My feelings about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain have been well documented over the past few weeks/months through a number of posts both on here and on Twitter. This past week, after a particularly brutal bullshit play session, I decided that enough was enough and I gave up on the idea of completing the game. As much as I wanted to complete the story and see the resolution of the characters and the tying up of the remaining dangling plot threads, I'd be buggered before I had to deal with any more of the tedious, nonsensical gameplay or overly verbose exposition.
To put this into context; the reason I so desperately wanted to finish the main story was simply because I have always liked the MGS lore/backstory. Although I think Hideo Kojima's writing is at times terrible, and I wouldn't trust him with a blunt crayon, I do think his creativity and imagination is incredible. The whole reason I loved the first MGS game was because it felt like it existed in a fully realised world with its own history and mythology. This whole idea of an elite group of soldiers and agents, each with their own storied codenames and dark secrets, taking on even more ridiculous enemies and world-destroying villains, was incredible to 11 year old me.
The MGS series had its up and downs for me. Whilst I completely adored MGS' 1 and 3, I completely despised 2 and 4. So when I first heard about The Phantom Pain I had no idea what to think. It sounded like a ridiculous concept at first, and carried on a story from one of the handheld entries into the series which I never played. But then the idea that this game would tie into the original Metal Gear and tie up the entire franchise sounded too good to pass up. So I eventually bought it (when it was on sale, fuck paying full price on something as dicey as an unfinished, Kojima-led, Konami published AAA game) but soon realised that I had made a gargantuan mistake.
Let's be clear on one thing - the core gameplay of MGS V is great. The movement, shooting, stealth and overall feel of controlling Snake/Boss/Larry is near perfect. I have very few complaints about the core gameplay. It is the setup around this core gameplay, and the progression (or lack thereof) that really gets on my wick.
The biggest problem is the switch to open-world, and the complete lack of structure that the story inherits from it. Whilst previous MGS games were short and linear, it also meant that the story was a lot more structured and escalated appropriately when needed. Since MGS V decided to go with the sandbox approach, it means now you just carry out a meandering set of barely connected missions in whatever order you choose. This in itself wouldn't be a massive problem, but the fact that 90% of the missions have the same kind of objective, leads to the game feeling arduous and repetitive much sooner than it should.
This repetitiveness is then what leads to every other issue the game has to feeling much more painful than it actually is. You start to notice how truly bad a lot of the writing is, and the delivery from many of the characters just sucks! Miller is probably the biggest culprit; delivering every other line in his stupid Christian Bale-esque half growl, like he's always just caught up to you after you forgot your bag in the coffee shop. Listening to this complete clown for hours and hours makes me wish he'd lost more than just an arm and a leg.
As big as the game world is, it's meaningless when missions all take place around similar looking outposts and facilities. The structures are always the same, the setup is almost always the same, and it all looks the bloody same! The giant world map does nothing but pad out the games runtime even longer, which is unforgivable. Again, not to keep comparing with previous MGS games but at least the scenery changed in those. The environments changed, some were wackier than others and some were downright dumb, but at least there was variety! Even in MGS 3: Snake Eater you spent 95% of your time in a jungle, but the scenarios, atmospheres and tones changed with each new section.
I'll wrap this up with the final two points that really fucked me off about this game. One is the story, and the absolute mess that it is. I won't go into detail on it since so many others have already done that, and also because I would be lying if I said I totally understood every single facet of it. What gets me the most about the failure of the story is that this game was marketed as the missing link in the MGS saga. It would show the completion of Big Boss' character transformation from the greatest soldier that ever lived, to a maniacal tyrant hell bent on being his own nuclear power. The game doesn't show any of that. And let's be blunt here; in a very real way, this game shows almost nothing of Big Boss or his character development. Moreover, the fact that Big Boss went from being a fairly charismatic action hero, to a near silent protagonist, was also a bad choice. I know this gets somewhat explained in the story, but I still think it was a bad call.
Finally, we have the Skulls unit. The elite group of soldiers that act as semi-boss fights every so often. In a few of the scenarios it is entirely possible just to run away from them, but at other times you have to stand and fight. There are usually four or so skulls, each with very powerful physical attacks, as well as very damaging ranged attacks. And to be short, fuck the Skulls. Their ability to appear out of nowhere, shoot the life out of you, and block every attack you use except for using explosives, is pure bullshit. It is not fun to fight them, the same way it isn't fun fighting the Prometheans in Halo 4. They are frustrating to do battle with. The fact that you can take out three of them, just for the fourth to get in a cheap shot and kill you, and you have to start the fight all over again, is just double-layered bullshit. That was the point I stopped playing. No half-baked summary ending was worth putting myself through more of this garbage.
After I stopped playing I decided to watch a compilation of the cutscenes/story moments that some lunatic had edited together and put onto YouTube. Even after watching all of it, I still had no clue as to what was going on, or why, or when or how. Nothing mattered any more. As far as I was concerned, the MGS series ended with Snake and Meryl riding off into the sunset on a snowmobile.
Whilst I have been disappointed with the way the MGS series has panned out, I see it as a triumphant testament of the potential of video games. Despite Kojima being about as coherent as a half-inflated bouncy castle begging for death, he has shown the world how well games can be used to tell a cinematic story. I am looking forward to seeing what he does next, but I'll keep my expectations low for it to be anything even remotely sensible.
Zelda: A Fart In The Wind
So I finally finished my first The Legend Of Zelda game. Whilst on a plane. In the middle of turbulence. I'm a terrible flyer and I was trying to do anything that would take my mind off the inevitable crash that I knew was about to transpire. But after 55 hours of playing I was happy that the adventure was finally over, and the ending was satisfying enough for me to not throw a hissy fit. Even if I was slightly unpleasantly surprised that there was no post-credits sandbox.
Looking back, I have a feeling TLOZ: Breath Of The Wild (BOTW) will not leave as lasting an impression as I thought it might. Considering I was willing to buy my first Nintendo console solely based on the trailers for BOTW, my opinion of it has definitely muddied somewhat. That isn't to say it's a bad game. It's a great game with plenty of great ideas, interesting challenges and gorgeous scenery. But there was definitely something missing from it, although what that "it" is, I'm not entirely sure of.
I knew something was up when I had to take a break from my constant playing of the game. After playing the game fairly steadily from April to June, I then took a month off as I was travelling South East Asia (snort). Once I arrived back home at the end of the month, I had zero urge to play BOTW. No urge to complete any of the side missions, or explore more of the map or finish the main quest to destroy Ganon. I think after having already completed the four boss dungeons, finding all but one of the hidden memories and finding (but not quite yet receiving) the Master Sword, I had a feeling of "yeah, this is close enough, no need to carry on." I didn't think that the game could throw any surprises at me at this point. I would get the Master Sword, face Ganon, save the princess and that would be it. And I was correct, naturally.
In a sandbox-esque game like BOTW you really do need interesting side missions/quests/activities to keep the player from turning off the console and going back to Rocket League. That is something I think BOTW sorely lacks. The NPC's don't do enough to differentiate from one another, and all of their side quests feel so token and lacking in stakes that they're not worth bothering with. If you compared it to some of the side missions in Skyrim, some of which are more interesting than the main quest itself, the side missions in BOTW just fall so, so, so short.
BOTW was a bold, new direction for the Zelda series, and naturally on a first major attempt at something new, not everything is going to be perfect. Nintendo has already confirmed that they're going to be sticking to the sandbox formula for future Zelda games (or at the very least the next one), so hopefully they will be working on fine tuning and improving the areas where BOTW fell short.
Again, I enjoyed the game immensely, so don't look at this post as some kind of ignorant hate speech. I'm still trying to get through MGS V at the moment, and believe me, I would much rather be starting BOTW for the first time again than going through this overly-verbose nonsense.
Being 27 and miserable, I thought the days of me being absolutely immersed in a game to the point of playing it until 3am were over. And I was right - until I started playing The Last Of Us: Remastered (TLOU).
Just to provide some context, I normally play games waaaaaaaaaaaay after they have already come and gone from the front pages of all of the digital stores. Partially due to a lack of focus on my part but also because I simply cannot afford getting every brand new game that gets released. But I saw TLOU available on the PSN Store for a criminally small amount of money and I'd heard good things about it. Although I took the good things I'd heard about it with collosal amounts of salt as I hadn't enjoyed Naughty Dog's other massive success; the Uncharted series. A mix of not really liking the characters as well as having zero interest in the gameplay that was "heavily inspired" by a bunch of other franchises left me feeling lukewarm about the game as a whole.
That wasn't the case with TLOU. From the start it grabbed me. The presentation of the struggle in the prologue to the initial gun fights awakened a fun feeling I hadn't experienced in a single player campaign in quite some time. All I could think was "Oh shit, I'm going to have some really late nights now." And I did. The classic yearning to just get through one more area or see one more bit of progression of the story led to my eyeballs being very unhappy with me.
There are a million things that I could gush about with this game, but they've all been thoroughly gushed over already. I just want to talk about one or two aspects that really caught attention.
Firstly; the feeling in combat. Now a lot was made about the firefights in the game during the marketing campaign and interviews leading up to launch, but I always thought that was just empty developer speak. Just something to convince players that the game wasn't the same old third person cover shooter that had been made a million times already. But oh my God, were those firefights brutal!
The feeling of ferocity that game puts into the guns and projectiles, and even the melee weapons, is incredible. You don't just sneak up on someone and choke them, you really fuck them up! And when you get shot you actually think "Oh balls! I've been shot!", instead of the usual "Lets see how much of this I can tank before I have to take cover again." The game instills a feeling of desperation and savagery that very few other games can match. It makes every firefight feel like it's potentially your last, and makes you feel like you need to make use of every tool available to you. It's basically Die Hard but in the post apocalypse.
The second aspect I want to gush about that I think sets TLOU apart from most other games is the delivery of the personalities of the protagonists, as well as the story as a whole. The game uses cutscenes, just as many others do, but it also makes use of gameplay and in-game dialogue to get across what our protagonists are like. The off hand comments both characters make as you progress through an area, or look at certain objects gives us great insight into their thoughts and desires.
And one other thing that TLOU does well with the story that a lot of other story focused games fail to do is to keep things clear. At all times you know what is happening, what the character motivations and goals are and why they are doing what they are doing. There are so many games that have a good story going only for events to take a sudden left turn, or for a character to do something completely out of the blue that makes no sense, and it derails the entire experience. Joel and Ellie always stay in character, say the kinds of things they would say and perform actions that their characters would make. They feel like complete and fully realised individuals.
Long story short, I loved this game and it is easily one of my favourite single player experiences. Ever.