All Your History: Metal Gear Part 3 – Detonation
Konami’s Hideo Kojima was regarded as a bona fide genius after Metal Gear Solid’s runaway success on the PlayStation in 1998. By embracing all the qualities that made cinema a gripping and engaging medium, as well as pushing the boundaries of the video game’s form, Kojima had created a masterpiece that raised the bar for the rest of the industry. As a result of this achievement, consumers—and Kojima’s bosses—clamored for a sequel. Fortunately for them, that’s just what they’d get soon after the PlayStation’s successor, the PlayStation 2, was released in 2000. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, was everything Kojima’s fanbase wanted out of the sequel and more—much, much more. As it turned out, Kojima wasn’t finished testing the limits of what could be done with the medium—in fact, he’d only just begun. And some thought that he may have even gone too far…
When people finally got their hands on Metal Gear Solid 2 in 2001, it definitely seemed as though it had been worth the three year wait. It was regarded as one of the must-buy titles for the PS2, and sported some of the most insanely detailed graphics seen on a home console yet. Just as the last installment had rendered all of its cutscenes in real-time, this new one blew people away with even more impressive in-engine cinematics.
And that wasn’t the only return to form found in the sequel. Like the previous installments in the Metal Gear franchise, gamers played as the legendary Solid Snake, and were tasked with infiltrating a heavily guarded compound controlled by an enemy military. Where Metal Gear Solid had Snake sneak into a labyrinthine base in the frozen north, Sons of Liberty picked up two years later, with a stealth mission on a claustrophobic oil tanker. Snake’s moves had been improved for the sequel, though they stayed true to those that fans had grown to love during his previous outing. It seemed as though Kojima had fully delivered on what every fan had wanted: a tense, action packed thrill-ride…
…until the oil tanker sank and Snake went down with the ship.
Suddenly, the story jumped ahead another two years and starred Raiden, a brand new character who was the polar opposite of the gruff Solid Snake that everyone had grown to love. Raiden sported flowing white hair and an androgynous, almost feminine look. Where Snake was the ultimate tough guy, Raiden was regarded by players as a whiny brat. The sudden switcheroo left many dumbfounded—especially when they realized that, for the rest of the story, Raiden was the hero.
That wasn’t the only way Kojima had decided to subvert people’s expectations. Sons of Liberty’s story started out as a thrilling tale of adventure and espionage, similar to its predecessor. But the plot’s endless twists and turns—often revealed in Kojima’s infamous extended dialogue sequences and cutscenes—gave a lot of players headaches. Kojima seemed to be confronting the nature of the video game medium itself. His penchant for breaking the fourth wall was on full display, only this time turned up to 11. What began as a neat trick in the first Metal Gear Solid suddenly became one of the central themes in the sequel.
At one point, one of Raiden’s allies—who turns out to be nothing more than a maladjusted computer program—starts to break down and go crazy, telling him, “Turn the console off right now. You’ve been playing too long. You don’t want to strain your eyes do you?” At another point, Snake returns to the story as a supporting character, now named Pliskin, and points to his bandanna, saying, “infinite ammo”—a nod to a power up that could be found in the first game.
In fact, towards the end of the plot, Raiden discovers that his entire adventure has been a pre-scripted ruse modeled after Snake’s exploits in Metal Gear Solid, eventually leading Raiden to question his very existence and the nature of his reality. All in all, it was pretty heady stuff. Some critics called Sons of Liberty the first example of a post-modern video game, which analyzed and questioned its own form. Of course, plenty of players were just straight up confused.
That’s not to say that Metal Gear Solid 2 was a bad title—far from it. In addition to its top-tier tactical espionage action, it featured amazing visuals with motion-captured performances for its characters, a rare feature at the time. Kojima had also collaborated with film composer Harry Gregson-Williams, to score thrilling music that created a sense of adventure and peril.
However, feelings about the final product were mixed among critics and fans. Some called it a masterpiece, and a true work of art, while others thought the whole enterprise sank under its own pretentious weight. But its sales didn’t lie: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was yet another global hit, outselling its predecessor with over 7 million copies purchased worldwide. Not only that, but its massive success got Kojima named in Newsweek in December 2001, earning him a spot on a list of ten important people who would reshape America and the world in 2002. Pretty good for a guy who couldn’t program.
Once again, Kojima thought he’d finished his work on the Metal Gear series…but after raising so many more questions this time around, not to mention earning even more sales than in his previous outing, he just had to make another sequel.
In 2004, Konami released Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for the PlayStation 2. Instead of continuing with the franchise’s story, Kojima instead decided to look backward with a Cold War-era prequel, starring a new, yet familiar, protagonist: Naked Snake. Where Sons of Liberty dealt with post-modern philosophy and the nature of reality, Snake Eater went back to basics, offering players a first-rate stealth action shooter. While Kojima’s trademark cutscenes, dialogue sequences, and mind-bending fourth-wall breakage were still present, they were more subdued, relieving the pain some fans had been feeling since last time.
Snake Eater also added new gameplay elements that added to the dynamic of the Metal Gear franchise. For the first time in the stealth-based series, players had to master the art of camouflage so Snake could blend in with his jungle surroundings. And a new hand-to-hand combat system added more depth to enemy encounters than ever before. A stamina gauge was also added, meaning that to keep Snake alive, he had to eat. A low stamina bar resulted in a more difficult mission, like hands that were too shaky to accurately aim weapons. The overall package offered more realism and intensity in a series that was already known for its high level of suspense.
The prequel spawned an expanded version in 2006, called Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. This version featured an online multiplayer component, appropriately called “Metal Gear Online.” Up to eight players took to the jungle, duking it out in death-matches and battles of high-stakes capture the flag. It was the first time any multiplayer functionality was added to a game in the Metal Gear franchise. However, the service was short-lived, and was shut down soon after its release in October 2007.
Despite the more universal love Metal Gear Solid 3 garnered, it didn’t sell quite as well as its predecessors—though it still managed nearly 4 million copies sold worldwide. But even though he’d once again believed he could get away from Snake and friends, he just couldn’t get away from fans’ clamor for answers to the questions the previous games had raised. Kojima would come back once again to see if he could put the franchise to bed once and for all. But instead of looking back, this time Kojima would be looking into Snake’s future…
Tune in next time to see Metal Gear go grey…