Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Kojima Productions
Obtained By: Purchased
I haven’t beaten MGS5 yet. I tried, I really did but i’ve only made it to 51%. I knew I wasn’t going to finish anytime soon so I wasn’t really in a rush, but as I sat down to a new session and looked at the three main missions I had to sit through, all of them repeats of early exploits, it dawned on me that I really didn’t want to beat the game. I simply wasn’t having fun any more. While the first half of the game had it’s issues, the second half is an astonishing feat in pissing away all of a players goodwill.
The game opens with Big Boss waking up after a nine year coma following the events of Ground Zero’s (which I didn’t play). Before the boss can heal (after nine years he should need months of physical therapy) a group of mercenaries lead by two supernatural pains in the ass commanders. You are lead out of the medical facility by a helpful gent with his face bandaged (and yes, I am very well aware of who this is) and swiftly meet up with Revolver Ocelot. It’s right about here where the game starts going off the rails. You start the game doing odd jobs while kidnapping recruiting new members to Big Boss’ mercenary outfit, while every so often the game reminds you that Skullface, the man responsible for Big Boss’ coma is still out there and that you need to get revenge. The problem was that there was never much of a flow between these two plot elements. Even after big, event-like missions involving Skullface the games status qua doesn’t change in any meaningful way. Hell, the Skullface story-line is done halfway through and you still just go back to doing basic mercenary work for most of the game. I know the overlong cutscenes were always a major criticism of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, but I always kind of loved them and would have much preferred that over the “get a little bit of story every few hours” approach that was tried here.
And what would an MGS5 review be without yet another complaint about the audio cassettes? I didn’t mind these at first as they allowed players to keep playing while still experiencing the story, but they soon became annoying as the tapes overpower the game audio, making it near impossible to hear what’s going on around you, killing any real chance at a stealth run. Because of this I found the best way to listen to these was either on mother base while nothing was going on, on while sitting on the between mission helicopter. While the content on the tapes was fine, having to simply sit there and listen to them wasn’t exactly the most engrossing form of narrative engagement.
Those issues are only exacerbated in the second half of the game as story missions mostly just repeat instead of adding anything new. There is a continuing story line and the game is far from finished, but most of the missions I’ve played so far have simply been “extreme” or “total stealth” versions of previous missions where the only thing added is an easier fail state. These wouldn’t have been so bad if there was any kind of narrative context for it, but there’s not. In fact the games tries so little to justify these repeat missions in the larger context of the narrative they they also just copy and paste the after mission report, which saw the characters raising questions that had already been answered hours before. We already KNOW why Skullface, who is now dead, is transporting small amounts of yellow cake, why are you asking about this again! Was I the only one paying attention???
And then there’s Quiet. At first I wasn’t going to talk much about her as so many people have already done this topic justice in more elegant ways than I can, but the absence of any real comment on the subject felt wrong. Quiet is a great character. Not only is she a badass who was a way more competent fighter than any of the buddies, and even myself at some points, but she’s also show to have a deep compassion for those around her. At one point she puts her own life at risk in order to save a child’s memento, and after getting tortured we learn that she never speaks to keep others safe. I love this character, and in a vacuum I wouldn’t even mind the way she’s dressed. While I do wish there was more verity in female game character design, I’ve never believed that meant overly sexual characters need to simply not exist (although I find it hard to say Quiet is “Sexy”. I’m not the biggest fan of the “simply take a characters clothes off” approach to sexiness, but too each their own). My issue is that the reason behind the characters near total nudity simply didn’t live up to Kojima’s statements about how we’d all “feel bad” for speaking out against it, nor does it hold any water with the rest of the game. Many other characters suffer from the same thing Quiet does, yet she’s the only one who needs to be almost nude. Plus, after a few hours with her you can unlock an outfit that is less revealing which, by the games logic, should kill her. If Kojima’s response to the back lash was simply “this is how I wanted the character too look” I don’t think I’d care. Like many other people I would have rolled my eyes and went on, but now it’s impossible too look at the character without thinking she was horribly mishandled.
Gameplay wise things are still pretty mixed, but overall I’d say it lands more consistently on the positive side of the spectrum. The first noticeable improvement is how the game plays over all. The controls has always been a major part of the criticisms of the MGS franchise, and each installment improved upon some issues each time, but none of the games ever truly felt right until MGS4. Unfortunately that game went in a more action orientated direction. While I still enjoyed the game, I was hoping the franchise would return to it’s roots while keeping the smoothness of MGS4’s controls, and that’s more or less what we got here. While there certainly are big action set-peaces, stealth has once again taken center stage. Most of the area’s you infiltrate can be reached from a few different vantage points due to the franchise first open world maps, which emphasis on planing you’re way through while also keeping you on your toes and enemy soldiers can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. This is also reinforced with the “recruiting” mechanic; if you knockout or put an enemy to sleep you extract them and have them work for you. But most of the tools used for this, like tranquilizer guns and Close Quarter Combat, aren’t the most helpful in a full blow firefight so if you want to recruiter (and you will) it’s best to stay low and stick to the shadows.
Aiding you in this endeavor is one of the four new buddies that accompanies you in each mission. Each buddy has their own skills are useful in different mission types, but I really only found myself using D-Dog as his ability to sniff out enemies, plants and wild animals was almost always helpful. A few of the companions abilities can seem little overpowered at first, but it only took a mission or two with each buddy to get a handle on how to use them effectively and thoughtfully rather than simply relying on them.
The one major flaw on the game play side stems from the switch from wide but linear world and level design to an open world. While more focused section (like infiltrating bases) the switch works well, but the moment to moment game play suffers for it. Missions are either so far away that I was left with a ton of down time getting to one place to another or forced to call in a copper and have to sit through two overlong load screens trying to get back into the action. And when taking the scenic rout I often found myself getting caught off guard by accidentally stumbling across an enemy encampment. The enemy AI is also a mixed bag. So long as you haven’t been caught enemies are almost too easy to manipulate and often don’t see things that are directly in their field of view. I’ve taken down multiple foes throughout the same while one or more of their allies were just feet away from me. But once you’re caught you might as well just start the mission over. Enemies have near perfect aim and even when I tried to sneak away they always found me unless I pretty left the mission zone, and even then they had a knack of hitting me with mortar rounds when they shouldn’t have had any idea where I was. Making the choice to restart is also made easier when you consider that every enemy you kill not only lowers your score at the end of the mission, but also means you can’t recruiter those soldiers.
The one thing about the AI I did really enjoy however is how it adapted to how you played. The made each mission feel like the stakes were raising and forced me to think outside the box a good deal of the time. I couldn’t always rely on the dark hiding me as enemies soon carried flashlights. I had to start using more CQC as helmets stopped me from on shot K.O.ing foes with tranquilizer rounds, and then I had to switch back to distance fighting when shotguns entered the equation. Plus I could always send a team to take out storage of certain items if they became too much of a hassle, but I do wish there was a more pro-active way to do that, like blowing up food storage in MGS3. Overall I liked the idea and I hope we see more mechanics like this in more games from here on out.
While there were more than a few genuinely great moments sprinkled throughout, as I played on I began to wish for the linearity of past games. It did almost feel worth is as the game is visually astonishing. There may only be two real area’s (Africa and Afghanistan), I never minded as they look fantastic. The games vista’s are some of the best the franchise has ever produced, and that’s not just due to the technical upgrades. The audio is also pretty good as well. Kiefer Sutherland, the new voice actor for Snake/Big Boss, did fine in the part but he was sadly underutilized. It takes a few hours before Snake even speaks. The rest of the voice cast fairs better, but that;s mostly due to the fact they have something to say.
One day I will probably finish the game, but it’ll be more out of a sense of obligation rather than for any real enjoyment. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is one that means a lot too me, and it’s sad too see the last real installment is such a massive disappointment. If any good comes out of the schism that occurred between Kojima and Konami, I hope it comes in the form of Kojima getting to essentially reboot the MGS franchise and show us how much of this games issues were his bad ideas verses Konami’s meddling.
Game Play: 5.5/10
Replay Value: 4/10
Reviewers Tilt 4/10
Overall Score: 5.416/10