When Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain came out, I don’t think anyone had any doubts that the game would be good. When I wrote my review for the game, I came out of it loving the game, but also having some issues with the game, but now having played the game for nearly over hundred’s of hours over the course of 2 months, the only question that I, and probably many others is the question of whether Metal Gear Solid V is actually a great game, or more of a disappointment than we thought.
While the gameplay itself is very good overall and in itself a good reason to play the game, over the course of playing it there were definitely things that I couldn’t help but shake the feeling had things that were less than the sum of its parts. The Metal Gear series is well known for having one of the most intriguing and entertaining story lines in gaming. The first Metal Gear Solid helped change how people view video games as a whole, making people see games as more than just fun; whether that’s for better or for worse is up to interpretation, but needless to say, it inspired a wave of imitators trying their hand in making cinematic games a prominent formula in the video game industry.
Metal Gear Solid V on the other hand was an exception where the story was obviously not as important than the gameplay, almost to a fault. While many, including myself praised the game for being an actual game in this installment, it threw away a lot of what made the Metal Gear series so memorable, which was it’s narrative. While that’s not to say that the game doesn’t have any narrative, or story at all, the way it’s presented is very impersonal and very disjointed from the game. It’s funny how while most of the story that happens in the form of the cassette tapes, was designed as a way to avoid wasting the players time and to be in the action for most of the game, It instead makes me think the team at Kojima Productions, just to avoid the problem Metal Gear Solid 4 had in terms of way too much cutscenes, forgot the purpose of why they were there at all in previous games to begin with.
For example, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the cutscenes in terms of game design weren’t just there to frame the story’s narrative, it was there to give the player some very much needed “quiet time”. You wonder why after fighting Revolver Ocelot you are thrust into a dark cave searching for a way out with nothing trying to kill you, or the infamous ladder climb in which for nearly two minutes you are stuck climbing a very long ladder to the vocals of the theme song in the background after your sniper duel with The End… that’s quiet time. It’s a way to give the player some much needed breathing room in order to prepare themselves mentally for the next time you encounter the enemy.
Metal Gear Solid V however doesn’t do this. It’s goes to show how overwhelmingly little story is in this game when most if not all of the cutscenes are in all of the trailers released before the game even launched, and I know what some are going to say to me as a rebuttal, listen to the cassette tapes for that right? Well here’s my problem with that argument, the story in the game itself is not interesting enough for me to want to listen to them.
That’s almost like telling people if you want to enjoy the story to Destiny, to read the Grimoire cards to understand what’s going on, and almost everyone who has played that game criticized it for that. Could you imagine how much worse The Witcher games would be if the game expected you to read all the books to understand or even care about what’s going on? Very, very, much is my answer.
The Witcher series is a great example of how to make out of game narrative not only interesting, but entertaining and compelling. The Witcher games have such a compelling narrative, lore, and world built withing the games themselves that is on it’s own expertly told, that reading the books is more akin to putting icing on a very well baked cake, in fact if you were to read the books, certain characters and events, would have more context to the players who read the books than those who didn’t, making the player feel more involved in the story, and it’s rewarding.
MGS V’s cassette tapes are just a mess however. It’s funny, cause as close the game is designed to mimic more of Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker’s game design structure, the Story, Cassette tapes, and Side Ops are what the game get’s totally wrong. The story in Peace Walker, as short as it is, is more fulfilling and has more interesting characters and arcs that the current game does not. Instead of Hot Coldman using Peace Walker to prove Deterrence Theory is effectual, Instead Skull Face is using vocal parasites to kill off anyone that uses any other language than his own… because? Why? No really why? It’s never explained.
“it’s like someone replaced the icing with poop.”
The Cassette tapes in Peace Walker while added additional context to characters and events, the tapes in the game was optional to listen to, and were not necessary to understand what was going on within the story and was more icing on the cake for those who desired it, instead in Metal Gear Solid V-The Phantom Pain it’s like someone replaced the icing with poop.
Instead of fun side ops that involve capturing photos of ghosts, going on a date at the beach with Paz or Kaz, or fight freaking monsters on an Island! Instead you are rescuing prisoners from various bases and outposts that tend to send you to places you’ve been to before, clearing mines in a field in the middle of nowhere for seemingly no purpose, or just killing enemy armor units at random outposts…again, for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, Peace Walker certainly had some of these issues as well, but not to this extreme.
Even the secret endings to both games are night and day, one is an actually well done surprise, that re-contextualizes certain events and even gives you a new boss battle that is pretty good, whereas V just makes a new mission just appear in your mission list, re-contextualizing the prologue which doesn’t explain why you would suddenly just remember things differently, only to play the tutorial a second time, only to find out that the game lied to you this whole time.
While I think the true ending is kinda genius in Metal Gear Solid V giving new context to the very first Metal Gear game on the MSX2, it also is insulting to the player essentially re-telling a theme that was done in a previous Metal Gear game before it, and I would argue it was done better there.
Overall MGSV, is less than the sum of it’s parts. While the game is still fun and I had a blast playing the game and is probably one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played, as a person who loves the Metal Gear Solid games, it’s a disappointing sequel. While people want to point the finger at Konami for cut content that came to light awhile ago through a pre-order bonus Blu-ray disc included in the Collector’s edition, or just want to lay the blame at Konami’s feet for having a disappointing story, ultimately that doesn’t matter. What we got, is what we got, and unfortunately this is how the Metal Gear series decided to end… not with a bang, but a whimper… and that’s sad.