Last week, the video game corner of the internet erupted into chaotic mockery over the trailer for “Metal Gear Survive,” the latest entry in the long-running “Metal Gear” series.
For some “Metal Gear” fans, the trailer was a travesty, a grave injustice being carried out against a series they love. For most other people, however, all the new trailer elicited was a shrug; what’s so special about the other games that makes this one looks so bad?
Well, as a longtime, passionate fan of the “Metal Gear” games, I’m here to tell you all about why these strange, nonsensical games have garnered so much love over the past few decades:
The story is complex in beautifully nonsensical ways
The number one thing most “Metal Gear” fans love is the narrative, which spans from 1964 to 2014 across the eight core games, with spin-offs occasionally filling in the blanks. There’s a lot to keep up with, as the characters routinely shape the course of global politics through their actions in each game.
Almost all of the games follow military legend Big Boss (the burly, eyepatch-clad man in the image) or the three men who were cloned from his DNA: Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, and Solidus Snake. Yes, most of the characters have names like that.
As the story progresses down its excruciatingly twisted path, players encounter Cold War intrigue, barely-averted nuclear catastrophe, a cyberpunk Illuminati, and cigarette-smoking monkeys. It frequently blurs the line between taking itself too seriously and not seriously at all, making it as engaging as it is amusing (even if it isn’t always coherent).
The weirdness frequently manifests itself in the gameplay
At its core, “Metal Gear Solid” is about stealth. Though the later games in the series have allowed more freedom in enemy encounters, it’s always been preferable to sleuth your way through bases undetected in order to reach the next big story revelation.
But there have always been little touches in each game that make them truly unique among other action games. You can distract guards with dirty magazines or play tape recordings of unpleasant bodily functions to throw them off your trail.
In “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” you build an elite paramilitary force by…putting your enemies to sleep, tying balloons to them, and sending them to your base, where they automatically pledge loyalty to you. You can even do the same to wild animals and build a little zoo!
No series has ever had more consistently outstanding boss fights
Though “Metal Gear Solid” ostensibly takes place in the real world and frequently uses real historical events to frame its own madness, the series has never cared about obeying any laws of nature. Just look at the bosses you have to fight in each game:
– Psycho Mantis was a telekinetic mind-reader who would dig into your PlayStation memory card and tell you which other games you were playing.
– Fatman is a big guy who rollerskates around a helipad, planting bombs that the player has to defuse before they can defeat him.
– The End is a geriatric sniper who rejuvenates himself with photosynthesis and will die of old age if the player sets their PlayStation 2 system clock ahead by a week.
– The Sorrow is a ghost who doesn’t fight you so much as he makes you walk down a river, avoiding the vengeful ghosts of every enemy you’ve killed up to that point in the game.
– Vamp is a vampire. That’s it.
There are also the titular Metal Gears, which are basically walking tanks that can fire nuclear weapons. In a world with vampires and ghosts, nuclear war is still the biggest threat to mankind, somehow.
They have a unique, cinema-inspired style
Series creator Hideo Kojima has spoken at length about his love for cinema. Solid Snake, the protagonist for much of the series, greatly resembles “Escape From New York” anti-hero Snake Plissken, for example.
But it goes beyond that. There are tons of nods to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” including one prominent character being named Hal. “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” even has a James Bond-esque theme song and title sequence, appropriate for its 1960s setting.
It occasionally goes beyond the bounds of cinema and draws from other parts of pop culture, namely David Bowie. There are countless references to Bowie’s work throughout the series, from Big Boss naming his paramilitary outfit Diamond Dogs to a commander asking that he be called Major Tom.
Series creator Hideo Kojima gives it a unifying creative vision
I’m looking forward to the upcoming “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” but like most big-budget games, it’s going to have all its edges rounded so it can be as palatable to a huge audience as possible. Games with huge financial backing generally aren’t allowed to be as messy or risky as they should, and there usually isn’t one creative mind putting their stamp on the whole thing.
“Metal Gear Solid” is different because, from top to bottom, it feels like it came from Hideo Kojima, even if plenty of it probably didn’t. If you know about his tastes and personality, you can see it all over the games as you play them. He even put his name on the box art, which just doesn’t happen with big games.
That’s not to say every one of his creative decisions is amazing; the treatment of women in the series has come under fire in the past, for example. But looking at what the series gets right, if every huge game was allowed to feature 20-minute speeches about information control intermingled between toilet humor, the world would be a better place.