More Boss Fight Books! Metal Gear Solid, by Ashly & Anthony Burch

Years and years ago, near the end of the 20th century, I was hanging out at a friend of mine’s house. At the time, I didn’t have a Playstation- but he did (which wasn’t the only reason I was friends with him, I should add). In addition, he had Metal Gear Solid- a game that I had heard about, and had even played the first level a few times, but I’d never really gone that in-depth. All I really knew is you could sneak around and break dudes’ necks with your bare hands. Hardcore.

And so, late into the night, and well into the next morning, we played MGS in its entirety. My friend knew the game in and out, so whenever there was a boss fight or an otherwise particularly tricky bit, he took the controller and handily clobbered Vulcan Raven or Psycho Mantis or whoever.

Fast forward to about 3:30 AM, and we finally make it to the final boss fight against Metal Gear (a big stompy killer robot), and I turn to my buddy, and nudge him to do his magic. At which point, he promptly keels over and starts snoring. Oops.

I died a lot in that boss fight.

But I won! Eventually. I had played the whole damn game, all the way through, in one sitting. I can’t help but feel a little nolstalgic about those days when I had the time (and arguably the attention span) to sit down and play a game all the way through. Even all this time later, that random evening slogging through Metal Gear Solid sticks with me. I guess I could even label myself a fan of the series- though more of a casual one, I guess, as I’ve stopped trying to keep track of the convoluted plot. I will say that MGS3 was easily the best, because Raiden’s not in it, and because it has an awesome theme song.

So yeah, I was a bit excited when I found out Boss Fight Books was putting out a book on Metal Gear Solid.

Cardboard boxes are the most effective espionage gadgets ever devised.

Where Chrono Trigger was an academic analysis, and Super Mario Bros 2 was kind of a history of Nintendo in the 80’s, Metal Gear Solid weighs in on MGS in comparison to gaming in general. Not only do the Burchs (Burches? Burchi?) refer to the several MGS sequels, but they also bring up titles like Thief, Bioshock, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Call of Duty, and a bunch more I’m probably forgetting. If any of those titles have you going “huh?” then this might not be the best read for you.

The in-depth gaming knowledge makes sense. Ashly Burch has a YouTube show “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” (which I haven’t watched), and Anthony Burch was the head writer on Borderlands 2 (which I haven’t played). Metal Gear Solid is a book by gamers, for gamers.

And so, Anthony and Ashly revisit Metal Gear Solid after all these years. And y’know what? In retrospect, Metal Gear Solid was kind of a crappy game. The controls were clunky, the cut scenes were repetitive and melodramatic, the protagonist is kind of a stupid asshole, and the treatment of female characters within the game is atrocious. Ashly sums it up nicely:

“In a cinematic stealth game about the horrors of nuclear warfare, you are required to stare at a woman’s ass to advance the plot.”

And it’s the analysis of the game’s flaws that makes Metal Gear Solid a great read. It’s not quite on the level of a line-by-line, MST3K style riffing, but the Burches (I’m just gonna call them the Burches) analyze the first MGS game with pointed, hilarious commentary. Each chapter is a bit like a conversation, as Ashly and Anthony trade out every few paragraphs or pages- though they also add little footnotes to comment on each other’s work. A running gag of yelling “KOJIMA!” was a favorite of mine. There aren’t any interviews like that of Ted Woolsey in Chrono Trigger, or even of a speed runner in Super Mario Bros 2. Metal Gear Solid is just about a brother and sister talking about a game, and the book is stronger for it.

For all its flaws, there’d never been a game like Metal Gear Solid before. Hideo Kojima, the series’ director/producer/whatever you call a guy in charge of a video game, took on a ridiculously ambitious project in putting it all together. Metal Gear Solid- and its sequels, are sprawling, cinematic, metatextual … and fucking weird. They’re schizophrenic in tone, where the cutscenes will go from a tense sneaking mission to poop jokes without warning.

I was in the same boat as Anthony and Ashly when I was a kid. I was enthralled by the grim, unshaven, chain-smoking Solid Snake. Dude was like a taller, less Canadian Wolverine. And now, looking back on it with the Burch’s help, I realize Solid Snake is not only dense, but also kind of an asshole. So, y’know, your typical teenage boy, I guess.

Metal Gear Solid is a work of love- but of harsh love. Ashly and Anthony really dig into the flaws of Metal Gear Solid not to make easy jokes (okay, not just to make easy jokes) but because they love games, and they want them to be better. Frankly, I agree with them. Inspired by this book (and by the upcoming release of MGS5), I’ve been replaying MGS4. And in doing so, I can’t help but say, “you know, it’d be nice if there were female characters in this game that weren’t dressed in bondage latex and/or plunging cleavage necklines.” I understand this is a somewhat controversial stance in some corners of reddit and/or 4chan, but, y’know, fuck those guys.

Ultimately, Metal Gear Solid (the book) unpacks a lot of stuff about Metal Gear Solid (the game). This is certainly the most critical of the Boss Fight Books texts I’ve read so far- and that’s what makes it fun. It’s easy to praise a good game, but to criticize a bad one? That’s just a little more juicy. It’s well worth a read for any fans of the MGS series.

Coincidentally, Metal Gear Solid 5 comes out September 1st. I’ll … probably wind up playing it, eventually. Who knows, maybe after all these years, Hideo Kojima has matured, and thusly he won’t take an adolescent approach to plotting and character design!

Okay, maybe not.

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