The title of this post is slightly misleading. I’m actually about halfway through Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (MGS5), but only decided recently to start recording my thoughts on games. To call this post Part One and assume that I’m at the beginning may be a little confusing, so forgive me. I have actually just completed “Chapter One”/ Mission 31. I have so many thoughts on this huge “magnum-opus” of a game from the brilliant mind of Hideo Kojima.
I really don’t know how I feel about this game. I’m very conflicted. Perhaps part of my problem is that I’ve been playing the game on and off for a couple of months now, never really devoting my time to completing it. I want to do everything in the game, but other games and adult-duties call out to me and drag me away.
Before starting MGS5 I avoided all articles and stories about the game so as not to ruin anything about it. I knew of Kojima’s tumultuous final months with Konami and that that may bear some affect on the final product. I also read reviews of course. I otherwise tried my best to insulate myself from any and all spoilers so as to fully enjoy Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear Solid game. Perhaps this was part of the problem leading to my mixed emotions; I didn’t allow myself to learn that the game was going to be a mixed bag. I knew of course from reviews and trailers that it wouldn’t be what I was expecting–Kojima is always subverting the audience’s expectations–but I still couldn’t help but build up expectations and dismiss my concerns.
Let’s get into my mixed feelings on this game: excitement, confusion, bafflement, awe, joy, disappointment, and fun. The opening sequence was incredibly impressive and set the tone for what seemed to be another cinematic pseudo-philosophical/psychological espionage-action game in the Metal Gear franchise. Ground Zeroes and the opening of The Phantom Pain (set nine years later!) set the stage with a lot of action and drama and immediately hooked me. I wanted revenge. I wanted to build up Mother Base. I wanted to see if and how this game would inevitably lead up to Metal Gear Solid; a fantastic technological and narrative carousel which let us on in 1998, spinning forwards and backwards to 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010; lifting us up and down throughout the series until finally letting us off in 2014/15 with Metal Gear Solid 5 taking place before we even got on. I am a huge fan of the Metal Gear franchise, and to say the least, I was excited for the final installment. I was surprised once I was given access to the Aerial Command Center and realized that the game would take place through individual missions. I remembered that Peace Walker also had a strange gameplay system in place compared to numbered entries in the series and I eventually loved playing that game. Perhaps this method of progression would grow on me as well. However, as I continued to play, I didn’t like the story being constantly broken up between each “mission”. I feel like it breaks up the pacing and continuity (for lack of a better word). Now perhaps this is because I played the game on and off as I said earlier. The side missions were a good way for me to build up GMP (in game currency), troops, and experience in order to develop new weapons and equipment, but perhaps playing these also breaks up the storyline. I really enjoy completing all the side missions, and I understand that with the large areas that make up the game you need separate missions to break it up, I just don’t like the main story to be unnecessarily broken up into so many pieces. I also have a problem with the constant roll of credits.
The opening and ending credits for each mission are a bit much in my opinion (I love Hideo Kojima, but I don’t need to see his name on the screen 100 times every time I play). Not only that, but the opening credits usually list who and what you’re going to be seeing in said mission! The credits “spoil” the mission by telling you you’re going to be fighting The Man on Fire, The Skull Brigade, Russian X-210 Chopper, etc. Hideo Kojima so obviously wanted to be or wants to be a film director or wants to blend film and game directing (admirable and welcome), but I find it slightly annoying and heavy-handed in MGS5. Speaking of an overzealous director, can we talk about all the gratuitous, confusing, and over-dramatic camera work? Every single cut-scene is rife with odd angles, extremely dramatic close-ups, and oh-so-many lens flares(!); all of which are accompanied by high pitched whines and buzzing sound effects that tell you: PAY ATTENTION. Metal Gear has always been steeped in its own egocentric sense of “cool”. Not to say I don’t enjoy just how cool or badass the series has been over the years, but the camera work borders on cheesy and over-the-top a good amount of the time. It gets in its own way. I can’t help but imagine a (very-good) young film student being given their first professional high-grade camera and an infinite budget and just going to town trying every and all possible “cool” techniques. Sometimes the camera work is awesome and conveys the seriousness and grand scale of the game, but more of the time I find myself rolling my eyes at the umpteenth lens flare off of someone’s glasses or sunglasses.
Having just completed “Chapter One”, I’m still not sure about the story and its characters. The story so far is just sort of…strange. I don’t feel like it’s gone anywhere. I like that as Snake I am rebuilding Mother Base from the ground-up (or should that be from the sea-up?). I feel like Kazuhira Miller is just a little too hell-bent on revenge and is all-consuming rage is getting slightly old. I also don’t trust him for some reason. Perhaps it’s because of his constant rage and distrust of others. It could also have to do with Master Miller from MGS1. I’ve infiltrated dozens of enemy encampments and compounds and even solved the mystery of a virus that was producing hundreds of dead bodies. I’m still no closer however to the mystery of the Man on Fire, or the little red-headed psychic girl (?), or the Skulls.
With all that said, I love playing this game. It has one of the best game engines I’ve ever experienced. The controls are spot on and precise, the graphics are “next-gen”, and the game world is huge. The play mechanics are so fun that although many missions are essentially the same thing over and over, only increasing in difficulty, I can’t stop thinking about playing. The Phantom Pain deviates from the MGS formula so much so that it’s jarring, yet grounded in the MGS series’ basic mechanics that it isn’t unfamiliar and keeps you coming back for more. I seriously can’t stop thinking about this game once I turn it off.
This isn’t meant so much as a review — even though it’s beginning to seem so — but as an expression of all the thoughts swirling through my head as I play. Putting these mixed feelings down into word is the only thing helping me wrap my head around it. I simply love the gameplay, the graphics, and the mythos of Metal Gear, but am having trouble with the story and overall direction of the game. I want to see how things pan out in “Chapter 2”, which I plan to play through more consistently. I hope to have much better things to say by game’s end.
(Thanks for bearing with my unbridled rambling).