Editor Showdown: Debating Metal Gear Solid V

by Jeff Cork on Sep 08, 2015 at 10:04 AM

We just got back from a long weekend, and both Andrew Reiner and I spent much of the that time playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It's been a polarizing release, with some old-school fans decrying the game's open-world direction and lack of a traditional narrative. As it turns out, Reiner and I see the game differently, as well. I decided to try to get into his head a little bit and get him to articulate his biggest beefs.

Jeff: I couldn’t help but notice your flurry of Metal Gear Solid V tweets this weekend. It doesn’t seem as though you’re having a great time with the game so far. Would you say that’s accurate?

Reiner: I’m having a good time with it, but I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it in the same way I have other Metal Gear Solid titles. The Phantom Pain is a departure for the series. Sure, it is built on the series’ tentpoles of stealth and technology, but applying those concepts to an open world dramatically changes the experience. Many of my tweets were in reference to how different it is.

Jeff: I think that’s why I love it so much. Joe and I were talking about it this morning, and I think moving the action to an open world was a long time coming. When you move the action outside into large spaces, the old routine of having guards walk on predetermined paths doesn’t work anymore. I love sizing up an area, figuring out how best to approach it, and then having the tools I need to get away unharmed if something goes wrong. It seemed like you want more old-school stealth.

Reiner: I agree that the open world gives players different avenues to tackle the stealth scenarios, but the randomization in enemy formations takes away from the intensity and randomization in the encounter design. I feel all too often the best strategy is to sneak behind a rock, wait for an enemy to turn his back to you, grab him, strangle him to sleep, then attach a balloon to him. I’ve done this over and over again in locations that all look the same, and in many cases use the same architecture. My favorite stealth moment in the game so far is a predetermined or scripted encounter in the Prologue, where Snake must evade two troopers by ducking beneath hospital curtains.

Jeff: Your point here is what inspired me to bother you about Metal Gear in the first place. I don’t understand what you’re looking for, ultimately. Do you want the guards to be placed in particular locations, and follow specific routes? Does that seem more intense?

Reiner: I would like to see a little of both, actually. The open-world setting doesn’t have much variety in terrain or the structures within it. The enemy placement is almost always the same within each base or city. There’s a guy behind a sandbag, another up in a tower, a couple under a tent. I feel like I’m running into the same scenarios over and over again. Maybe that’s just the luck of the draw tied to the randomization. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much variety in the enemies or formations, just the way I can approach them.

Jeff: About how far into the game are you? I know it’s hard to gauge, since you can do the story missions and Spec Ops side content whenever you want, but give me a rough estimate. Have you unlocked the other buddy characters yet? I’ve done about 20 or so Spec Ops missions, and I just got Quiet, which I believe is my final companion.

Reiner: I’m on mission nine of the campaign. I’ve done a bunch of the secondary missions, and have spent a fair amount of time taking out outposts along the roads. I don’t have any of the secondary characters yet, other than my damn horse, who died on me in the first mission, causing me to restart since I needed him to complete the objective.

Jeff: I’m glad to hear that happened to you, because I was curious if that horse could die. I was so glad when DD grew up enough to accompany you. The best thing about that dumb horse is using it to block roads and force targets in vehicles to get out and shoo it away. 

Reiner: Be careful leaving your horse in harm’s way. I wasn’t paying attention as I was galloping to the mission area, and I came across a group of enemies that immediately opened fire on me. I panicked, and jumped off of the horse in the middle of the group. They opened fire, my horse went down, and I believe a grenade killed it off. When that happens in this opening mission, the prompt to whistle for the horse is removed from the menu. There’s nothing you can do, and you need the horse to complete that evasion sequence against the teleporting zombies.

Jeff: QA must not have tried dying. Oh well. What do you think of the story so far? I know that it’s not as narrative heavy as previous games have been, but in this case I think it works to the game’s favor. I enjoyed IV to a point, but the length of some of those cutscenes got to be too much. I like how things are framed in The Phantom Pain, and how the story is spread out between narration, reasonably long cutscenes, and the optional cassette tapes.

Reiner: Compared to what came before it, I think The Phantom Pain’s story is somewhat of a disaster so far. I’m getting most of it from radio logs. I make dinner, hit play on the cassette tapes, and listen to 20 to 30 minutes of them as I eat. That’s where most of the story is contained. The narrative that is told outside of the radio logs is surprisingly light. Venom Snake doesn’t have much to say at any point in this game. I agree that the cutscenes from old games ran long and were a little confusing at times, but I now find myself wanting those moments back in the game. It just doesn’t have the same flow of the old Metal Gear Solid titles.

Jeff: And for that, I am grateful. I’m not the biggest Metal Gear fan in the office, by any means, though I do have fondness for the series. I know we’ve talked about this recently, but Snake Eater was my favorite entry before – much of that because it wasn’t as Metal Gear-y as the series can be at its most self-indulgent. The Phantom Pain is inching toward bumping that one down a notch, because I’m having so much fun in the sandbox. I understand your complaints about things looking too similar from location to location, but I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Afghanistan in the first place. I unlocked the second big location last night, and even though I’m only a mission into it, I think you’re going to appreciate the variety. The soldiers look way different, if that entices you to keep going.

Reiner: I think I will keep going. I’m enjoying it for reasons that I’ve never enjoyed a Metal Gear game before. I’m hooked on the base building, the troop recruiting (as silly as that system is), and the way that new gear is rewarded. Yes, this means that you have to pick flowers and search under tables for poorly placed diamonds – activities that aren’t that much fun – but the end result is immensely satisfying. I love getting the reports that your research division leveled up or that new tech is available for manufacturing.

Jeff: It’s the best. I love having a place to call home in games, particularly when I’m able to directly affect the direction it grows and changes. Having that overarching recruitment system over the main game does wonders, too. I usually try to tranq enemies in the series, and it’s great to have another reason to keep people alive. A clean conscience is nice, but being able to increase your army’s effectiveness over time is better still. Plus, I don’t think I’m going to tire of seeing people (or sheep) rocket into the air on my Fulton balloon.

Reiner: A clean conscience? You do realize what happens to those people when they arrive at your base, right? They are brainwashed and forced to work for the enemy. I agree that the Fulton balloon is a lot of fun. I also use it as a diversion to attract enemies. I try to lift vehicles and guns, and the sound of those items crashing to the ground lures them over. I also get a big kick out of supply drops and trying to hit enemies with the crates. So far, I’ve knocked my horse over a dozen times, but haven’t been able to hit a foe.

Jeff: Hey now, the pay’s good, and they also get to work in a hot-pink office environment. I was thinking about the game this morning, and I realized that I should try dropping a supply crate onto a helicopter that’s about to take off. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me appreciate The Phantom Pain: I enjoy it when a game sticks with me because of its story or characters, but when I’m actively thinking, “Would that be possible?” that’s how I know I’m hooked. Kojima’s games have always had an element of that to them, and I think The Phantom Pain is the culmination of everything that came before.

Reiner: Well put. I expected another Metal Gear Solid experience going into The Phantom Pain, but am enjoying it for reasons I never dreamed I would. For a fifth entry in a series there comes an expectation tied to its legacy. Yes, games need to evolve and change to stay interesting and new, but I feel The Phantom Pain comes across more as a new wrinkle in the Metal Gear universe than a sequel. Kojima and his team took huge chances with this game. Some of them, like the base building, hit and are great additions. Others, like the new approach to storytelling, are disappointing. I blame Kiefer Sutherland for most of the problems.

Jeff: Would it have killed him to record another, “Good boy,” line for when you pet DD? 

Reiner: Would it have killed him to spend more than a day in the recording booth? Snake is mostly silent.

Jeff: But he’s also the most charismatic military leader in modern history. That horn must be picking up the slack. Thanks for explaining yourself, Reiner, even if I know deep in my heart that you’re a crazy person.

Reiner: As you may imagine, my tweets, which were fairly negative, brought in a wide range of opinions from people. This seems to be a polarizing release. Some people are right there with you, loving that it’s not really like the old games. Others want it to be more like 3 or 4. The Prologue is a bit of tease for the latter group, as it feels like it is continuing as a linear, traditionally designed MGS title.

Jeff: I'm glad that Kojima and his team decided to evolve the series, even though purists like yourself may have some concerns. You weirdo.