‘Metal Gear Solid’: Traits, Themes, & My Experiences

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I began my time here at Up Your Geek with a lot of hopes and a lot of goals. I wanted to explore new territories as a writer and I wanted to do work that would be engaging not only from a place of having fun, but also a place of smart analysis of popular culture. I wanted to explore deeper meaning in multiple facets. I wanted to find something new to really latch on to. Little did I know my Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes Review I started back in March would lead me on a path that would satisfy all of those things I was looking for. I began my playthrough of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes with little knowledge of the series other than what has famously been parodied. Not long after and because playing of each of these game I have become a die hard fan and not just because they are great games, but they often went into deeper themes and ideologies. They pushed the boundaries of what their medium can do and even though I may be finished with reviewing the series I wanted to come back one last time and look at it as a whole to see what makes the series great and why it had such a positive impact on not only myself, but on gaming. There is a lot to dissect here so I will focus on certain elements that really did stand out as well as a ranking of the games and how they stand against each other. Most of this article will be spoiler-free, but there may be minor spoilers in a designated spoiler section. With that being out of the way it’s time to look back at this series and experience everything it has to offer.

Unique Traits

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I had no idea what to expect when I took the plunge into playing this iconic series. I knew certain things like how the cutscenes were long and the names of some of the characters, but I really had no context as to how this series would play and what was really in store. What I got was a multilayered experience filled with some of the most unique elements in gaming. The first of which being the stealth based gameplay. The early games had clunkier controls, but in a unique way they still played quite well and the feeling of successfully sneaking through areas was satisfying. The original Metal Gear games were some of the first games to use stealth as a mechanic and those games certainly have their charms about them, but when it was time to bring the series to 3D they had to alter that gameplay to fit within this space. Not many games utilized a complex stealth system and while there are many games today that use stealth no other game has been able to accurately replicate what Metal Gear Solid brought to the table. They altered the way that games are played because of their unique traits including item management, gadgets, and the plethora of things that were unheard of before. There is of course an even bigger trait that still has not been seen to this degree in any other game and that is the complex narrative.

It is fair to say that in the modern culture of gaming that games are cinematic. Some of the best games use their gameplay to highlight the impressive cinematics and storytelling, but none of them have done so in quite the way that the Metal Gear Solid Series has. It’s impossible to really quantify what makes these games work, but a big part of that is the complicated and silly, but also engaging and entertaining narrative. These games aimed to deliver what movies have been doing and it was obvious that series creator and mastermind Hideo Kojima had in mind. His love of film permeated into these games from the earliest incarnations up until Metal Gear Solid V. The cutscenes in a lot of these games could run anywhere from 10 minutes all the way up to 70 minutes, which is unheard of. The story in these games are often times more important than the gameplay, but instead of it being a hindering element it actually helps the games. It’s a trait that has yet to be seen copied and if it was I doubt it would have the same impact that it does for Metal Gear. The time it takes to tell the story is long, but it does have a point. Kojima’s essence is in every bit of the games. His style and his adoration for film including very obvious references and nods to some of the greatest films are extremely present. His characters are complicated, but also have comedic sides to them. He is able to balance the ridiculous with the serious effectively  and it is astonishing. This unique trait has not been replicated to this level since, but it’s influence over game narratives and using cinematic elements to tell video game stories is still reflected to this day.

The Unique qualities of these games made my playthrough of them unlike anything else I experienced before. I needed to know more of the story and I let the games take me on that journey. They asked me to step out of my expectations and just experience it, which allowed me to have an excellent time. In all of it’s ridiculousness there is depth and a lot to unpack, which was certainly a worthwhile experience. With that in mind there are deeper themes that need to be explored because of their prevalent role throughout the narrative.

Deeper Themes (Spoilers)

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When playing through these games it’s very apparent that there are deeper meaning that Hideo Kojima has crafted. Many things not only have references to famous film, television, and novels, but they also reflect real world issues and bring it together into something that speaks beyond a surface level interpretation. When I went into these games I really didn’t expect the themes that would be at play and because of that certain things ended up surprising me.

The biggest theme present in all of the games is a very deep running anti-war sentiment. While the games are all about combat the narrative reflects individuals whose lives have been altered or ruined thanks to the constant stream of battle and war. With the original game it is very apparent that Solid Snake had been hardened by his time in battle. He’s very often cold and distant because of everything he had to face and through the course of the story this changes especially when you learn about his past in that he was a clone of the legendary Big Boss. This anti-war sentiment is carried out into the rest of the games with taking a prominent role with the character of Raiden. Raiden ended up being the main protagonist in Metal Gear Solid 2 and while that was criticized his role was critical in that he ended up being someone who grew up as a child soldier. This is the first prominent idea of child soldiers in the series and they continued into Metal Gear Solid V. The loss of innocence to the brutality of war is something that is explored and as awful as this is this happens in the real World. This forcing of children to murder for the profit of others is heavily referenced. In addition to this the entire plot of Metal Gear Solid 4 involved an economy and system based entirely on the constant fighting of proxy wars set up by the Patriots System, which gave the more powerful nations leverage and security when sending people to wars. The anti-war theme is so important a theme to the core of the series that it’s impossible to avoid.

With the theme of anti-war also comes the major themes of loyalty not only to yourself and those you care for, but also loyalty in your nation. It’s obvious that Kojima is fascinated by the separation of cultures and nations. The plot of The Phantom Pain revolved around a virus that attacked individuals based upon the language they spoke. This was a clear indication of the hatred that nations have amongst one another. Characters are often seen as loyal to their own nation at the expense of others and often against what is right, but sometime this loyalty is at the expense of oneself. In Metal Gear Solid 3 The Boss was revealed to have not been a traitor after all, but in reality it was her loyalty to her country that led her to defect because it was always a part of her mission. She was meant to defect to protect the reputation of the US and she also was meant to die at the hands of Snake, but she accepted it because of her deep loyalty to her nation. She even thought about a World without nations. An ideological idea where there would be no boundaries, but she deemed that as impossible. She represents absolute loyalty to the very end, which is very interesting considering that both Big Boss and Zero separate and have very different meanings for what The Boss’ will is. Zero sees her will as making a World without borders, but completely under the guise of the Patriots system, but Big Boss sees it as a sanctuary for soldiers. One nation to itself. These both have admirable ideologies, but both are wrong interpretations of what she meant. They both divide and in a way become nations unto themselves and this plays into that theme of loyalty. It’s a powerful concept that is explored in Big Boss’ storyline and in a way it passes on to Solid Snake and his story arc.

Out of all the games there is one theme that wasn’t as explored, but was completely engaging was that of the flow of information control presented in Metal Gear Solid 2. There is a huge reveal towards the end of the game showing that the Patriots have developed themselves to be self aware artificial intelligence and in a way they had been controlling Raiden the whole game. They explain their plan as the spread and control of information and they were testing it on Raiden. They want to control people’s minds and actions because in their eyes people are often willing to accept lies than face the hard truth. This system isn’t mentioned again in the same way in the following games, but Metal Gear Solid 4 does deal with the consequences of these AI’s taking control. I found it utterly fascinating that Hideo Kojima was able in ways to predict how the use of digital media can be used to manipulate the minds of people and as being someone who spends a lot of time on the internet I see this happening constantly. It’s brilliant in this theme and in it’s prediction of where we are now.

The themes present in this game are astounding and while I can’t go over everything that happens in each game here I can recommend you read my prior reviews, which carefully take their time in handling these in relation to each game’s story. With all this being said it’s a great time to look at how each game holds up against each other.

Ranking the Series

The game series is fantastic and while I personally love every game in the series I think it’s great to see which ones are the weakest and which game stood out as the best from my perspective.

6. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD

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The game does an excellent job diving back into the control of Big Boss and telling an original story this time set in the 1970’s. The controls are very good as well as the story, but this earns it’s spot because it is a handheld game that was ported so it did have portions that were repetitive and compared to the rest of the series it didn’t have the same level of polish.

5. Metal Gear Solid V

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This game is a controversial one because of the drama that went down behind the scenes and while I think this is a beautifully crafted game it lacks some of the things that the rest of the games have especially with the narrative being much more sparse in comparison.

4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty

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This game may have some of the best story elements present in the entire series. While I may not have been as interested in the gameplay and setting, the story itself is worth playing this game alone. It’s certainly not the most well balanced of entries, but it does it’s part extremely well.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots

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This game was an incredible way to end the series. With the marked improvements of gameplay in addition to the heavy story elements that resolved a lot of things it just worked incredibly well. It’s not the best in the series, but it earns its spot here.

2. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

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While I never played through the original Playstation 1 version of Metal Gear Solid, The Twin Snakes delivered that incredible beginning narrative with a more modern control scheme and gameplay. It highlighted what is already there and my experience playing it was an incredibly moving and exciting one. It strikes a great blend of telling an interesting story, while also allowing for some memorable gameplay sections and boss battles. It has every right to earn it’s place here, but there is one more that edges it out.

1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that not only is this game the best game in the series it also is one of the best games of all time. In my review it earned a perfect score and I stand behind that rating. Everything from the marked improvements and changes in gameplay elements perfectly balanced with an incredible covert operation narrative was extremely worth the hours put into it. Every twist and turn in the story worked well and the implementation of the camouflage system set in the height of the Cold War was an inspired decision. The game stands the test of time and absolutely deserves the top spot.

Conclusion

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The Metal Gear series is one of the most thrilling and fascinating series in all of gaming. There is certainly nothing like it and there will never be anything that does what this series has done. It changed the way games are thought of and it left its permanent mark on the gaming landscape. I feel very fortunate to have not only played through each game for the first time, but also to have reviewed it all in depth for Up Your Geek. Thank you for following my journey on this series and I hope you have enjoyed reading my analysis as much as I have enjoyed writing them. “You’re Pretty Good”.

 

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