Samuel Brace on Metal Gear Solid V and story vs gameplay…
It’s been seven long years since Metal Gear Solid 4, five since Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker — a game while magnificent, that is often forgotten about for its lack of a number — causing fans of the franchise to yearn for the next entry in Hideo Kojima’s espionage series of magical realism. Through all the trouble and drama between Kojima-san and his employer (developer Konami), the game finally released earlier this month and was met with critical applause, overwhelmingly so. The only detractors it seems come for its story and its sporadic nature, chopped up episodically and inserted between dense gameplay. In the eyes of a quite vocal set of fans, this inaccessibility is a big problem, but is it really? Did Kojima and Konami drop the ball on the main element that the series is known for in favour of implementing one for which it is not?
Well, the short answer to that is no. The ball was not dropped, Kojima instead just decided to give us two balls to play with instead of one. For the longest time Metal Gear has been championed for its deep if not sometimes confusing story, a story that spans fifty years or so, this is why fans have bought the game, to see what happens next, to get lost even further in the maze which Kojima has built. The phrase ‘great game’ could be at times one that is hard to label a Metal Gear game with, ‘great story’, ‘great experience’ but game? It’s of course subjective but for installments like Snake Eater and in particular Guns of the Patriots, the player would have to fight through the story, the immense and lengthy cut scenes, in order to get to some actual gameplay, gameplay which would then end — depending if you liked it — all to soon. Kojima took heat for this, and what he has created for us with Metal Gear Solid V is certainly a reaction to these criticisms.
This reaction however hasn’t ended up in a negative, less than product. Kojima just decided to make a ‘great game’ and not just a ‘great experience’. By cutting up the story of Big Boss, Kaz, Skull Face and Quiet, by spreading it over and in between thick, detailed and compelling gameplay, Kojima has produced something entirely new. The story is still there and in my opinion it’s a story that is intoxicating. I couldn’t stop thinking about the events of The Phantom Pain upon the stories completion. It was visceral, nuanced, haunting and at times heartbreaking. The problem is that this structure is a stark change from the Metal Gear norm. The Phantom Pain is not the game that fans are used to receiving from Kojima, and we all know how people hate change, especially when it comes to something they love so dearly. But if fans, if gamers, are willing to embrace this change in structure, to play through the incredibly dense gameplay (not exactly an arduous task), they will be rewarded by some incredible storytelling, by a tale that is fitting of the Metal Gear name.
Some have said — due to the cultural hive minds all-powerful influence — that what story there is to be found in The Phantom Pain, is ruined by the unfinished feel to the game, that Konami’s problems with Kojima have resulted in something half-baked and a story that is unresolved. Whether this is the case or not, if Kojima had something even grander and all-encompassing planned if it were not for behind the scenes events, doesn’t really matter. The character through line for Snake, the game’s protagonist, is a complete one. From start to finish this man goes on a journey, a hellish one, but one that leaves him a very different man from when he started. Considering that this game is not chronologically placed as the series last, that it is pretty much bang in the middle of this sprawling tale, means that there is of course more story to come. And sure certain elements of the tale are without resolve — something I have never had a problem with in movies or games, sometimes things just end — and perhaps they may not have been absent given a less rocky relationship between the games makers, but to say that this ruins the game, that the story is ‘bad’ or ‘disappointing’ because of it, is just ridiculous.
Fans of Metal Gear are fans of Kojima, they are not fans of Konami, and this is for many a reason but none more so than their apparent poor treatment of the director. This has undoubtedly caused in some circles a certain vitriol, a censorious attitude towards the game, knowing that this will be Kojima’s last, fans — rightly or wrongly — have decided that any short comings perceived by them or the hive mind that drives their opinions, is Konami’s fault. Knowing that Kojima may have been pushed out of the game, his influence on it depleted, they are therefore are using The Phantom Pain as a conduit for all their Konami hatred. Now, with what little information I and everyone else have about the rift between Kojima and Konami, I am still left upset by these events, as upset as everyone else. I love Metal Gear and if this means I won’t get more and that this is Konami’s fault, I can’t deny I bear a certain animosity towards them for it. But the difference is that it doesn’t inform my opinion of the game or more pertinently, the game’s story. When placed into the history of MGS events, The Phantom Pain adds an incredible new chapter to an already rich tale, a tale that now, largely because of this game, I am eager to consume all over again.
We all have to remember that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game, and taken as such, what Kojima has achieved is remarkable and if you have the patience and are willing to accept new ideas, you will be rewarded immensely by a rich story that is every bit as enthralling as chapters past. Is it as easy to consume as Metal Gear Solid 4? Perhaps not, but this doesn’t mean it’s less than. If you are willing to listen to the passing dialogue of Kaz and Ocelot, to play the tapes provided to you, the story is all there, you just have to be open to finding it. Is The Phantom Pain the game we were all expecting? No. Is it a deep and harrowing journey with the best gameplay that Kojima has ever produced? Absolutely. Everything can be better, everything can be improved, The Phantom Pain is no different, but what this game has unequivocally proved to be is a fitting end to the saga and an entry that I will not easily forget. I was affected by this game, the story contained within it impacted me, and I am definitely not the only one. Kojima sent us straight to hell, but this time he sent some gameplay along with us, and how can one be mad at that. So let’s cherish this game, it truly deserves it, despite people’s opinions on Konami and their unwillingness to embrace change.