So yes, I had a lovely holiday, not that anyone asked. I took a 7-night cruise around the south – west Pacific with P&O, stopping at Noumea and Lifou, New Caledonia and Port Vila, Vanuatu. Not that I spent much time off the boat. Can’t stand that whole “tourist” thing. Where you and a bunch of overweight, pale, flabby, screeching families who you already see far too much of on the Lido deck get funneled through a little theme park version of the island where locals dance around in traditional costume and try to sell you bits of varnished wood on pieces of string. Plus, being English, I felt uncomfortable knowing I was probably related to someone who’d done a massacre there once.
So for the most part I stayed on the boat, watched the sea, chilled out, drank fruity cocktails. But I could only sunbathe so much when my skin tone is closest to a glass of milk with no coffee in it whatsoever, so I needed something to amuse myself with. Plus I’d have to review something when I got back. So a few weeks ago I sank some money into an old-style PSP. I’ve only ever relied on borrowed PSPs up to now because it really is the inferior handheld, rather awkwardly designed for my large masculine hands, and its only saving grace is the occasional exclusive title. In this case, I bought one so I could play Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
I admit to having a soft spot for the Metal Gear Solid series. They are extremely overwritten and batshit insane, and I will happily say without qualification that Metal Gear Solid 4 was absolutely fucking dreadful, but in an age of dull, inoffensive, design-by-committee sludge, Hideo Kojima is one of our last remaining auteurs. And any game developer still taking personal ownership of their work is something to be celebrated, even if we must accept the occasional bit of insanity that is the privilege of the individual.
But having played a little of Peace Walker, I think there’s one specific thing he really needs to answer for. What is it with him and women?
In Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 women only really existed to die some mawkishly tragic death at some point, with the closest things to romance in the series taking place largely between men, but this is no worse than, say, most action movies. And it’s considerably more progressive than a lot of stuff that comes out of Japan, the country where sex crime is the foundation of the entertainment industry.
It worsened somewhat with Metal Gear Solid 3. I’m thinking of that one female character who constantly wore a jumpsuit unzipped to the navel so that her bra-encased titties swung free, which strikes me as the equivalent of a male character who spends the entire game with their trousers around their ankles. And the tragic story of the other female character who apparently had to go into war while heavily pregnant, and whose baby was cut from her womb by the evil conspiracy. A baby which, judging by the scar she was left with, the evil conspiracy had considerable difficulty finding.
But this, too, wasn’t particularly unusual in its attitudes. Things only got really weird in Metal Gear Solid 4, and the themed series of boss fights termed “Beauty and the Beasts.” In these encounters Solid Snake has to fight animal-themed cybernetic robot suits being piloted by extremely attractive young women. All of whom have incredibly traumatic backstories – usually involving deaths of entire families, torture, cannibalism, all those larks – that has left them severely emotionally crippled and which the game recounts in intimate detail with what can only be described as “perverse relish.” Then, after beating them, they slither out of the robot suits apparently wearing skin-tight plastic bin liners, and then they writhe around on the ground posing, sticking their chests and buttocks out for the camera, and rambling in incoherent madness. And then you shoot them. With your big gun.
Completely fucked up as this was, I allowed myself to forget about it, because it’s hard to stay concerned about the emotional state of imaginary women from magic land. But then came a very specific moment early on in Peace Walker.
Let me set the scene. A man comes to Snake (or whatever he’s calling himself now) with a 16-year-old girl in tow, a quiet girl in a red cagoule with a thousand-yard stare. He explains that she stumbled upon something she shouldn’t have, and was imprisoned and tortured by the enemy. While they’re talking about her in the cutscene, the camera focuses on her and some button prompts appear. I press them, the camera zooms in, and the girl’s cagoule mysteriously disappears, revealing the suit she was wearing underneath. Then I noticed that I hadn’t zoomed in all the way.
“Oh, Christ,” I thought to myself. “Seriously, Hideo? Are we doing this now?”
I zoom slowly in and sure enough she gets stripped down to her underpants like a paper dress-up dolly. “Yep, we’re doing this,” I sighed, resignedly.
Later on, another cutscene occurs involving another attractive young woman, this one having recently broken her leg. Once again, those mysterious prompts appeared, and once again, zooming in made her clothing vanish – this time, just her trousers, mercifully. But then I could zoom in even further and her bones appeared, revealing the fracture. “Oh I see!” I exclaimed. “It’s a medical examination! Well, that’s all right then! Although somehow I doubt we will ever be called upon to diagnose an overweight middle-aged man!”
I still like that there are individual developers that have creative control. It makes a game experience more personal. It’s just that this is only fine while the person in question isn’t completely mad. This is what happens when such people slip the leash of editors. In other words, Hideo Kojima seems to be becoming the game industry’s very own George Lucas. But even George Lucas wasn’t this sexually fucked. At least George Lucas never stripped Princess Leia down to her pants and depicted her being forced into sex slavery – oh wait.
I didn’t end up playing much of Peace Walker on my trip, but fortunately I was able to play through the entirety of Kane and Lynch 2 the day after I got back. Much obliged, Io Interactive. Although somehow I doubt you’ll return those sentiments after the review.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.