August: Violence [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 9th, 2011 by Dan

It all started with Metal Gear Solid.

Hideo Kojima is a pacifist. How do I know this having never spoken to him? It’s the only logical explanation behind Metal Gear Solid. Big whoop, I mean, the games themselves are about as overtly in support of pacifism and nuclear non-proliferation, but I’m not talking about the overt, obvious messages. Anyone can put hours and hours of cutscenes in a video game (although few can get away with it like he can), but Kojima is special because he emphasizes the holiest of modes of expression for a game designer: mechanics.

I came to the Metal Gear Solid series way late in the game, around the spring of 2008. Metal Gear itself was 20 years old at that point and I was looking forward to playing these games that my buddy Lee so adored. Thanks to my cripplingly completionist attitude toward games, I found myself looking up MGS on Gamefaqs to ensure that I didn’t miss any limited items via careless play. It was there that I learned that the game scored you higher based on how few enemies you killed. It was a sneaking mission, after all.

Deciding to challenge myself and impose arbitrary limitations on myself like “kill only the enemies that are required” changed my life forever. Real life is decidedly unlike video games, which is just fine by me. God help us if psychopath mass murderers were as common in life as they are in games, and that’s not even counting the villains. How weird is it that Metal Gear Solid, a game featuring a trained special-ops soldier armed to the teeth with pistols, automatic rifles, and explosives, turned me into a pacifist by forcing me to value digital life.

All it took was a slight shift in philosophy. Long before (and long after) Metal Gear Solid, gamers have been penalized for shooting innocent victims or bystanders. All MGS did was flip this on its head a bit. The game rewards you for not killing hostiles. This changes everything.

It sounds stupid when you think about it, but the mechanics are slight and subversive enough that the shiftcomes on gradually. Little things, like giving Snake a tranquilizer gun from the get-go, just reinforce the idea that there’s another way to do things. Most of the time it makes the game significantly harder. Snake (or Raiden in MGS2) has a pathetically small non-lethal arsenal when compared to the rest of his repertoire. The tranq darts are significantly weaker AND enemies eventually wake from being knocked out, which heightens the alert level on a given stage.

Reinforced by mechanics, the message is crystal clear. Doing the right thing (because playing this way usually yields nice rewards) is not easy. There’s only one instance throughout the Metal Gear Series, to date, where pacifism makes things easier. During one of Kojima’s more overt narrative moments, Snake faces a spiritual adversary, The Sorrow. Wading through a long river, Snake must avoid every enemy he’s killed prior to that point. Players like me have relatively little problem, since there are no enemies, but the trigger happy player has quite the obstacle course ahead of them. While I’m partial to a more subtle narrative, This was also unlike anything I’d ever played before.

I think Kojima’s crowning moment, throughout his entire catalog of work, is the final battle against The Boss in MGS3 where he attempts to get the player to the closest approximation he’ll probably have of killing another person. I’m being a little overdramatic since it depends on how much you care about the narrative, but it goes something like this.

If you’re me, you’ve gone through this whole game without killing a soul and suffered for it. Our in-game avatar, Snake, has suffered the betrayal by the figure he most respects and he’s spent all mission grappling with his orders to kill The Boss, who was an absolute loyalist to the United States, but who had been turned on when she got in trouble.

The battle begins and ends. Snake stands above his mentor, holding her gun to her head. She tells Snake to end it.

Nothing happens.

It dawns on me that the game is waiting for my input. I had spent the entire game not killing a single soul. Saved and reloaded after every accident. Taken hours to get through things that could have been cleared much faster. I pushed the button and the gun fired. The only way not to bloody your digital hands is to not play. The Boss’ message transcends the fictional.

Two years later it was 2010 and I went to see Kick-Ass. I think Roger Ebert put it best when he said, referring to the high degree of violence that an 11-year-old in the movie inflicts and is subjected to,

Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let’s say you’re a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.

When I left the theater that day I felt sick. It took me a while to realize why, but when I did, it blew my mind. Video games had sensitized me to violence.

Dara O’Briain Does Metal Gear Solid Comedy [ER/GO]
Nov 22nd, 2010 by Dan

The first bit of Metal Gear Solid standup I’ve ever seen by Dara O’Briain

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part II: Journey to the East [II]
Sep 3rd, 2009 by Dan

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

I begin this entry sitting at the gate for my ANA flight…1 (No joke, my flight number is NH0001), listening to Japanese ska to get into the mood as I await my 1220 flight out of America. As per usual, I got here a good three hours before my flight even was ready to think about starting to take off thanks to something I like to call hyper-punctuality, but I’m sure most would call insanity. In fact, I was so early this morning when I arrived at 0900 that ANA hadn’t even opened up their check-in terminal (don’t worry, I’m sure to repeat this detail later)

To be totally fair, my early arrival was due to a change in plans, for the better. I originally intended to take the Metro into Dulles after parking my car at the lovely Duffy house, but The Legendary John Duffy, as he is known in these parts, volunteered to haul my annoying self and my bags over to the airport after he got his hands on some coffee. After about 40 or so minutes of always riveting conversation with TLJD I found myself once again at Dulles, an airport I mistakenly thought I’d never been to before.

The best way to describe Dulles is slightly confused. At some point, big, modern airports realized that people were getting confused with where to go, since they had multiple buildings housing different terminals. They began to label their terminals numerically or by color. Not wanting to be left in the dust, Dulles seems to have enthusiastically took up this practice for a single terminal. No joke, the one terminal is as long as the terminal devoted solely to Southwest at BWI, but they felt the need to divide it into not just two zones, but four.

So I arrived at zone 3, profusely thanked TLJD for the ride, and boldly stepped up to the ANA terminal…to find that it doesn’t even open until 0920. Before you all laugh at my insanity, consider that there were two families who had arrived before me and another passenger showed up at around 0915. If that doesn’t convince you of my sanity, I don’t know what will.

Seriously dude, dont you have anything better to do with your time?

Seriously dude, don't you have anything better to do with your time?

I will continue to be undeterred by the fact that I’ve written hundreds of words covering the mundane and I have yet to even leave American soil (Hey, I’m *really* early for my flight and I’ve gotta do /something/, cut me some slack!) and continue to regale you all with stories about how my carry-on bag was too heavy by five kilograms. Now, as a man of science, I almost exclusively prefer the metric system for any and all calculations. That being said, I have absolutely zero concept of what a kilogram is. Faced with the threat of having to check my bag, I decided to try and pull out my toiletries and pray that they weighed five kilos. It brought me down to 21.5 kilos, which was good enough for my Japanese travel agent (what’s the job title for those people?) and good enough for me, especially because I was secure in the knowledge that I’d be able to just move my toiletries right back into my carry-on once I was safely seated in the terminal.

Security, miles of walking along people movers to get to the midfield terminal, and here I am. Country music begins to play over my headphones and I rather like the reverse framing going on here. More to come when something actually happens…

I return to this travelogue at 1927 local time on 3 September. In about three minutes, I’ll have been up for 24 hours thanks to the difficulty that I have sleeping on planes. A lot has happened since I was sitting bored in the terminal, so we continue from there.

The staff at ANA seems to be rather small, because when the plane arrives and boarding is being handled, I begin to see all the folks from the ticket counter that I saw in the morning show up and help with boarding. My flight is also eerily empty for some reason. I have an entire row, nine seats, to myself and this is the case for most of the people on the plane, but I guess since I’m on a rather long flight I can deal with the stress of having so much space it’s ridiculous. I can only pray for such a windfall on the way home.

A small moment of panic sets in rather early as I try to discreetly snap a shot of one of the better looking flight attendants for Eric and one of them tells me that I need to put my camera and phone away, there are no electronics. Figuring that she meant while on the runway, I put them away and quickly began searching through the documentation to see what I could find about whether or not I’d be able to use my electronics on this long, 14-hour flight.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

Since I was flying on a Japanese carrier, I thought I’d point out some of the differences between it and the American one. The seats are a bit closer feeling, to me, all of the information is primarily given in Japanese, then in sometimes difficult-to-understand English, the food is distinctly eastern in style, and the magazines have a small bilingual section if you open them western-style and a large Japanese section if you read it right-to-left. Most everything else is pretty much par for the course, American carrier or not, for an international flight. The warnings and safety measures are in Japanese first and the pictures are of Japanese folk instead of drawings, but all the information appears to be the same.

The other constant among international flights is the food. I was nearly drowning in food as they brought meal after meal after snack, despite undergoing no effort to work up an appetite. The food was all of pretty good quality, for airplane food, and garnered no complaints from me.

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

That’s about all there is to say about international flights. They are disappointingly mundane, even when on a Japanese carrier. I’ll leave the topic with some video (sadly without the original audio) of a game show that I was watching on the in-flight entertainment television. The point here was to name the countries of Europe while pounding on beat to a song. You’ll see very quickly what a wrong answer leads to. There’s also one guy there who they liked to pick on for some random reason.

Trust me, it’s even funnier with the sound.

Arrival and customs are not all that special, so I’ll refrain from mentioning them, but I was surprised at how far out of Tokyo the airport seems to be. There are trains leading into the city itself, but they all seem to take quite some time to get to the heart of the city. My plane arrived about an hour early, which is always awesome, unless you’ve been asked by your brother to wait in the airport for him before heading to the hotel. The time I had to myself allowed me to take a look around Narita International Airport and get a feel for what a Japanese airport was yet again. One thing worth noting for people landing in September is that they seem to keep the a/c at a rather toasty 80°F, which is totally understandable, I guess, but feels a bit toasty to those of us used to a lot more climate control. Another thing worth noting is that the fear of communicable disease has yet to clear Japan, especially after the very recent H1N1 troubles that they were having. Notices about sanitation are posted throughout the airport and there are many, staff and patrons alike, wearing masks to shield their face from germs.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

There was also a rather funny graphic on one of the video screens showing how bird flu, I think, started to spread. There was a silhouette of a chicken and what looked like a duck that eventually turned red with “disease” of some sort. From their reddened bodies emanated more evil germs and arrows that infected a standing silhouette man and caused him to drop to all fours and turn red. The man eventually began to shoot out red circles of death to other groups of silhouette men. It was riveting stuff, but I didn’t manage to capture any of it on video before Dave got there.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

Dave finally landed and Bob lead us down to get our passports checked for the rail passes that we were to make use of throughout the country. We got our tickets and made our way onto the platform where the train was and Dave began enthusiastically getting onto the train only to have the doors begin to close behind him. After a valiant effort to hold the doors open, he was trapped on the train while we looked on from the outside. Except, if he had read the sign that we only saw after he was trapped, he would know that they were just cleaning the train.

Dont get on or youll be trapped Dave!

Don't get on or you'll be trapped Dave!

After he was asked to get off the train, they began cleaning and the train seats actually turned around. They’re on a mechanism that turns them, I guess so that you’re facing the direction the train is headed so you don’t get that disoriented. And so began the ~1 hour long train ride into Tokyo.

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

It randomly featured a windmill.

Am I in The Netherlands?

Am I in The Netherlands?

Our hotel in Tokyo is pretty nice, it’s got two singles that are surprisingly long so I’m not hanging off the edge. We dropped off our stuff, sent word that we were alive and well, and headed right back out into Tokyo to do some first night exploring and grab a bite to eat. Dave spotted a CoCo Curry on the way over from the train station, so that was our ultimate goal for dinner. At first we headed across a nearby bridge through a Dental University and wound up in a slightly urban area surprisingly filled with tons of instrument stores. There typical classical instrument shops intermixed with way more awesome guitar shops, one of which featured the most Japanese bad ass, hardcore, punk rock guitar I’ve ever seen.

Youve never rocked until youve rocked with Hello Kitty!

You've never rocked until you've rocked with Hello Kitty!

There was also the most awesomely named shop ever, at least for a fan of Metal Gear Solid like me.

This is Big Boss. Im done here.

This is Big Boss. I'm done here.

Dave’s impeccable sense of direction did finally get us to CoCo Curry House without too much stress at all. If you’ve known me for a while, chances are you’ve heard that I have something of an obsession with Japanese curry. Getting back to CoCo curry was definitely high on my list of priorities, but it was thanks to Dave’s sharp eyes that I even knew that there was one nearby.

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

I’ve seen CoCo Curry compared to Burger King in other places, mainly because you can “Have it your way” there, but they really put Burger King to shame with how completely customizable they are. Their (thankfully) English menu offers directions on how to order. First, select a curry base, then how many grams of rice you want, how spicy, and finally, toppings.

The procedure is simple, really, so long as its in English

The procedure is simple, really, so long as it's in English

I went with the staple curry dish, tonkatsu curry (breaded pork cutlets), while Dave opted for the more interesting crab croquette curry. It was delicious.

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

It did not last long on my plate.

Not a grain of rice left.

Not a grain of rice left.

The urge to explore continued after dinner, so Dave and I decided to walk around the town and see what we could find. Not far from the curry, we began seeing girls dressed in maid outfits, no doubt advertising a maid café of some sort. Dave decided not to take a flyer, but I couldn’t resist.



We saw a tall Sofmap building and I remembered that they tend to sell new games. I dragged Dave along and we coincidentally ended up in an elevator with one of the maid café girls. Shenanigans promptly ensued.

Neither Dave nor I really knew where we were going in this building nor what floor we were headed to and I was unsure whether or not Japan did that ground floor thing, so I pushed 1. The maid girl laughed at us and asked if that’s really where we were going, since that’s the ground floor (I think, I speak no Japanese). The elevator soon made its way up to the top floor of the building and it opened to the maid café advertised, much to our surprise. The place was bright pink and filled with people and maids, but Dave and I very quickly decided it was not the place for us. We tried going to the third floor instead, but we were greeted with a corrugated steel door. The maids in the tiny elevator had a great laugh at our expense. We exited the elevator and asked to take a picture of one of the maids who was now quarter-carding, but she politely told us no.

There’s not much else adventure that went on that night. We made our way to an anime store filled to the brim with goods. They had no picture signs up that I didn’t notice until after I’d snapped two shots.

Tons of manga

Tons of manga

We also found an arcade and wandered around the first two floors a bit.

One of the famous Japanese arcades

One of the famous Japanese arcades

That’s all for the first night, off to explore more of Tokyo!

Game Overview: ABDN Reviews MGS4
Aug 29th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

(SPOILER NOTE: Tim’s review, my review, and some of this post have MGS spoilers. Read at your own risk)

I’ve taken a few excerpts from Tim Rogers’ brilliant review of Metal Gear Solid 4 and I’m going to talk about them a bit. He totally threw us for a loop, revealing the game that is NOT ABDN’s best game of all-time, but revealing a game he firmly believes not to be. Let’s get started:

“If it’s a fact that Metal Gear Solid 4 sucks on purpose, we can hardly blame Kojima for that, either. Given his previously well-documented disinterest in the series, its having been promoted as his “opus” must have turned his stomach. It’s clear that Kojima’s priority was the game’s plot, and making sure it “satisfied” fans: like the world’s fattest kid circa 1989 winning a Toys R Us shopping spree, Kojima struts zombie-like into the warehouse of his past work and proceeds to remove absolutely everything from the shelf, dropping one item at a time into his bottomless shopping cart. He eventually gets up to the cash register, leaves the cart unattended, pulls his smokes out of his jacket, and steps outside.”

In this point I can’t help but hope that Kojima was in fact making a disappointing game on purpose. Sure, MGS4 wasn’t terrible, but after all the hype, after Metal Gear fucking Solid 3, I found myself thinking “Really? After that, this is what you bring to the table?” MGS3 was so good that I suppose surpassing it was either impossible for Kojima or, as Rogers says, not even the point of what he was doing. He made MGS4 because he had to. He made MGS4 basically a checklist for unanswered plot points because he ultimately wanted to be DONE. May Hideo Kojima never have to have as much control over or make another MGS game. The man, despite what Rogers thinks, is brilliant. I like to think it’s just a question of him finding a project that truly interests him again.

“By act three, the game has abandoned its neat little idea in favor of a far neater one: we are now following a guy through a European city. Snake is wearing a trenchcoat, looking like Gillian Seed from Snatcher (the fans swoon), and it’s quaintly foggy. Ironically, this proved to be our Absolute Favorite Part of the Game. Since age nine, we have wanted to wander a European metropolis after curfew, letting a shady man obliviously lead us to his shady headquarters. This is the reason we studied Russian and Chinese in elementary school while everyone else was busy pretending they knew something about sex. We carried this dream in the palm of our hand until college, when it dawned upon us that we could Actually Die from doing Stuff Like This, so we started writing about videogames in the first-person plural instead. Metal Gear Solid 4 manages to get the mood and the pace of Euro-man-stalking just right. Our target is “Side A”, and the enemy troops enforcing the curfew are “Side B”. We are “Side C”. The level design in this part of the game is ferociously cute: both we and Side A are in violation of Side B’s rules; while avoiding Side A’s detection, we have to ensure that Side A avoids Side C’s detection. This ends up pretty fascinating, whether you have watched the opening cut scene or not. Eventually, you get to the goal, and suddenly you’re riding shotgun on a motorcycle in yet another ropey on-rails shooting sequence. It’s like waking up from a dream about the Bahamas to find out you’re actually in Bermuda. Instead of intimately sharing military secrets with a woman you picked up at a poker table, you’ve got your mother asking you to shoot a helicopter down.”

I feel the need to interject that, despite Europe being compelling to Rogers and the ABDN crew, it’s rather dull compared to the actual MGS gameplay that I wanted. The gameplay of MGS3 was not about following a dude, although it’s also not too far. The dynamic of hiding from two forces is decently interesting, but its perhaps marred by the game itself. You CAN just take off the trench coat and continue running around in your octo-camo. You can just stun all the guards instead of sneaking around. Hell, you can just kill all the guards, so long as your mark doesn’t see it happen. The gameplay isn’t quite as compelling as the other sections, to me, even if the locale IS. Wandering throughout a European city in actual MGS fashion would be quite fun and worth exploring in the inevitable, but hopefully not Kojima-directed, MGS5.

“We will disclaim, right here, that we have, for the past decade of jacked-into-the-netness, chuckled and rolled our eyes whenever anyone complained about the length of the cut-scenes in a Metal Gear Solid game. Some people said they just wanted to enjoy the “gameplay” (like that’s a real word); some people said they just wanted to enjoy the “atmosphere”. It puzzled us, to the point of rubbing our bellies in amusement, that someone would dare to want to play Metal Gear Solid with absolutely no invested interest in the characters. It’s not that the story and the characters are necessarily great literature so much as they’re insperable from the game’s progression and atmosphere. If you only like the game mechanics, you’d be better off playing Pac-Man — it’s basically the same thing. Conversely, if you only like the story, you’d be better off reading a book. (Crucial: notice how we recommended Pac-Man for players who only like Metal Gear Solid as a game, whereas we recommended any book in existence for those who enjoy it as a story.) If nothing else, the original Metal Gear Solid had a dignified flow to it: the characters were all rough sketches, all vaguely likable. Conceptual Bullshit was kept to a minimum, and by minimum, we mean “Maximum, in Hindsight”. There was a fucking “boss” who you didn’t fight, who you instead met and talked to, and he died six hours before you even knew he was a boss. The game shows you this level of virtuosity for a while without once flexing its muscles in the mirror; at a certain point, it starts delivering soliloquies about love blooming on the battlefield; by this time, we are so into it that we can’t give up now. The game has worked its spell on us.”

Rogers brings up a vital point about the REASON people play a Metal Gear Solid game. It makes sense that a blockbuster like the MGS series is not only attract people who firmly agree with the gameplay environment, but I too marvel at the people who complain about cutscene length, but claim to be fans. The game IS about long cutscenes. The game certainly has a specific aesthetic created by its controls and actually interactive portions (ie: the parts where there aren’t cutscenes), but without the context, I would think it’s quite boring. Then again, I’d say I’m a person who is mostly motivated by story. I’ve played abysmal games just to see their endings in the past and I continue to play mediocre and great games, like MGS4, just to see what happens at the end. It’s absolutely true that divorcing MGS from its cinematics is divorcing the entire reason for playing from the game. It just makes no sense otherwise.

“Hindsight will tell us that, in concept and execution and everything in between, Metal Gear Solid is better than Metal Gear Solid 4, though this hardly matters. What matters is that we have grown up, and Metal Gear Solid has grown down.”

This is absolutely true. I would have to take a second to very firmly point out that MGS4 is, by no means, a bad game, it does suffer from something no other Metal Gear game does: sequelitis. It tries too hard to be what is iconic Metal Gear for its fans as a conclusion to such a degree that it is less Metal Gear for doing so. Think of the Solid games starting with MGS. Sure, that wasn’t much more than a rehash of the elements of MG2 (in fact, elements of the MG games continually repeat, but that’s actually a major theme of the game (how brilliant is Kojima to make “laziness” translate into “artistic purpose”?)), but getting serious, it’s plain that MGS2 is radically different from MGS. You have a totally new protagonist running around through an environment that is fundamentally different from Shadow Moses. The game felt different enough to warrant significant fan backlash causing low sales of the third, also fundamentally different Metal Gear Solid 3, where you, the player, are now in the past, the tech is old and different, changing the game from Pac-Man to something slightly different. Snake is not the same Snake (although he arguably/genetically) is, you now have a camouflage system, you have to eat to maintain stamina, and you have to treat your injuries.

Meanwhile, here comes MGS4. There are some slight gameplay tweaks here and there with octo-camo and the Drebin weapon system, but you’re not doing anything fundamentally different from the past games. You even have a stage where you revisit an old locale. MGS4 suffers because it is too much like the MGS games of the past. Kojima should have continued to grow as he did with MGS3 instead of regressing to the asinine and stupid with monkeys in diapers and god-awful stupid cutscenes. See Rogers’ treatment of the fried egg dilemma in the same review for more on that.

“…the (seemingly) hour-long sequence in which Ninja Raiden Riverdance-Duels a gay vampire in order to buy Snake, Otacon, and their pet robot enough time to escape from the hell of South America via helicopter is a chief offender: look at those moves! The moment we, as a “player”, behold a scene in a “videogame” and think “Man, someone should make a videogame out of that”, the ghost is essentially given up.”

Also (mostly) a first for MGS4 is the sequence where we cannot control Snake’s (or Raiden’s) bad-assery. The only notably awesome action sequences outside of MGS4 I can think of that we did not, in fact, get to control happen in Twin Snakes (this was widely hated) and in MGS3 in one scene. There is ONE scene in MGS3 where Snake beats up on the Ocelots with CQC. Every other time Snake tries to be fancy with CQC in a cutscene, The Boss, Volgin, whomever, seriously kicks his ass and makes him look like a moron. EVERY OTHER TIME. The player should not ever wish to control a cutscene in a game. Games are created to allow us to control the cutscenes. This is the failure of Quick Time Events too, in my opinion. Too much abstraction involved with making the protagonist look amazing.

“Eventually, the game turned us off to the concept of entertainment in general. Eventually, the game makes us start drinking.”

While MGS4 was, by and large, a disappointment to me as I became a victim to hype and high expectations resulting from playing MGS3, it is not this bad. It’s got its rough edges and, as Rogers loves to state in his review, the cutscenes are a train wreck of awkward acting and dialogue that would make almost anyone embarrassed to be seen playing the game (I’m looking at you Johnny…while I’m at it, you too stupid monkey in diapers), but I still stand by my review stating that you should play it. I’m pretty sure that my review was full of disappointment over finishing a great series off with less of a bang, but more than a whimper, it’s definitely worth a play.

(Just when you thought they were over, welcome to another MGS-full post)

Sony: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review
Jul 24th, 2008 by Dan

It’s time for the moment many of you have been waiting for: my review of Hideo Kojima’s epic masterpiece: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

SPOILER ALERT: This review may contain story spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Operating mostly on the basis of a promised beautiful, cinematic, amazing future of games, the PS3 launched back in November of 2006 with many of its purchasers anxiously awaiting the arrival of one specific game: Metal Gear Solid 4. Arriving quite some time later, is this the game to finally make the PS3 a worthwhile purchase? Let’s have a look.

The Story

One of the main questions on everyone’s mind when MGS4’s launch neared was whether or not the game would be able to wrap up the multitude of sometimes downright ridiculous plot points laid out by the six or so canonical games that have come out over the last twenty years. I’ll tell you outright that they definitely did manage to get it all figured out in a mostly satisfying way and with a pretty great premise that relates rather well to the previous games in the series. Unfortunately we lack some of the major themes of the typical MGS game, which is quite unfortunate, since the game is now more about Snake getting revenge and, to borrow a marketing blurb from Halo, finishing the fight.

The premise behind this new game is as complex as any other Metal Gear game. “War has changed,” as Snake tells us right from the get-go. The world economy revolves around war instead of oil with major private military corporations handling military operations in lieu of the more typical government-handled warfare of the 20th and 21st centuries. Snake’s major antagonist, Liquid Ocelot, happens to control the five major PMCs and is about to stage a revolt. Colonel Campbell will have none of that, so he’s sending in Snake to put an end to Liquid once and for all.

If you’ve ever seen a clip or footage of old Metal Gear Solid games, you’re no doubt wondering why Snake looks so old in this game. Simple answer, Snake, being a clone of the great Big Boss, is actually suffering from rapid cellular degeneration as a direct result of his cloned nature. So begins the tale of the living legend as he pursues Liquid across the globe. I’ll leave the synopsis at that, since the rest is best experienced in person.


The Metal Gear Solid series has always suffered from rather obscure control decisions, resulting in a finger-twisting control scheme that was definitely frustrating. For the last game of Snake’s career, Kojima teamed up with Ryan Payton to try and “Westernize” the controls of MGS to streamline the obscure decisions that have been a hallmark of the past ten years of Metal Gear. By making these controls work better in the post-discovery, action-oriented parts of MGS4, Kojima also inadvertently made it much easier to NOT play MGS as “Tactical Stealth Espionage” game. Really, what is Metal Gear without the stealth? The game was punishing when you messed up because you weren’t supposed to get caught. Your gameplay should be much more deliberate, slow and controlled than a straight-up action game because this is NOT an action game. That disappointment aside, the reworked controls do make the experience that much smoother and help to bring modern game design to the classic series.

Extra Spoiler Alert

Also new to the mix is the way that the levels are laid out. The first zone, the Middle East, has you more or less in the middle of a battle between the PMCs and militia insurgents. While these two factions are battling it out, you can choose to sneak, stealthily, around the fighting, help the militia take out the PMCs, gaining their trust and making them allies on the battlefield, or kill/stun both PMC and militia alike, making enemies of both. This first section on the game also hapens to be one of the best done sections, with the interesting dynamic of warring factions, tension resulting from battlefield sneaking, and a overall cool locale.

Act two takes place in South America, in a throwback type situation to MGS3. It doesn’t quite take place in the jungle, but its got a similar aesthetic to it and is the second most fun zone in the game. There is one area of complaint, the part where you have to “track” Naomi’s footprints to get to where she’s being kept in S. America. it’s just not as fun as the game thinks it is to look for footprints. This section also features some of the militia/PMC fighting of the desert.

The third act is the weakest of the bunch, taking place in Europe, you mainly follow a member of the resistance in an attempt to locate the headquarters of said resistance and “Big Mama.” It’s just plain not as fn as other parts of the game, even if it forces a bit more the stealth aspect of MGS that I love so much.

Act IV has the third best section of the game, as you return to Shadow Moses Island hunting Liquid Ocelot. The act starts with a dream sequence that pops you back to the PSX Metal Gear Solid making you play the approach into the Shadow Moses Island base. after that bit of nostalgia, you bust into the base itself, hearing bits of nostalgic moments that took place int he island as you pass through familiar locations. The enemies in this section are far less interesting, as they are mostly robotic. and not as fun to sneak by. This act does also contain a very sweet section where you pilot the Metal Gear REX, the model you fought in Metal Gear Solid and a Metal Gear on Metal Gear battle as you spar with the Metal Gear RAY model from Metal Gear Solid 2.

The final act brings you face to face with the Outer Heaven, Liquid’s main battleship and the location he intends to launch his revolution from. The shortest section in the game, it does feature a great boss battle against a foe similar to Psycho Mantis as well as one of the best cinematic and nostalgic gameplay sections as the final boss battle.

No real review can get away without mentioning Metal Gear Solid Online. This game, I feel, suffers from the fact that stealth is not rewarded as it is in the main game. Why would you want to play MGO like any other third-person shooter? I mainly have my fun by refusing to kill any other players, but when I do manage to stun another player, one of my teammates inevitably comes around and shoots him in the head on the floor. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.


Meet the best looking PS3 game currently on the market. Every ounce of processing power available to Konami and Kojima Productions was expertly utilized to create a beautiful experience that will wow most any naysayer of the PS3’s graphical capabilities. The desert makes you thirsty, jungle makes you sweaty from humidity, Europe feels cool, Shadow Moses Island is appropriately haunted-seeming, and Outer Heaven’s cinematic beauty makes for a great end to a fine game.


What can I say? The guns sound good, voice acting is as superb as ever (boo to losing the British and Chinese accents of Naomni and Mei Ling, respectively), and the score by Harry Gregson-Williams and company evokes the properly patriotic and legendary aesthetic of Metal Gear.

Final Verdict

Metal Gear Solid 4 is an amazing game, but I found myself just a wee bit disappointed with the epic. While the game does everything really well, I just found the story and, specifically, the acting of some of the characters (Naomi and Sunny) to be rather irritating. Compared to the sublime perfection of Metal Gear Solid 3, this game just needed a little more editing and a little less of the Japanese overacted melodrama. That being said, MGS4 is still one of the best PS3 games out there, gameplay-wise and should not be missed. A definite must-play.

Embedded Reporter: Play!
Jul 21st, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

Went and saw “Play! A Video Game Symphony” at the end of the last week and I have to say it was pretty cool. Some of the music didn’t do much for me :cough: Super Shinobi :cough:, but a lot of the stuff, even games I didn’t care about, was pretty awesome.

There was one disappointment with the end of the Metal Gear Solid piece. I’ve seen these other symphony programs do better and not leave out the last, heroic guitar part at the end. Granted, it’s only about ten seconds of music, but it’s an awesome ten seconds. Check out the legit MGS version that I was hoping for:

To be fair, I’ve been both thinking about it and listening to some versions of the MGS theme and I think that the Play! guys did the original MGS theme while this video is kind of for the MGS3 theme. Also, don’t get me wrong, it was still awesome.

Game Overview: Pre-Current Gen PC All-Star Runner-Up
Jun 26th, 2008 by Dan

Yeah, I know I told you that this would be posted last weekend, but things got a little hectic with my travel plans, so I decided to hold off until the day before the big finale for this one. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting for the announcement, so let’s get right to it.

The final game of this category comes from a dying genre whose brief golden age drove the development of narrative, graphics, and voice acting. Here are some more clues:

1. The recently VERY troubled studio that produced this game used to put out tons of games in this genre, but has since abandoned the genre to produce games based on the very lucrative movie licenses it owns. If you’re sharp, you already know the company and genre I’m referring to at this point.

2. The protagonist of this game has the unique ability to hold his breath for 10 minutes at a time. Astute readers already know the series, but now need better clues to narrow down the game.

3. This picture will help the less savvy readers figure out the series.

4. Final clue: This game essentially retcons the previous games because the original series creator was not at the helm. Hence, the actual secret is still unknown to this day.

Our one and only runner-up in this category is the incredible Lucasarts classic, The Curse of Monkey Island

Runner-up The Curse of Monkey Island

I should clarify a few points before I get into the CMI love, namely regarding the series creator, Ron Gilbert, and the last great Lucasarts adventure game, Grim Fandango. Ron left Lucasarts after Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge along with the other writers of the series, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. So, as mentioned before, the remaining team members were more or less forced to retcon and/or disregard story put forth by Gilbert, Schafer, and Grossman to further the plot of their own game. I will openly admit that, despite the awesomeness of CMI, MI2 is actually the best in the series, story and scenario-wise, but that doesn’t mean it should beat CMI on this list, in my opinion.

Also important to mention, to me, is the superb Grim Fandango. Written by the brilliant Tim Schafer, GF is one of the best adventure games I’ve ever played with an epic, funny story, great characters, and an amazing setting but it just doesn’t meet the intangible bar that CMI set, mainly due to the fact that it left less of an impression on me.

CMI just has something about it that will instantly make you love Guybrush Threepwood, so even though it can be beaten in individual categories like the story of MI2 or the setting and plot of GF, CMI is just more fun to play.

No doubt feeling some pressure from the shift in graphical style of the King’s Quest series with their seventh installment, CMI shifted to a cartoony, almost Disney look with its portrayal of Guybrush and the world around him. Gone were pixelated sprites, in were scenes and animations geared toward making you think you were playing a cartoon. If you really think about it, we’ve had cutscenes since the early days of video gaming, but most of those were rendered in-engine (nowadays some series do still render cutscenes in-engine (Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid) as a stylistic choice). CMI featured fully animated cutscenes in a seamlessly integrated art style to the in-engine graphics. Needless to say, it was and, to a degree, still is a beautiful game that makes the player feel like he’s controlling a cartoon, ages before cel-shading would start to become mainstream.

More important to the in-game immersion was the choice of Dominic Armato to voice Guybrush Threepwood. The prior two games were still a little early in the computer game timeline to feature voice acting, but I honestly believe that Gilbert, Schafer, and Grossman would be hard-pressed to find a voice actor better than Dominic Armato to voice the lovable pirate. Say what you will about the direction the series has headed since the loss of the original brains behind the series, but Armato was the best man for the job. His voice just jives with the goofy, inept, clueless, and sarcastic nature of Guybrush so well that it’s hard to skip dialog even the nth time through the game just cause you want to hear him say the same goofy lines the umpteenth time. The rest of the cast is also well-voiced, but Guybrush is the standout role, as he should be.

Plot idiocy aside, the writers for CMI definitely didn’t slack in the humor department, with snappy one-liners filling the game from opening to closing coupled with sight gags, brilliantly written insult swordfights (complete with rhyming!), and the only in-game song that could possibly give “Still Alive” a run for its money. CMI had it all in the days when the adventure game was fresh, fun, and, most importantly, still considered a viable genre. Aside from Telltale games, it seems that no one is interested in adventure games any more. That being said, it’s not like today’s gamers aren’t being tricked into playing them nowadays, between the Phoenix Wright games, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 at least plenty of Nintendo DS gamers are still able to get a small adventure game fix. With Ron Gilbert getting Hothead games to publish DeathSpank, hopefully we’ll see a bit of an increase in other adventure games. Sure would be nice, I miss the genre.

Here’s one of the best in-game songs you will ever see, complete with some Insult Swordfighting:

A little fun at the expense of the KQ series:

There you have it, another era summed up in a few games. I’m not saying that these are the only good games, just that they represent some of the best. Be sure to tune in tomorrow to see my favorite games of the current generation.

Embedded Reporter: Metal Gear Retrospective
May 19th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

You may or may not realize that Metal Gear Solid 4 is a mere month away, but Gametrailers has and they’ve started one of their amazing Retrospective series last week about Metal Gear. Episodes one and two are up, so check them out below already!

Game Overview Special Tuesday Edition: Obsessive 100%
Apr 22nd, 2008 by Dan

If any of you clicked over to Leigh’s post at Sexy Videogameland about obsessively completing games, then you already know where I’m about to go with this post. If you didn’t, here’s yet another link.

Call it a personality disorder, but I have an obsessive need to unlock the full 100% potential for video games that I enjoy. I know what you’re thinking, if he’s gotta include the “enjoy” caveat, it’s not really obsessive then, is it? Let me tell you, that caveat did not come easily. It took years of mental conditioning to be able to realize “Hey, I want to play too many other games to go at this pace on such a crummy game…” Once I did finally realize that forcing myself to 100% complete a game that, honestly, wasn’t worth it, I’m was able to log off of Gamefaqs and get onto another game that will eat up my time. You see, since I’m a university student, I do have more time to play than 9-5ers, but I don’t have as much time as when I was in high school because of classes, exams, homework, and trying to maintain a social life (kids, stay away from World of Warcraft).

Where do I draw the line? Mainly wherever it’s going to just take too much time to be worth it. I loved Final Fantasy X, but when the game asked me to dodge lightning something like one hundred times in a row to get an ultimate weapon, I said screw it. My party was tough enough that I wouldn’t need that one ultimate weapon just to kill Sin. If it wasn’t, I would train up and make do. There were other, less time-consumingly stupid sidequests that I could go waste my time on.

The advent of the Gamerscore on Xbox Live! has brought up some really interesting issues too. Before achievement points and worrying about increasing my Gamerscore (I know it’s low, but I don’t have the time to be a real achievement point whore), I honestly never worried about fully completing an action game or a music game. I’ll tell you which achievements I can resist though – Guitar Hero 3’s asininely stupid ones like playing through the career mode on a controller instead of the guitar (really? play through on my controller for ONLY 15 achievement points), winning 500 matches (grind, anyone?), or even playing through a song on expert with the sound settings turned down (no sound in a MUSIC GAME?). The Rock Band achievements are much less idiotic. Fully completing cities, completing career modes, achieving milestones in the World Tour mode, these are all acceptable to me.

My first Xbox 360 JRPG introduced a new dastardly trick to entice me to get full completes on games that don’t deserve it. Lost Odyssey, mind you, is not one of them, but my progress to the end of the game has been halted by the achievement point list that includes optional bosses and leveling up all the characters in my team. It’s definitely brilliant because those side quests, in other RPGs, usually include neat story details about the characters that you wouldn’t see otherwise, they give you sweet weapons and armor, and they also satisfy my need to fully complete an RPG that I love.

Just because I’m able to resist these urges more and more nowadays doesn’t mean I’m fully out of the woods. I was trying to burn through MGS and MGS2 to complete the series before MGS4’s launch in June, but now that I’m on MGS3 and June’s far away, I’ve taken it upon myself to hit up Gamefaqs to find out where all the Kerotans (strange little frog thingies that you have to shoot) are and all the different types of food so that I can get a whole bunch of sweet bonuses after I complete the game. Persona 3: FES launches today, but will be in Gamestop waiting for me tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about all the Social Links. After reading Leigh’s article, I convinced myself that I should just play the game naturally, but then I went and watched the 1UP show and learned that the Social Links that you max out contribute to your ending. How could I not try to max them out and get the best possible ending now?

I will admit that part of my completionist nature comes from the fact that I have a lot of games on my plate and I want to get to them all. If I can beat them all 100% the first time through, then I don’t have to play them again to see the stuff that I missed. People usually ask me about this when they see me browsing Gamefaqs or another walkthrough when playing a video game, either asking “Why don’t you just finish the game if you can?” or “Why are you looking at the guide? Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”

The answer to both has to do with enjoying the storylines of games oftentimes a lot more than the gameplay. If it’s a good game, I want to see as much of it as possible, so I bother with the sidequests to learn more about the characters. Anyone who has ever wandered through the Phoenix Cave in Final Fantasy VI knows how incredibly moving (maybe this is just me) it is to see Locke passionately search for the one thing he has heard can save Rachel. Most people, I like to think, were moved when (SPOILER ALERT) the Phoenix failed to revive Rachel (/SPOILER ALERT). It’s little touches like this that go to flesh out just why Locke is so committed to protecting Terra and Celes once he meets each woman.

If it’s a bad game, heck, I just want to be done. I don’t care about figuring out the strategy to kill a poorly designed boss with a character I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about figuring out the proper path through a bland Zelda-ripoff temple. It’s just not satisfying since by that point I’m playing the game only because I like to finish what I start.

Adventure games are the exception to this. I oftentimes love the game, I’m just not willing to try and figure out how I’m supposed to use the chicken with the tree to save the monkey in the swamp. The game type just asks you to think too much like the designer to complete mentally unnatural and unintuitive tasks. Yahtzee makes some good points about Adventure game design in his review of Zachkand Wiki that I totally agree with.

In the end, I guess I’m not that bad about obsessively completing a game, but when the design is just so well-done as to encourage the player to do it, I honestly can’t resist. When you have a screen full of little glass windows to smash open for Super Smash Brothers Brawl, who can resist the urge to just go for the unlockables? Those trophies and stickers are also so cool…

Sony: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Apr 19th, 2008 by Dan

SPOILER ALERT: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS2.

The Story

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty picks up several years after the first MGS. Snake is still retired from FOXHOUND, but he is a part of the anti-Metal Gear proliferation group Philanthropy with Otacon. Snake and Otacon actively collect intel and information on Metal Gears and release them throughout the world to keep the global balance of power even and it’s rumored that they even destroy some Metal Gear models outright. This is where you come in, as Snake in the “Tanker Chapter.” It’s also where the shit hits the fan. Snake’s mission is disrupted by the arrival of Ocelot Revolver, one of the bosses from MGS and a former member of FOXHOUND, only his hand has been re-attached…or has it? He periodically lapses into another voice and mental state where he sounds and acts like Liquid Snake, Solid Snake’s “brother” (they are both clones of Big Boss). As you might be able to guess, the routine mission becomes anything but. Ocelot steals the Metal Gear RAY, destroys the tanker, and sinks Solid Snake to the bottom of the ocean.

The “Plant Chapter” begins with an operative infiltrating aquatically, strangely familiar to Snake’s entrance in MGS. The scuba mask comes off…Who the heck is this guy? Why is Jack, codenamed Raiden, working with the Colonel from MGS? Who is he? What is going on at this water treatment plant where the President of the United States has been kidnapped? MGS2 succeeds on so many levels beyond MGS in its story, it’s hard to even quantify how much better it is. The story is far more epic, the plot twists way stranger, and the final outcome more surprising than ANYONE could have guessed. Many a critic has hated on what seems like a convoluted story, but a little concentration and patience for the long cutscenes reveals a game that does, in fact, make sense. MGS2 surpasses its ancestry in every way on this one.

Of particular note is, and this is way spoilerific, but also way awesome, occurs when the Colonel begins acting VERY erratically. I know about this plot point before I started playing it and it still gave the the proverbial willies. Be sure to watch the clip to get the full effect, but the Colonel, in typical MGS fashion, seriously breaks the fourth wall telling you to turn off the game, referencing the NES Metal Gear games, repeating lines from MGS, showing footage from other games, etc. This is all during a part of the game where Raiden has been stripped of his equipment and clothing, so he’s running around the base buck naked, holding his hands over his crotch. Consequently, he cannot perform any actions which would require him to not be covering his naughty bits.


After playing MGS2, I’ve concluded that third person, top-down cameras are what made the original MGS so damn hard to me. Being able to zoom in and fire in first person mode in MGS2 combined with the other camera tweaks makes for a MUCH smoother experience. Stealth is still absolutely the name of the game in MGS2 and the new camera system does its best to fully revitalize the old stealth system.

The guards are no longer fully restricted to their cones of vision, making them much less stupid. Guards now have radios and, once you are spotted, have to call in for support before the entire facility is on alert. This allows you to be spotted, run up to a guard, knock him out, and prevent his transmission. Unfortunately, if a guard even turns on his radio, knocking him out will still not keep you in the clear. A transmission will come through the walkie-talkie saying “What’s going on? Where are you? Send support to X location” and then the facility will be crawling with guards looking for you. On the plus side, knocking out the guard bought you some time to hide. On the downside…you’re gonna be stuck hiding from guards for somewhere around two to two and a half minutes. I usually spent this time not even paying attention to the game, doing something…anything else. I can understand the realism of an added state of alertness, but it’s still boring. In the end, I forgive them for trying to make it more realistic. I mean…what kind of facility is really gonna just be chill three minutes after some guard got knocked out or killed? It’s a miracle we even get that.

Other sweet guard behaviors: You can leave dirty magazines around to distract them. If they spot one, they’ll just chill out and read the magazine for a bit. Good for sneaking around a guard’s patrol route. Killing a guard is bad news, if another guard spots a guard corpse, he will immediately alert all guards, so what can you do? Kill a guard, stuff him in a locker. Insta-safe. This actually brings me to my next point: you don’t have to kill in MGS2.

For a mission that relied so heavily on stealth, MGS really had a lot of moments where you were forced to kill guards to progress. MGS2 dispenses with that notion by offering Snake and Raiden (more on Raiden later) a tranquilizer pistol and sniper rifle (for the sniping parts). Bosses no longer solely have health meters, they also have stamina meters that can be depleted with tranquilizer darts. It really adds another dimension to the game when you decide to play it as a pacifist (as I did…kind of…more on that later) and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It can also make the game really hard. There’s one particular boss battle where a lack of explosive force or automatic gunfire really handicaps you to the extreme.

As I said before, you have to play about 80% of the game as Raiden. He can do everything Snake can, but he’s just so uncool compared to Snake. If you reference that MGS4 teaser, you’ll spot the white-haired, delicate flower of a protagonist fighting with Snake for the main character role in MGS4. Hideo Kojima readily admits that Raiden was created to be a pretty boy just to appeal to female gamers, which is a bit obnoxious…I do understand his real rationale though, that Snake is a pro and to have to treat Snake as a rookie again wouldn’t make too much sense. I take offense to this many times in sequels where it doesn’t make sense that, say, Samus Aran, all-around bad ass, has forgotten how to use her blaster. It does also allow for a really sweet story that I’m sure Kojima was quite proud of himself for coming up with.

So if Raiden plays the same as Snake, what’s there to complain about? In the last hour of gameplay, you are randomly given a High-Frequency sword to tool around with. Swordsmanship is awkwardly assigned to the right analog stick, which basically results in me getting kicked in the face by anyone with a sword and kicked in the face and shot by anyone with a gun. You can magically block bullets with it, which is nice. You’re also able to flip the sword to use the dull edge to stun enemies, to continue your kill-less streak, but, and I suppose this is realistic, stabs are still killing blows and, worse still, Raiden doesn’t always turn the blade around when he brings it back in the opposite direction, resulting in the disembowelment of enemies on some of his random combo slashes. Imagine how peeved I was to end up with four kills at the end of the game because of this…


Holy cow. MGS and MGS2 are like night and day to each other. While MGS2 is not going to raise many eyebrows nowadays, I think it still looks stupendous. Textures were good, animations weren’t clunky or awkward, characters had moving lips and eyes…It’s really a very pretty game.


No accents on your team in this one, which is sad, but otherwise the sound is great. None of the music really stands out, but none of it annoys me either. I’d call it a success.


MGS2 is another one of those games that you absolutely must play if you consider yourself a connoisseur of video games. I’ve played tons of stealth missions in video games both older and younger than MGS2 and I cannot think of one that comes even close to this in getting it right. Having the option to completely NOT KILL ANYONE really makes MGS2 stand out for me (and becomes rather important for MGS3) for those times where I don’t want to just mindlessly kill and maim everyone I come across. The improvements over MGS push it into absolute must play status and I cannot recommend MGS2 (Substance, the remake of Sons of Liberty with added stuff) enough.

Enjoy this commercial for the Xbox version of MGS2: Substance

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