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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Peace Offering

Metal Gear is a series that Hideo Kojima just can't seem to leave well enough alone. He said he would throw in the towel after Metal Gear Solid 2, then again after 3, and once again after 4. 4 in particular was confirmed to be the final title starring gaming icon Solid Snake so it looked like Kojima would actually be out the door for good this time around. Then came Peace Walker.

Now, in my opinion, Metal Gear Solid 3 was by far the best game the franchise has seen. Metal Gear's most outstanding achievement has always been its portrayal of realistically complex, yet profoundly imaginative characters and not its pretentious Kudzu Plots that are nigh-on impossible to keep up with. MGS3 raised the bar by focusing on the complicated relationship between Naked Snake aka Big Boss and his mentor, The Boss, and never lost sight of the fact that it was a rich character drama unfolding on the battlefield.

And yes, the finale of MGS3 is the only time I have ever teared up at a video game. The story of Big Boss is truly one of the most touching and tragic tales to ever grace the budding medium of gaming.

So when Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops was announced, I was naturally overjoyed. After all, it seemed that Big Boss still had plenty of reserves left to mine in that labyrinthine cranium of his. Once the credits rolled, however, I emerged underwhelmed.

Sure, Portable Ops answered a few lingering questions such as the identity of “the man with the same codename as Null” or the ultimate fate of the Philosopher's Legacy and how it tied in with Ocelot's manipulative machinations. But the central struggle, the one between Big Boss and newcomer Gene, felt irrelevant. Its only contribution to the Metal Gear timeline was how the seeds of Big Boss's Outer Heaven were sewn. Sure there were some nifty cameos (Roy Campbell) and corollaries (Big Boss and Gene are “brothers” like Solid Snake and Liquid Snake), but overall, it erred on the side of filler.

Fast-forward to present day. It's been two years since MGS4 put an end to the saga of Solid Snake, but apparently there's still one link left unconnected: the one bridging Portable Ops and the original Metal Gear. And so, Big Boss's swan song came in the form of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

Spoilers ahoy, naturally.

The plot of Peace Walker revolves around an ensemble of military refugees in South America, all of whom are destined to become the founding members of Outer Heaven. Peace Walker focuses on the shift of Big Boss's ideals from steadfast patriot to incorrigible mercenary leader and exactly what it was that ran his militant vision of morality through the wood-chipper.

Right off the bat, Peace Walker hits us with a doozy. Namely, the return of the Boss, or rather an AI based off of the legendary hero, which would later serve as the progenitor of the Patriots AI system. It is through this AI that Big Boss confronts his mentor once more in order to uncover the truth behind her sacrifice and whether or not she turned her back on not only her country and her mission, but the very ideals that she imparted onto her “son.”

Peace Walker does little to avoid the foibles that its predecessor, Portable Ops, had in spades. Sure, surprise guests-of-honor such as Huey are always welcome, but keep in mind that they're little more than cameo appearances seeing as there's only so many new characters you can cram into the established canon before it explodes.

Neat (but pointless) newcomers Huey and Strangelove.

The only character that truly matters in Peace Walker aside from Big Boss himself is Miller as he was one of the mainstays of the first few games in the series. Everyone else feels like little more than diversionary fodder, from icy scientist Strangelove to bubbly waif, Paz. Paz, in particular, might as well be Elisa from Portable Ops after a shot of sunny optimism, which just goes to show how inane and unimaginative filler-y interstices are.

However, all else being equal, Peace Walker triumphs in the one area where Portable Ops failed completely: Big Boss himself. Whereas every other character could phase out of existence the moment the final credits roll and the canon wouldn't even blink, it is Big Boss who undergoes a dramatic, yet subtle transformation. As mentioned, over the course of Operation Peace Walker, Big Boss again crosses paths with The Boss and questions not only his loyalty to his country and its crooked ideals, but also his loyalty to her. Or rather, her loyalty to him.

The act of The Boss betraying the very troop that followed her into combat, of sacrificing her legacy, of sacrificing her life to carry out her final mission...and then laying down her gun at the very end and leaving the world, in her words, “not as a solider, but as a woman” was an ideological curveball that shattered Big Boss's perceptions of his beloved mentor, whom he had nothing but respect and admiration for. Simply put, Big Boss felt betrayed; the kind of seething, deep-seated betrayal that only worsens as time marches on and values grow more twisted and distorted.

Unsure if he could even trust the woman who raised him and taught him everything, Big Boss emerged from Operation Peace Walker a broken man whereas he left Operation Snake Eater merely shaken. He felt nothing but disgust towards The Boss and would only reconcile with her in his final moments some 40-odd-years later at her gravestone with his son by his side.

Peace Walker's significant contribution to the lore was the rationale behind Big Boss's Face Heel Turn. MGS3 ended hinting that it was his contempt for his country for essentially giving The Boss a death sentence that drove him to turn terrorist but it wasn't too convincing of an explanation given the man's hardened and unwavering nature. Peace Walker, on the other hand, shattered his illusion of the one person he thought he could believe in and left him an embittered, wayward spirit with an army without borders known as Outer Heaven at his fingertips. He was a changed man, who, unlike The Boss, vowed to never leave the battlefield and so took it upon himself to exact his vengeance in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake before meeting his supposed demise at the hands of his son.

It should come as no surprise that Big Boss is my favorite video game character of all time and Peace Walker satisfyingly capped off his tragic story with a bang. Was it a worthwhile addition? I would say so, considering how important the aforementioned question concerning Big Boss was. And I definitely felt saddened upon realizing that his chapter is now closed for good and only his legacy remains. Here's to one of the greatest heroes (and villains) of all time.

“From now on, call me Big Boss.”

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