Return of the Snake

As part of my epic “All of these games point to something very unsettling with the industry”, I need to actually review the games in question (Metal Gear Solid 4, Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and Grand Theft Auto 4).  I’ll also need to bring myself to complete Fallout 3, which is painful on a level I cannot even begin to describe, but I digress.

To be at least semi-impartial on this, I’ll link to alternative reviews which basically mirror anything critical I would be saying anyway, with caveats.  Then I’ll get into my complaints, which are mostly there because no one seems to notice the problem of reviewing a game out of context.  It’s like quoting Bible verses and forgetting that the interpretation is largely dependent on the context in which is was written, and some things just don’t translate well into the 21st century.

Legitimate Reviews

Kotaku’s Review : Basically spot on.  My only major issue, and it is major with a capital J, is that it treats MGS4 as a game that is supposed to be entertaining through interaction.  Hence, the subject of my gripe.  Also to note is I have no interest in MGS Online, so I didn’t bother touching it.

There are only two other things to note:

  • Metal Gear has always had a history of fighter-pilot controls for motion and combat which always feel just awkward enough that you never perform an action without some kind of thought.  This game is no exception, and those damn PS3 analog should buttons don’t help with that at all.
  • Metal Gear is a serious game series with a serious plot that does not take itself seriously.  I say this not because it’s bad (It’s not), but Kojima has always used Fourth Wall Breaking and nonsensical dialogue as a comedic device/gameplay and tutorial mechanism (Seriously, the game would be much too tense otherwise).  Characters, while conversing with each other, frequently refer to the controller, button, and console you are playing the games on without a second thought.  It is completely jarring, especially since one of the Metal Gear Solid 1 encounters uses information stored on your memory card about other games AND requires you to use the Player 2 port on the system you’re playing on, and a few people would be upset enough about it to rant because it happens so rarely and so blatantly in the series as a whole.  So it’s here.

Personal Thoughts

The biggest issue, and I mean absolutely huge, is that Metal Gear Solid 4 requires you do two very important things:

  1. Forget you’re playing a video game.  You’re not.  You’re in an interactive novel with the dialogue choices replaced by gunplay and stealth.  If you’ve played H-games, Phoenix Wright, or Trauma Center, this makes perfect sense.
  2. Follow the Metal Gear Postulate.  This is, without a doubt, a fanservice game.  Playing MGS4 because everyone says it’s great is like reading (Return of the King/Order of the Phoenix/Children of the Mind/favorite book series where you only read the last book) first.  If you start a series at MGS4, you’re screwed.

What is the Metal Gear Postulate?  Countless mathematicians agonized over it in great detail, but I have recently discovered a simplified proof by Yamako et al. which is much easier to impart to the masses, without knowledge of continuity theory.  It is as follows:

Theorem 2.4.1 (Metal Gear Postulate): Assume you are playing a Metal Gear Solid game for the first time.  Assume, also, that the controls and fourth-wall breaking are perfectly okay to you.  Then, if the following formula holds:

x + 1 >= M

… with high probability you will enjoy the game, where ‘x’ is the number of prior Metal Gear games played in the storyline, and M is the chronological cardinality of the current game you are playing

Simply put, if you are playing Metal Gear Solid 4, and you have skipped over more than one of the other Metal Gear games (This includes the Metal Gear on NES, but not Metal Gear 2 for the MSX or Snake’s Revenge which was utter crap), you run the risk of being hopelessly lost.  The story line for Metal Gear is very convoluted, although very distinct, among each of the MGS games.  You probably be unable to piece together why anything is happening anywhere, what these characters are, and what the hell is going on in the semi-alternate universe Kojima has constructed.  The flashbacks will make no sense at all.  You can piece together the backstory of up to one game without too much issue, but that’s about it.

You also miss out on some seriously awesome fan service moments that require you to have played through the first Metal Gear Solid.

In short, know your history.  Otherwise, the game won’t be enjoyable.  But it’s a sequel.  You wouldn’t really play a sequel without skimming the cliff notes to the previous games… right?

Coincidentally, the Metal Gear Postulate can be extended to the following corollary:

Corollary to 2.4.1: The Metal Gear series must be played in approximate order in order to enjoy Metal Gear Solid 4.

The proof is an exercise left to the reader.

One Response to “Return of the Snake”

  1. I have made a review of MGS4 at my site. Anybody who doesn’t play MGS4 should check it out it might give you some useful info!

    Z: May want to update your link to the review. The original one is broken. Interesting perspective on MGO, haven’t had anyone actually describe it yet.

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