Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Most Important Games of the Decade - 2

November 2001

Could one game kill a system? The precedents are there for games that can make a system (Super Mario Bros, Halo, Wii Sports), but Metal Gear Solid 2 might very well have been what killed the Dreamcast.

The first Metal Gear Solid was an important entry in gaming history, an instant classic that raised the bar in production values and storytelling in gaming. It was a crowning achievement at the end of the PlayStation 1 era.

The next generation was beginning with the Dreamcast, Sega’s latest effort after Sony pummeled the hell out of the Sega Saturn and Sega’s market share. The Dreamcast was looking towards the future, having a built in modem and internet capability right out of the box. You may recall in the late 1990s that the Internet was a Fairly Big Thing.

But Sony was determined to own the future with their looming threat of the PlayStation 2, the world conqueror. It would play DVDs (another Big Thing in the year 2000). It would play games your brain couldn’t believe. It would be transcendent. Newsweek quoted the Playstation founder, Ken Kutaragi, with this horseshit whopper of a shenanigan about the mystical power of the PlayStation 2: “You can communicate to a new cybercity. Did you see the movie The Matrix? Same interface. Same concept. Starting from next year, you can jack into The Matrix!”

But mainstream magazines--who at the time were still clueless about videogames and wondering if Columbine happened because Harris and Klebold played Doom rather than, you know, Harris being a good old-fashioned psychopath since the 9,999,999 other Doom players didn’t go on a school shooting rampage—were not the only ones to get snookered by the Sony hype machine. The gaming press, perhaps following their customers’ wishes, was giving ridiculous, masturbatory coverage to MGS2. In an era before large scale broadband internet penetration, one magazine, PSM, went almost second by second through a 15 minute MGS2 trailer with their hypothesis on what each frame could mean other comments along the general lines of “Oh, snap!” upon big reveals.

The game itself? Ended up being quite good. Critics loved the advancements in stealth action gameplay, fierce enemy AI (one of the major benefits of new generations of systems that’s harder to show than graphics, but makes your games more realistic vs. shooting that guard in an old game while his buddy watches, bored), and overall attention to detail. The story was a dividing point, confusing and at times wincingly comical in its melodrama and ridiculous and unclear plot twists. MGS’s creator, Hideo Kojima, talented though he is, has been in desperate need of an editor to clean up his sprawl and attempts at humor for years.

But the game itself was overshadowed by its own hype. The early glimpses of the game several E3s (yearly video game expo) was a reason of utmost importance to convince consumers that it was worth avoiding the investment in the Dreamcast to await the golden tomorrow of the PlayStation 2. In creating the hesitation in consumer’s minds, the Dreamcast was never able to capitalize on its one year head start, and with MGS2 and the promise of other games of its caliber the PS2 was able to defeat Sega so badly that the Dreamcast ended up being the once mighty Sega's final hardware system.


Inspector Frank Bumstead said...

I believe Wade posted or passed around a link on The Onion's AV Club Falling Out of Love with Movies that were once treasured, and for me MGS2 would be a good example of that for me in gaming. The story really got completely out-of-control and mistook being too confusing for being clever and deep.

But one point that really worked while playing it was a scene where the main character's sense of reality is being broken down. In a level where you play naked, cradling your junk, you're sneaking through the halls of some cyber complex while former friends are using game mechanics against you, most chillingly the nonsense message from your commanding officer yelling at you in a slowed down/drugged voice "I hear it's amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hari Kiri Rock. I need scissors! 61!"

I was playing this game at 3AM during a winter study break, and me and my roommates were flipping out at the weirdness.

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