All Your History: Metal Gear Part 4 — The Return of Solid Snake
Since Hideo Kojima’s breakout success with Metal Gear Solid in the late 1990s, the series that made him famous saw its share of ups and downs. Metal Gear Solid 2’s release in 2001 raised the bar on how good a game can look and play, all while raising plenty of questions in the minds of fans with its frustratingly brain-bending story. Its follow-up, Metal Gear Solid 3, brought the series back to its action and stealth roots in 2004. As consumers got ready for the PlayStation 3 console’s 2006 release, Kojima was preparing to unleash the latest and greatest installment in the Metal Gear franchise. But before he and Solid Snake could ride off into the sunset, Kojima had a few quick stops to make along the way…
The Return of Solid Snake
In 2004, the same year Metal Gear Solid 3 had come out, Snake was branching out onto other platforms. In March, Konami and developer Silicon Knights teamed up to release Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the Nintendo GameCube, a full remake of the original PlayStation classic. Because it was made for a more powerful console, The Twin Snakes offered a significant graphical upgrade from the original. Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura was brought on board to create all-new cutscenes featuring bullet-time sequences and cinematically choreographed fights. The project came about after Nintendo approached Konami with the idea of a remake for the GameCube. Kojima and Nintendo creative legend Shigeru Miyamoto had apparently long admired each others’ work, and jumped at the chance to collaborate on the remake.
Later that year, Konami released Metal Gear Acid for the PlayStation Portable system. But while it bore the series name and starred Solid Snake, Acid was a radical departure from what had come before. Instead of a traditional action stealth adventure, Acid was a tactical, turn-based, trading-card game. Likewise, the story had little to do with the previous exploits of Solid Snake, featuring a brand new cast of characters, and seemingly taking place outside of the franchise’s larger continuity. While Kojima was credited as a producer of Acid, he neither wrote nor directed the game. Even still, Konami released a sequel for the PSP a year later.
Then, in 2006, Kojima took a more active role in Metal Gear’s next outing on the handheld console, producing and shaping the story for Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Unlike Acid’s card-based gameplay and non-canonical plot, Portable Ops picked up where Snake Eater had left off, giving players control of Naked Snake in a new tactical action title. While Kojima had handed directing duties to Masahiro Yamamoto, one of the producers who’d worked on Acid, the game is considered by fans to have a top notch story and slick controls with beautiful graphics.
Without question, the Metal Gear franchise had become one of the juggernauts of the industry, with fans always clamoring for more. And only two years after Sony’s PlayStation 3 console came out, more was what they’d get—but not without a little drama along the way.
Kojima had often toyed with the idea of retiring from the Metal Gear franchise. But when he announced that he’d be passing the directing duties of the new game to his Konami colleague, Shuyo Murata, the backlash was severe. Kojima has since revealed that some extreme fans had sent him death threats over the plans to limit his involvement in the new game. In response, Kojima decided that co-directing the project with Murata might be the best decision, just in case.
“The staff heard about this and got very nervous,” Kojima once said in an interview. “We talk today as if it was a joke, but at the time, it was not a joke at all. It was serious.”
But finally, in 2008, Konami released Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Kojima reasoned that because the series had been released on Sony’s consoles since the original PlayStation, the game that would wrap up the franchise’s story should be exclusive to Sony’s new system as well.
This was the first game to focus on Solid Snake’s story in years, since his last solo game was, well, the original Metal Gear Solid. Gamers had suffered through Sons of Liberty’s devastating Raiden bait-and-switch, and while Snake Eater, Acid, and Portable Ops all featured guys named Snake, they still hadn’t gotten a chance to see what became of their hero from the franchise’s beginnings. But true to form, Kojima wasn’t about to give his fans exactly what they wanted. He still had some tricks up his sleeve.
Picking up five years after Sons of Liberty, this new game’s Solid Snake was showing signs of accelerated aging, appearing on-screen with silver hair, a thick mustache, and even an eyepatch. Clearly this was not quite the guy fans were expecting. And while Solid Snake had returned to the forefront, the gameplay offered yet another mixture of the familiar and the strange.
Guns of the Patriots put players in the middle of combat warzones and gave the option of utilizing stealth tactics to complete mission objectives, or to join in the mayhem by shooting and fighting their way to achieve their goals. Taking a cue from Snake Eater’s camouflage system, Guns provided Snake with the OctoCamo suit, a gadget allowing him to blend in with his surroundings. And instead of bringing MGS3’s stamina gauge back, Kojima created the Psyche meter instead. The meter measured how the stresses of battle weighed on Snake’s well-being. The lower the meter got, the more problems players would experience, like shaky aim and back pain for the increasingly geriatric hero. Once again, Kojima was thinking outside of the box, making the hero’s age a unique and integral part of the experience.
While the gameplay had clearly evolved with its move to the PS3, in other ways Kojima had regressed to some of his older habits that some critics had hoped he’d left behind. Guns of the Patriots had cutscenes…lots of cutscenes. One critic even estimated that these unplayable sequences comprised roughly half of the entire game experience. While many fans faulted Kojima for getting excessive with his cinematic sensibilities—again—others saw MGS4 as a hybrid work, actually more of a film-game blend than a pureblooded game. Its story, too, was widely regarded as overly complicated and confusing, even though it tackled important philosophical issues such as morality in battle and the military-industrial complex.
MGS4 also gave players the opportunity to duke it out with each other through Konami’s latest version of Metal Gear Online. A starter pack for the multiplayer service came with Guns of the Patriots, and a standalone version was planned to be released later on. However, the standalone was only released in Japan, and required gamers to sign up for a Konami ID, which many found to be cumbersome, and more trouble than it was worth. Regardless of these hiccups, Metal Gear Online has continued to receive support from Konami, and will be shut down after four years in June 2012.
Despite these complaints, however, Kojima had once again pushed the medium’s boundaries, and this latest project was considered a technical masterpiece that offered a satisfying end to the series. Overall, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was yet another hit for Kojima and Konami, selling over 5 million copies worldwide. It received almost universally glowing reviews and several perfect scores. While some found it bloated and too in love with itself, others claimed it was a genuine masterpiece of gaming from one of the industry’s true auteurs at the height of his ability.
And with the story all wrapped up, finally Kojima could put the Metal Gear franchise behind him…
…or could he? As ever, Kojima had done this dance before, and soon found himself working on yet another romp through the universe he just couldn’t seem to escape. But like one of Kojima’s own games, the story of what came next for the Metal Gear series had twists and turns that nobody could’ve seen coming…
Tune in next time to see Kojima go Beyond Solid…