It’s the least coherent ending of a Metal Gear Solid game, but that’s because it has to, in some way, be an ending to all Metal Gear Solid games. Each of those already formed a complete thematic picture, so trying to wrap them into one more final tale is already such a gargantuan task that it’s a miracle it got finished at all.

And in many respects, that’s the point of the whole thing. The game has continually been aware of its own hollowness, of the irresponsibility of its audience, chasing a catharsis that will never come. Maybe there was nothing else to do but wrap everything up with this crushing sense of inevitability, maybe we had to get to that point to realise how none of this mattered at all, how far we had strayed from the path.

After all, isn’t this why we’re here? This is good, isn’t it?

The Corridor

In lieu of the traditional series of boss fights and escape sequences, Guns of the Patriots attempts to achieve something far more singular with its climax, the microwave corridor. There’s no more enemies to fight, there’s nowhere else to go, you just have to not give up. Because if you don’t, everyone is going to die.

I’d heard about this moment before, obviously, so it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been, but it’s still this incredible moment of desperation, before the catharsis that’s been coming for a decade now. Raiden’s final battle, the last stand with Meryl and Johnny, Ray attacking the boat, Otacon crying in a corner, all playing out in split screen while you can do nothing but press a single button. The weight of years of plotlines, relationships, emotions, everything, all coming through in this single interaction. It’s a simple trick, and not one of the series more nuanced moments, but it’s definitely effective.

At this point, Guns of the Patriots is operating in full operatic mode. Why is Raiden there?! Who cares? This is the end, and at the end all sense of reality will fade away, reducing the series to its basest emotional and thematic elements. It’s not a sequence about logic, it’s not even a sequence about tension, despite being a will he/won’t he save the world sequence. It’s about the moment in and of itself, the pressing of the button, the torture mechanic recontextualised as this beautiful moment of sacrifice to save your friends.

It is only when everything is at its most dire, that you may walk through the door, and receive your reward.

FoxAlive

And what is the reward?

Well, it’s complicated.

For all intents and purposes, the microwave corridor is the last action in the game, there’s a fight after it with Liquid, but it’s such a strange dream-like affair that I consider it part of the game’s “ending.” And I don’t mean that as a knock against it.

So there you sit, in this computer graveyard, having finally made it to stop Liquid, and it’s time for Guns of the Patriots to finally confront the thematic debate that has been roaring for almost a decade now, to finally tackle The Patriots as an antagonist that can be defeated. And I have to tell you, the way it goes about that was the single most disappointing moment in the entirety of these four games, at least at first.

After the entire game had been building up to this moment, building up the way modern society and SOP are inextricably interlinked, and one cannot exist without the other, it suddenly drops that plot thread. Sunny develops a magical computer virus, like FoxDie but good, and removes Patriot control while keeping base functions like water, internet, and everything else.

I don’t think I can overstate just how angry I was at this in the moment, I’d invested so much in the game’s willingness to go there with The Patriots, to show ideologically how norms and values can’t just be defeated with a MacGuffin, and how systemic violence is such a self-sustaining and tragic thing. For a series so thematically intricate, so earnest about its politics to seemingly just shrug and give up without making a stance felt unforgivable.

Now, as the rest of the ending passed, and I sat and thought about it for a while, I don’t think it’s that bad. I don’t even think it’s a thematic betrayal, but I sure felt like it was in the moment. It’s definitely a disappointment, but a lot of that is on me. Guns of the Patriots is a sequel to Snake Eater, not the delayed sequel to Sons of Liberty, and its eventual conclusion positions it as that entirely, the way it deals with its conflicts lines up with that exactly. It’s definitely fair to say that the themes I’ve considered central to Guns of the Patriots are a few of many, and Metal Gear is such a multifaceted series that it’s basically impossible to betray the meaning of the series in one plot point.

Plus, with Drebin and Otacon’s conversation later, this plot development gets placed in a far clearer context, one that sits with me a lot better. This isn’t a happy ending at all, this is just wiping the slate clean. The War Economy is gone, the system may be gone, but the people who lived within it are still the same. The Evil Ideology has not magically been replaced with the Good Ideology (that would be a thematic betrayal!), instead the human race as a whole has a chance to fight to get things back on track, and to decide what that track even may be.

It fits in with Guns of the Patriots’ transition in this final act to pure opera, leaving behind any semblance of logical A to B in its plot points. Sunny isn’t Snake, who was essentially carrying out The Patriots’ will with his unthinking devotion to the mission, Sunny isn’t Otacon, who is too focused on atoning for his own sins and working through his trauma to take a step back and solve the puzzle. Instead, Sunny is both of them, she is their child, she is what they have passed on to the world.

These broken people, trapped in their traumas and unable to escape, are able to pass on the right values and kindness to give the next generation the tools to make things better. Which in many ways was always the ending of the saga, Sons of Liberty ending on that exact thematic note, but without making that subtext so blatantly text.

And now that it’s been a few days, and I sit writing this reaction, I’m okay with it. I like that, as a conclusion, as an argument made by the text. It may have felt like a slap in the face in the moment, but this is the ending to Metal Gear, this is as final as final can be. Imagine having to write yourself out of that corner?

The Patriots were written before as this all powerful other, an almost god-like collective of ideas controlling the world from behind the scenes. They were never meant to be defeated, they were never meant to be taken out, they were a device to analyse the different responses to the cruelties of American Society, which is why this game focuses on Solid, Liquid and Big Boss, and is so disinterested in The Patriots themselves.

So in the end, FoxAlive isn’t so bad. It’s a clumsy and awkward Deus Ex Machina, but manages to tie up the series’ main conflict while remaining true to the themes that have propelled the series.

The Twin Snakes

I skipped it in the last section while dealing with the wider implications and stakes that were going on, but also Liquid and Snake have a fight in the middle.

The fight between Liquid and Solid is stunning. It’s not even a fight for any reason, and it begins with Otacon setting Snake down and running off to a helicopter, and then revealing that Snake’s on top of a massive Pillar on Arsenal Gear???? This is not a game operating within a coherent reality at this moment, and it’s content to draw attention to how much that is the case.

The fight happens and it happens here purely because it has to. It’s got nothing to do with saving the world, it’s Snake v Liquid, the closest thing Metal Gear has to a Good v Evil, in their final confrontation. It even saves this moment for the Metal Gear theme to play. (okay, the Metal Gear B theme, they cut out the main theme because of copyright issues, which is tragic and I am not okay with it, that would be like recasting David Hayter and you’d never do that!)

It cycles the UI cycles through the years, moving the soundtrack from game to game, and it’s this moment of pure indulgence but oh so needed. There are no real plot reveals, no sudden motivational twists, and everything goes exactly as expected. It’s a celebration far more than a catharsis. It’s simply this time to reflect on the series’ progression, Guns of the Patriots explicitly confirming in its formal elements that it is, first and foremost, a game about Metal Gear.

Liquid dies by his hand, in his arms. Snake is a hero, he’s completed his mission. He’s overcome so much, and he’s saved the world.

All he has to do now is die.

Happy Families

Which almost brings us to the single worst plot point in the game, as we get joyous sequences of victory, all underscored by the inevitability that our hero won’t be able to share in them.

First, Meryl and Johnny hook up and get married — which is a fine way to end Meryl’s arc, to me. She spent that first game as Snake’s love interest, as a rookie who realised she wasn’t cut out for this, by getting shot and propelling Snake’s emotional arc. And here, she’s not only proven his assessment of her wrong as someone who will never make it, she defines herself without using Snake as a model, as opposed to Otacon/Raiden, characters who have essentially rebuilt their personality in Snake’s image.

So, for her to come to this point where she can both be this badass soldier lady and an emotionally capable woman in love cements her as perhaps the single most well adjusted and heroic character in all of Metal Gear. I’m not saying this to defend the super sexist way this sudden turn of “falls in love with literal barrel shitting idiot” is written, but more to say that perhaps inadvertently, Meryl’s arc positions her as this powerful and competent character in a way that few others get to be.

Plus, it’s nice to see her and her dad finally reconcile. I can’t lie, that was a sweet moment.

The other joyous sequence is somewhat less tolerable. Raiden sits in a bed, his arms re-attached, and Rose reveals to him that she’s been pretending to be Roy Campbell’s wife to protect their child from the Patriots!!! It’s this awful moment, as all of what made Raiden’s arc in this game so powerful, his complete and utter rejection of the catharsis of Sons of Liberty is suddenly reinstated.

The way Guns of the Patriots uses Raiden is central to the way it comments on Metal Gear as a series of games — Raiden continues to be the stand in for the player, given their chance to stop with Sons of Liberty, which is on one level entirely about freeing the player from wanting any more Metal Gear games. But they continue, they reject that freedom, and so Raiden becomes this husk of what he was, desperately chasing his need to be Solid Snake despite the fact he could so easily choose a better life, a choice Snake does not have available to him.

And all of a sudden, for no reason whatsoever, Guns of the Patriots just undoes all of that. It’s not game-ruining at all, because it does make sense in that it’s trying to create this moment of unlikely elation off the back of Snake’s suicidal sacrifice. The player gets to go home, Snake does not.

It’s understandable as a choice, but it’s definitely a shame. It’s this real moment of Metal Gear pulling its punches in a way it never really does. Even FoxAlive was different, that was a ridiculous and earnest Deus Ex Machina, a twist that the game cared about and had a purpose. This twist has none of that earnestness, it just kind of happens because Raiden has to get back with Rose, I guess. It feels like the game itself doesn’t care.

And in a way, it doesn’t. Because Snake pulls the trigger, the sun rises on a new future, and the credits roll. But Guns of the Patriots isn’t done with those ideas yet. It’s barely begun.

Death of the Author

“It’s not time for you to go just yet.”

Big Boss’ voice is soft and gentle, a tired old man who’s fought a tired old war, who hasn’t got any fight left in him.

This is perhaps the most discussed sequence in Guns of the Patriots’ ending, Big Boss returning from the dead to save Solid Snake from certain doom. I remember at the time hearing that it was this big moment of cowardice, that video game franchise characters simply don’t get that finality, and stepping away from that brink is a monumentally bad decision.

Having now seen the ending, I can’t think of anything farther from the truth. This final scene brings the game into crystallisation, this epilogue to the entire series that feels like the inevitable and final conclusion of the entire Metal Gear saga.

Big Boss drops a bunch of reveals and twists — mostly that he’s still alive and that Ocelot chose to become Liquid to bring him out of Patriot control. He monologues for a long while about norms and the systemic nature of Metal Gear’s villainy, and how for the world to move on they have to take responsibility for their sins and do their best to undo them. Which means Zero needs to die, and so does he. In sacrificing himself, he saves his final son, setting Snake free of a war that was never his.

All of this is great, the ending of the series being the ultimate Villain’s ultimate but pointless redemption as they realise the sheer magnitude of what they have done and end their life with a miniature act of kindness. But it’s also whatever, it’s not what this scene is about to me, it’s not why this ending is so powerful.

If Solid Snake is the character, and Raiden is the player, then Big Boss is the author. Raiden’s been a representation of the audience, dragged across the coals for their inability to stop needing to play new Metal Gear games, but it’s only now we see it from the other perspective, from someone who can’t stop making them. For all the valid critique of Kojima positioning himself as an auteur who takes all the credit, this ending showcases the flipside where he must take all the responsibility, too.

In a very real way, this scene feels like Kojima having a conversation with his own creation. This barely involves me anymore, Raiden’s in a hospital with his wife, the player is already free. Instead, the ending here isn’t for them, it’s this incredibly personal epilogue where the author looks at the work that they’ve made and asks: what was this all for? I lost the why along the way.

Metal Gear’s always had this self-reflexive quality, if you Find/Replace “Soldier” with “Artist” and “Nations” with “Companies” it works strikingly well as this desperate angry narrative about the intersection of art and industry. No more is this evident than in this final moment, in this game that only exists because the audience will pay, and Konami wants to get paid. After all, it’s been well documented that Kojima’s not wanted to make any more Metal Gear since Sons of Liberty, and every single game before was to be his final entry.

But still, more are made, and the series is moving further and further away from its original identity. After all, this game began with a direct response to western shooter trends, the gunplay is far more accessible than games before, and core concepts such as OSP are missing entirely. The first Metal Gear Solid was a game about slowly gaining knowledge and mastery over a space, and through that knowledge gaining empowerment and uncovering a mystery. Now, Snake travels from room to room with no real backtracking or continuity of space, weapons available at the touch of the button.

So why does it still exist? What could possibly be left to say that wouldn’t merely dilute what was already there? And here at the end, why should the character sacrifice himself for something that isn’t his responsibility? No, the buck stops with me.

Stories have to end. They can’t spiral out of control, just tropes and elements repeating to make money or satisfy an audience, otherwise they lose all meaning. And Metal Gear is at it’s heart a beautifully optimistic story, so for Snake to die would be heinous. He deserves to see his new world, to give up smoking, to live the last of his life with his best friends. So there’s only one way to make this final. There’s only one way that this can end, there’s only one person who should take the fall.

This is good, isn’t it?


Animal House Epilogue:

Hideo Kojima would go on to release three more Metal Games after this.

In the year 2016, he is finally free.