Metal Gear Solid by Raymond Benson (book review).
The blurb on the front cover announces that ‘Metal Gear Solid’ is ‘The official novel of the thrilling Konami video game created by Hideo Kojima!’ This should have started ringing alarm bells as the statement really defines the target audience for this novel; people who have bought into the video game. As I haven’t played the video game, I’m a good guinea pig for seeing how the novel works for the rest of us.
This novel is the first in the series of novels as far as I can tell. There isn’t a great deal of information provided but I do have a copy of ‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty’ on my desk, also by Raymond Benson, so it implies I have been reading the first book. Now whether or not ‘Metal Gear Solid’ is or is not the first book is an important point which I’ll get to later. But before I do, let’s set the scene for the story.
Solid Snake is actually the code name for a former US government/military agent who used to belong to the FOXHOUND organisation before it disbanded. Solid is called out of retirement to infiltrate a heavily fortified base, destroy a super-weapon and rescue the hostages. Preferably before tea time and please don’t kill any more people as you need to. Before the action begins we have chapter 1. which is helpfully sub-titled ‘Some Years Ago’. This details the US President and a top ranking US General paying a visit to an underground laboratory in the company of Dr. Clark. They are witnessing the birth of twins but it seems the children have been cloned from the cells taken from super-criminal ‘Big Boss’ (yes, you read that right, he’s called Big Boss). One baby will have more dominant genes from Big Boss than the other one apparently.
Chapter 2 jumps to the present day, at least from Solid Snakes perspective, as he’s fired out of a submarines torpedo tube towards the heavily fortified island base. No sooner is that out of the way and the story jumps back two days earlier. This must correspond to a flashback in the video game where most of the pertinent bits leading up to the torpedo tube exit are explained. Basically, a renegade group of mercenaries has taken over a US military research base and co-opted or converted the majority of the bases military to join them. Of course the renegade group contains a few super-hero types with special abilities just to make it more interesting. The group’s leader is none other than Liquid Snake, Solid Snake’s long lost twin brother.
What follows is essentially, as far as I can make out, the script from someone who has played the game and completed most of the levels. There are difficult situations to stealthily navigate. There are guards to take out using ingenious methods and Solid Snake’s trademarked stranglehold. Then there are the encounters with the various super-villains and a berserk cyborg ninja. A little love interest is introduced when Solid Snake meets his commanding officers niece who’s been kept in a cell. It seems a bit contrived but quite a lot of the plot does.
Earlier in this review, I mentioned that I was unsure if this was the first book in the series. The reason for this is that there is a lot of discussion or reminiscing about earlier events. These are much earlier than this novel’s setting but there’s this over-riding sense that you, the reader, already knew what had happened. This gave me the idea that I’d jumped into a series and missed at least one of the earlier novels. Doing a bit of research shows that I’m wrong and this is indeed the first book. I suppose that this just highlights that video games are a different format to books and what works well in one might not necessarily work in the other.
For someone who has not played the video game, I’d rate the novel as average at best. The plot seems contrived and somewhat predictable. I think someone who has played the game will get much more from the book, perhaps filling in additional detail that was missed by the game. The reverse is also true in that someone who has not played the game will be missing things not included in the book. The second book is on my ‘to do’ pile but based on this novel it might be there for a while.
(pub: Orbit, 2008. 320 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-735-8)
check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net, www.konami.com and www.raymondbenson.com