Sunday, 26 August 2012

Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel (PSP/Comic Review)

Speak to just about any fan of Metal Gear Solid and they’ll usually claim the PSX title is their favourite. Shadow Moses, Vulkan Raven, Metal Gear REX; these are all things of nostalgia and harken back to a different time. Back before Raiden, back when the D-pad was used to awkwarly make Snake bounce off walls and when the incomprihencible plot was only near-incomprihencible. Naturally with this attitude, a comic adaptation was inevitable to milk the fandom of a bit more cash.

“Oh but this isn’t just any comic adaptation” Konami said “it’s a redone version of our IDW series - A first-of-its-kind Digital Graphic Novel, avalible only on the PSP.”
So, was it a genuinely interesting new media or cheap new gimmik used to try and justify an additional price tag? Let’s find out.

The plot to MGS is one well known within the gaming community. Praised, mocked, criticised, analysed, affectionately parodied through webcomics; the vast majority of people know at least the basics.

Called out of retirement by his also retired CO Colonel Campbell, Solid “Dave” Snake is abducted to deal with a major situation brewing in Alaska. A unit of the disbanded FOXHOUND spec ops has taken control of the nuclear weapons disposal facility on Shadow Moses, taken two high profile hostages and is threatening a nuclear strike. As the only dude bad enough to save the president of Armstech and kill the terrorists, Snake is sent in via torpedo.
What follows is a conspiracy involving a cyborg ninja, a new metal gear, an advanced biological virus and sci-fi science which would make a genetacist cry.

This is the real problem behind it all – the comic isn’t really needed. Everyone knows the story, 90% of the interesting conversations are too clunky to put into a comic and half the flawed charm of the original came from it being a video game. You can’t really adapt things like the full involvement of the large support group, greater sense of desperation due to the difficulty settings or how it leaned on the fourth wall.
The entire story structure of the original only really works as a video game. With its villains dying at the end of each area in boss fights and Snake himself coming across as a distant, tired killer. As such a lot of literties are taken to keep things interesting – Some for the better and some for the worse.

Obvious alterations were made to the personalities of a few characters – some with good reason, but each of the loses something for everything they gain. Case and point - Psycho Mantis.
In this he’s less laughable and vastly more disturbing. This isn’t the Mantis who hijacks your controller – this is a derranged lunatic given the power to kill with mind bullets. Atop of his fight with Snake and Meryl, which is far more disturbing than in the game, “pages” are spent showing him mentally crippling Grey Fox. Eroding what little remains of the ninja’s psyche and trying to break someone who is already effectively brain damaged.
So on the one hand the story gains more of an effective psychic villain and imagery. On the other it loses some of its iconic humour and the fourth wall breaking which helped make it famous. No matter what’s done, something is lost with each change and believe it or not this is probably the best alteration. The worst is with Snake himself.

As Snake was mostly characterised through those long codec cutscenes, his character had to be streamlined. Or in other words completely changed, turned into a wisecracking action hero. Yes that’s what he becomes. Okay, it does give him some more colourful dialogue but it turns him into someone whose not Solid Snake. When he tells Revolver Ocelot to “cram the supervillain rhetoric” he’s not the old soldier; he’s Guy Pearce from Lockout. Thankfully the liberties taken in the writing never get more excessive than this, but it’s difficult to see Snake in the comic at all due to this bravado – Something not helped by the art.

As you might be able to tell comparing the screenshots, there are some very diverse styles used here. It seems like every few pages the artist, Ashley Wood, decides his current style isn’t working and changes to something else. He never seems to properly settle on just one until the second half and some of his drawings feel very out of place. One very sketchy style looks like it’s right out of IDW’s Silent Hill comics and while effective in a couple of stills most of the time it’s just not needed. Especially in one shot where Meryl is exposing her particularly angular arse like a mandrill. It’s also moments like that where the comic really loses its nostalgic feel.

So the story takes liberties with the characters, the art frequently swtiches between different styles, some of which are not suited to the story, and some of the original’s charm is lost. Is there anything it does right? Actually yes, there is.

Konami advertised the whole Digital Graphic Novel thing as an entirely new medium and tried to use it as a huge selling point – with good reason.While the rest of the industry seems to be catching up, the I Am Legend DGN comes to mind, this remains one of the best displays of the potential behind this sort of comic. It basically shows how limited animation, sound effects and altering how a comic is presented can give an issue a very cinematic feel. Comics have their own unique style to how they present things, movement for example, showing pannel by pannel progression to natrually flow between events.
DC, IDW and Marvel have tried to show digital versions of this in most of their releases through the screen panning from individual pannel to pannel at speed, focusing upon each action in turn. Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel on the other hand displays this through clever editing and altering the comic to make the characters move. It’s hard to fully explain in words so here’s an example in the form of one of the comic’s early fightscenes. As you can see, it manages to retain the presentation of a comic but has a much faster pacing and punchier overall approach. One perfectly suited to any comic using frequent, brief bouts of combat.

Final verdict – If you’re looking to get it to see how well comics can be adapted to a digital medium, definitely buy it. It’s worth your time and money even when the story and artwork fails to deliver.
Otherwise, if you’re looking to get this because you want to see how the overarching plot elements to MGS began, just get the original game. Speaking as someone who first played it when Snake Eater was hitting the shelves, it holds up well and is still very fun to play today.

Prices for the game/comic/whichever-you-want-to-call-it on Amazon range from £6.91 to over £30.00 so look about to compare costs before buying.


Metal Gear Solid and all related characters and media are owned by Konami and Hideo Kojima.

No comments:

Post a Comment