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.