November 2015 Archive

Metal Gear Solid V

Metal Gear Solid has always been, for me, a slightly baffling mixture of the ground-breaking, the mind-blowing, the absurd, and the head-scratchingly self-indulgent, and that’s perhaps never been so true as with this latest instalment, number 5 (though it feels more like number 20) The Phantom Pain.

Without doubt, there is a lot here that’s hugely impressive and overall it’s a compelling and rewarding game to play.  There’s a magnificent opening sequence as a horribly maimed Snake has to escape a hospital under attack from ruthless paramilitaries, a straitjacketed psychic apparition and an insane unkillable burning giant.  And that’s just the opening.  There’s a nicely realised open-world to explore, bags of different missions and content, strong AI from enemies whose co-ordination and equipment are constantly improving.  There’s a vast base to build and populate with captured soldiers and a giant and varied arsenal to research, develop, and intricately customise, allowing for a huge range of different playing styles and approaches.  It isn’t excessively clunky like some of the previous games have been either – once you’ve got the hang of it you find yourself sweeping through enemy guard-posts with the slickness and precision of a breeze in the night, spiriting their hapless crews away to serve among your private army and leaving no sign that you were ever even there…

But *heaves a heavy sigh* it wouldn’t be Metal Gear without plenty of frustrations. I know maverick auteur Hideo Kojima is one of the great maverick auteurs of the industry, and that’s really maverick and very auter-y, but the way that he insists on lavishly declaring his authorship of every individual mission, item and episode begins to smack of egomania.  You can virtually see his logo on every bush, his name written in the puffs of smoke that issue from Snake’s gun as he lays down suppressing fire.  If one signature per painting was good enough for Picasso I’m not sure Kojima needs too many more.

Then there’s the labyrinthine incoherence which has always been a bit of a Metal Gear hallmark. Thankfully, the video sequences aren’t quite the self-indulgent marathons they have been in the past, and no doubt there are a lot of cool visual touches, but overall characters range from flat to stereotyped and deliver a wash of incomprehensible babble.  I think I missed one or two, but I swear I’ve played most of the previous games right through and I still, right from the start, had not a clue who anyone was or what the hell was going on.  Something about a skull-faced guy holding the world to ransom with super-soldiers but also a plague of language-recognising deadly microbes?  Plus giant robots.  And nukes.  And if you should be as confused as I was, worry not, for the game supplies several hours worth of audio-cassettes in which indistinguishable tough-sounding bass-voiced guys will growl out a sequence of loosely-connected words that will confuse you even more.  In the same way that ‘We Will Rock You’ the musical tries desperately to drag into one narrative a set of songs by Queen that were never supposed to have anything in common, the plot here seems to be a kind of straining net-bag desperately holding together all the crazy ideas and cool shit they wanted to include.  It’s frustrating, because at times there are really powerful thematic ideas of the kind video games so rarely touch almost emerging – the Phantom Pain of lost limbs, but also of all the things these ruined men have lost to lives of violence.  Trouble is, deeper points about the evil of warfare are hamstrung by the obsession with the incredible coolness of military hardware (guns are evil, but they’re definitely less evil once you lovingly customise them with loads of cool shit), and pretensions of gritty realism are rather undermined by strangely quaint esoteric throwbacks like Snake hiding in camouflaged cardboard boxes or grabbing sentries by popping out of portaloos.

One more thing which looms tiresomely large over this game.  The fan service.  Dear god, the fan service is the most embarrassing I’ve seen maybe ever.  The only significant female character wears a bikini all the time. In a war zone. Cos she photosynthesises. So she has to. It’s literally STRIP OR DIE for her. And she can’t speak, cos she’s infected with a deadly voice-activated parasite. She’s a literal mute in a bikini. Sometimes stretching suggestively. In a helicopter. Why exactly the camera has to endlessly, tediously haunt her glistening boobs is not explained in game. BOOBS BY HIDEO KOJIMA. I mean, adult content? I’m all for it. Actual sex ? Knock yourself out. But this adolescent peeking at boobs stuff? And in a game which is, after all, 18 rated? Oh, Hideo, Hideo, I’d hoped we were past that…

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