The Metal Gear Solid (MGS) series should have ended with 4. After the many hours it took to beat MGSV I realized that I will likely never play the game to completion ever again; something I would never say about the games that preceded it. I still enjoyed MGSV. It’s a good game. But that won’t stop me from bashing it, expecting more from it, and wishing it never existed. This may seem like a shock to people who know me or have read the Physics of Video Games work closely as I have praised the series immensely in the past. But with a series this longstanding, something had to go wrong at some point, too bad it was at the finale.
Welcome to Pixels to Polygons, the column where we compare the games of yesteryear to more modern entries. And an even further welcome is in order for the inaugural entry into a sub-series of this column: Tainted Legacies.
MGS1 set precendence for not only the stealth genre, but games as a medium for in depth story telling and character development through impeccable voice acting. Players were treated to this immersive world, with well fleshed out characters (with that confusing, Kojima charm), freedom in play styles, meaningful consequences to actions, and incredible sound and environments to hold everything together. It showed not only what the Playstation could do, but what we could expect from games. It was groundbreaking and virtually unparalleled in quality at the time. The sands of time have not been in the game’s favour, but it is still an exceptional experience and a sign of things to come.
MGS2 came along, built on what preceded it, confused players with some odd choices, but still turned out to be a worthy successor to the first.
MGS3 pushed the series and genre to even greater lengths. Players were treated to a more open world where they had to use survival tactics in the wilderness in conjunction with the stealth espionage. The story increased in complexity and is presented with such grace (aside from Ocelot meowing). Players were also treated to a more intense cast of characters, like the Boss; not only a strong female character, but probably one of the best video game characters ever developed. The cinematic gaming experience remained in tact along with the stellar gameplay. Systems were refined and developed much further to make it, arguably, the best MGS to date.
MGS4 came along and shook things up some more. The gameplay diversified much more in order to cater to stealth and action players alike. AI became much more sensitive and responsive to situations. Environments varied substantially throughout the game, with some callbacks being sources of hilarious references. The control scheme finally became much more responsive and easier to use, something that MGS3 needed to make it perfect. Players were also treated to the best set of bosses in any of the games yet, which were a series of references to MGS1. It is a really tight gaming experience, and probably my favourite game in the series, and a contender for all time favourite games as well. All of these games are concise, give a lot of freedom, incredible, long-winded cutscenes and have immense replay value. Now that we have a bit of history, it’s time to bash MGSV, using the older titles to show why in three areas: characters, story presentation and conciseness.
***I WILL TRY TO SPOIL VERY LITTLE, BUT USE YOUR DISCRETION ABOUT READING FURTHER IF YOU LIKE SURPRISES***
The characters are a let down in this game. The voice acting (other than the White Mamba and Paz) is impeccable as always, but the way characters present themselves and how they interact is a total disaster at times. The Quiet effectively highlights that Hideo lost his mind and needs a shorter leash, so we’ll talk about her the most.
The Quiet (who is someone who is quiet) had a lot of controversy when initially revealed. She was quite scantily clad, which caused a lot of concern. The series has had some remarkably strong female characters throughout the entirety of its lifespan, so I gave Hideo the benefit of the doubt that there was a good reason, and he assured us there was. Not too far into the game, players are provided an explanation as to why she basically has no clothes: she’s a flower. It’s not stated explicitly, but they do explicitly state that she needs to be watered, gathers nutrients from the Sun and doesn’t eat; thus making her a flower. They could have gone with some shallow explanation regarding mobility, noise suppression when sniping, a compelling desire to have obscure tan-lines. But no. She’s presented as a flower as we watch her shower and caress herself. She’s presented as this elite sniper that can eliminate a pilot in a jet from hundreds to thousands of metres away, but when brought into the field she will try and tranq a tank instead of an armourless person. Like a totally awesome beast-lady, she gets angered by someone who abuses her and retaliates by trying to pry out his teeth with a knife, but then she dances around in the rain with even less clothes while awkwardly flirting with Big Boss (one of the most confusing, embarrassing and uncomfortable scenes I’ve experienced in a game, you can find the unpleasantness on YouTube easily).
Then you have a couple more scenes with her towards the end of the game that are major plot-holes and leave more unanswered questions. And then there are the far too frequent convenient camera angles that have breast and butt shots for no reason other than exploitation. That’s it. That’s the character. An inconsistent mess that you hardly get a feel for and never hear from again. She was a massive focus in the game, yet she effectively contributed nothing to the series’ story.
Then you have a whole bunch of minor things with other characters. Huey is remarkably dishonest and has no ethical standards, so they give him the freedom to develop whatever he wants and go wherever he wants. Paz… there are no words. Skull Face (who has a skull for a face) accomplishes nothing, is never really a threat and comes no where near to living up to the expectations of what the natural build up prior to downfall should be, but yet is the main villain for two games. Characters in the obnoxiously large amount of missions never have any impactful introduction, don’t seem to contribute much to the plot, and never seem to be brought up again despite the extraordinary lengths gone to rescue a particular person. Zero, who should be the highlight villain of the game as he causes all of the main conflicts in 1,2 and 4, is nowhere to be found other than some tapes post-completion. This leads to where the game continues to fail, in the presentation of its story.
I did think the story was shallow and predictable (especially compared to other MGS games), but we won’t focus on that for spoiler and rage-suppressing reasons. Instead we will focus exclusively on the way the story is presented. Gone are the long-winded cutscenes and scripted events the series is known and loved for. They are now replaced by tapes and real-time updates while doing stuff. This means there will be times where you are trying to listen to a tape, a soldier on your base will be talking to you, and then Miller starts talking about useless junk on your codec (The subtitles get very confused when this happens). So if you want to ensure that you don’t miss anything being presented story-wise, make sure no one is around you, wait a while so that Miller or Ocelot don’t have one of their delayed speeches, and then you can listen to a tape. Or just listen to them while menu surfing in the helicopter. That’s fun. Listening to tapes while doing nothing. Then again, tapes can make for a great distraction as you begin development on items that take several to dozens of in-game hours to make. Luckily there are a lot of tapes to listen to while you spend a lot of time just waiting for things to be developed; whether they be bases, items, weapons or resources. It’s all the better when the most important story elements to tie games together are presented by a series of long-winded tapes post-completion with nothing to do. Sitting in a helicopter listening to tapes is so much better than getting a cutscene (sorry if you didn’t get the sarcasm I was trying to present).
To further the poor execution of story presentation are the lack of boss battles. The opening one is exceptional, although misleading as the tone and quality of the game drop significantly, and the final is alright (although it doesn’t add much to the story). There is one in between those two moments, which are dozens to hundreds of hours apart depending on how thoroughly you play the game, and it’s lack-luster. There is no build up, it is quickly ended by shooting one big object, or a few tiny ones, and that’s it. This pales in comparison to the games preceding it as boss battles were a great source of variety in gameplay, puzzle solving, and story presentation. They always had a long-winded preamble, discussion during the fight, and another long-winded follow up upon the conclusion of the fight. There was a great sense of connection with the threats, which made the fights more meaningful and their role in the story much better. Experiences with the Man on Fire (because he’s a man who is on fire) are sporadic, quickly resolved and kind of meaningless in the grand scheme of things; just add some H2O and toodles to the Man on Fire. It’s such a disappointment coming from the same team that brought the mind-boggling fight with Psycho Mantis, the intense showdown with the Boss, and the wonderful deceptiveness of Laughing Octopus. We’re reduced to “water makes Man on Fire be Man not on Fire”. It’s wasted potential for the legacy the series has with incredible bosses and their connection to the story. Now onto the biggest disappointment: the game’s length.
This game is too long. Way too long. It has way too much stuff to do in the worst way possible. Prepare to collect a lot of stuff and see a lot of swamp and dirt as you complete 50 main missions and over 150 side missions. If there was more variety, I would have no problem with the enormousness. But there isn’t. You will go to a camp that is full of people that you can either kill or subdue and Fulton back to your base. That’s it. That’s the whole game accurately summed up in a sentence aside from the few instances where you just need to blow everything up. You will see the same places over and over again as you extract a prisoner, only for a side mission to then pop up in the same camp to rescue a soldier after it’s been repopulated. Or go into a field with some tanks and a couple protectors about 20 times. Which becomes all the more annoying as your call your helicopter, from the menus that can be painful to get loaded at times, to get picked up, fly back to base, then get dropped back off at some point away from the camp. The game does this over and over again for hundreds of hours if you want the true ending and completion of all missions/side missions/side ops and S ranks. The strategy barely changes. When enemies get smarter and more protected, you get better weapons to deal with the issue, so it’s almost a static-dynamic difficulty. It’s confusing. But you will need something to do while you’re waiting for resources and equipment to be developed, so you may as well rescue an unremarkable prisoner for the 30th time. Why not? This game requires a whole lot more time than skill. That’s frustrating. It is also the reason I will likely never press ‘New Game’ ever.
There are some redeeming qualities, like the controls, graphics and buddy system, but those stark contrasts to previous games make it a let down. I still love the game in a lot of respects, but I can’t help but hate it for what it did. If the series were to have continued I might have been able to forgive the missteps in hopes that they would be fixed in the next title, but this is it. It didn’t seem like the appropriate time to switch things up. The game being cancelled and players left longing for what could be would have be much more enticing than what we got. Sometimes I wish that certain games just didn’t exist, and that we were left with that sense of wonder. Thus, for the aforementioned reasons, and more, I wish that Metal Gear Solid ended with 4. What do you think?
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