Metal Gear Solid V: A Metal Gear for a Modern Age
I’ve had about 3 moments per mission in Metal Gear Solid V where I’ve thought “man, I wish I was recording this.”
Of course, that’s always been true for the Metal Gear Solid series, obsessed as it is with sheer absurdity and surrealism. The older games are different though, their craziness encapsulated. The moments you end up wanting to share with others are cutscenes. The youtube videos that get passed around aren’t the ones showcasing gameplay, they’re the ones where dialogue is exchanged and shit hits the fan in extremely cinematic ways.
V ends that trend, and it strikes me as a Metal Gear Solid game made with current trends in mind. We live in a strange time when a growing number of gamers are streaming everything they do onto the internet. The rise of sites like Twitch.tv and Youtube as gaming platforms has shifted some amount of focus from story-driven experiences towards things like e-sports and open-world shenanigans. The videos that go viral aren’t the same cutscenes that everyone who plays a game will see, they’re the moments when things break in unexpected ways within the game’s code, or when a DOTA team pulls off an unprecedented maneuver. Randomness and the unexpected are what sell in this new landscape.
Enter Metal Gear Solid V, a game that oozes beautiful randomness out of every pore. A standard infiltration mission in this game can go about a billion different ways, and no strategy is invalid. Fighting a crackshot sniper? Try dropping a tank on her. Need to stop a caravan? Plant C4 along the road and create your own chokepoint by donning a cardboard box in front of the lead vehicle. This is a game where you create your own big fish tales constantly. The way the game is structured seems like a tacit acknowledgement of how the gaming landscape has changed. For such a cutscene-focused series to embrace these stream-friendly gameplay innovations in such a full-bodied way is a marvel to behold.
It’s also a bit worrying. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Kojima and his team making a game like V. Every aspect of it is so recognizably Kojimian that it somehow gels together into a fascinating work of art. Throw these elements into a lesser game, or a less confident game, and I imagine the Twitch streams would shift more towards the “watching a car wreck” end of the viewership spectrum. There’s an intangibility at play here that I don’t think many other developers will be able to capture, but I don’t think that fact will stop them from trying.
If there’s one takeaway from V I’d like other developers to emulate, it’s the way that side missions are structured. The majority of the non-story missions emulate aspects of the main game, just in a looser fashion. A typical example might be to extract a prisoner from an enemy-held camp. You can approach this task in any way you see fit. You can gun down the entire base at will, set off 3 different alarms, and take down a helicopter or two just to rescue a single man. Or, you can sneak your way in and out without ever being seen. It has no bearing on anything, really. It’s a sandbox in the best sense of the term. The variety in gameplay comes from the gameplay itself, rather than the tasks presented to you. This might seem like a cop-out at first glance, but I would take 500 MGSV side missions over a single Assassin’s Creed feather gathering or a GTA pizza delivery or a Far Cry jeep race. V turns something that is usually a chore into another canvas for you to paint to your liking, be it with blood or with flying sheep.
Accordingly, it’s the aspects of V borrowed from other places that feel the most offputting. Microtransactions and mobile-game-style construction times are a huge bummer. They have no real story bearing or gameplay benefit. They seem to exist solely to drive revenue for Konami. Given the tumultuous state of affairs during V’s development, it’s easy to imagine where these design decisions might have originated even if we can’t know for sure. Still, they are an unfortunate sign of the times.
And that’s what V is, somehow. This game set in the 80s, which gives almost zero consideration to current notions of taste or decorum, is an amazing symbol of how far video games have come and what they can mean in 2015. There has never been a shooter this systematically complex and this open. There may never be again. If this is truly Kojima’s swan song for the series following his departure from Konami, he could not have done a better job cementing the series’ impact on the industry.
V has come to.
You’re going to extract him?