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Metal Gear Solid Playthrough: Final Thoughts

Picture copyright Konami

Picture copyright Konami

With The Phantom Pain mostly complete, I’m declaring this my final post on Metal Gear Solid.  It does mean that I’m going to be skipping Peacewalker, which I’m not particularly interested in, and Portable Ops, which I don’t have access to.  What is important is that I’ve managed to hit all of the ones that I’ve wanted to and with this final post, I can put everything to bed.

One thing that I’ve been thinking of since I started all of this is that Hideo Kojima is a brilliant game designer, a fair writer and a poor, poor storyteller.  My friends often say he does well with an editor, and that’s true, but his indulgences toward “surprising” twists and odd approaches toward plotting makes his stories often overblown and difficult to follow.  A good example would be the story behind the Patriots.  It’s not that complicated, Zero set up a bunch of AI to direct control of the United States and it got out of control, but by hiding almost all of this from Snake, and by extension, the player, until the very end of Metal Gear Solid 4 means we have to have Big Boss show up and literally exposition dump for thirty minutes.  Maybe more.

Now, part of this is because Kojima and his team made this all up as they went along.  The Patriots weren’t intended to be the Illuinanti set up by Big Boss and his buddies, Kojima just needed a secret society to make Solidus to fight against so his plan would seem relatable and to tie in Ocelot’s twist at the end of the first game.  However, since nothing is explained in Metal Gear Solid 2, Kojima needs to spend literally the next four games explaining it all and how it came to be.  Had some of it been explained in the first game they showed up, then maybe there wouldn’t have been thirty minute expositions at the end of Guns of the Patriots.  It’s difficult to say.

Especially since Kojima tends to have these huge, long scenes with rambling, often times incoherent, explanations about the plot.  Here is where a good editor can save him, because these can go on for up to five times longer than they need to, and they make even simple things come off as much more complicated than they really are.  LIke the aforementioned Patriots, but that’s not the only explanation that’s more complicated than it needed to be,

That said, if there’s one thing that Kojima has a really good handle on, though, is characterization.  Yeah, he goes on way too long, has badly edited scenes and plots that don’t hold together because he’d rather watch characters talk at each other than have them make any sense, but the characters are all well developed, interesting and rich.  Yes, we have a handful of Vamps and Rosemarys out there, but there’s also Big Boss, Ocelot, Otacon and Raiden, all of them well developed and complicated people.  Solid Snake and Otacon are about the only purely good and heroic people in the whole series, but they all have their foibles and views on things, which makes them very engaging protagonists.  Snake is one of the most moral heroes in video games, taking great pains to avoid conflict and killing people, and he defines his life entirely on how much good he can do, but he’s also grouchy, convinced he’s really a villain and an incorrigible lech.  He may not be as complex as his father, or as cool as the Boss (who is basically Captain America and the best character in the series), but he’s a sensible, heroic and interesting character.  He’s not a cipher, and that’s important, because many video game protagonists, especially ones that can trace their lineage all the way to the 8-bit era, have no real personality.

Character is something that Kojima gets.  Too many video game protagonists are flat, boring and just not engaging.  Part of this is based on some sort of desire to make them a cipher for the players, but this is a wrongheaded approach.  Snake is his own person, but by having a personality and by having his own character, it’s actually easier to get into his skin than most silent protagonists, at least in my view.  Link is about the only one, but only because I’ve developed my own personality for him, which is probably quite different than how Nintendo views him.  I like Snake, and I like Big Boss and Raiden and Otacon because they’re all very complex and interesting people.  They’re not just bad ass (and Otacon isn’t), but they’re people I want to know more about.  I actually don’t like that Snake had to die in 4, because I want to see him do more, although I understand that is where his character was going, so it works.  Just makes me sad, is all.

However, what Kojima is king of is gameplay.  Not only has this guy basically invented how we play stealth games, but he makes some of the most interesting game design elements I’ve ever seen.  First of all, each game has an amazing sniper duel, each one better than the last.  Sniper Wolf was great, but defending Emma from the Sons of Liberty was even better, and the End was even better than that.  Crying Wolf, while it had some bullshit elements that the End didn’t, was more challenging and dynamic than that.  Fighting Quiet was a bit of a step down, but fighting the Sniper Skulls was pretty neat.  Okay, maybe there were parts of the Phantom Pain that were not as well served by being open world, but even that worked better than I’ve seen.

The Phantom Pain is one of the best open world action games I’ve ever played.  There are very few games where I’ve actually had so many potential solutions to my problems.  It’s not just about approaching a base, or what weapons I’m using, but the whole map and mission also come into play.  It’s not just that I’m in that small village in the center of Afghanistan, but what am I doing or trying to get a hold of that alters how I approach the game.  It’s amazing, and nearly every one of the Metal Gear games is just like this.  The Phantom Pain may have perfected it, but all of the games are great, and pushed the boundaries of what it is video games should be.  It’s just, maybe there are a few too many cut scenes.

Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain. Part 3: Kaz says something melodramatic

Copyright Konami

Copyright Konami

Even with all the dumb twists at the end, and the Xenogears Disc 2 style problems of Chapter 2, which I have a hard time holding against the game itself, the Phantom Pain is easily the game of the year.  While it is certainly one of the best games I’ve played in the past decade, I also get the feeling it’s going to be several years, if ever, before I pick it up again.

Much like with Metal Gear Solid 3, I’m writing this as I finish the game.  However, because of the nature of Mission 46, I’m not really missing anything.  As a warning, however, I will be discussing spoilers for the game at the end of the article.  I’ll put up another warning, but it mostly has to do with the identity of one of the characters, which is only revealed at the end.  I’ll save the specifics for later, but I will say, it is bullshit, but it’s no more bullshit than the ending of Metal Gear Solid 2, so there we go.

Chapter 2 is not quite as good as the first two thirds of the game, and a lot of this comes down to the lack of story missions.  There are 20 missions in chapter 2, for a total 50 story missions throughout the game, but 12 of them are actually repeated, for a total of 8 new missions.  It is a let down, and the story is not nearly as interesting.  It doesn’t help that it’s clear where story missions got cut.  One of the “rescue the children” missions features an empty zone that’s normally crawling with Soviet soldiers, with only a handful of puppets showing up at the end.  It’s so obvious that something was meant to be there, but it got cut down and it means the game that we get is not the game that it clearly wants to be.

Still, though, it’s Metal Gear Solid V, the game that finally got the Metal Gear format down perfect, which makes the fact that it’s going to be the last real one, for years at least, pretty sad.  Even with the cut down story and less excellent, but still quite good, missions the game plays great.  Yes, chapter 2 is a step down from chapter 1, but that doesn’t mean the game suddenly became terrible as soon as Sahelanthropus got blown up.  There’s plenty to do, and plenty to see, and it’s a lot of fun.

At the same time, though, maybe it’s for the best, though.  Even early on in chapter 2, the game felt like it was starting to drag.  Maybe it was because of the lack of cool story missions, or the weird way side ops were handed out to the player, but the game was just going on forever.  I played for nearly 70 hours, just trying to get through the game, and I shudder to think how much more I would have to play through if the third planned chapter.  Of course, maybe if the game was completed, it would have more direction in the story, plus the rumored third area, might make things a bit more fun, since part of the reason I started to get bored was due to me infiltrating the same stuff over and over again.  That, or having one side op be on one side of Northern Afghanistan, and the only other one I had was 4,000 meters away on the other side of the map.  That wasn’t fun either.

The biggest issue with chapter 2 is the story.  There’s a bunch of stuff that goes unresolved, particularly the stuff with Eli, who just up and vanishes with a Metal Gear.  Instead, we get a bunch of stuff with Otacon’s dad, which is much less interesting, and just has him whining about a bunch of bullshit.  It also kind of feels like the game is building to one thing, and then it goes in another direction, making it difficult to really judge exactly what chapter 2 was supposed to be about.  In the rush to get the game completed, a bunch of plotlines show up, then get resolved, mostly in cut scenes.

In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like Metal Gear Solid 2’s storyline.  It’s weird, there’s a lot of things that come up, a bunch of dumb things that don’t go anywhere, with plot lines that don’t get resolved, and all of it seems to involve Otacon’s dad.  Also like Metal Gear Solid 2, everything else is pretty awesome, so it’s all kind of a wash.

Honestly, on the whole, it really isn’t that bad.  Like I said earlier, it’s a step down, and maybe cutting down a bit of it wasn’t so bad, since even by the end of chapter 1, the game was starting to drag.  The final boss, an entire armored column, wasn’t nearly as interesting as fighting a metal gear (and a lot harder because of the instant death attacks some of the tanks had), and it was clear they were starting to run out of ideas, but it’s still an amazing game, and is easily one of my favorites.

Except for one thing.  Unmarked spoilers from here on out.

Seriously.  Go away.  If you don’t want the truth of the game to be spoiled, don’t keep reading.

It’s only your fault if you follow, got it?

So, you’re not playing as Big Boss and that’s fucking stupid.  It’s not foreshadowed, at all, except for the beginning of the game, while you’re in the hospital.  Even then, when Big Boss shows up in the hospital, he seems more like Tyler Durden.  Other than this, there is no reference to this anywhere else in the game.  Sure, the game calls you Punished “Venom” Snake, but you’re never actually referred to as that, and the game really seems to feel like it’s Big Bosses’ corruption.  If it wasn’t for Kojima’s announcement stunt, hinting that the Phantom Pain wasn’t a Metal Gear game and was being developed by someone else, I’d say the opening and closing missions were dropped in as a final “fuck you” to Konami.

The worst part is, that in chapter 1, it almost feels like it’s trying to not do this.  Hell, the final cut scene of chapter 1, hints that you’re slowly being corrupted to being like Skull Face, who has a similar goal as Big Boss did in the original Metal Gear games.  Making it so you’re playing as the medic from the end of Ground Zeroes just makes it all feel weird.  It’s not really that much worse than Metal Gear Solid 2’s ending, I guess, but, still disappointing.  On the other hand, I’ll just ignore it.  The whole thing was Big Boss.  Venom Snake didn’t exist.  It’s better this way, I think.

Metal Gear Solid 5: the Phantom Pain. Part 2: We’ll stand on missing limbs

I'm not actually here yet.

Image copyright Konami

Kaz, I love you.  You’re my favorite.

So, unless this game decides to become a completely different game for Chapter 2, this is easily the game of the year.  It’s done nothing but improve and get better as I’ve gone on.  I’m aware Chapter 2 isn’t as good (and the story gets a little bit worse), but from what I’ve seen, it’s more like a Xenogears disc 2 thing, than anything I’ve actually read.  It kinda sucks that some of the missions get repeated, but not all of the story missions are repeats.

Had the game ended at Chapter 1, though, it would easily be the best Metal Gear game.  The way the chapter ends, with Big Boss and Diamond Dogs slowly turning into Outer Heaven, him finally being consumed and corrupted by war and vengeance.  It was a hell of a ride all the way through and to see it end, the way it did (no spoilers) was fantastic.  For once, Hideo Kojima allowed for some real character growth and genuine moments between his characters.  The friendship between Snake and Kaz is great and feels like the most natural relationship in the series, even more than Snake and Otacon.  Throwing Ocelot and his practicality and his ability to call Kaz on his melodramatic bullshit, adds a great dynamic to the conversation, since the whole game is dominated by the three of them.

One thing I really like is how the game is set up like a television show, with each chapter being a season of that show (and then it gets canceled halfway through season 2 of a planned three seasons).  At first, it was kind of jarring to start a mission, fly in with the helicopter and see the “Starring Punished ‘Venom’ Snake….etc.” stuff, then the missions ending with the credits.  I hadn’t experienced anything like that, and since I’m used to experiencing Metal Gear as a movie, the TV series set up felt different.  Not bad, but different.  Which is good, because it very quickly grew on me.  Towards the end, once I got Code Talker and had to take on Skull Face, as it led up to a “season finale” of sorts was really cool.  That season finale was a really awesome action packed climax that saw some of the coolest and most challenging battles I’ve done in a Metal Gear game, and of course, ended with me fighting a giant robot on foot.  Totally kick ass.

The level design does a good job of making chapter 1 feel like a complete game, too, which is nice.  While the battle with the armored Skulls reused an environment, all of the other season finale missions used new locales, lending to a very cool final level feel to the last few levels.  Sure, I could have gone to them before, but the game didn’t use them until I needed them, and even then, they were completely different with new enemies, vehicles and enemy layouts.  Sneaking into Skull Face’s base, where I got so far in, Quiet and the rest of Diamond Dogs couldn’t help me anymore was great.  Granted, the car ride was the kind of self indulgent Hideo Kojima stuff I’m used to in Metal Gear, but even that was surprisingly mild for a Metal Gear game, and then I got to fight Metal Gear Sahelanthropus with a bunch of homing missiles and a tank, so there’s that.

As I’ve mentioned before, the gameplay is sublime.  The open world really works for Metal Gear, and it’s probably the best open world I’ve played since either Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption, mostly because the Phantom Pain gets open world in the same way Skyrim and Red Dead did.  In this, I’m doing Metal Gear stuff all the time.  There are enough enemy guard posts and bases in each map, that even when the player has to travel from one end of Afghanistan to the other, there is no point where you don’t do stealth infiltration or combat.  That’s, of course, if the player decides to not just hop in a helicopter between every mission and side op, which means that there’s even more Metal Gearing than someone who decides to steal a truck and drive to the other end of the map.  By comparison, my second favorite game this year is the Witcher III, which is a great game, but I did spend a lot of time riding around on Roach.

That open world also gives a lot of different approaches to the missions, too, especially the side ops.  While I like to play it like a regular Metal Gear game, trying hard to get that Perfect Stealth, No Kills approach (which I’ve only managed a couple of times, unfortunately, I need to get better at scouting), it’s pretty easy to just drop a tank in with the mission and ride in with superior firepower and blow the shit out of everyone.  In one mission, I got caught pretty late, and fought my way through like it was a Gears of War game.  I was really disappointed with myself in not being a stealthy ninja, and my D score for that level, but at the same time, it was pretty satisfying to blow away Soviet soldiers while listening to 80s pop-rock.

The only thing I don’t like about the game is running Mother Base.  I’ve noticed a trend toward adding administrative work in games lately, as a means of making the player feel like they’re in charge and issuing orders.  Sometimes, it works pretty well.  I don’t actually mind the Assassin missions from Assassin’s Creed, and issuing orders to my mercenary buddies isn’t too bad.  However, reasearching tech trees, making sure I have the right guys in my various departments and building more platforms just to make sure I don’t hoard money.  I mean, I get it, but I don’t care.  I’d much rather be in charge of fighting Metal Gear, and let Kaz do all of my administrative work.  It’s not terrible and at least the game has a nice UI with the iDroid, but it’s still the only thing that takes me out of the game.

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. Part 1: The World Cries Out for Wetwork and We’ll Respond With Blood

This is not exactly the best box art

Kazuhira Miller is the most melodramatic dude in Metal Gear.  Like, seriously, he’s standing next to Ocelot of all people, and Ocelot is just like “hey man, cool it.”  I don’t know if Miller is my favorite character now, or my least, but I’m really, really enjoying it every time his paranoid ass pops up on the radio, or even better, in a cut scene and says something either totally over the top, or confessing his love for Snake.

Anyway, I think I’m about 20 hours into this game, and I’m still getting new stuff, so I’m not sure if “first impressions” is exactly what I’m talking about here.  At the same time, I’m only about 13 missions into the game, and I only got to Africa an hour ago, so it’s really hard to say what this is.  I haven’t even gotten weapon customization, I got mercenary teams just last night, and I’ve spent so much time in the deserts of northern Afghanistan that I think I know that map better than where I live.  I think I know it better than the Crazy Taxi levels, and I have those levels, along with the Offspring and Bad Religion songs from those games, carved directly into my brain.

Right, so, the game is amazing.  Like I said about Ground Zeroes, the gameplay is fantastic.  Since it’s the same game, just about everything about how the game plays is pretty much the same.  The Reaction thing when Snake gets caught might be a little longer, which is good, but I can’t think of anything else that’s different.  Now, while Ground Zeroes had an open map, it wasn’t exactly “open world.”  It was just one small base that Snake could travel around.  It was big, sure, but it was just one stage.  The Phantom Pain is open world.  Both of the maps are these big, large worlds with tons of stuff to do and places to go.  Also, unlike Grand Theft Auto, which is just filled with boring shit not involved with stealing cars or doing crime, everything that Snake can do here is involved with Metal Gear.

The set up here is different from any Metal Gear game, or really any game I’ve ever played, ever.  Each major mission is like an episode of a television show.  Snake gets dropped into a hot zone, has a mission to complete, and while getting briefed by Miller and Ocelot, credits play, like Snake, Miller and Ocelot are the main characters of a TV show (interestingly, so far, this is the only place where Big Boss is called Snake, other than the map, until I met Huey).  It’s kind of weird, and it’s very different.  I doesn’t feel like any other Metal Gear game, in that it’s several, much smaller missions instead of one super big mission, but  it all ties together well.

It works, for the most part.  It allows the game to be cut up into short, easy to play chunks, which means the player can get into the game on their own time.  That’s pretty nice.  At the same time, it feels like a lot of the game is spent getting into and out of helicopters, while waiting for it to land.  It’s especially annoying after doing this several missions in a row, since it’s the easiest way to get from one mission to the next.  Yes, a supply drop can fill up ammo and suppressors, but it’s not going to pick me up and take me to the next side op.

There’s a story here, and a lot of it is told through cassette tapes, but I feel like people exaggerated when they said there weren’t many cut scenes.  When I first came into it, I was expecting almost no cut scenes, and I guess that’s true from a Metal Gear standpoint.  This has cut scenes like a normal game, probably with a larger gameplay to cut scene ratio, since so much of the game is actually spent in the field.  The story is pretty standard Metal Gear.  It’s less goofy, though, and I don’t know how I feel about that.  I like the crazy elements of Metal Gear, but it’s been pretty normal until the Sahelanthropus showed up, and that’s sort of disappointing.  Queit can turn invisible, so that’s kinda neat.  I really like that.  Still, the story itself is pretty normal video game fare.  I like the characterization of Boss, Miller and Ocelot, and them slowly becoming more and more corrupted by their desire for their revenge.  That’s cool, but so far, there’s been something missing that is quintessential Metal Gear: the humor and weirdness.  I’m sure since I’m still only about 16% complete, it’s there, somewhere, but for now, I have to settle for everything Miller says.

The only thing I actively dislike is Mother Base.  I don’t want to farm dudes just to upgrade my guns.  I got enough of that crap from World of Warcraft.  That’s just boring.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes. Kept You Waiting, Huh?

I don't really have a lot to say here

Playing this game over the weekend was something of a revelation.  There is something defective about American action games that don’t star Nathan Drake, or a cartoon character.  Not counting the other Metal Gear Solid games I’ve spent the past 20 months or so playing, this is easily the best action game I’ve played in a very, very long time.  Like, this, along with last year’s Wolfenstein: the New Order are the best action games I’ve played in years.  I realized it while I was doing the helicopter extraction mission, where I have to rescue Hideo Kojima, and despite it easily being the most linear and limited of all of the Ground Zeroes missions, there were more ways to approach it than any Call of Duty game I’ve played.  Even the good ones made by the original Infinity Ward.

The main mission, Ground Zeroes, is the best one, obviously, since it uses the whole map, there’s multiple objectives and it’s also the least linear.  The story was pretty light, and I feel like I’ve missed a bit by having not played Peacewalker yet, but the game did a pretty good job of filling me in.  Even when I didn’t know anything about who I was rescuing, or why Kaz hated that girl so much, there was a sense of urgency and necessity set up just by the atmosphere and environment.  The prison camp, which is Guantanamo Bay, is small and filled with marines, tanks and all sorts of ordinance.  Plus, the indication that this has been turned into a CIA black site, without CIA authorization, makes it even scarier.  Yes, we know what Guantanamo Bay is today, but in 1975, it’s a whole different animal.

Gameplay is, of course, excellent.  Snake moves better than he ever has before, the controls work great and Snake can do more than he has ever been able to before.  Gunplay, in particular, is improved, taking cues from all sorts of American third-person shooters.  Snake’s arsenal is well varied, as usual, but stealth and non-lethal doesn’t have to be slow, provided the player is skilled at the game.  This is sort of a bid deal, since stealth and non-lethal have always had more in common with being slow and deliberate, and picking up the pace a bit has made the game’s tempo a lot more manageable.

That’s not to say there aren’t tense, deliberate sections, either, but that’s because the stealth here is masterful.  It’s rare that it feels like Snake gets caught because of some bullshit or magically appearing enemy.  The game gives the player plenty of warning if a soldier has seen Snake, and it straight up tells you what it’s going to do.  Even then, if Snake does get caught, time slows down to give the player some options to react to being caught.  It’s possible, for what feels like the first time (even though it really isn’t) that Snake can stay stealthy even when he gets caught.  It doesn’t make the player invincible, or remove any skill, but if the player does get good enough, it does mean that a skilled player will never get caught, even if they’re seen.

Which is sort of a big deal.  A lot of stealth games makes getting seen pretty much an instant game over, whether it literally becomes a game over, or it may as well, because the player character is so weak.  However, Metal Gear Solid games have always tried to shy away from that.  Make it so Snake can fight his way out, and it’s had some degrees of success with this.  In Ground Zeroes, and by extension, the Phantom Pain, which I started playing this afternoon, Snake has the most options when he gets caught, and it finally feels like the formula has been perfected.  Which is great.

Also great is how to approach missions.  Calling the game “open world” might be a stretch, since the map isn’t particularly big or anything, but there’s a lot of different ways to get from point A to point B, as well as different orders to approach the mission.  Ground Zeroes has Snake rescuing two of his operatives (or, well, one of his operatives and a double agent who might have become a triple agent), and either can be found in any order.  I’m fairly certain it actually changes the cut scenes a litttle bit, at least with Chico, but I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter.  What does matter, however, is that Snake can go anywhere in the mission area and do whatever he needs to in order to complete it.  Take out guards from long range, sneak up on them, blow through like it’s a Gears of War game, all of them are completely viable ways to make it through the game.  It’s awesome.

The biggest sin this game commits is that it’s short.  No, I don’t mean the main mission, which took me about an hour and forty minutes to beat on the first time, and I’ve seen completed in under four minutes on Youtube.  That is cool.  This is obviously just the Tanker or Vrituous Mission of the Phantom Pain, so it being short is fine.  No, what I’m talking about are the extra ops.  They all reuse the same map and assets as the main game, and there’s only a few of them.  I did all of them except Jamis Vu and Deja Vu, in about a weekend.  I don’t really care much about finding all of the XOF patches, or the cassette tapes, because I find that crap to be boring.  Sure, I do know the side ops have things I missed, and I’d like to go back and get them at some point, but for the most part, the extra stuff feels like padding.  I don’t care about the challenge modes or finding all the little doodads so I can play as a Raiden skin for half an hour.

Fortunately, I’ve already started on the Phantom Pain, and short doesn’t appear to be its problem.  We’ll see how the story fares up, but so far, it’s been light and kind of boring.  Ground Zeroes wasn’t much better on the story front, but it’s not supposed to be a full game.  I’ll see where the Phantom Pain goes and get back to this.

Honestly, I probably should have played Peacewalker before this, but I was impatient.  I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit of a let down…

Metal Gear Rising: Revengence. My Sword is Tool of Justice

God, I love Yoji Shinkawa art

But this sword, is not my sword!

Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, is one of my favorite games of all time, and is still my favorite Metal Gear game.  I’m going to be honest, I think Raiden is awesome, and that includes after I finally played Metal Gear Solid 2.  Yes, Snake is cooler, much cooler, actually, but Raiden isn’t bad, and his character arc has a lot going for him.  Plus, you know, you finally get a chance to become the cyborg ninja, and it’s even cooler than being Gray Fox could ever have been.

Revengence is probably one of the most metal games I’ve ever played.  Cutting through hordes of cyborg mercenaries to prevent children from becoming like Raiden is great, but the fact that Raiden just does not care about things like physics or “things that make sense” makes it even better.  Granted, it’s a pretty typical game from Plantium, going for style over substance and the complexity of the mechanics certainly don’t live up to the likes of the Devil May Cry or even other Metal Gear games, but Revengence manages to make the style of the game so cool, that the fact it’s relatively simple doesn’t matter.  The player gets to be Raiden and gets to do all that awesome stuff he did in the Metal Gear Solid 4 cut scenes.

Want to kill a whole platoon of dudes with your foot?  Go for it.  Murdering Gekkos in one strike?  Why not?  Picking up a Metal Gear Ray and throwing it across an African city?  That’s the second thing you do in the game.  At no point does it matter that mixing up moves is pointless, or that the whole game can be boiled down to a series of parries, followed by Zandatsu-ing everyone bad guy into as many pieces as possible.  The game is so cool that most of the limited mechanics can be overlooked.  Yeah, sure, the soldiers were basically not challenge against me, but killing three soldiers at once, with a single slice during Zandatsu is one of my proudest video game moments.

What’s really cool here is that Raiden gets to do all of the cool things (except running on walls as much) that he does in cut scenes.  If anything, the playing the game is even cooler than the cut scenes, since the developers were wise enough to restrict the cut scenes to just people giving the player context for why Raiden is going all Wolverine on everyone.  Plus the awesome metal/dubstep fusion music makes everything even cooler.

Sure, mechanically, the game is really simple, but it’s also very accessible.  This is a game more concerned with being cool than being complex, and it works here.  Raiden moves great, his animations look amazing, so even if the player doesn’t grasp all of the mechanics, at no point does Raiden look or feel like an amateur.  Also, the game is nice enough to give the player a more than one approach to each fight.  Yes, the game wants the players to run in, all berserker rage style and murder everyone with cool strikes and awesome Zandatsu cuts, but there’s also a limited stealth system that, while not fantastic, is still a lot of fun, and it ties in with the Zandatsu system, making the stealth really stylish, which is appropriate for a ninja game.

The biggest letdown in the game, though, is the story.  I’ve read some complaints that it ignores the ending of Metal Gear Solid 4, and that the world isn’t a better place, despite Snake’s best efforts, but that’s not true.  The War Economy is fading, the world is no longer controlled by the Patriots and life is returning to normal.  The world is no longer dependent on making war just to prop up failed states.  It is a better world.  At the same time, though, it does ignore a lot of the development Raiden got through the series, and he actually reverts back to being Jack the Ripper, which he was more afraid of than anything else.

Yes, his desire to fight for justice is inherently hypocritical, but Snake got him to understand that the hypocrisy doesn’t matter if he manages to help or save someone.  Of course, Snake is basically Captain America, just with Wolverine’s outlook on things, but he managed to get through to Raiden at the end of Guns of the Patriots.  Raiden isn’t ever going to be Snake, but he can become his own man.  Unfortunately, the game takes a rather negatively cynical look at that, and strips out any of the redeeming features of Raiden, and his arc ends with him accepting his own hypocrisy.  Not how in the way Snake does, but by essentially throwing his sake of redemption in the trash by deciding he’s going to keep killing.

It’s disappointing, in a lot of ways, since Metal Gear games aren’t supposed to be cynical or negative.  Yes, the world is a bleak, cyberpunk dystopia, to the point that Guns of the Patriots and Revengence are literally Shadowrun, but the point is that there are heroes, and they can make a difference.  Liquid Snake didn’t get to launch his nuke, the Patriots got defeated, and while the world may not have become what the Boss wanted, it’s on its way to her vision, now that the Patriots and Big Boss are dead.  To try and carry that on with a cynical depiction of Raiden really clashes with the rest of the game.  At least it doesn’t try to do the player punch from the first Metal Gear Solid, since it’s almost impossible to not kill anyone.

Although, I suppose, in this instance, I did like all the killing, Liquid, but you can still go fuck yourself you Max Sterling talking asshat.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not cynical.  At the end, Sunny says she thinks Raiden is a good guy, and does the right thing, so the game tries to have its cake and eat it too, but that doesn’t really work either.  I guess, the story really comes across as not really knowing what it’s trying to say about violence.  Guns of the Patriots did a good job of making its message work, that violence isn’t good or bad, it just is.  Here, the writers just aren’t sure how they feel.

At least the story doesn’t otherwise take itself seriously.  It’s funny that the main bad guy is Colorado Senator Steven “Totally Not Dick Cheny, nope, have no idea where anyone got that” Armstrong, and his plan makes just as little sense as Big Bosses’s world of constant warfare, and that fight might be one of the most awesome and insane boss fights I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  Plus, It Has To Be This Way is about the coolest boss music ever.

Anyway, yeah, the story is dumb, but whatever.  It’s an awesome, stylish action game.  Sure, it could use some extra depth, but it’s still completely rad, all the way through.

Also, just check out this boss music. Nothing is better.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Part 2: Naked Son

I love this art

I think that Metal Gear Solid 4 would be among the best games I’ve ever played, if I actually got to play it.  Like I said in my previous entry, this was the first time the game really made me feel like I was the legendary Solid Snake, thanks to the smooth controls and excellent stealth abilities.  I believe Hideo Kojima even said something to the effect about him finally being able to realize what he’s wanted to with the Playstation 3.  However, those cut scenes drag on and on, especially in the middle of the game, where they try to drop exposition about what happened between this and Snake Eater.

On one hand, I really understand that there’s a lot of ground to cover.  There’s a good 40 years of untold stories between the events of Snake Eater and Metal Gear, and when Guns of the Patriots came out, it was going to be the last game.  There wasn’t going to be a Phantom Pain and Peacewalker was uncertain, so trying to fill in the blanks between the games was super important.

Unfortunately, this has a real deleterious effect on the story.  By the nature of needing to fill in the gaps, most of the story is about the multiple conspiracies from throughout history finally going to war with each other after splintering apart because they didn’t understand the wishes of the Boss.  That’s cool, but because we the player, and by extension Solid Snake, have no idea about what is really going on, we have to get these giant exposition dumps about what’s going on.  So, while we finally get answers about who the Patriots are and what their actual goals are, and how those AIs play into it, those answers figure into the majority of the story.

Which leads to scenes where Snake meets up with someone, and they exposit at him until something happens.  The worst of it is in Europe, where EVA explains the formation of the Patriots for half an hour between gameplay sections.  It really doesn’t help that it looks like there was no editor to the cut scenes.  Things that would take a couple of seconds in a film can be stretched out to almost a minute long.  The worst might be the montage of American soldiers showing up on the Volta river (which is in Africa, so, okay, Kojima), which is a nearly minute long, and all they do is show up and point guns at Ocelot.  That’s something that should have been ten seconds, tops, if the editing had been fine, but it stretches out for nearly a minute and it seems like we get to see every soldier ready his weapon, every tank and vehicle show up and every helicopter pop into view.

Getting past the ridiculous length of the cut scenes or the over long exposition dumps, the story is actually pretty cool.  All of the different plot lines finally come to a head in this giant war with some really cool set pieces.  There are some plot lines that left me scratching my head, especially anything involving Naomi Hunter, since they just seem to not go anywhere, but for the most part, most of the plot lines are resolved in a pretty good manner.  However, that’s about the only good thing I can say about the story.  Things are told in the weird order, the structure is all over the place, and too much is saved towards the end.  While the scene with Big Boss was really good for Kojima finally giving a character a genuine moment (although Ocelot’s death and “you’re pretty good” might count too), it also only exists for him to show up, explain all the things that hadn’t been explained yet, then go home.  It comes down to this: the story is good, but the storytelling, from the editing to the structure, is just awful.  It might be the worst told story in Metal Gear history.

Gameplay wise, this game is fantastic.  Sneaking and combat are great, and I honestly didn’t think it could get any better than this until I played Ground Zeroes this morning.  Snake moves smoothly, and with a grace that he’s never had before.  It’s kind of ironic, considering how much the Patriots have destroyed his body, but everything about the controls are improved.  CQC is still a little janky, but Snake is more likely to do what I want with it here than he was in Snake Eater.

Combat is particularly fun here, especially thanks to some really good level design.  The wide variety of weapons and tactics available to the player is fantastic.  It’s great that lethal and non lethal approaches give plenty of variety to the player in how they can approach the scenario, and the actual map design means that there’s more than one approach to each section of each level.

The only downside, I think, is the structure of the different levels, or “acts,” because they seem to be too short and because they have too similar a rhythm.  Act one and act four are great, four in particular, since it manages to make reusing the Metal Gear Solid maps really clever in that it actually does something different, while also allowing the player to use their knowledge of the game to their advantage.  They’re also good, because they do their own thing.  Act Three might actually be the worst, though, since it’s just one over long sneaking section followed by an escape and a boss fight.  It doesn’t help that Europe’s sneaking is a really good idea, it just goes on forever, and it commits some of the worst sins in regards to video editing.

I feel like, since the gameplay is more a reason to funnel the player from cut scene to cut scene, the game gives the player more of a taste of what it could be, rather than being a full experience.  Europe could have been great, if following one guy through the whole map wasn’t eighty percent of the whole game, or if we actually got a chance to do that in another level.  Escaping from the Gekkos in South America, or hunting down Naomi after she gets captured, are more instances of the game just giving us a taste of what it could have been.

On the whole, Metal Gear Solid 4 was great, but I get why everyone says that 3 is the best.  Snake Eater may have had some weird controls, but all of the gameplay mechanics were used, used throughout the whole game, and the actual gameplay wasn’t just there to be a stopgap between cut scenes.  This is a game in serious need of an editor, half as many cut scenes and probably twice as many gameplay sections.