Metal Gear Solid: Rising: Revamped: Revengeance: Part Four

Noted hero and food picture taker Hideo Kojima took to Twitter to mention that that game  will be released on February 19th in North America, the 21st in Europe, and the 22nd int he UK. The game has been in the works for quite awhile by Platinum Games (Bayonetta) and features hack-and-slash gameplay instead of the traditional playstyle Metal Gear is so well known for. You can catch a trailer here.

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Anyone You Know? : Names and Games

An old staple of video games (well, older video games), was the high score list. Upon getting a decent high score, you were given the chance to sign your name to it. Upon dying or winning or whatever, others would see your name up there. It was remarkable, really. You could beat a game and for years your name would be there. And while many (most, even) used this as an opportunity to leave swear words and the like (and as you were often only given three characters [presumably for your initials], this forced you to get creative) for your opponents. Seeing “ASS” occupying the top spot wasn’t uncommon.

Number two is number one, this time.

Older games that were more simplistic and less story-driven often required this; as games became more complex, the focus seemed to shift from the player’s name to the character’s name. So often games ask you for the character’s name. You can default, of course, and pick “LINK” or “RED” or whatever you want, or you can decide that you and the character share the same name; that when Link tools Ganon at the end of A Link to the Past, it is in fact you that tools him. It’s an interesting experience.

Earthbound did something really interesting with this: while you could input different names for all the main characters (or select “Don’t Care!”, which would give you the default name), what was even cooler was a question Tony asked you.

Jeff and his friend Tony (dressed as a woman dressed as himself, clearly)

About halfway through the game, Tony phones you and asks for the player’s name. It’s really novel. He is specifically asking for your name. And he double-checks that he got it right more than once. You quickly forget about this odd moment until the end of the game. At the end, everyone is fighting Gigyas and the fight isn’t going well (usually). You get Paula to start praying, and you get short cut-scenes of people all over Eagleland — your friends and so on — praying for you, and it’s pretty touching. Cut between this are instances where a name that is blanked out is praying, eg “Paula and her friends calls touched the heart of *****”.  As the turns continue, Gigyas begins taking more and more damage and getting hit by abnormal status effects. More friends pray and the blanked out name gets clearer, turning eventually into the player name. ***** becomes “*a***”, for example, and you eventually read “*a*** prayed for the kids, having never met them before.” Eventually you get something like “James kept praying”, and you defeat Gigyas.

And there is this very weird sensation because 1) you don’t immediately remember giving Earthbound your name, and 2) well, you kind of are praying. Speaking from personal experience, when I play a game and things are right on the wire, I find myself crossing my fingers and hoping that I can pull out all the stops to win. There’s equal parts luck and skill involved. In Earthbound, the last fight is super dicey. Odds are one, if not three, of your party members are dead. What’s worse is that even before reaching Gigyas, you’re informed that there is no way to come back from the fight. You’re turned into robots and it is a suicide mission. But you make that sacrifice. And you find yourself on the raggedy edge, hoping against hope you can win. You’re praying, in the game and out of it. And it is your prayer that defeats Gigyas. It isn’t Ness or Paula or Jeff or Poo that beats Gigyas, it really is the player. It is an incredible and, I think, unparalleled moment in videogame storytelling.

Metal Gear Solid 2’s obsession with names is something slightly comparable, I think. There are moments when names aren’t exactly what they seem, especially in the Plant chapter (there are several moments in the Tanker chapter where names matter [RAY, the La-le-lu-li-lo, Shalashaska, the NGO Philanthropy, to name a few], but none quite as significant). Right from the get-go, we meet Raiden/Jack as “Snake”. Raiden, who admires Snake, took on the name, but Colonel Campbell changes the code-name because the leader of the terrorists is Solid Snake.

They're kind of a good luck charm.

Later, we meet the actual Solid Snake, who is going by Iroquois Pliskin, a Navy Seal. The name “Iroquois” has a long and storied history, but is taken to mean, in some part “Snake”. Plissken (pronounced the same way as “Pliskin”) is the last name of Kurt Russell’s character Snake Plisskin from the Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. movies and is, interestingly enough, very similar to Solid Snake (rather, Solid Snake is similar to him). The name, “Iroquois Pliskin”, then, is extremely loaded and does refer to an outside medium and, presumably, one that doesn’t exist in Solid Snake’s actual world. Raiden has his doubts about Pliskin’s true identity, but for the moment all he has is the name. Weird names begin popping up, like when they begin talking about Otacon and so on — ghosts from Shadow Moses.

Later, when the terrorist leader “Solid Snake” confronts Raiden, Pliskin flies into the scene in a Kasatka (not the military version but the civilian, we’re told) and shouts “NO! That is NOT Solid Snake!” and, like any true hero, fires a grenade launcher at the terrorist leader. Raiden learns then that the man in the chopper is in fact Solid Snake, and we learn for realsies that the terrorist leader is Solidus Snake. The two added letters makes him a completely different person. He then jumps on and boards a Harrier jet (Harrier both being a jet and a noun for someone who “engages in attacks on others or incursions into their land”), and hell breaks loose.

The name game continues: Vamp is a vampire, Fortune is “lucky in war and nothing else” (even Fatman is named after a nuke), etcetera. We learn that Solidus used to be George Sears, President of the US during Shadow Moses. No one is really who they seem with all these name changes and shifts. Names signify certain things and serve as deceptions. Vamp isn’t really a vampire (well, he kind of is), and Fortune isn’t really lucky — she just has Ocelot’s “cutting edge technology” (and later, we find out, she really is lucky — or is she!?).

Things reach a head when you’re confronting George Sears / Solidus Snake on top of Federal Hall in New York; “Rosemary” and “Campbell” lay things out for you:

The designations for Metal Gears REX and RAY are both names that were used as nicknames for Japanese fighter planes during WW2 (the Mitsubishi Type 1 Fighter and the Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu respectively, if this website is at all accurate). Raiden was also the name for a Japanese fighter plane — the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden. It’s nickname was “Jack” — which itself is Raiden’s real name.

Raiden, we’re meant to realise, is a weapon. So often in the game the signifier and the signified match and here it is no different. His name — his very identity — is a weapon’s, and for awhile, that is too much for Raiden to take. And this applies to a lot of characters too: their name describes who and/or what they are. Their names are who they are.

After defeating Solidus, a strange thing happens. Standing in the streets of New York (while countless pedestrians carry on about their day, ignoring the massive machine that’s wedged itself into the Federal Building, or the two men decked out in military gear), Snake notices the dog tags hanging around Raiden’s neck and asks him a question: “by the way, what is that?”

Anyone you know?

“Dog tags?” Raiden asks, glaring down at them. And we see what’s on them — the player’s name, D.O.B., and country of origin. Way back at the start of the Plant chapter, if you accessed one of the nodes, it asks you for all this information. And there it is, on the screen. The dog tags that Raiden is wearing are in fact your dog tags. Moments before Raiden asked Snake what he should do, and Snake told him to pick a new name and start fresh.

“Anyone you know?” Snake asks Raiden.

“No,” Raiden responds. “Never seen the name before.” And then he pitches the dog tags away.

The moment is interesting and strange. Last month I argued that in MGS2 you and Raiden are pretty much the same person in terms of experience, and this still kind of applies. You both share this heritage and so on, but at this point, at the end of the game, you go your separate ways. It’s really cool because, well, you really are. The next twenty minutes or so are just cut-scene and credits; the game is over, and your role is finished. You’ve gone from spectator-as-actor to just plain old spectator. And that’s really cool. It also forces us into the game, in a way. Raiden’s answer, “never seen the name before,” does also leave some room for doubt. While on the one hand, Raiden’s answer could be more metaphoric than anything else, it could also be taken as being somewhat literal: “James” and Raiden have never met (though I’ve played as him for all these hours), so no, he has never seen the name before. This forces an evaluation on our own part as an actor — even as a voyeur — in this whole damn video game. Raiden says at one point “you can take your simulation and… ! We’re out here, we bleed, we die!” and while his comment is directed at Campbell, we also have to acknowledge that every time we cartwheel off of a pipe down into the water trying to get a stupid AK suppressor that we are really killing Raiden. One of the Snake Tales, External Gazer, toys with this. In that tale, Otacon develops a VR system that’s super-realistic. It turns out that each time it is turned on, it creates a reality and it populates that reality with people from other realities. Every time you kill a guard in the VR, you’re killing an actual guard. It’s cool, and that just seems to be taking the idea from MGS2 several steps forward. For us, it’s a game, but the game is, for Raiden, real life.

Metal Gear Solid 2’s meta-game (like Earthbound’s), is super cool and forces the player to consider their own relation to the character. It widens the room for possible interpretation, and makes the player him/herself an interpretable actor in the course of things. It forces a re-evaluation of what is actually going on, and while it doesn’t go as far as to make us say, culpable in murder or any of the wacky things that happen in these games, it definitely allows for us to explore a game beyond the scope of the game.


Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection

Raiden and Snake, together at last!

While it has been out for slightly over a month, I’ve only just now had the chance to get around to playing the re-release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Peace Walker in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection. And, obviously, it’s awesome. It’s a tough thing to review if only because, well, MGS2, 3 and PW are all old news. Sure, they may be some of the finest video games ever made, but we’ve played them. Aside from improved graphics (most notably in 3 and Peace Walker, less so in 2), you’re looking at the exact same games as before (except PW has moved from your PSP and now you can get trophies/achievements for choking guys out). But there are a few things to note for the nerds in the room: you’re playing the expanded editions of each. That’s right, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. That means that in addition to getting two of the greatest video games ever made, you’re also getting a slew of bonus missions, training, and extra content (minus the Skating mini-game for 2 and Snake vs. Monkey in 3). On the other hand, while they have been dramatically improved, the graphics of MGS2 and 3 still show their age.

Before proceeding, however, something needs to be said: Metal Gear Solid 2 is the superior game. It’s tough to say and it’s, I dare say, a wildly unpopular opinion. I’ll run through the two biggest complaints:

Here be spoilers!

1) The story is batshit insane (minor spoilers ahead).

Metal Gear Solid 2 has an insane storyline which seems to involve removing letters from the alphabet, incest, and destroying a financial center, a la Fight Club. Along the way you discover that not only are you a former child soldier and a soldier now with no real training aside from VR training because you’ve repressed your time as a child soldier being raised and taught by none other than John Cygan Canderous Ordo Dash Rendar Solidus Snake, Liquid Snake and Solid Snake’s third, perfect brother, but that the entire mission is another training, VR-esque mission. Also, The Patriots control everything.

Naked Raiden.

2) Raiden.

Hideo Kojima played a really mean trick in 2001. Following, again one of the greatest games ever made (MGS1), we were given fully 3D, slightly-human looking Solid Snake. The first two-three hours of MGS2 are awesome because you’re once again playing the living legend himself. The same badassery and box-wearing shenanigans are back, and it is actually sweet. Then everything goes south and you find yourself in part 2, AKA The Plant chapter. Campbell begins by addressing the player as Snake, and for half a second you’re thinking that somehow, Solid Snake and the Campbell are back together for an awesome mission. Nope. Some wuss responds and within ten minutes you see Raiden in all his douchebaggery. Whether it involves slipping on pigeon crap, getting felt up by an old man (only for him to exclaim “You’re a man?”) or getting urinated on by a guard, you are a running joke for the rest of the game. You don’t even find redemption in the final fight. Regardless of what Raiden has become, his beginnings are pretty sad.

Addressing number one, yes, it is a little nuts but like with any story, if you allow yourself to be pulled in, it becomes believable. And, well, let’s not forget that we’re playing a video game in the first place: it’s not real, anyhow, and striving for realism in what is clearly an unrealistic medium seems kind of silly, no?

Number two is the harder part. Raiden is ultimately a wuss and is a lousy character. He’s whiney and dumb and weak and constantly confused but, in the end, he really is the player. MGS2 touches on this to some extent, but look at it this way: the average video gamer has no actual combat experience. I’ve played tons of war games but I’ve never been to war. I’ve launched nukes and mortars and cannons and fired guns, but not outside of a video game. Like Raiden, we have no combat experience. When we first meet Snake in MGS2 (or even in 1, or even going back to Metal Gear), he has more combat experience than us, period. He is an expert at what he does and his level of ability is far beyond ours. Raiden, though, is relatively unshaped and unmolded. He has a wealth of combat experience, but all of it (save his child warfare stuff) is purely virtual. So when we’re launched into the game as him, we’re going in with that same background of VR training, but nothing real — and even our experience as Raiden is virtual (and while Raiden’s experience is somewhat real, the fact remains that it is all a test by The Patriots, anyway, meant to mimic Shadow Moses). His experience eventually has him ranting at his girlfriend and at the Colonel, saying that “we bleed, we die” and that one needs “something higher” than just the mission to fight for (but what that is, he doesn’t know).

The cutting edge VR training Raiden received while in the Solid Snake Fan Club Boot Camp Class of '07.

What we’re fighting for is, at the start at least, the game. We’re fighting because we’re told by the Colonel, by Konami, by Kojima, to fight. That is our role and our mission. And maybe we turn at some point and start fighting because we want to, not because that’s the mission but to figure out what is going on and try to set things right. In MGS1, Otacon asks Snake “what am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?” Snake enigmatically explains, “if we make it through this, I’ll tell you”. He fights to fight. He fights to survive, he fights to set things right. At the end of MGS1 (and repeated by Snake to Raiden halfway through MGS2), Gray Fox famously says to Snake:

We’re not tools of the government or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I always fought for what I believed in.

Gray Fox, the unsung hero of MGS1

Towards the end of MGS2, we’re expected to decide what to continue fighting for. We can continue the mission, continue playing Kojima’s game as it were, or we can break out and instead fight for the game. While Raiden is our avatar in MGS2 and he ultimately decides to fight for what he believes in, thus forcing us to fight for what Raiden believes in, we can still make the same choice. We can care, or we can beat the game. Of course, as Raiden too finds out, either choice forces you to the same end, though you take a different path. In the end, we gain our VR experience playing as Raiden, while Raiden, insofar as video game characters can have “real” experiences, gains the experience of the Plant chapter as VR mission, as well as beginning to face his inner demons as a child soldier.

This, I think, is the brilliance of MGS2 and of Raiden. There are very few video game characters I hate more than Raiden of the MGS2 era. When the game first came out, I heard people claim that we were supposed to like this unlikable character but I think that’s wrong. Raiden is this bland, by-the-book, no real experience sort of character. We’re expecting a Snake, and we get this wuss. We’re expected to hate him because we all like to think that we’re as tough and as badass as Solid Snake, especially if we have beaten MGS1 a dozen times a dozen different ways. But we’re not, and through MGS2, we’re expected to come to terms with that and even if we don’t ever come to like Raiden, we come to at least understand and not totally hate him.

I will admit that nostalgia does play a small role in my love for that game. My cousin and I rented it the day it came out. I had school the next day but there was a chance, admittedly a small chance but a chance, of an overnight snowstorm. We started it late in the day and eventually cloistered ourselves in a room in the basement. I remember our original playtime came to thirteen hours because we made ridiculous rules such as no restarting through suicide after getting caught and so on. It took what felt like forever. 5 AM or so rolled around and my cousin had to go to work. We were near the end, ready to fight some Metal Gear RAYS. He took off, and I beat the game. I looked outside for the first time in hours and the snow was up several feet. Here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, even a light dusting of snow stops everything. School was cancelled, I went to sleep. It was one of the best video game playthroughs in my life.

All that said, MGS3 is an absolutely amazing game and I respect the fact that most people would rate it above MGS2 simply because of how excellent a game it is and is worth a critical reading same as MGS2. Peace Walker looks and plays better here on the console than it ever could on the ill-fated PSP as well. It easily had a much thorough overhaul than MGS2 or 3, and while I don’t think it’s as good as either, it is an excellent game.

Pick up MGS: HD Collection if you’ve never played the games or if you have a few hundred hours to kill (assuming you play through more than once). It’s definitely worth it.