Monthly Archives: May 2014

Sixteen years later, Metal Gear Solid is still big budget stealth and action

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Before I start, let me just own up to the fact that this blog post’s picture is taken from Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, the 2004 remake for the GameCube. I tried finding decent screencaps from the original PlayStation 1 version, but none of them were good enough to fill the slot, all too muddy or pixelated or extremely low res; I have some standards to uphold, y’know.

Released in 1998, some eight years after Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid is much more of the same stealth and shoot gameplay found in the previous game, but now in glorious 3D. Well, for the time, it was pretty glorious. Either it hasn’t aged well or I had a phenomenal imagination as a teenager, able to make faces appear where flat texture washes were, able to see actual footprints in the snow instead of grayish-black globs that faded fast, and, though I’m reluctant to admit this, able to see Meryl as a stunning, do-anything-for-her kind of woman instead of the feisty, yet lifeless character she actually turned out to be. Thankfully, looks aren’t everything, and where Metal Gear Solid shone was in the gameplay–which I now know was a nearly identical rehash of what went down in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake–but it was fun, is still a decent amount of fun these days, and helped balance the wordy storytelling with interesting set pieces and things to do in them.

The story, as simply as can be said, goes a little something like this: Six years after Solid Snake, a war-hardened infiltrator of the U.S. special forces unit FOXHOUND, snuck into the military nation of Zanzibar Land and destroyed the armored bi-pedal tank Metal Gear D and its leader, the rogue FOXHOUND commander Big Boss, he’s called back to action. On a remote Alaskan island, Liquid Snake is operating a secret nuclear weapon disposal facility codenamed Shadow Moses with nefarious intentions. Also, he has some hostages. And so in goes the snake with nothing but his smokes and a loose plan of action to his name.

And this story goes from perfunctory to insane pretty quickly, but thanks to the power of voice acting, lengthier Codec chats, and movie-framed cutscenes, everything is told well and at a good pace. In fact, this is a fairly short, straightforward action adventure game in the seven to ten hour range. There really is no filler; everything is pushing Snake forward to the eventual showdown with Liquid Snake and whatever new incarnation of Metal Gear is around. David Hayter’s performance unequivocally defines that character, and he even shows some emotional range by the end of things, depending on whether or not you gave into Revolver Ocelot’s torture (I did). Some of the other voice actors lay the accents on pretty thick, like Mei Ling and Nastasha Romanenko, and it’s beyond clear from the first word that Master Miller says what’s going on there. But yeah, I found myself losing my mind again over the twists and turns, and I’m a sucker for the real footage of warheads exploding and storage buildings mixed in with the in-game cutscenes.

A lot of Metal Gear Solid‘s “unique” gameplay elements were lifted almost verbatim out of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, and I never realized that until recently, since I got to play both of them back to back. Oh well, no biggie. Just learn your game history, that’s all. Mainly, I’m highlighting having to recover a Codec frequency from the game’s packaging, figuring out how to identify a woman disguised as a soldier, and changing the shape of a key based on hot/cold temperatures. There’s plenty of smaller nods too, but those are the big boys. Being a digital copy, I was happily surprised that I could still look up Meryl’s Codec frequency by accessing the manual through the pause menu. Maybe not as cool as it once was, flipping over the jewel case we all probably just tossed aside once the game’s CD was in our hungry PlayStation, but still pleasing.

Here’s a thing: I do remember the game being larger, with more areas to explore, but it’s actually quite contained. Maybe that was them new 3D graphics playing tricks on my still evolving mind. For instance, outside in the snow with Sniper Wolf, there’s really only a couple of screens to explore, whereas a teenage kid I felt I was lost in some snowy wilderness, far from the comfort of card key-activated doors and guard-alarming cameras. The buildings themselves are compact, and you’ll eventually come back to every locked door for one reason or another. Again, there’s a good amount of back and forthing, but it’s not as frustrating as in the previous games, mostly because it is much easier to stay alive this time around. Most of Snake’s deaths were a result of boss fights, which leads into the next paragraph nicely.

I’ve never had much luck with boss fights, especially Metal Gear ones. Those early NES games all followed followable patterns, but you could only make two or three mistakes before it was all over. Well, the same applies here, except I handled 75% of the bosses with ease. No, really. Sniper Wolf, Psycho Mantis, Revolver Ocelot–easy peasy. It was really the final three sequences–fighting Metal Gear Rex, hand-to-hand combat with your genetically identical bro Liquid Snake, and then that drive-and-gun escape sequence–that nearly proved too much for me. Thankfully, I soldiered on and watched that sun rise anew over that beautifully cold Alaskan horizon.

So yeah, I’m glad I got to revisit Metal Gear Solid in this self-assigned journey of mine. It was pretty enjoyable, even if I remembered it a little differently, but I don’t suspect I’ll touch it again for many years to come, if ever again at all. If you’ve never played it, however, and are just entering the franchise with, say, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, then I highly recommend it. You’ll probably even see some connection with how Kojima wrote Meryl in relation to some of the more controversial topics in his newest game.

Lastly, we’ll end as we have the previous two Metal Gear posts with my stats screen:

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Sorry for the blurry text. I think that says I saved 25 times and used a lot of rations. Anyone know if Leopard is a good rank to get?

Up next…Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions!

To think of shadows is a serious thing in Deadlight

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Deadlight is all style, no substance, which results in a very cool-looking slice of perfunctory–and often clunky–2D action. A shame, really. Unfortunately, when it comes to playing videogames, looks only get you so far, and I found much of my so-far early goings with Deadlight frustrating and shrouded in obtuse darkness due to its shoddy controls, stilted voiceover work, and strange mix of gameplay styles. I’ll explain more shortly.

Deadlight is set in 1986, and a zombie plague has decimated the world. Or maybe it’s a shadow plague, since no one seems to like referring to them as anything other than shadows when clearly they are of the flesh-tearing, brain-munching zombie ilk. Just, y’know, wreathed in shadows. Anyways, you play as Randall Wayne, a grizzled survivor trying make his way through Seattle. Oh, and the way you know it’s the 1980s? Those cassette-tape loading animations and knockoff Tiger LCD handheld-game collectibles should clue you in. Otherwise, it’s just another dark, grim world. Your goal: reach the Safe Point.

Clearly inspired by literature works like Stephen King’s Cell, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, as well as taking cues from other side-scrolling games like Limbo and Out of This WorldDeadlight, early on, feels really good. Like, really good. I still don’t mean control-wise, but Tequila Works really nails the atmosphere of a world gone to shit, especially in the first act, where all the focus is getting through one scenario to another in a single piece, which often meant avoiding fighting shadows and using other methods to get around. Mr. Wayne is no supersoldier, just a guy taking advantage of everything around him to stay alive, and whistling at a zombie so it walks towards you and right into the pool of electrified water is hilariously satisfying.

There’s a little bit of everything in Deadlight. From the beginning, it’s mostly about running, jumping, climbing, crawling, and moving through the environments while avoiding enemies. This is all well and good, except the jumping feels sluggish, and when you let go of the analog stick Mr. Wayne continues to run a step or two further, which inevitably leads to messed-up jumps and other problems. Limbo‘s jumping never felt amazing, but that game moved at a much slower pace, even when a giant spider was chasing you. Combat comes in two forms: your ax or your gun. Ammo is limited, and I think I’ve used the gun more for solving puzzles than popping the heads of shadows off. You can swing your ax pretty well, but you’re limited by a stamina meter; all in all, the vibe is constantly avoid combat, and so that’s what I did. Lastly, there’s puzzle-solving, and a lot of what I’ve seen involves hitting switches/pulling levers and hightailing it somewhere else; alas, because of the previously mentioned problematic running, this can be a challenge, and Mr. Wayne suffered many deaths before the timing of it all could be determined. Trial and error is okay when implemented sporadically, but it really feels like every room you go into in Deadlight is designed to kill you first, then teach you how to live.

Again, it’s a shame the game plays so poorly and is unfocused, as visually, it’s astounding. Shadow Complex helped bridge the gap between 2D planes and 2D.5, and Deadlight uses this trick to create some stunning images of shadows appearing in the background and walking towards you from the distance. There’s a good amount of zooming in and out, highlighting different parts of the area, and a lot of it is well detailed despite the fact that Mr. Wayne is going to run past it all in a few minutes. While I found a lot of the voicework to be hammy, the art used in the cutscenes is what you’d expect if The Walking Dead comics were colored and a webcomic, and while they are a stark contrast to the actual gameplay graphics, they help build a consistency nonetheless.

I don’t know how much more is left to see in Deadlight. Currently, I’m still inside the Rat’s test chamber of terrible ways to kill one’s self. It’s not very clear how I’m supposed to get Mr. Wayne from one side of the room to the other, and all it takes is a misplaced jump to die and give me enough pause to reconsidering how I’m spending my gaming time. Might have to end up looking for an online walkthrough as my Xbox 360’s hard-drive is nearly filled, and I want to download and play Dust: An Elysian Tale, but in order to do that, I need to beat Deadlight and feel done enough with it to hit “uninstall.” It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward experience from beginning to end, though I can guarantee I won’t 100% it as I’m positive I’ve missed a secret or two along the way.