[ Metal Gear Mondays ] The Art of Sniping

As you may or may not be able to tell from the clip above, I really love sniping in video games; I may not always be using a proper sniper rifle – in some games, sniper rifles are oddly not present at all, have sparse ammunition, or aren’t properly represented – but it’s about that plotted, calculated, perfect shot. It’s about having a plan, going in, and executing with precision: steady heart, calm mind, and committed heart. I might take it a little too seriously but sniping is a huge deal to me in video games.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was perfect, in that regard, for me: not only were the environments wide open and the options for mission completion practically limitless, it let me play a shooter the exact way I wanted to. It gave me the arsenal and ability to accommodate for every possibility and I loved that flexibility. It seems only right that The Phantom Pain finally gave me the shooting game that I’ve been waiting for as my love for sniping was set off by the Sniper Wolf battle in Metal Gear Solid.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about and rate the sniper battles and sniper representation in each of the main canon Metal Gear Solid games. Strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

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Metal Gear Solid – 4/5

The first seriously tense sniper battle and still one of the best in the franchise stands the test of time in Metal Gear Solid: while the technology wasn’t quite there to make sniping a common occurrence in the game itself as the arenas were fairly closed-concept and obstructive, not to mention that you couldn’t silence the sniper rifle, but it was perhaps one of the more realistic representations of sniper shooting in a video game at the time. Your hands had trouble steadying the weapon in the cold. You had little time to make your shot. You only had so many shots before you had to reload. You were working with a bolt-action so even before you reloaded the clip, each shot required you to take time to dedicate to preparing your next shot. It was intense.

A lot of what limited the Sniper Wolf battle was also what made it incredibly intense: there wasn’t much cover and, while it was a larger and more wide-open than most arenas, it still wasn’t huge; it meant every shot needed to count, every shot needed to be plotted out while you were on the run. It wasn’t your typical sniper situation and that’s what made it all the more incredible, especially considering you were up against a seriously awesome pot-shot in Sniper Wolf.

The only real thing that I could have think of that would have made sniping better in this game were a few things that are a little more common now that would make sniping a little more common throughout the game and a lot more practical. You can’t really blame Solid for that, though: the technology wasn’t really there, at the time, to make sniping a practical and rewarding thing. Precision shooting, though, did have its rewards and actually presented a much bigger helpfulness when using tranquilizers as they went down quicker depending on where you hit the enemy.

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Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – 3/5

This game did kind of a double take for me, in regards to sniping: it made sniping way more practical in the rest of the game but the pivotal sniper battle wasn’t really a battle at all; it was an escort missions, one of the most reviled types of missions I can think of. There were more situations and arenas that would call for good sniping and the introduction of UAVs almost insisted that you got good with a sniper rifle or be knee deep in gunfire almost constantly when outdoors. Your skill with the sniper rifle was almost immediately rewarded with the ease of moving around outdoors; precision and planning were extremely important in many sections of the game.

Let’s talk about the sniper “battle,” though. You spent, if you were anything like me the first few times I played through this game on my PlayStation 2, quite a long time putting the beat down on one of the stupidest Metal Gear Solid franchise villains to date: Vamp, the man who, due to nanomachine magic, just simply would not die. Just when you thought you brought him down for good, he pops up in the middle of a dreaded escort mission to bring Emma Emmerich, one of the world’s biggest klutzes ever, from one section of the rig to the other, which was already annoying enough by the time he popped up. This section really only served as an extremely annoying shooting gallery and that difficulty was entirely by design. I loath escort missions and there’s nothing you can say that will ever make me change my mind. It’s one of the reasons Resident Evil 4 and 5 turned me off of that franchise entirely.

If it wasn’t for the fact that sniping was way more integral to the usual routine and was way more accessible and realistic in regards to what I felt sniping should be like, I would likely be almost entirely put off by a lot of this game. The plot, the characters, and just about everything in this game was so purposely oddball that is was extremely off-putting.

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Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – 3/5

This is one of those games that I want to love so badly but there are things that irk me so very, very much about it that it keeps me from really being able to enjoy it properly: that goes doubly for sniping, something that doesn’t really become a viable option until later in the game and especially on the second time around when you’re more familiar with patrol routes. In my humble opinion, there was a lot of tricks to try and make this game seem so much larger and vast and complex than Sons of Liberty but, from a technical standpoint, the advance was only marginal when compared to the advance from Solid to Sons of Liberty. Not to mention that this entry continues the oddball tradition started by Sons of Liberty but, thankfully, it was mostly limited to the Cobra Unit, and that gives way to one of the most intense sniper fights that either works extremely well or falls flat on its face and that’s literally only because it’s still quite limited as a video game with great ambitions.

The complete opposite to Sons of Liberty in terms of sniping and precision shooting, Snake Eater has you on the defensive and playing the stealth end out for a large majority of the first half of the game. Almost everything has an extremely limited color palette so that means being able to determine where someone is and will be with a non-scoped weapon is nearly impossible, early on, and is only marginally better with thermal imaging and really isn’t that rewarding, as always, to do indoors, at all. I believe the game was purposely done this way to increase the reliance on stealth and the new CQC combat system. I never really liked the way it was implemented, in this game, but I’m glad it was, for what it brought in later titles.

However, all this gives way to one of the best sniper battles in the franchise, period: you have this guy code-named The End, who apparently can gain energy and dispose of wastes through photosynthesis – look, don’t ask me, I told you the game had its oddballs – meaning he could find the perfect spot and literally wait forever for the perfect kill. Seeing as precision shooting and rushing were incredibly difficult to do up until that battle, you were faced with the prospect that The End could literally be anywhere and, if caught off-guard, could end your game really quickly. You had something akin to the tension of the Sniper Wolf fight but you were up against someone who truly outclassed Sniper Wolf in an arena that played exactly to all of The End’s strengths. It took you using every skill you’d gained up until this point to pass this battle and even moreso to tranquilize him.

While this seems like the perfect battle and the greatest test of skill, there was one problem: you weren’t in one arena. You were split up in a series of arenas and while you’re running around trying to get a bead on The End, you could easily end up in a new area and end up having to restart your process all over again. It really cuts through the immersion with a sharp knife and it was a cheap way to make the battleground larger without actually making it larger.

On the flipside, if you were good enough, you could easily turn the fight against The Fear into a sniper battle, as well, even if the person you were fighting against wasn’t using a sniper rifle. This required a large amount of skill, as well, as he inflicted a great amount of pain and suffering on you if you were caught and, even if you were cautious, there was a large amount of traps. This was probably a more consistent fight and you could twist a lot of the traps and frustrations in your favor and I ended up enjoying sniping this guy to the ground a lot more than The End, generally speaking.

At the end of the day, this was a brilliantly written and acted out game but the sniping was sorely lacking and could have been much more rewarding.

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Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker – 2/5

Take everything I didn’t like about the experience of sniping in Snake Eater, miniaturize it, muddy it, and completely remove an iconic and practically required sniper battle and you have Peace Walker. Sniping is mostly retained in the same fashion that it was in Snake Eater though it would be hard to believe Big Boss got better with age as he’s shakier, by default, with weapons. Recoil is pretty terrible, too.

There’s a few improvements, in terms of the setups for combat against sniper rifle-armed soldiers, but other than that, this game just fell flat in terms of sniper combat, especially on the original PSP release. The HD remaster for the PlayStation 3 fixed up a lot of the graphical problems I had with the game and sniping but it didn’t do much more aside from sharpen up textures and stretch the image to fit your television.

This game felt weirdly out of place in the franchise, anyway… but that’s a different story for a different day.

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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots – 4/5

This is the first game in the franchise where sniper rifles and precision shooting, in general, were incredibly rewarding to use and you had the freedom to use them, so long as you used them smartly. We were also introduced to the mammoth of an anti-material rifle that did well to completely and utterly annihilate anything in its line of sight, which you got from the intense battle against Crying Wolf.

Generally, the game felt truly open and it was made to be that way: you were free to take multiple correct paths and you were given the trust to play the game as you saw fit, within the constraints of the systems in place. While your in-story purposes and objectives were extremely specific, you were given more freedom to get to them how you liked. That meant that, if you wanted, you could take advantage of the ambient noise and pick people off and use your weaponry however you liked, whether indoors or outdoors. It felt a lot less video game-y and more like a tactical shooter, for once.

With the return of the sniper battle, you were set up against Crying Wolf, one of the Beauty and the Beast unit that was tasked with hunting you down and killing you. Whereas The End, in Snake Eater, was all about outclassing you in terms of skill, environment, and natural ability, Crying Wolf outclassed you in terms of technology and raw power as she had access to optical camo and a rail gun. If she got the drop on you from afar, it was all but over. This battle was very reminiscent of the Sniper Wolf battle in terms of the battleground and attention paid to the battleground needed.

This was the upgrade to arsenal and shooting that the franchise needed because, as Solid put it best… the best was yet to come.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – 5/5

I’m not going to lie: this game is perhaps one of the most rewarding games on the planet for a player like me when it comes to shooters. I can literally plot out my every movement, the way I want, on my terms, especially later on, in every facet possible. While the iconic sniper battle isn’t exactly as intense as previous entries, it’s still very immersive and demanding, especially on harder difficulties.

Playing the sniper in general is a choice that you make in game and you’re actually rewarded with a counter per mission, depending on how many “tactical takedowns” you make: in this case, it would be headshots. You can literally set up so many perfect ways to prove you are, indeed, the perfect sniper: for example, without spoiling too much, there’s an area that is littered with tons of patrols, during the day, and it leads to a cave that has tons of patrols within it, as well, so even if you wanted to take the cheap way out, you couldn’t just firebomb the place and be done with it, as the units in the caves would be unharmed. What I did was strategically place mines around vehicles, weapon embankments, entrances to caves, and various other places where units were likely to pour out; laid down a smoke screen from a support drop, started picking off a few units, and literally let the chaos write the rest of the incident for me. Setup took forever but the result was like hearing your favorite song for the first time: everything comes together so perfectly and it feels so very accomplishing and fulfilling.

The initial sniper battle against Quiet isn’t really something to write home about if you’re comparing it to Crying Wolf or The End but it’s special in the way that Sniper Wolf was special: you had a wide open area and you both had an apparently equal level of skill, with your opposition having just enough advantage in the situation to make the battle tense, especially in harder difficulties.

There’s the prologue mission, too, where you can actually pull the entire battle off as a sniper and precision shooter, as well, but it makes things quite overwhelming over time: the army in the area basically sends everything in its power to kill both you and Quiet and it’s up to you to make the last stand in a completely run down building that has holes and crumbling bits all over. We’re talking missiles, tanks, small and large infantry all over, coming from all angles. I’ve done it but it’s hard.

This game feels like the perfect fit for me as a gamer who prefers to snipe in shooters.

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