This is a curious hybrid of a few mediums – it’s fundamentally a comic, but retells the story of a video game, through an animated “motion comic” style similar to a movie, and it’s been released both as a video and as a “game” on the PSP. Like 2004’s “Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes”, this is a retelling of the story in Hideo Kojima’s 1998 classic, “Metal Gear Solid”. It’s less slavishly faithful than that remake though. It has a runtime of two hours, whereas my playthrough of the original game took around eleven hours. Dialogue and scenes are regularly altered to better fit the medium, and much of the plot and dialogue is cut and streamlined so as to shave down the runtime and make the story more suitable for the medium. Overall it’s done quite well, but I hold a similar opinion towards it as I do “Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes”; it’s a fun and interesting complement to the original game for those who’ve played it, but isn’t what I’d call an acceptable substitute or replacement for the first game altogether.
[Note: This review focuses specifically on how this motion comic differs from the original game – the writing, the story, the characters, and so on – aren’t discussed in any detail except if they’ve been altered or adapted interestingly in some way. All my thoughts on the actual story of the game can be found here, in my review for “Metal Gear Solid”.
Another note: This review is generally spoiler-free. There’s a clearly marked-off section at the end for spoilers, that is easy to avoid for those avoiding them.]
From the very beginning of the comic, it’s clear that it won’t slavishly follow the original game in the way that the remake did, but rather try and adapt the story to the different medium, as the motion comic actually has a different beginning. It starts with Colonel Roy Campbell tracking down Solid Snake in Alaska, a confrontation we don’t actually see in the original game. Then the comic synthesises elements from the optional “briefing” videos offered in the game menu, set before the start of the game proper, before smoothly transitioning into the beginning of the actual game. I was rather impressed by the finesse the adapting team displayed with the beginning sequences, and honestly, I think it worked better than how the beginning of the actual game is structured.
I was a bit less impressed when all the characters started to speak. It’s largely the same voice cast, with only a few changes, but those changes are noticeable – the new actor for Grey Fox is particularly less skilled than the original actor.
David Hayter, the actor for Solid Snake, also delivers an odd performance. It’s much more affected than his performance in the original game or the remake, to the point of being somewhat cartoonish. However, this adaptation isn’t as silly or shlocky as the remake, so a more shlocky vocal performance doesn’t really mesh super well. Also, there’s a lot of Hayer to go around, as Snake narrates loads of story elements that didn’t require narration in the games where story aspects were either integrated into the gameplay, or into codec conversations with other characters (such codec conversations are not present in this adaptation, which leads to some of the thematic material being less pronounced, as there’s less development of it through those key dialogues).
Interestingly, the motion comic does take a few cues specifically from the remake, not the original game, though. For example, as pictured below, it reproduces the humorous scene where there’s a sharp cut to Solid Snake clinging to the roof, Spider-Man style, to avoid detection when in conversation with the DAARPA chief Donald Anderson.
Speaking of oddities arising from adapting, or not adapting, gameplay elements, some more mundane gameplay aspects are reproduced for no apparent reason. As pictured below, there are occasionally scenes where situations clearly there for a player of a video game, who could make decisions about how to control and direct Solid Snake, are reproduced in the motion comic. These could have been cut out easily. I would have much preferred we got codec conversations, and not parallel gameplay component reproductions like this.
On the other hand, there are some inspired scenes where the adaptation team really showcased their creativity. For instance, in the boss battle with Revolver Ocelot, the “motion” in “motion comic” really comes to the fore, as panels correspond to bullets, and everything moves with great dynamism. It’s impossible to display in a screenshot, but very impressive in the native motion comic format.I personally found the visuals of the motion comic very appealing and visually striking; I loved the stylised, expressionistic approach. For comparison, below are screenshots of the original game, “Metal Gear Solid”, the remake, “Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes”, and this, the comic, “Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel”, of sections from the same scene.
There are a few intriguing story additions, rather than adaptions, like Psycho Mantis delivering a scathing monologue to Grey Fox about his identity and life, ending with drawing parallels between him and Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven”. These additions generally fit in quite well, were compelling in their own right, and helped to distinguish the motion comic from the original game. It certainly has much more of an identity of its own than the remake did – not inherently a good or bad thing, but notable nonetheless.
The comic is noticeably more “adult” than either the original game or the remake. A lot more of Meryl and Sniper Wolf is shown, as in, a lot more flesh. Some lines are altered too. A few lines I remembered as using the term “butt” clunkily in the game and remake are changed so Snake says “ass” instead. The altered language I thought sounded more organic than the game, but it’s an extremely minor issue all things considered.
The Psycho Mantis boss battle is so dependent on the story being told through the medium of video games, that I was extremely interested how the motion comic would adapt it. I was hoping for a really creative way to bridge Kojima’s penchant for metatextual referencing, through the unique format of motion comics. The way it was handled would constitute a spoiler, so I’ll refrain from addressing it here, in the non-spoiler section of the review. Scroll down after the end to see my thoughts on it.
Another additional component to the story the motion comic added was some scenes between Sniper Wolf and Otacon. These made the relationship between the two work worlds better than it did in the game. I really liked these moments, where the motion comic functioned more as an alternate telling of the story, rather than a retelling.
By far the biggest flaw of the comic is that it lacks so much of the thematic exploration of the game. The comic does a tremendous, impressive job of adapting the story and characters, certainly. Even though the motion comic is less than a fifth of the length of the game, I think it did a fantastic job of adapting the story and characters without many painful cuts. But it came at the cost of what my favourite thing about the game was, the ambitious, holistic thematic focus on genetics. The comic tended to retain the dialogues most relevant to plot and, to a lesser extent, character development, but nearly all of the dialogues that explore the thematic concerns of the game are excised. For this reason, I absolutely cannot recommend watching this instead of playing the game, either the original or the remake. This is an interesting, enjoyable complement to the game, but it lacks what is essentially the entire point of the game, both the original and the remake.
Nonetheless, I was very pleasantly surprised by just how striking and enjoyable I found this oddity, this comic/game/film hybrid adaptation. I give it four ravens, and a PAL card.
[End of the non-spoiler section of the review.]
I’ll add a load of paragraph breaks here, to prevent accidentally seeing the spoiler section – you’ll have to intentionally scroll down to see it!
[Beginning of the spoiler section of the review.]
The fact the codec conversations were stripped from the motion comic in the adaptation process really disappointed me, because Kaz Miller (who Snake and Campbell refer to as “Master” because of his history and prowess) was only present in the game through those codec conversations. Well, as a twist near the end of the game reveals, he wasn’t even present in those, and was being impersonated by Liquid Snake (who had killed him a few days before the game starts) all along.
Imagine my surprise when the Psycho Mantis boss battle, before shifting to the part where his metatextual references would begin, is abruptly cut short, as Kaz Miller shows up in the flesh, and shoots Psycho Mantis before the fourth-wall breaking begins.
It’s a truly significant deviation from the game, but is a creative way to sidestep the Psycho Mantis issue, and was an interesting enough choice in its own right that I enjoyed it. Unfortunately for me, a great fan of the character Kaz, what appears to be an interesting story deviation from the game is cut short some minutes later, as it’s revealed it wasn’t Kaz at all, but Psycho Mantis using his powers to project himself as so. Still, it was a very creative way to adapt the mind-bending nature of the Psycho Mantis boss battle in the game (as well as the plot point of a villain disguising themselves as Kaz), and I applaud the adaptation team for thinking outside in the box in terms of how to adapt a sequence that, in its original form, was perhaps impossible to replicate in another medium – although I might have liked to see them try.
Visually displaying Kaz, appearing as if he was in his Alaskan shack as we were led to believe, was oddly deceptive. I felt like it betrayed some of the fundamental unspoken rules of the medium. If I can’t trust a panel displaying visual information directly to the reader, not even the protagonist but me, the actual reader, how can I remain properly immersed and committed to the story? This is more of a theoretical musing of mine than an actual concern, as this was the third time I experienced the story of “Metal Gear Solid” and thus I had no issues with feeling “betrayed” by how the story progressed (since I already knew how it progressed!), but remains a thought I’m interested by. The panel is essentially a lie, just there to hoodwink the reader. It has no real basis in the story of the comic; it literally didn’t happen in the story.
The motion comic isn’t meant to be a replacement for the game, it’s a complement to it, so changes such as the significant alteration to the Psycho Mantis boss battle didn’t bother me, and the novelty of some of them legitimately appealed to me. Again, I give this curious hybrid adaptation four ravens, and a PAL card.