This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
I think it's fair to say that all bets were right the fuck off when it came to The Phantom Pain, even more than they usually are with Hideo Kojima (a.k.a. Hideo "Sure I know what tone is; it's the sound made by the little bell that the nice men in white coats say I have to wear" Kojima). Because of course, Konami recently decided they're going to take everything they've built over the years as a game developer, arrange it nicely in front of them and then pick up a big hammer and smash and smash and smash and smash and smash. "Sorry we had to cancel Silent Hills but we kind of lost our interest in it around the same time we lost our fucking miiiiiinds! Here, have a pachinko machine instead. We like pachinko machines, 'cause it's nice to have something around that has some fucking balls! Also, fuck off, Hideo Kojima, you're too reliably bankable for our liking. We'd much rather stick our feet up our arse and bounce down the stairs making burbling noises with our lips! BBBBBBBB..."
Although Phantom Pain doesn't seem to have gotten the memo, 'cause Hideo Kojima's name is all over it, to a frankly quite psychotic degree. Christ knows why every individual mission has to have its own credit sequence unless Hideo's worried we've all got short-term memory loss. I know you're the director, Hideo; there's a mentally damaged woman over there with her tits hanging out, of course it's by you.
So I'd normally recap the plot of the Metal Gear Solid series at this point, but sadly I've mislaid my magic hammer with which I would normally beat myself about the head eight or nine times before I made the attempt. So let's just say that at the end of Ground Zeroes, Naked Big Snake Boss Man or whatever his name is got blown apart by the amazing exploding vagina. He wakes up from a coma nine years later just as the forces of the evil Cipher track him down and send a man made of fire and a ghost toddler to blow him up. (Has the magic hammer turned up yet? I'm starting to think this sounds weird!) But he escapes and sets about getting his private army back together while pursuing revenge against the villainous Skullface, who you'll remember is the guy with a skull face. But now he's wearing a Lone Ranger mask too, 'cause he didn't want people thinking the skull face was his only thing.
So Phantom Pain is another addition to the series with "Tactical Espionage Operations" awkwardly stapled on as the sub-subtitle rather than "Tactical Espionage Action", because there's a base management element. How that works is that Big Boss is so legendary that every enemy soldier in the game secretly longs to be his personal beard-comber. Not so legendary that any of them will recognise him on sight. I mean, you could be any old stealth operative with an eyepatch and beard that look like they came from a child's pirate costume. But if you can overpower them and attach them to a balloon that rockets them into the sky (which, incidentally, is totally not how the Fulton Recovery System works; I think Hideo only got ten words into the Wikipedia page before he got overexcited), then enemy soldiers will happily join your base crew as soon as they've picked the albatross out of their teeth.
I like this mechanic, and not just because it's completely hilarious. When you're mashing genres together like the breast inspector at the RealDoll factory, then ideally the stealth-action titty and the base-management titty should feel like they complement each other, and that's what this does. It means that you're motivated to be stealthy and non-lethal not because of any contrived bonus or because you're some kind of weirdo who objects to exterminating human life, but because you need to fill a few more seats on the party bus. When you're giving a guard post a wide berth on your way somewhere and then notice that one of the guards has an "A" rank in research which is all that you need to research the special beard gun and decide that if the prisoner you're supposed to be rescuing has survived this long, then he can probably stand another ten minutes of brutal beatings, that's when the organic sandbox is being organic.
Oh yeah, Metal Gear Solid is a sandbox game now. The series has long aspired towards truly organic gameplay ever since Metal Gear Solid 3 was mostly about exploring a forest, biting the heads off frogs. And I think Phantom Pain comes pretty close to finally achieving that goal. Most missions just give you one objective in the middle of enemy territory and the rest is up to you. Scout ahead and carefully worm your way inside, or kick the front door down with your robot legs and judo-throw the guard into his birthday cake. But the problem that Metal Gear Solid has always had, besides being written by someone who got all his ideas on authentic dialogue from watching the infomercials that come on in between Steven Seagal films, is that they always give you about a hundred million methods of achieving something that isn't actually that complicated.
For example, if there is a guard between you and something you want, you can shoot him with one of about fifty squillion guns, you can instruct your dog/naked woman/helicopter to bite/shoot/carpet bomb the square fifty yards he's standing in respectively, distract him with an inflatable man lovingly crafted by some very creepy person on your R&D team, or...toss a single empty magazine to their immediate right, run up behind and instantly knock them out in one hit, then feel unaccountably like you've somehow let everyone down. Of course, one hit isn't doing it justice; there's a slightly arcane process involving either holding the right trigger and releasing it as you push the analogue stick, or just hammering on the trigger like it's a misbehaving clitoris.
Point is, Metal Gear Solid has never been efficiently-designed on any level. And cutting the dialogue down to less than a Wilbur Smith novel's worth was only one thing. Navigating the base management menu is like shovelling your driveway after a devastating GUI blizzard, and I don't see why I have to go through the rigmarole of calling down a chopper, getting on and waiting for it to take off before I'm allowed to select the next mission or decide how to reupholster the soft furnishings.
Do you want to know what the online gameplay's like? So the fuck would I. Because until I put the game into offline mode, the loading times were unbearable. And not for loading levels, loading menus, for fuck's sake! All I wanted to do was call base mid-mission and tell them to upgrade the beard gun and record Inspector Morse. For each of those, I had to wait thirty seconds for the spinny thing to stop going around.
Look, I like the core game on principle, but all the in-between flappery just wore me down, if I'm honest. And the characters just aren't fun anymore; the three leads are all grim growly men growling grimly. I listen to the audio logs and I can barely tell the fuckers apart. And Kojima's trademark incredibly redundant dialogue doesn't help. "Grrr Grr Grr Grrrrr Grrr Grr. In other words, Grrr Grr Grr Grrrrr Grrr Grr Grr."
- Wants to show you his naked snake: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I'm sorry, game, I know it's part of your legacy, but I just couldn't find any use for that sodding cardboard box
- Big Boss will be playing Captain Hook in the Mother Base Christmas Panto