Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Metal Gear Solid 4 (and a bit of MGS2)
I was wrong about something once. There, I'll never use that sentence again.
I'm referring to the fact that once upon a time, I distinctly remember myself referring to Metal Gear Solid 4 as "the greatest game ever made." I now look back on that unfortunate period of my life in the same way that most people look back on the years they spent wearing all black, listening exclusively to Marilyn Manson and being a bit rude to their probably very nice parents. Metal Gear Solid 4 is not the greatest game ever made. It's not bad, but it's far from great.
The funny thing is, when looked at solely from a gameplay perspective, MGS4 is pretty decent. Notice the absence of words like "innovative" "spectacular" and "unique" from that last sentence, words which have all been used extensively to describe previous Metal Gear Solid titles. A very under-discussed aspect of this game is just how much of a departure the gameplay is from previous MGS games, as rather than using the traditional fixed camera angles and control sceme established by earlier games, MGS4 favours a far more generic, over the shoulder 3rd person presentation, more akin to Gears of War-style action game. Similarly, the gameplay itself is far more action based than it has ever been before; the game offers some illusions to a focus on stealth, with the inclusion of a drum can and the ever-present cardboard box to hide in, but this is somewhat undermined, in the same way that a forehead Swastika tattoo would undermine your insistence that you don't mind Jewish people, by the massive arsenal of weaponry with purchaseable ammo that's made available pretty much right from the start. This means that the game falls into the same trap as 99% of all stealth games by not making the stealth mandatory, or making it an even remotely attractive option to anyone who doesn't give a fuck about PSN trophies.
The other core features of gameplay read like a checklist of generic modern AAA action gaming. Act-based structure - check. Aforementioned massive arsenal of overcompensatory firepower with virtually infinite ammo - check. Straightforward action story (or as straightforward as Kojima was ever going to manage) - check. In fact, it could be said that very little about this game is unique. I suppose the boss fight structure could be considered unique, you fight a boss with some kind of special power, then fight their weaker, feminine form, then hear their tragic backstory. This is fairly unique, until they repeat it 4 times, taking the innovation out back and putting a shotgun bullet between its eyes, the post-fight explanations of their tragic childhoods become particularly tiresome given the fact that they're barely characterised, making their admittedly horrific stories impossible to care about. Even the individual elements of the boss fights are copied from old Metal Gear games, and it's certainly not to serve an intricate plot as the repetition of older elements in MGS2 was. One boss has stealth camoflague, one you fight in a snowfield, one has psychic powers, oh come on!
And all of this is when you're even allowed to play the game! Much is made of the fact that the series contains a ratio of cutscenes to gameplay in uncomfortable favour of the former, and any hopes of change are quickly dashed with the fact you could get in a cup of tea, a hearty English breakfast and a decent length wank before you're even allowed to control Snake. So it's fairly clear that, in gameplay terms, Kojima is taking litres of the piss in this game.
But you know what, I think that was intentional. I'll be discussing this in more detail later on but essentially, after Metal Gear Solid 2, fans were unhappy with series focus on more serious topics, especially after the blockbuster Hollywood style of the original Metal Gear Solid, and demanded a return to this style, and by demanded I mean "threatened to kill Kojima if he didn't." So what essentially happened with MGS4 is Kojima thought, "They want generic action? I'll give them the most generic of all the generic action!" and made a game adhering to all of the modern action gaming stereotypes. It's the videogame equivalent of a child's tantrum, like serving your dinner guests rib-eye steak, only to have them all throw the steak away and demand Spam. So you serve them out of date Lidl value Spam, and they love that even more, if the near universal perfect review scores for this game are anything to go by. But you know what, sometimes Spam is okay. I occassionally enjoy Call of Duty as much as the next guy, and this is a succesful world-renowned game developer we're talking about, so even his metaphorical cock-slaps are still fairly fun to play.
So the gameplay is not a total dealbreaker. No, what I really have a problem with, what makes me feel that the game has absolutely no right to exist, is the story.
The main plot can be fairly simply summarised: Bad guy wants to destroy world, you stop him. Not horrible in itself, and that's not where my grievances lie, this would be fine as a stand alone game. No, most of my problems with the story of MGS4 come from the fact that it's essentially a sequel to MGS2. Now, anyone who's played and genuinely understood the story of MGS2 should understand that this in itself is a fucking ludicrous idea. In my opinion, and the general opinion of informed Metal Gear fans, MGS2 was never meant to be taken as a series of real events. Hell, it was unclear before the release of MGS4 whether or not the events actually happened; the abundance of postmodern themes in the game has lead people to theorise that the story took place in a dream or a VR simulation. Not saying I agree with this either way, but the main point of such theories is probably to suggest that the frankly ridiculous events should not be taken literally, and more that the story is more of a vehicle for it's messages and themes rather than concrete events. I'd compare it more to something like Silent Hill 2 than the first Metal Gear Solid, the events are similarly disjointed and nonsensical but they don't matter, as the themes of MGS2, much like the symoblism in Silent Hill 2, are far more important than the individual events.
The real problem I have with MGS4's story is that it took events that were never meant to be taken literally and canonised them, making it so that every single inexplicable ludicrous event in MGS2 happened in real life, exactly as it was seen. Oh dear.
I'm trying my best not to sound like a massive hipster bellend but frankly, 99% of people who played MGS2 just didn't get it. They took the events at face value, and to be fair, when you take that view of the story then all of the criticism of it being poorly constructed and nonsensical becomes completely valid. This is obviously the wrong way to look at the game, but the problem in this case is that if enough fans hold the same viewpoint towards something, it usually becomes accepted as the truth, no matter how incorrect it may be. And the widespread face value evaluation of the plot of MGS2 becoming the accepted one, coupled with the fact that Kojima recieved death threats to make a sequel to MGS2, means that we have a developer making a sequel to game he never wanted to sequelise based on an incorrect interpretation of his own fucking story. Think about that, for a second. I couldn't make this shit up if I tried. No wonder he chose to bore you all to tears with hours of pointless cutscenes in MGS4, you fucking deserve no less.
So it's a game made for the fans. In fact, everything about this game feels about as fanservicey as 2 KPop stars penetrating each other on stage. Literally every member of the MGS cast comes back to make an appearance, no matter how token and pointless it may be. I mean, seriously, was anyone losing sleep at night because they didn't learn of Mei Ling's eventual fate? Her character in particular feels as if she's had a role invented for her just so she can appear, looking like some kind of supermodel as all female characters in current generation action games must by law. And on that topic, it seems Kojima was truly devoted to his AAA checklist with the entirely irrelevant shoehorning in of a sex scene between Naomi and Otacon and a romance subplot between Merly and Johnny aka. the guy who shits himself, yeah they even had to try and make him cool. Not to mention Raiden performing a vast array of amazing stunts despite his ever decreasing limb count, a meme which almost feels like an ironic apology for making him a pussy in MGS2, as if to say "You didn't like Raiden in MGS2? Fine, now he's a cool ninja! Happy, you shallow-minded bellfucks!?" It's a good thing that all of this is most likely a simple satire of Hollywood action movies, because Kojima would lose major cred with me if he expects anyone to take this shit seriously.
It's no surprise that trying to make sense of all the bullshit that came before this game is very difficult, and trying to get any kind of resolution of out it is even worse. I've watched the ending cutscenes multiple times and it really is very easy to lose the will to care about the story towards the end. What I do understand is the fact that, right to the end, the game is straining to please the fans, allowing them control Metal Gear REX and including a final fistfight reminiscent of Liquid and Solid's iconic encounter in MGS1, complete with a medley of various Metal Gear themes, just screams of nostalgic fanservice, basically shouting "Remember this? Remember when this series was good and I made games for fun and not to avoid car bombs!?" Predictably, the ending itself is almost 4 hours too long and includes a myriad of plot twists that would confuse M Night Shyamalan, leading to the inevitable happy ending, Snake saves the world, every single loose thread or shred of intrigue that ever made the series interesting is tied up in waves and waves of exposition and everyone lives happily ever after. Which is what everyone wanted, right?
So yeah, shallow but generally enjoyable gameplay, what little there is of it, anyway. So if that's enough then enjoy! However, if you're a fan of the original Metal Gear Solid games then you should find everything about the story massively offensive and a total piss take. But hey, shooty guns fun wahey!