Thursday, February 12, 2009

Raymond Benson's Metal Gear Solid

The official novelization of the original Metal Gear Solid came out shortly before Konami's release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Written by Raymond Benson, author of the Splinter Cell novelizations, as well as several James Bond books, it's terrible stuff, as one would expect. Here's just a taste:
Snake thought Mei Ling resembled a manga character come to life. He shook her hand. "I didn't expect a designer of world-class military technology to be so cute."

"Merry Christmas," Snake said as he delivered two powerhouse punches, left and then right, into the guards' faces. The soldiers plopped to the floor. "I forgot to tell you--Christmas is early this year."

And another:
She signed off, and Snake shook his head. Of course she was Roy Campbell's niece. She was just as stubborn and full of herself as the colonel had always been. But even though she was green, Snake had to admit she had a lot of balls. He'd never encountered a young woman who was as brave and determined as she.

One more:
Those thoughts might have demoralized an ordinary person, but for Snake they were incentives to stay the course. Master Miller had a saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough beat the shit out of everyone else." Snake lived by that adage, and he hated to lose. He would finish the mission--successfully--or there would be no use returning to his home in the Alaskan wilderness.

Before you rush to the bookstore thinking that this actually sounds pretty good, I should warn you that these snippets represent Benson's writing at its very best. The rest of the book's 300+ pages is mostly a faithful but bland and amateurish chronicle of Solid Snake's journey through Shadow Moses. Between stretches of dialogue often taken verbatim from the game script, Snake sneaks around and takes guys out with his Socom pistol, the "Snake Stranglehold," and his trademark "one-two-three punch-punch-kick combination." It's almost as if Benson wrote it while watching some guy play through the entire game in front of him.

To be fair to Benson, it's possible that Konami kept him on a tighter leash than he's used to (though, based on his other works, this is more likely exactly his domain). While they evidently didn't care enough to keep the book from turning out awful, the hand of Kojima Productions is definitely felt.

The opening chapter focuses entirely around the enigmatic Dr. Clark, the person responsible for Gray Fox's transformation into the cyborg ninja. Taking place at the birth of Les Enfants Terribles, this prologue mostly exists to establish that, contrary to the original game dialogue, Dr. Clark was female. The supposed "mistranslation" from the English game script created a continuity error when the character was brought up again ten years later in Guns of the Patriots, and, though I never saw it as a big deal, the problem apparently tormented MGS4's assistant producer, Ryan Payton, who is named in Benson's acknowledgments.

The novelization must have seemed a rare chance to fix this error, and to further drive it home, the doctor's gender is clarified again when Naomi later points it out to Snake, even though the detail has no relevance to their discussion. By the third time, however, Snake seems to forget and goes back to referring to Dr. Clark as male. Oh well.

Other items of note:
  • The book establishes Johnny Sasaki's background as a tech expert.
  • In an awkward addition to the script, Psycho Mantis uses his powers to foretell the graveyard image from MGS4.
  • The final, final confrontation follows the apocryphal Twin Snakes ending, rather than the original PS1 version.
  • Benson repeatedly insists that Snake hates name-brand cigarettes and only smokes them during the mission because he doesn't have access to his own special tobacco blend. Huh?


Sam Kahn said...

Those quotes are absolutely priceless.

Czardoz said...

Really? Those quotes? I wouldn't mind seeing Benson's writing at its very worst. These are just generically bad, not the awe-inspiring badness that the best second-tier Japanese fighting games achieve.

Rugal befeated!

Henry said...

Benson at his worst is neither funny nor memorable. In selecting the quotes I did, I meant to share the groans while sparing you the mind-numbing banality that really makes the book unreadable. And poorly translated Japanese games may be funnier, yes, but it's not even the same type of situation.

Czardoz said...

I guess "soldiers plopped to the floor" is worth a laugh.

To me, this stuff is delivered too straight, but not the sort of unintentionally funny stuff that Seagal does. It's more like what I would have written in 6th grade to sound, by turns, weighty and witty.

Maybe the memories just burn too deep.

Side note: it seems the Twin Snakes ending is intended to be canonical, if this book is the authorized rendition of the story.

Henry said...

If, for some unfortunate reason, you come into this book knowing nothing of the source material, then, no, these quotes won't be anything more than generically bad hack work.

I doubt the Twin Snakes ending is any more canonical than Benson's deficient understanding of the Solid Snake character.