When I was asked to write 1000 words about why Metal Gear Solid matters, and what you need to know about it, I knew there was only one way to do it.
By feel alone.
I decided that I would write this thing in an hour. I would submit it in first draft shape. If I hadn't reached the end of the piece within the hour? Then it would just end. I would take Metal Gear Solid and lower it into my stream of consciousness. I would just let it float. It will float well – it is made of light and thought.
Why do it this way? Why not go through the entire history of the saga, detailing all the characters' backstories? Why not pull all the plot strands together, as many fans have attempted to do, and create some kind of diagram? Why not join the La with the Li and the Lu with the Le and find where exactly in the timeline the Lo fits?
I think this is where so much analysis of the Metal Gear games falls down. These games are not a franchise. This is not a “universe” as we understand it in this age of the entertainment megabrand. They are not games created by a “frustrated film director”, as many fools have stated. The story, laid out flat, is beautiful and silly and brilliant and sad and horny and dumb and clever. But the story is also not the point. These games are pieces of pure expression. They are hot and frightening - intimidating digital forest fires lit by the greatest genius, and the greatest maverick, of one of the world's youngest art forms.
Why are we even talking about this? Because Metal Gear Solid V is upon us, and it is A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME. And we see many people asking “Do I have to play the other games to understand the story?” And the answer is NO. “Should I play the others?” Of course. “Do I need to play the others?” No. NO.
This is A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME. To love A J. M. W. TURNER PAINTING you don't have to see FISHERMEN AT SEA: A J.M.W. TURNER PAINTING first. (If you do see it, it will be beautiful. But it will take you years to think you fully understand it. And you will only think you understand it. Many a brush stroke will remain hidden.)
And Metal Gear Solid 1 is beautiful. Do you remember that beautiful Playstation snow? Crude and jagged and cold? Do you understand how difficult it is to create a great villain in a piece of fiction? Do you remember how HIDEO KOJIMA gave you a number of them in one go? Do you remember how Psycho Mantis read your mind?
Do you understand how HIDEO KOJIMA continues to read your mind?
In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake is an old man. The world has changed around him. “War has changed”, he says. But the game also says “Entertainment has changed”. MGS4, behind all that weird story, speaks of industrialised entertainment – where everybody is a superhero. The bad guys are in robotic supersuits. Raiden, a character from the experimental Metal Gear Solid 2, has been given a full make-over. He has super-strength, can leap tall buildings in a single bound. It is a world of Iron Men. Snake is an old soldier. Tired, confused, obsolete. This is A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME.
Metal Gear Solid 2. I remember seeing one reviewer say that the dialogue was “gibberish”. Predictions often look like gibberish until you're looking back at them, nodding. Kojima warned us that, very soon, we would all be communicating using memes. We would be passing off other people's thoughts as our own. We would turn our real names over to virtual avatars who only looked like us. We would clone ourselves across various networks. We would become one with the machine, and only glimpse our real selves in passing. We would lose touch with what is real. “This is a simulation,” we were warned.
Too late. We went inside anyway.
Other video games are cave paintings compared to these. HIDEO KOJIMA offers us an opportunity to climb out of the cave.
So we climb.
And Metal Gear Solid 3 is the greatest video game of all time. Of course it is. What else could possibly compare to that assault of ideas? HIDEO KOJIMA is in complete control here. It is not a design, it is a fucking possession. In a story about the utter tragedy of duty, you are duty-bound to dance to the tune of the greatest puppet master of all. He makes you dream. He makes you afraid to turn the game off. He creates The Boss, the character who is truly the beating heart of this whole saga, and then sets you on a dark path towards her, and it hurts. The end is inevitable.
You actually fight The End in the game. Even the end of The End is inevitable, and how Kojima explains this to us is remarkable and something I won't spoil here.
Oh, a thousand words on all of this, Rock Paper Shotgun? I could write a book.
And that's the point. That's the whole point. That's why Metal Gear Solid matters. These games are so far ahead of everything else that no-one has yet managed to talk about them properly. Websites will rush to review Metal Gear Solid V, and it will be an act of pure folly. Some websites will attach a score to it.
THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST – 9/10
And in the years ahead we'll talk and talk about the game, and numbers will never come into the discussion. It will all be feel.
So here's what you need to know about Metal Gear Solid going into this new one - the story alone never really mattered. Neither did the gameplay. The expression of a true auteur, through the story and the gameplay and the art and the music, that's what matters. We're just not used to that. This is A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME and we're all just playing catch-up.
This is A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME.
It doesn't matter that his name has been wiped from the promotional materials, Konami. This thing is the great man's thoughts made digital, same as it ever was.
This is A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME.
You don't have to know what it's all about. You just have to know what you think it's actually about.
And guess what? That's exactly what art is.