[one_third]Does the ease of a run-and-gun approach in Metal Gear Solid make its voluntary avoidance all the more rewarding to stealth players?[/one_third]
The specific scenarios and mechanics are always changing, but the broad strokes of an encounter in Metal Gear are the same: sneak into a room. Study the pattern of guard movements while remaining undetected. Carefully move past the guards without causing alarm. Repeat until philosophical cutscene is triggered.
The interesting this is that you don’t really have to do any of that. There is a way easier way to advance through Metal Gear. Plunge into a room, running past all of the guards. They will shoot at you, but you can soak up a lot of bullets. Plough forward into the next room. You may find that the guards chasing you have forgotten that you are intruding. If they don’t forget, that’s fine. Let them kill you. You’ll respawn in the new room, alert status reset, and a melodramatic cinematic will be just a few steps away.
The careful approach is fun. The reckless one, although easier, is not. This means that when we play a Metal Gear game, we enter into an unspoken agreement to make the game harder than necessary. It’s a lonely contract, but an important one. We know that we could blunder our way through without taking any steps to hide, and the next cutscene will play out as planned. But a true sneaky bastard is attracted to finesse. It isn’t enough for us to succeed; we have to look good while doing it. Of course, none of the guards would be able to tell us we do, because they wouldn’t ever see us in the first place.
The series’ “European Extreme” mode, which treats any detection as an immediate fail-state, could be considered the true way to play Metal Gear. If the game stops cold any time you are detected, it becomes a fundamentally different experience. There is no panicked “can I take this guy out before he calls for backup?” phase. No longer must you frantically ditch you pursuers and hide in a locker. Lost is the drama of hoping no one notices the sudden appearance of a cardboard box before the end of the cooldown timer. Though we do love the challenge inherent in a zero detection policy, we feel the drama created by occasionally being detected, the game of cat-and-mouse that follows, and the elation of coming down from an alert mode are key components of Metal Gear.
Back down from the European Extreme difficulty, it’s inevitable that you’ll be detected at some point. The game won’t classify this as failure, and it’s very much possible to enter combat and use Snake’s vast array of tools to overcome the encounter. Often, pulling out the shotgun or the infinite-ammo Patriot rifle is far easier than the stealthy approach. And as long as you don’t perish, it’s a success – but, for us, it’s the wrong kind of success. There is something in the blood of a true stealth aficionado that makes us appreciate having this easier way forward so that we can choose not to take it. The subtle art of tactical espionage (minus the action) becomes all the more rewarding.
In nearly every Metal Gear encounter, there are multiple layers of success to be pursued. On the most basic level, there is simple forward progress. Digging deeper, there is the act of clearing an area of all threats without being detected. Even better than that is the act of clearing an area non-lethally. Of course, the purest victory belongs to the player who can leave an area without a single trace that they had ever been there. These self-imposed limitations are not constraints set by the game itself, but are often rewarded with unique ranks or extra items for a New Game Plus. And even though they may not be explicit objectives, we understand that these goals are the real game.
As the Metal Gear series has continued, it has increasingly become easier to play each successive title as if it was a straightforward shooter. Purist may consider this pandering, but we feel just the opposite. The genre is at its best with the restraint you bring to it. Being able to effectively murder guards makes the act of not murdering them all the more rewarding. Stealth comes from within, and the genius of Metal Gear lies in how it allows players to express it.