In this second installment of my new Evolution series, I tried my hand at three Metal Gear Solid titles spanning three generations of video game consoles. And as expected, I proved completely inept at stealth gameplay. Still, it's testament to the franchise's reputation that I owned MGS 1-4. Hopefully this overview will demonstrate why it has been so successful over the years, despite my clumsy example.

Hideo Kojima's original creation (Metal Gear Solid, Playstation, 1998) was widely lauded as an exceptional stealth title with challenging gameplay and an interesting, if unusual, storyline. Now considered a classic, it helped establish the stealth genre as a viable alternative and its cinematic storytelling set a new standard.

My mistake was in playing the training, or VR, mode first. I've since been told that it's more difficult than the actual game. Regardless of my prowess in this regard, it does provide a comprehensive orientation to gameplay with a welcome streamlined presentation.

One thing's for certain, my espionage skills are more Maxwell Smart than James Bond. "Would you believe ..."

The campaign begins with a cinematic opening scene (setting the stage for a series renowned for such exposition) and levels of course are much more open and detailed. There are multiple paths but patrolling guards can impede progress.

Patience is a virtue. So is careful observation. And precision. In practice, that's three strikes for this hapless gamer. Thankfully Game Over isn't as literal as its old-school connotation.

The game makes judicious use of crawling, hiding, misdirection and silent takedowns among other stealth tactics. Mastering them is key to not only succeeding but excelling. Not that I would know anything about that.

Warning a stealth operative against getting caught might seem like overstating the obvious, however, for someone of my skill it's just exercising good judgement.

The Codec system used by your character, Snake, to communicate with his handlers is effective for coordinating operations, even if said operations are of a more personal nature.

I forget whether the stance button was X or R3, but either way its placement proved problematic as I kept lying prone at the most inopportune times. I guess it's testament to the suspense MGS engenders that one's discovery is cause for panicked button mashing.

Surveillance systems present another obstacle. Whether searchlights or remote control cameras, the need for constant vigilance is emphasized by such ubiquitous technology. What's more, they're not so easily avoided as they generally stand in your path.

The Codec system allows your handlers to contact you with helpful information. You can also contact them for refreshers on your current predicament.

In this case, you can use the ventilation system to avoid discovery, though it can be a challenge to properly orient oneself in the dark, sometimes indistinct shafts. It should be noted that on such occasions your perspective changes from the standard third person to first person.

MGS can sometimes be less solid than pixelated, but the canvas is still well presented overall.

Fortunately your environment sometimes works to your advantage as in this example when you're told to follow mice through the shaft. (Either these are startled, or they're experiencing sudden inspiration: "Dang, we're still only lab rats in a maze!") Along the way another gameplay element is introduced, namely, the O2 bar when moving underwater -- or through a cloud of chlorine gas, I can't be sure.

Victory! At least emerging to fight another day, and not having to stare at yet another Game Over screen, passes for victory in my book.

Even though my handlers went through the trouble of telling me the Codec frequency I'd need to reach them, I didn't actually think I'd HAVE to memorize it! After going through more frequencies than I care to mention, I finally found an opportunity to save the game. Victory!

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Playstation 2, 2001) is a stealth action game more heavy on the action than its predecessor, but still showcasing the telltale covert tactics and elaborate narrative that have become hallmarks of the franchise.

Why the game has to shout my chosen difficulty is beyond me, unless to shame me for playing a stealth game like John Rambo on a bad day.

Febreze is an occupational hazard for creeping operatives. That, or I was once again undermined by my lack of familiarity with the game's controls, and my stubborn resistance to reading the guidebook. I prefer to learn controls on the fly, or crawl. 

Helpful pickups can be found on the ground or spinning on raised surfaces such as this crate. Unfortunately, despite their proximity, I proved entirely incapable of actually picking them up! The grab button as well as every other button attempted brought me no closer to actually possessing these items that proved so eminently elusive for my inexperienced character.

I likewise was spectacularly ineffectual at actually killing enemies. Melee combat only succeeded at momentarily stunning them, and at a rate only a little less effective then my tranquilizer gun. In this regard the first and second games appear similar.

Snake's sometimes colorful observations belie his seriously prescient intuition.

Then again, a man's gotta know his limitations, and my character of Snake seems keenly aware of his shortcomings in this regard. At least he's reminded of it over and over again. In this instance the reminder is in the form of explosives I keep triggering after my firearm apparently fails to disable them as instructed. Stupid firearm!

The fault is not in our stars, dear Snake. I entertain the thought, however outlandish, that I might not recall the precise location of my target devices. Because the Codec is likewise unhelpful, I go looking elsewhere than the room that holds the explosives -- and my waking nightmare. Good thing I only have to contend with the night shift.

Besides ammo, pickups also include rations. My inventory, however, was full because I typically forget I carry anything besides what I'm currently equipped with. Cue Snake's death.

I enjoy exploring my surroundings and discover that sealed doors can be accessed on occasion, a welcome level of environmental interactivity though one that's not entirely unanticipated.

On the downside such thresholds sometimes lead where I have no interest in going. Here, I emerge back onto the ship's deck and am forced to retrace my steps all the way back to the explosives room.

Stealth options abound in this title, and convenient nearby lockers add another tactical advantage. Indeed, I realize I can hide from the explosives, so imagine my disappointment upon emerging to find they're still there.

At this point I'm willing to try anything so attempt to sneak underneath sensors. They'll never know what ...

... Hit them. The brilliant tactician maintains a perfect score against his nemesis, even if the goose egg is in Snake's column.

This seems as good a time as any to save my progress and avoid backtracking all the way back to the hallway outside. On a related note, the memory tab shows past frequencies used for a shortcut to a variety of information. This feature is appreciated after fumbling through the Codec in MGS.

I knew I was supposed to use my OTHER firearm, I was just being thorough when I explored the entire ship. In fact, there are a variety of other weapons and items accessible in one's inventory (such as grenades, bandages, health kits, etc.), provided one bothers to look -- and plays on very easy mode. Note to self: Tranquilizer guns do NOT put explosives to sleep.

Who knew a 9 mm automatic pistol is an effective tool for disarming bombs? Several lives later, I did! The door it protected no doubt held untold secrets and riches.

Would you believe ... more passageways and doors? Jackpot! As a bonus many more guards patrolled these areas in camouflage guaranteed to help them stand out from the crowd.

This is where things get interesting and I can actually put my combat skills to the test. Unfortunately, if I recall, aiming and shooting is accomplished by holding and releasing the square button, which is a little counterintuitive for FPS veterans. Likewise, tossing grenades involve a learning curve (pun intended), which I have yet to master. Hence the multiple stun grenades I dropped at my feet.

Infrared had me seeing red, literally AND figuratively.

More precisely, the game caused some cheap deaths by not allowing me to cross a threshold until all foes were dispatched from a distance (I was otherwise blown backward several yards). Granted, discretion is the better part of valor (and is more suited to MGS gameplay), but it would be nice to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

This interlude is sponsored by Konami, and the apparently mandatory installation of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3, 2008).

The backdrop for the opening of MGS 4 is warfare in the Middle East. "War has changed," intones the narrative, Bethesda and its Fallout franchise be damned. In fact the presentation and cutscenes establish a new benchmark for the series with their flair, detail and overall slick production values.

Conflict avoidance continues to be a mainstay of this stealth series, though lower difficulty levels presumably offer more variation in how one approaches any given scenario. Indeed at the start Snake has access to automatic weapons.

And he's going to need them to judge by the scale of his opposition. The suggestion that war has changed alludes at least in part to the mechanization of the battlefield, which in this instance are symbolized by the introduction of these towering mechs.

Mech animation is fluid, as is that of Snake and NPCs, and in fact displays some personality. Particle effects, ambient noise and overall sound contribute to the compelling setting.

Of course your arsenal is less effective then using stealth tactics to evade opponents, and the game does a decent job of not only encouraging you to choose the road less travelled but also providing options for your escape.

Whatever you do, don't look up.

Despite his return to covert ops, Snake is no spring chicken. The well crafted cutscenes document his world weary demeanor and physical ailments, though thankfully gameplay does not suffer as a result.

The series' sense of humor has not diminished with this newest entry in the franchise.

Snake is more the reluctant hero this time around but is ever the patriot. Besides high production values, cutscenes are copious and provide the action with a raison d'etre. Indeed at times the action can seem to take a back seat to the narrative, at least during the beginning's exposition.

OctoCamo seems to allow a lot more latitude for stealth tactics then did previous installments of the series. The suit essentially allows Snake to hide in plain sight when immobile against a wall. While more traditional stealth movement affords greater protection, Snake is no longer limited to the shadows. 

Warzone armaments, at least at the game's opening, mean the OctoCamo won't always be the option of first resort. Traversing crawl spaces is as helpful as ever, especially when said tunnel contains a random pickup for your inventory.

I still have not mastered melee combat so standing toe to toe with enemies is an express ticket to a Mission Failure screen. All aboard!

Thankfully, the OctoCamo works as advertised. Granted, movement in the open and in direct sunlight will still attract attention but less so than before, and pausing can throw off the inquisitive. In fact in one sequence two suspicious guards came within a couple yards of Snake but even crouching immobile in the sun convinced them to turn around. It stained credulity a little, but not enough to ruin the suspense.

 My first melee kill. Victory! And time to retire.

That wraps this installment of Evolution. I hope you enjoyed my clumsy attempts at stealth Metal Gear Solid style, and this brief overview of Hideo Kojima's landmark series.

The first installment explored the world of The Elder Scrolls. I have ideas for future installments, but I'm open to any suggestions you'd like to see covered in this format. In the meantime, thanks for visiting!