Metal Gear Solid 5 : The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid 5 : The Phantom Pain is a truly excellent game in so many ways, yet there is something not quite right about it. love it in so many different ways, but I just don't love it in total.

Technically, the game is superb. It balances a bunch of different concepts and ideas superbly well and has a fully immersive world. Playing the game is often a joy where you plan, set up and execute a perfectly formed stealth take down of an entire base, without firing a single shot in anger. You will approach the base from the south, enjoying both the wonderful visuals, changeable weather and array of tools at your disposal. You'll even select your approach music accordingly from the array of great tracks available to you. You will probably order a buddy in to support you accordingly - I typically enjoyed using Quiet as a sniper scout.

The way the game plays - be it action or stealth - is always excellent. There is an enormous array of weapons tools and quite frankly, the level of flexibility offered to you would be overwhelming if the games interface wasn't so smartly designed. 

As you can tell, I love playing the game. Yet, there is more to a great game than it being technically excellent. There are three major problems that over-shaddow the game and they start - and end - with the narrative.

The story itself is not at all bad - in fact, by the usual metal gear solid standards, it is relatively easy to follow and quite interesting. The plot picks up where Ground Zero's left off and  explores a range of interesting themes -  the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the use of child soldiers and the effect of the war economy - interspersed with the typical MGS crazy plot elements of clones, huge armed mechs and telepathy empowered on fire psycopaths.

However,  the problem is that the main plot  as it is revealed through the mandatory parts of the game is relatively sparse and consequently hard to engage with. The game relies on the player playing numerous cassette tapes to fully explore the story. The problem with this mechanic is two-fold. Firstly,listening to the cassette tapes often gets in the way of doing actual missions - either because they shift your focus from what your actually doing or because some other voice over from the gameplay starts talking over the cassette tape. This is incredibly frustrating.

The second problem is related to the first - you're effectively left having to stand around listening to in-game audio files to explain key plot threads. This is a terrible way to engage with players - I never really felt motivated to do so for the simple reason that the bits of the game I wanted to play were there in front of me and listening to the cassettes either stopped me from doing so or distracted me to the point where it was pointless to play them in the background.

I applaud the attempt to find an innovative way of both making the game accessible and offering an alternative way to explore the narrative, but ultimately this design choice just did'nt work and left me feeling like i was forced to sit and listen to audio just to understand what the hell was going one when what i wanted to do was play the game.

The second major problem with the game is really simple. Post mission 31, the game offers 20 or so "post-game" missions. Around half of these offer you opportunities to gain XP and tie up some of the story threads, so no problem there. Half of them are repeat missions selected from the first 30, just made slightly harder. While I enjoyed a couple of these, the bottom line is that these felt like a lazy way to expand the games content rather than actual innovations. While not a problem in and of itself, needing to complete these to access the final missions in the game pissed me off a bit. That and the fact that most of them aren't terribly fun. I actually think that they would have been better off offering you the opportunity to play any mission at extreme difficulty or from the start without any gear, rather than picking a bunch at random and pegging them on the end of the game as part of the closing out of the game.

I am really not a fan of "repeat but harder" missions.

Finally, the other problem with the narrative is the sort of related to both of the above points. The game is so horrendously uneven in how the plot is revealed that you end up feeling like you're not quite sure what happened at the end of act 1. Having 30 "plot" missions where some have virtually no relevance at all to the plot interspersed with other missions that are crucial is annoying, but forgiveable. Spoiler alert - but having the main bad-guy die virtually out of nowhere after an uninspiring boss battle when half the plot threads are still hanging is both incredibly frustrating and unforgivable. It honestly felt like they decided half way through development that the games narrative was going to spread over 30 missions, rather than 50 and dumped the main "ending" into the point of the game that would be around 60% completion, rather than at the actual end of the game.

This really hurts the game - like I say, it is technically great, but all the wonderful stuff you can do in the game, including the cool stuff you can develop, the characters you can build relationships with and the missions you can do, totally lose impact, meaning and context when the main game plot abruptly ends and asks you do all this other really cool stuff in an open ended sandbox world rather than an inspiring, tense plot driven one.

And there, finally, is the problem. The game is so good in so many ways technically that it will always be fun to play, but I expect more from a Metal Gear Game - I don't just want to have fun with it, I want to really engage with the game, relate to the characters and explore the barmy plot, but doing so in a game where the actual narrative has ended just robs the experience of any deeper meaning or close relationship with the game experience.

Instead, the first two thirds of the game is the "metal gear experience", the last third is the "phantom" experience itself. Maybe they really were trying to tell us something in the title.

Lee

 

PS even though this is mainly about the stuff that drove me mad about the game, I'd still give it a 8 or 9 out of ten overall, but it could  have been so much more...

Other Games - A range I've completed over the years

February 16th 2013

Howdy,

I've actually just completed Jakes campaign in RE6 but given how infuriated I was by the end of it, I am going to hold back on commenting on it and instead, write about something that I have fond memories of. Instead, I've decided to post a list (hey, I love data...) of the games that I know I've completed over the years. I've grouped by consoles and its certainly not exhaustive, but it should give a feel for the games that I know I've finished across at least 3 consoles.  First up are my ps1 games...

PS1
Final Fantasy 7 - 
probably the greatest role playing game of all time. Not for its gameplay, but certainly for its plot, characters and iconic status as one of the genre and console defining games of its era. I've completed it at least 4 times, start to finish and only have fond memories of it. Finest Moment - the moment where you realise, 20 hrs in, that you've only realised that you've scratched the surface of the depth of the game - there really is so much more than meets the eye to the game and only investing a significant amount of time over multiple playthroughs allows you to discover it. (9.5/10)

Final Fantasy 9 - Skipping FF8's rather irritating main character and instead presenting both a plot and cast that even the most hardened JRPG hater could enjoy, here you have a game where the emphasis is on a return to the series roots blended with a real sense of fun and genuine humour. While both FF9 and FF7 have similar plots, FF9 deals the cards, literally on occasions, with a sense of fun and genuine humour that only endears you to its cast. Of course, FF7 holds classic status, but in its own way, FF9 is also a true classic with a great combat system, grand scope and sense of adventure that can be missing from its rather more revered predecessor. Finest Moment - 5 minutes in, when you first see Zidane as a playful rogue and realise that the game aims to maintain the moral complexity and retain the drama associated with previous FF games, without a melancholy leading man. (9/10)

Gran Turismo - the first game i truly grinded through to complete. It took me 8 years, but i got my B, A and A international licence and won every tournament you could. A truly legendary racing game that was more than just a racing game - it was the real driving simulator and ahead of its time. Finest Moment - I defy anyone to watch a GT reply on the PS1 for the first time and not feel astonished. It was the first atempt at not just recreating lifelike racing, but also lifelife spectating on the racing. Bold, ambitious and beautiful, (9/10)

Metal Gear Solid - Not really just a game, probably the first attempt at blending a game and a movie. Sure, the polygon count is a bit too low to make it believable, but the ambition of the game means you forgive so much - including the short time to complete - because it was so enjoyable while it lasted. The game paid homage to its predecessors but did what they couldnt in creating a spy thriller packed with great story and fantastic game play. Finest Moment - There are to many to name, but for me one memory stands out, and its not really one moment. Its the perfect realisation of the character delivered through David Hayters voice acting. (9.5/10)

Resident Evil - Of course, its not the first survival horror game, but having played it recently, I can say that it definitely stands the test of time. The sense of horror, drama and, dare I say it, realism, defined a genre. Its not that the game is realistic per se, but RE tried to create a sense of horror and tension through starving characters of ammo and resources, just as could easily happen. Finest Moment - the hilarious voice acting aside, the game is best remembered for the Mansion Itself - even by todays standards a truly haunting location with superb art and design(9/10)

Resident Evil 2 - Technically a better game than RE1, but it was probably the game that first instigated the series moving in a different direction. What I loved about RE2 was the retention of the horror setting but it upped the ante in terms of action and scale. Finest Moment - the introduction of Leon - what a great character and all around badass. He was more fully developed than the RE1 characters and went on to become a series stalwart. (9/10)

Resident Evil 3 - To be really honest I dont recall much of this game save for the mixing of gunpowder to make some pretty cool ammunition and the Nemesis monster, but it was the last RE game on the PS1 and I have nothing but fond memories of those games. While it was undoubtedly inferior to RE1 and RE2, it at least broadened the sense of terror by moving you into the city and out of the mansion, making it more of a sideways step, rather than a step forward. Finest Moment - Again, I dont remember this particulary well, but defeating the Nemesis sure felt satisfying... at least i recall the sense of satisfaction, if not the battle. (8/10)

Silent Hill - Probably the greatest survival horror game of all time. The convoluted plot, the town to explore and ongoing sense of terror and dread make this as close to a complete horror game on the PS1 as you can get. It had equal measure of puzzle solving, terror and action and Konami delivered a game that was both ahead of its time and trend setting. SH2 and 3 merely built on the fantastic platform SH1 developed. Finest Moment - the fog; an ingenious use of the consoles limitations to improve the experience, rather than limit it. (9/10)

Tenchu - a genuine attempt to deliver 3D stealth based action in a historic setting. Where MGS was all about the plot and characters, Tenchu gave you much more in some respects - large and sprawling environments, a historical setting and varied range of misions and enemies. I loved this game, as much for its realisation of medieval japan as the downright great gameplay itself. Finest Moment - the ending has a genuine heart wrenching moment, but the fact that the game is both difficult and rewarding means that the games setting itself is the finest moment, rather than any standout set piece in particular. Taking a limited console such as the PS1 and bringing medieval Japan to life makes this an all around classic. (9/10)


So there you have it - some of my classic PS1 experiences, I am sure that i have completed more, but the console itself really did punch above its weight, mainly because it had a long lifespan and many creative developers. One of the finest points that proves this is of course that SIlent Hill actually used the limitations to its advantage, but other games werent limited by the console, rather they made the console much more than what it was. It could have been just a games console, instead games like FF7, Gran Turisimo and even RE1 and 2 showed the public that cinematic experiences could become interactive, and not just observational.

DD