Book Review: Metal Gear Solid

• Metal Gear Solid: the Novel •
Original story by Hideo Kojima
Novelization by Raymond Benson

Warning: SPOILERS!

I don’t read novelizations — that is, books that have no business being books in the first place — all that often, if ever. But, being a loyal MGS fan, I had no choice when it came to Raymond Benson’s attempt to transform a much-beloved Playstation game into a 319-page paperback. And when I say “attempt,” I do so under the assumption that Benson was honestly trying to remain fair and faithful to the Metal Gear Solid plot and to Kojima’s occasional brilliance.

The book isn’t just a train wreck.  In fact, it’s hard to come up with something appropriately catastrophic to compare it to.  If the book had to be a wreck of some kind, it would most likely involve a handful of 747s, flaming meteors, and a great white shark. Any survivors would promptly be attacked by bears.

And I like Metal Gear Solid.

There are plenty of bad books on the market (some of which I’ve read and enjoyed immensely, if only for the opportunity to laugh when laughter is not appropriate). But, in a show that puts every other crap writer to shame, Metal Gear Solid: the Novel is easily the worst of the lot. From blow-by-blow descriptions of Solid Snake disabling enemy soldiers to flat-out bewildering word choices, the Metal Gear Solid novel is the funniest thing available on paper, however unintentionally.

wtfI’ve been trying to decide exactly who might find the novel more bewildering: those who’ve played the game, or those who haven’t. On the one hand, those of us who’ve played the Metal Gear Solid games know Solid Snake with an imagined intimacy that probably keeps David Hayter from a good night’s sleep. We love the eternally just-rolled-out-of-bed timbre of his voice, we cherish his oft-deserved witticisms, and we thrive on his woefully frequent lapses in tact.

Those who’ve never played can’t see Vulcan’s towering, adorably geometric bulk when Benson narrates a boss battle.  They don’t hear Sniper Wolf’s near-subsonic purr.  And they don’t understand why Meryl’s behind is so damn inspiring.  But at the same time, they’re incapable of being disappointed.

Lucky SOBs.



The only dialogue that sounds remotely natural is what’s lifted directly from the game, but that may be because we’re already expecting it.  When Benson’s left to his own devices, things get far more entertaining.

Take our good friend Solid Snake.  We’ve always appreciated his ability to shoot first and ask questions later — or sometimes not at all.

The Benson-ified Snake boasts all the verbal wit of a 13-year-old on Xbox Live, to his horror and ours.  Throughout the book, we’re treated to a parade of one-liners not usually heard outside of 1960s Gotham.


“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.” (p. 34)

The man snored loudly and woke himself up.  His head rose to the level where Snake wanted it.
“Sounds like you’ve got sleep apnea,” Snake said.  “Better get that checked out.” (p. 40)

“I suspect that [the Genome soldiers] are equipped with the same antifreezing peptide I gave you.”
“That won’t stop me from putting them on ice.”  (p. 33)

Snake grinned and contacted Natasha.
“Hey, I got me a Stinger.  I just wanted to brag.”  (p. 205)

“Did you know that it was the French who first thought of using electrical shocks as a means of torture?”
“That figures.  They also like Jerry Lewis.”  (p. 176)

“Colonel, I’m on my way to the first-floor basement.  The show’s just getting started.” (p. 48)

“Well, I’m not like you,” Liquid said.  “Unlike you, I’m proud of the destiny that is encoded in my genes.”
“Encode this, you bastard!” (pp. 279-280)


Snake isn’t the only one to suffer such indignities, of course.


“Stay here and kill anything that moves!” (Genome soldier, p. 109)

“Of course I am, you idiotic buffoon.  I am beyond your pitiful intellect.  I can destroy your mind.  I will make you break down and cry like a baby!”  (Psycho Mantis, p. 145)

“The road is closed, Snake!  Detour!  Detour!” (Liquid Snake, p. 202)

“Solid Snake, come on down!” (Liquid Snake, p. 277)



Don’t go thinking there’s salvation in silence, either.  When Snake isn’t making remarks to himself externally, it continues unabated in his head.  Which, thanks to Benson’s keen sense of sadism, is also well within our grasp.

“Yes!  The pain!” the ninja cried.  “I’ve been waiting for this pain!”
The guy’s crazy as a loon!
(p. 123)

The rancid commercial tobacco actually tasted good this time.  And he didn’t cough.
Things are definitely looking up…! 
(p. 191)

The Stinger!  It’s the only way!  (p. 281)

[Snake finds body armor.]
You don’t find many of these in Cracker Jack boxes! 
(p. 193)

Snake opened one eye.   He lay on the bunk bed, broken and exhausted.  He was too sore and shaken to sleep.
I’m wired — ha ha!  (p. 193)



For Benson, the devil is in the details.  And he isn’t going to let us get anywhere until he’s illustrated every…single…one.

   “Well, we will see if there is iron in your words!”
   With that, Vulcan Raven swung the M61A1 at Snake and let loose with a barrage of 20-mm shells.  It was only Snake’s anticipation of the attack and his years of training that got him the jump — literally — on his nemesis, for Snake executed a perfect sideways cartwheel just before the bullets struck him.  (p. 231)

That’s right: He narrates entire boss battles for you, play-by-play.  Isn’t this the very reason they made it a video game in the first place?  Every corner Snake turns, every sentry he dispatches, and every chaff grenade that sends a surveillance camera into a seizure gets red-carpet treatment, courtesy of Benson and his detail brigade.



Remember all those little things in Metal Gear that chipped at your sanity?  Like the fact that none of the Genome soldiers find it odd that one of their own chooses to use the ladies’ room?  Or how Liquid somehow manages to fool half a dozen people into thinking he’s Master Miller, using only a pair of sunglasses and a hair tie?

Don’t expect Benson to help you fill in the blanks.  He’s actually here to make things worse.


#1: Questionable torture

It was as if he had been struck by lightning.  Every nerve erupted with a thousand screams.  Every muscle exploded in agony.  Every cell in his skin, his blood, his organs, and his brain ignited with the heat and intensity of a million suns.  All his senses — sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch — shut off and focused on one thing only: extreme and unimaginable pain.  (p. 177)

My brain happens to be an organ. And wouldn’t it be difficult to experience pain with your senses shut off?


#2: Semi-nude showdown

Recall, if you will, the hand-to-hand battle that Snake and Liquid have atop the remains of Metal Gear.  Incredibly, the force of the explosion knocked Liquid’s shirt and Snake’s entire sneaking suit off.  Incredible!  Both were left ready for the big showdown, half-naked and unarmed!  We didn’t know why; but then, perhaps it was safer that way.

Benson has no answers, either.

   The haze slowly dissipated.  Snake opened his eyes to see a dark room highlighted by bits of flame and smoldering brick and steel.  He was lying on something hard that was somehow familiar.
   His sneaking suit had been removed.  He was bare-chested, wearing only skintight pants.
   “Sleeping late as usual, Snake?”
   Snake’s eyes rolled toward the voice.  Liquid stood twenty feet away.  He, too, was dressed only in tight pants.  (p. 288)

Oh, Kojima.  How you toy with us.


#3: One liberty too far

   “Snake…she’s my daughter.”
   “Meryl’s my daughter.  I didn’t find out until recently.  I got a letter from her mother…my dead brother’s wife.  I was going to tell her after the operation was over.  I guess that’s another secret I kept from you.  And her.”
   Snake looked at Meryl, and she mouthed “What?”  He shook his head and replied to the colonel, “Colonel, that’s…”  He had to laugh rather than finish his sentence. (p. 314)

And Naomi is your second cousin once removed.  It’s complicated.


#4: General writing WTFery

“The Les Enfants Terribles project.”  (p. 5)  (Or, in English, “The the Terrible Children project.”)

He squeezed the trigger and bombarded the cyborg with several rounds. But the ninja knocked the bullets away with his sword!  (p. 233)  (emphasis not mine)


wtfSo, should you read Metal Gear Solid?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  Ignore the blatant half-anachronisms (characters from a game released in 1998 talking about 9/11), ignore the fact that Benson can’t write his way out of a wet paper bag, and cuddle up with some good old-fashioned B-movie material in book form.  Play the game first, set your standards firmly below sea level, then pick up a copy of the Metal Gear Solid.  If you aren’t laughing, you aren’t reading it right.

At $12.95, the paperback’s a little expensive for a joke, but I found a copy at my local library.  Grab the book — and the drink of your choice — and settle in for a gut-busting afternoon.

Because, as our hero Solid Snake reminds us:

“You interrupted a very pleasant dream I was having about berries.  This had better be good.”  (p.13)

metal gear solid book review raymond benson aydee mgs book review mgs novel

Rating: so bad it’s awesome




~ by AyDee on August 17, 2008.

16 Responses to “Book Review: Metal Gear Solid”

  1. To be fair, I can honestly see Liquid spouting off the silly one liners you quoted him saying in the book. :P

    • I think Liquid was more susceptible to cheesy exclamations like “this is the final battle!” than references to pop culture. Not that him bellowing “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” from the cockpit of REX wouldn’t be hilarious or anything.

  2. I just remembered a little while ago, and I think it’s worth mentioning that the guy who wrote the novelisation is the same man responsible for all recent novelisations of James Bond films – though when someone can read the original books, I don’t know why they’d bother with those things.

    It’s sad to see a ‘professional’ author do so badly, professional between quotes because movie-to-book books are hardly what I’d call professional writing. There ARE good movie-to-book books though, one being the Star Wars Episode III book I bought in my Star Wars faze when I was contemplating getting into the EU and started with that – THAT was a good book. Another good novelisation would be, er, on Someone novelise’d Final Fantasy X (‘The Tenth Fantasy’), which was actually very well written, especially something on that rotten site.

    …Spaeking of Final Fantasy and books, I’ve always felt this urge to write down the story of FFIV… >.>

    But I think I’m rambling t this point.

    • I think there are a lot of bad “authors” on standby for projects like these. Sort of like the people who make movie tie-in video games.

      Something good in the pit of voles?! This I have to see.


    At least, it was good back when I read it four years ago. Dunno what I’d think rereading it now. Anyway, has too much white, it hurts my eyes.

  4. Oh and yes, I pity the people who make movie tie-in games. Their games are TERRIBLE.

    In general. There’re some good games. Case in point, Aladdin (SNES/Genesis/Gameboy), Hercules (PS1), Lord of the Rings: RotK (PS2).

    What’s hilarious is that the Eragon video game on the PS2 is an obvious rip off of the LotR game on the same console. XD And don’t even get me started on the DS version… I actually borrowed it off a friend and recapped it back on UB during its prime. I didn’t get much past Therinsford when I had to give it back, though…

    Ah, the graphics were so bad in that game that I actually mistook a man walking with his wife as a man pushing a wheel barrow from afar. And by afar, I mean opposite sides of a small bridge.

  5. Thanks for the link.

    I’ll never forget the Pirates of the Caribbean game. My friend and I simply could not dock the ship without crashing it on the rocks, resulting in damp and generally unpleasant death.

    Eragon wife/wheelbarrow = amazing.

  6. She was wearing a dull brown/grey dress…

    Does Kingdom Hearts count as a movie game? Not tie-in, maybe, but the whole thing’s a nostalgic walk through classic Disney. Well, somewhat. At least they’ve got a sense of quality.

  7. I’m gonna say no. Kingdom Hearts was a separate story. And, since it didn’t have a deadline for whatever it was tied to, it didn’t have to be created in under 3 months or however long it is it takes to make a lousy game.

  8. I s’pose. It doesn’t help tie-ins that they tend to be released before the movie.

    It also kinda spoils the movie if you play the game beforehand, I s’pose.

  9. It’s not really any sort of anachronism for the characters to speak about 9/11 seeing as the game takes place in 2005. When the original game came out is sort of irrelevant in terms of fleshing out the game’s world.

    That said, spot on. The book sounds like a riot.

    • I still consider it a “half-anachronism.” Even though the timeline permits the characters to have known about 9/11, the original writers would hardly have known a decade ago. It’s like affixing a sign to the book that reads, “Now Updated with Additional References to Real Life!” It’d be easier if it were anything but a passing reference, but it really was one character saying, “Oh, like 9/11?” and the other saying, “Yes.” Unless adding to the original game provides depth or new understanding to Metal Gear Solid, there’s no reason to update the timeline. As you said, it isn’t a true anachronism, but I still found it jarring and worth complaint.

      If you can find a free copy, do read it. It’s so wonderfully awful.

  10. The force of the blast of Metal Gear being destroyed didn’t knock off Liquid and Solid’s gear… Liquid was already shirtless being inside Rex, and Liquid took the clothes off Snake while he was unconscious (From In the Darkness of Shadow Moses) and managed to haul snake up to the head of Rex.

    • First off: Sarcasm.

      Secondly: Dragging in explanations from external sources doesn’t forgive Benson for bad narration — or his need to say “tight pants” repeatedly.

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