Having only transitioned to Sony consoles a couple of years ago the Metal Gear Solid series was one that I was very late in trying out. It was only until Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater came to the Nintendo 3DS that I finally decided to give it a go (helped that it is the first game in the series’ timeline).
Somehow I had managed to absorb very little information at all about the series, aside from the fact that it is a stealth game but still has offensive boss fights. If you’re like I was a few years back and don’t want to know more about what Metal Gear is then stop reading now, then play through MGS 1-4 (including Peace Walker which is canonical) and come back.
If you’ve just come back or had already done so, then you’ll know that MGS is much more than just a stealth game. I still remember when I faced the first boss of Snake Eater “The Pain” all previous assumptions I had for the series were shattered. Here I was fighting what was essentially a bee man who kills his enemies by firing bees at them, and what’s more he goes by the name “The Pain” because that’s what he is feeling. All the while I’m in a jungle somewhere in the USSR trying to prevent the Cold War from going nuclear.
With the game featuring a James Bond style opening movie and the constant pop culture references of the era this was a game aware of the world around it. What’s more it knew how to make the most of the elements that make something a videogame, whilst also utilising techniques found in film to create an engaging narrative unlike anything I had played before. By the end of the game having defeated the original Metal Gear and then learning more about the Philosophers Legacy I was fascinated by everything that I was now having to comprehend. Why hadn’t anyone said about how great this entry of the series was? In hindsight people had praised the game, but despite focusing on the more likeable Naked Snake (AKA Big Boss) many seem to favour the original Metal Gear Solid for some reason.
When I had a system that could play it I decided to give Metal Gear Solid a go, and whilst for me it cannot compare to Snake Eater it was definitely ahead of its time. It is also an easy game to go back to, in the sense that it is not hindered by what would now be deemed anachronisms of game design. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on the other hand (despite playing the HD remake) does not hold up as well. The original MGS essentially has a top down perspective (despite being in 3D), but as MGS2 launched on the PS2 (and later the Xbox) and had more power available, so to was the freedom for more camera angles (with further freedom afforded to the HD version). But the problem was that it felt halfway between the constant constraints of MGS1 (which was to its benefit) and MGS3 which by the Subsistence re-release (and the HD remake) basically played like any other competent third person game. Whilst I had no problem with Raiden being the main protagonist, the plot came off as trying its utmost to try and confuse the player with constant twists, thankfully the ending was an effective one, and manages to speak to the pitfalls that society is facing today, but managing to do so 15 years in advance. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, was a solid (pun intended) enough game, but would have been better served as a Blu-Ray boxset.
This brings me to Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes; the first part of of MGSV. Similar to how MGS2 is divided into two sections with the first smaller section (on the Tanker) contained to one area and has its own story that fits into the wider story. Except this time the first section has been physically separated into its own release. The problem with this was that Konami (in just one of many poor decisions) made this a full price release. Ground Zeroes as a separate entity is actually a good idea and works very well (which I’ll get to) but no way is it worthy of a full retail price tag, it just isn’t. On the surface Ground Zeroes (GZ) is one mission in which Snake (Big Boss) has to rescue Chico and Paz (who featured in the excellent and underrated Peace Walker of which GZ is a direct sequel) before his mercenary group, MSF (Militaires Sans Frontières) undergoes a nuclear inspection. The events that happen as a result of the mission will lead directly into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, albeit nine years later. This mission can be completed in a very short amount of time. My first playthrough took around two hours, but an hour of that was basically adjusting to the feel of the game.
That’s right, full price (£40/$60) for a two hour game. Except that’s not quite accurate, as the main Ground Zeroes mission is not the sole activity available, as finishing it unlocks Side Ops; which are other missions with different types of objectives set in the same Cuban camp. These present the player with different possible play styles and even then the missions can be played how you want, as is the main mission. Recently I have been delving into the Side Ops and having a great time experiencing the different ways I can interact with the game world that Hideo Kojima and his team have created. What’s more I have gone back to the main mission and played it a further three times, each time my playthrough has been different, and my time shortened. Even though that means I can finish the “main game” in less than an hour now, it shows the possibilities of how to approach The Phantom Pain when it comes out. That was Kojima’s aim for GZ, to Metal Gear fans a chance to try out the game in a self contained level to their hearts content whilst they continue to make the best Metal Gear Solid game they can. Unfortunately Konami struggled to get that message across.
The Phantom Pain is still a couple of months away, but the final trailer (aside from the inevitable TV spots) for the game, and the last ever personally by Hideo Kojima, was for me the best trailer that came out of E3, and it wasn’t even shown off at one of the presentations. Like many people I have rewatched the two available trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens multiple time, but I can easily say that I have watched the last Phantom Pain trailer more. It manages to not only show the transition that Big Boss is going through and his need for retribution, it also provides hints towards other narrative points by straying the line into spoiler territory. Plus it suggest towards a possible philosophical basis for some of the characters motivations, an aspect that has been a highlight for me throughout the series. In addition the music choice of New Order’s Elegia is outstanding and captures the tension and (to take a name of another boss from MGS3) “the sorrow” that encompases Big Boss and his comrads.
There are many great games that are coming out later this year, and more following into 2016, but for now Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is my most anticipated (hyped for if you will) game right now, and being able to play Ground Zeroes is both helping and prolonging the wait. Excuse me whilst I watch the trailer again for the umpteenth time…