Lengthening the Legend: The Twin Snakes and Why It Didn't Work

Sometimes a game gets it right the first time.

It may be safely said that most people with even a passing interest in the video-gaming hobby have at one point or another heard of Metal Gear Solid. It is one of the iconic games released for the PSX--a game so well-liked that it was given a complete overhaul and update with the release of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the Gamecube. Now I will freely admit--cheerfully admit, even--that the visual style of the old Metal Gear Solid left a bit to be desired.

It was still in the early years of using those magical 'three dimensional graphics,' and so the fact that the protagonist's face is basically a square with a few slightly darker lines to represent eyebrows and a mouth didn't matter. The codec conversations made up for it, filling in the blanks with two-dimensional art that let you know what the seemingly faceless protagonist of the game actually looked like. The same went for the rest of the cast, being featureless except for Big Obvious Things, like long blond hair, a raven's tattoo on the forehead, or a gunslinger's mustache. While certainly there's no doubt that the humble Playstation was being pushed to its limit, the 'limit' of the Playstation was still pretty ugly. It is a testament to the clever character design that my memory paints a much prettier picture than my recent sit-down with the game revealed to exist, but (and this is an important 'but,') certainly I was not sad to see that Twin Snakes was running on the lovely engine that powered Metal Gear Solid 2 (and, if I'm not mistaken, Metal Gear Solid 3). I've always unabashedly been more of a fan of the original MGS than any of its sequels (although the third installment has grown on me considerably in recent years), so seeing its (remarkably uncomplicated by comparison) plot given the same shiny coating as its younger brethren was an exciting event.

Unfortunately, with that upgrade to the graphics came a bizarre decision to punch up the cutscenes with a little extra action. This was indicative of a problem with a lot of newer games, leading to the inevitable backlash against cutscenes which is so common today. The cutscenes of the original were lengthy, yes, but they also characterized Solid Snake in a way that differs from the absolutely inane/insane kung-fu-flipping, rocket-riding ridiculousness of his Twin Snakes iteration. I hesitate to say that Metal Gear Solid was ever really meant to be a 'realistic' game in the first place, but the remake hews much closer to the realm of over-the-top spectacle. MGS may seem to be an action movie right out of the 80s at times, but by comparison Twin Snakes is a Michael Bay film. It doubles the length of some cutscenes for gratuitous 'oh look at what he can do,' something highlighted in the first encounter with Revolver Ocelot. Take a look at the scene in the original game below:

Then look at it in its new Twin Snakes form, about twice as long:

Sure, Revolver Ocelot does some lovely gun juggling in the new version, but was it necessary? Heck, it's hard enough for me to believe that Snake wouldn't just shoot Ocelot while he's spinning his gun around in the first game, much less when he's tossing things around. It's one of those ridiculous, slow motion heavy scenes too, which only serves to highly just how unnecessary it is. Not only that, but Snake's lack of acrobatic shenanigans in the original allow him to seem more of a soldier and less of a legend. One of the repeated protestations Snake makes when he meets new people is that his legend falls apart once you actually meet him--and that's one of the things that made him such a great character. While all the villains blather on and on about the glory of combat or whatever, Snake remains grumpy about having to fight in the first place. He's just a guy who happens to be really good at sneaking around and shooting people--possibly because of his genetics, but more likely because he has lots of practice (also because for the most part he's allowed to run around uncontested because it is all part of Liquid Snake's master plan).

Sure, Snake's got his own musings on 'the battlefield,' specifically on the subject of whether or not love can bloom there, but his fighting is not flashy or showy for the most part. He's very stealth-driven in his approach, choosing to dive out of the way of gunfire rather than somersault over the bullets in slow motion. Even his fight with the Cyborg Ninja is more brutal than elegant. In The Twin Snakes, however, there is cutscene time given to making Snake and the Ninja have a good old fashioned kung-fu showdown, although this is probably the least over-the-top thing that the remake does and by contrast shows remarkable restraint. The point remains, however, that in the remake Snake actually does live up to the legend, and in such a comically overblown fashion as to effectively suck any the emotion from the story that isn't either a brief 'oh how cool' or amusement.

Oddly enough the overblown cutscenes work for later entries to the series, but trying to force them into a game that was never written with them in mind was a huge error and provides a valuable lesson when it comes to tying a narrative into a game. The cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid were already dangerously long to begin with, but by lengthening them in order to add in a bunch of unnecessary kung-fu trickery they became interminable. Instead of becoming something to look forward to--a reason to keep playing so that you could see what the next twist would be--the cutscenes became lengthy infodumps (which they already were to begin with) seasoned with lots of slow motion camera work and ridiculous images like that of Snake jumping on one rocket, firing off another, and then landing as the first rocket explodes behind him. It is the sort of choreography that feels like an eight year old came up with it. The updated graphics were great, but the longer, more 'action packed' cutscenes did little to endear the game to me.

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