Sunday, July 28, 2013

Metal Gear Solid: Bande Dessinée (Motion Comic)

Note: The following review is based on the English Dub of the non-interactive DVD version of the Metal Gear Solid comic featured in Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection.

Since December of last year, the Metal Gear franchise quickly became one of my favorite video game franchises, if not my favorite franchise, thanks to not only its complex story, but also the many issues and themes that the games have dealt with over the course of their existence. The games have also been able to elicit a range of emotions from within me that I normally would not display toward other franchises; I've laughed, gotten riled up over a villain, been bamboozled by legitimately shocking revelations and even cried at points of emotional turmoil since pretty much every game has been able to push those buttons at just the right time and used what it has to its advantage to keep me playing. For this reason, I'm going to continue supporting the franchise for the foreseeable future and play each new game as it comes out regardless of main character or voice talent, such as the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (let's see how well Keifer Sutherland does in that one when he fills in as the role of Big Boss) and any sequel they might make for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

It is my love of this franchise that led me to stumble upon information which revealed that IDW Publishing had at one point released a comic adapting the events of the original Metal Gear Solid. While I have yet to get my hands on the physical comic in some form, I did find out that it would be included with Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection, a collection released specifically to honor the 25th anniversary of the franchise (I intend to eventually review the package as a whole, but that will take some time). Since I had gotten my hands on the collection the day of its release, I only recently decided to begin work toward reviewing it, which I felt this would be a good step toward doing. While what I ended up doing was watching a two-hour motion comic, I feel that this way of experiencing the story is rather interesting, but not without its problems.

After his location is discovered, a man named Solid Snake is convinced by Colonel Campbell to come out of retirement for one last mission. Shadow Moses Island, located in Alaska on the Fox Archipelago, has been taken over by terrorists, who are former members of the FOXHOUND unit led by a man codenamed Liquid Snake, threatening a nuclear strike unless they receive the remains of the soldier known as Big Boss within 24 hours. While he is sent to neutralize the threat, Snake is also instructed to rescue two hostages -DARPA chief Donald Anderson and ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker- both of whom were captured to help further the objectives of the terrorists, as well as locate Campbell's niece, Meryl Silverburgh, who is believed to be on the island. Snake accepts the mission, since not only is he the only one who is capable of pulling this off, but he has a personal stake in it after learning that Liquid Snake is his genetic twin brother.

While I already knew the story and how it would play out based on my experience with the game it's based on, I did find myself surprised at how well it was translated to the comic book medium. Events that are explained in extra material or hinted at in dialogue are integrated into the main plot, which helps give newcomers a better sense of what exactly happened without requiring too much exposition. I also liked the scenes they added to help make the story flow better in this realm; Psycho Mantis' card-reading powers would definitely have been too hard to do and what we get instead still works. Also commendable is how they decided to fuse both possible endings of the game together, a move that makes the most sense considering that though one ending is really canon, both characters involved survive the events of the game. For the most part, Kris Oprisko retained the soul of the game and his additions to what was already heavily preserved shows a sign of effort on his part to stay true to the source material with understandable alterations.

The FOXHOUND cover of issue one of the comic.

However, there are some things with Oprisko's writing that I'm not sure worked quite that well in the grand scheme of things. For one, there's a scene in the game where the Cyborg Ninja (Gray Fox) has slaughtered a group of soldiers in a hallway. While the game shows only the aftermath of his assault, the comic decides to show it in full. Admittedly this does make him look like a badass, but personally I think it was a little more effective when we weren't shown exactly what happened. The only other major thing I thought was off, I'll forgive the increased use of the word "bitch", was Snake's characterization. When he meets Meryl for the first time, he's a little more focused on how great her ass is, rather than learning more about her; It's a little funny that they acknowledged how important her body is to the events, but we lose a little characterization on Meryl in the long run. Also, Snake seems a little more harsh toward Otacon in this version, as he is now more prone to insulting him as opposed to trying to get him out of his shell or help him understand that the reality of war has more consequences than he believes. It's because of this harsher treatment toward Otacon that Sniper Wolf's death was a little less effective to me, despite the delivery.

Ashley Wood's art is very good. I was able to pretty easily read the situations, even when knowing them out of the game, and his approach to the Yoji Shinkawa character designs is very interesting. I like how the style was put into animation, which made the big things seems appropriately big and the small appropriately small. The technology is integrated well and he knew the right camera angles to show the action at. The animators also put it really well in motion and I enjoyed seeing the artwork come to life. While I was watching however, there was one thing I couldn't help but think of, and that's the feeling that his style is more suited for a horror comic. That's not to say that I don't like the art, but the combination of brush strokes, pencils and inks and the uncomfortable combination of the two screams horror artist, even if it was used pretty well for the tonality of Metal Gear Solid. This feeling came partly because I knew that at one point IDW was known for doing horror comics, most famously 30 Days of Night, so I just thought that Wood is most appropriate for that material (though I will stress again that I liked it regardless).

Since this is pretty much a motion comic, there was also full voice acting. The awesome thing to me is that they managed to have most of the original voice actors back to read the lines, which shows that they put more effort into this than something like, say, the Watchmen motion comic, in which one guy was paid to do the whole thing and it was horrible. The delivery of the iconic Metal Gear voices, including David Hayter as Solid Snake and Cam Clarke as Liquid Snake, is very much like in the game, though Mei Ling and Naomi's voices don't really sound the same, which could be due a multitude of factors. I am aware that three characters had their voices changed, those being Anderson, Baker and the Cyborg Ninja. Of these three, the one most noticeable was the Cyborg Ninja, since his voice sounds younger and didn't really suit him as well as the deeper voice from the game, even during his newly written, and awesome, heroic sacrifice. Overall I'm not complaining about the voice acting, since they stayed pretty true to how the characters sound in the game and the effort to get these actors to reprise their roles is very impressive.

While Metal Gear Solid: Bande Dessinée may have its issues, this is still a very good way to experience the story in one go. Veterans such as myself may notice more issues with it, but those who are new to the series, and/or see the original game as archaic, will greatly enjoy it nonetheless and the enjoyment would be entirely justified. If you don't wish to hunt down a copy of the 12-issue comic or play either the original game or interactive PSP version of the comic (subtitled Digital Graphic Novel), try and view the motion comic. It's about two hours long, but it's also entertaining and will give you an idea, for the most part, of why the game is highly praised.

Also, just in case you're wondering, I do indeed plan on trying to obtain the comic and interactive PSP release to see how different the experiences are from this version (and possibly review them as well).

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