Art Imitates Life: MGSV:TPP & The Tragically Great Game
METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN has you playing as Big Boss, a.k.a. Ahab, a.k.a. V. a.k.a. Venom Snake, a.k.a. Punished Snake, a.k.a. Big PUN.
and it's an ambitious game, even for a metal gear, and before I go into it, I’m going to discuss the previous (only MGS, no love for MG and MG2) entries a little (for posterity and because I think it is interesting).
The first metal gear solid was a big shift in the gaming world. Games had previously attempted to have competent narratives but none with the same panache that metal gear used. A “simple” stealth game, metal gear had solid snake roaming about a terrorist filled base to stop terrorists from doing bad stuff to some important dudes. The story is simple in the most general terms but it’s the attention to strange detail and shift in tone that developed MGS’s cult following. Imagine having a codec conversation going into pseudo-scientific detail about some device snake was using only to be followed up by a telepath reading your “mind” (memory card) or an encounter with a urinating scientist. This strange amalgamation of detail and irreverence, while simultaneously modeling little details in the environment or easy to miss game systems, made MGS.
MGS 2 followed suit by doubling down on the intricate details, shooting a salt holder to see the individual grains fall out, and the contrasting ridiculous and self serious tone. The hype, controversy and meaning of MGS2 are far to complex to discuss here.
MGS3 added additional systems while adopting a slightly more grounded tone.
MGS4 capped out the ridiculousness by refusing to leave threads untied using any means possible while simultaneously introducing new ones. This caused a split reaction from the fan base.
Among these games two things are clear: The story and intricacies are a mainstay for the series. It has a unique tone. Not quite serious, while not quite funny; It sits in this sort of uncanny valley by utilizing both when it sees fit and is hardly ever gentle with plot devices and dues ex machina. Second the core game play is rather simple. The systems are complex in some of the most meaningless ways, which is what makes MGS unique, but the shooting and controls have always been a bit clunky. (MGS 4 was a step in the right direction)
MGSV:TPP is almost a polar opposite in regards to the Gameplay vs. Story ratio seen in previous metal gear games. (save for peace walker which is similar to this game in feel). The story is told mainly through tapes and cut scenes are few and far between. This was to be the story of Big Boss’s downfall. There was no way most MGS fans weren’t going to be disappointed with the handling of the story. It was an extreme departure from the cinematic cutscene bonanzas of old. Without spoiling anything the story is the weakest part of this game but.
The game play is fantastic. MGSV:TPP is MGS’s departure into a pseudo open world sandbox. The core loop is as follows: pick a mission, pick a load out, and complete the objective; rinse, repeat. The choice is what makes this really work. You have an immense combination of weapons, buddies, outfits, and stratagem at your disposal. Need to kill a general? Snipe him from the hill. Sneak into the base and slit his throat. Run into the base shirtless, guns blazing, taking out everyone you can. Throw sleeping grenades like a mad man until the base is filled with what appear to be narcoleptic Russians, then attach a balloon to them and have them join your side.
Most missions feature some kind of dynamic element which means if you do something slightly different or arrive at a different time, things might not be as you expected.
That general you had to take out? He’s taken off headed towards a chopper to leave the area. You hop in a jeep rocket launcher in hand. Wait.. there’s the chopper! You jump out and immediately unload rockets into the bird and barely complete your mission.
And the choices are driven by your choice of equipment. Throughout the game as you “recruit” soldiers you develop your base and research new items. The development of items really keeps momentum going by giving you a reason to go out of your ray for a cargo container or a case of resources. Your constantly collecting things, whether it be people, vehicles, or materials, and this is surprisingly fun.
But this would all mean nothing if the feel and controls were lackluster. But they’re superb. Shooting has never felt better in metal gear and is better in feel than most first person shooters. Switching weapons, lining up shots, diving, and moving about are all highly enjoyable. There’s an almost tactile nature to the way the gunplay feels; from the sounds of impact to the motions in combat. The stealth here is also just as great as it’s always been, even better in fact. Sneaking around in open areas while slowly being funneled into tighter spaces gives a good sense of escalation to the stealth. In addition to this enemy sight range is dramatically enlarged compared to previous metal gears.
And those metal gear details do appear in this new open world form. A tape of a man pooping that, when played in the outhouse, prevents enemy soldiers from looking inside. Using the cardboard box to attract lost soldiers, because of course the card board box contains big boss. Are soldiers speaking Afrikaans? You can’t understand them so you have to get a translator.
Everything about the game play just feels so… right. It’s hard to put into words. The combination of the feeling, the systems, and the presentation just create this masterpiece of a game. I feel there will never be a game like this ever again though I can’t truly say way. It is, perhaps, the mixing of metal gear madness with a truly sound game play loop that has been polished so it looks good but still shows some wear and tear that truly gives it a unique finish.
MGSV:TPP is one of the best games ever made. But, it is one of the weakest Metal gear games made for some. It doesn’t have quite the same tone and texture to it that made the previous games so unique. But, Spoiler/pontification zone
(this is my final statement after the spoiler zone so you wont risk it by scrolling through. ignore italic part if your going to read the spoiler zone)
With all this said, It’s hard for me to truly manifest my feelings towards this game in the written word. But, I can say at this point, it is one of my favorite games of all time. But, paradoxically, I still feel that MGS3 is my favorite "metal gear" game. MGSV:TPP is something truly unique while also feeling contemporary. In the most simple sense, it is something that be experienced.
SPOILER ZONE (YOU WILL GET WET)
It still has that irreverence towards player interest that MGS2 had. "You want the story of big bosses descent into madness? Here’s an explanation as to why big boss is alive in Metal Gear 2. That’s right were retconning a 26 year old MSX game. Hey! Look! An MSX! Get it? This is leading to the first metal gear which was on an MSX! Hey Your big boss, (were all big boss). Get it?"
The way the story ends up panning out is almost the most metal gear like thing that could be done. It seems to have a strong sense of love and nostalgia for the first metal gears, while simultaneously treating them and the MGS series in the most haphazard manner. It has a total disregard for what the fans wanted while also appearing to attempt a nostalgia play for those who loved the original metal gears rather than the metal gears solids. It introduces a new character only to kill him off to no effect, only then to reveal your playing a new character who was a medic in a helicopter from ground zeroes. why?
Its almost as if the game intended to anger players because… well, "you are big boss! you were lied to! No wonder he’s so mad! It's your decent! Don't you see!" It seems to drunkenly stumble into some type of terrible metaphor about player embodiment almost by accident. Whether or not this was intended in this way, I obviously can’t say. And it certainly doesn’t make up for the story and tone drawbacks. But, I really enjoyed how it worked out. It’s some kind of beautiful mess that can be interpreted in many ways. It’s a reflection of the madness that was the metal gear franchise in the most physical form, simultaneously manifested in a tragic story of a studio fighting against all odds in a company moving towards pachinko. The whole narrative in and out of game just works for me in some strange way in the end, in what seems to be the most accidentally work of poetry ever created by throwing paint at a moving canvas.
END OF THE SPOILER ZONE (YOU WILL NOT GET WET)
With all this said, It’s hard for me to truly manifest my feelings towards this game in the written word. But, I can say at this point, it is my favorite game of all time. But, paradoxically, I still feel that MGS3 is my favorite metal gear game. MGSV:TPP is something truly unique while also feeling somewhat normal. In the most simple sense it is something that be experienced.