Well Orchestrated Moments: Metal Gear Solid 4 Edition

The impending release of Ground Zeroes, and the eventual release of The Phantom Pain has me reminiscing about some of the previous entries in the Metal Gear series. I would like to take a moment to talk about a specific moment in MGS4 that has stuck with me through the years. Before I get to that though, some background information:

Back in 2009, I had an overabundance of games that I no longer played. Plastic instruments from my Guitar Hero/Rock Band days littered the corners of my apartment, dust gathering on their long since abandoned plastic buttons. I realized that it was probably time for me to do some spring cleaning. So, I gathered up all of the games that I didn't think I would be playing again, along with the instruments, and made my way over to the nearest GameStop.


When all was said and done, my store credit totaled out at about $300. I figured that now was as good a time as any for me to invest in a Playstation 3, so I paid the difference, and left the store clutching an 80GB model to my chest, along with a copy of a game I had been longing to play: Metal Gear Solid 4.

I must admit that I am a sucker for much of Kojima's work. Yes, I know that his cut scenes can be long, drawn-out affairs, and that the plots of his games have more holes in them than a cartoon character drinking a glass of water after having been shot.

Still, there is something compelling about the commitment and passion that he puts into his characters and the story, even if it doesn't always make sense. In any case, I plopped down on my couch, fired up my shiny new dust magnet and sat patiently while the game installed. Once it was ready I dove in, head first.


Fast forward to a few days later: I had taken out most of the Beauty and the Beast Unit, and had just been assigned a mission where I had been assigned with the task of returning to where this particular series began on the original Playstation: Shadow Moses.


After a "flashback," complete with the original MGS graphics engine, the cut scenes rolled, and I started my trek down through the Alaskan landscape, which was riddled with snow and ice. Eventually, I traversed the blinding flurry and stumbled upon the path that led to the facility. My excitement was palpable. A surge of anticipation came with each footfall that brought me closer to the facility, and I longed to see the veneer of its coarse 32-bit pixels refinished with a fresh coat of high definition paint.

I think that if I were to attempt to make an analogy to my feelings at this moment, the closest thing I could equivocate it to would be returning to a place from your childhood. You have these experiences and memories constructed in a foundation in the recesses of your mind, and on certain days you may completely forget that they're even there. Yet, when you find your way back to that place, wherever it may be, a sudden torrent of feelings and images washes over you, drenching you in a clarity of familiarity and fondness that make it feel as though you never left.


It was as though Kojima knew exactly how I would be thinking and feeling, and in an act of brilliance and respect for me, welcomed Snake and me "home," by playing "The Best is Yet to Come." Those of you who have played the whole MGS series will remember this song as the choir theme that plays as Snake infiltrates the basement of the Shadow Moses facility for the very first time.

The moment that the first note from the pan flute landed, I felt goosebumps ripple across my arms. It was in that moment that the walls of my apartment fell away into the abyss, and I became fully immersed in the events that were transpiring on my screen. It was this series of events that would remain crystallized in my mind, any time that I thought about MGS4 from that point onward. For me, it really was one of those perfectly constructed events in a game, one where the music, visuals, and player actions all weave together in a manner that makes the game feel personal, as though the developer made it just for you.


Why do I feel so strongly about this moment instead of any of the other amazing ones that this game also brought with it? What makes this stand out more than Snake's last crawl, the final twist towards the credits, or anything that Raiden does? I think it was the simplicity of this moment that made it so profound for me.

By keeping the actions of the player limited (i.e. all I was really doing was traversing the terrain of the facility), Kojima was able to minimize distractions, and maximize my focus on the act of returning to this familiar place. By doing this he could purposefully place supplemental actions that would intensify the reveal of the structure as I drew even closer. By paralleling the events of the first game (familiar visuals and a familiar tune), Kojima effectively caused me to create a new memory by supplementing it with the moments that I had encapsulated from the first game. Ultimately, the reason that this moment was so powerful for me was due to the fact that Kojima had created part of it, but he had built it in a way so that I had to use my recollection to paint in some of the other aspects of it. In that way, it wasn't just a moment that he created. It was a moment that WE created; one where the music, the visuals, and my memories of a game that I first played over ten years ago, all melded together in a perfectly executed slice of gaming at its best.


Moments, like this one, are the reason that I love playing video games, and they are the reason that I will continue to play video games for as long as I am able.

Now, I am interested to hear from you. Did this moment have the same effect on you as it did on me? Is there another game out there where you have had a similar experience? What moments and what games have left a lasting impression on you?


Well Orchestrated Moments is toolsoldier's weekly piece regarding moments in games that last with us long after the credits have rolled. Join me next week when I talk about a specific moment from a Halo 3 Deathmatch that went wrong and right all at the same time.

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