As always, heavy spoilers ahead.
When last we discussed Metal Gear Solid 4 I was extolling the virtues of a game that I had just begun to experience the depth of. Things have changed a lot in the last week, and MGS4 continues to be a game that I have a very difficult time enjoying, despite many of the things that it does really well.
Metal Gear Solid 4: A Cool Action Movie.
My biggest complaint over the last week of playing MGS4 is that the pacing in this game feels really bad. When I left you last I was getting ready to track Naomi through the forest in South America. That part proved to be one of the last piece of the game’s traditional gameplay that I’ve gotten to play. The tracking part was interesting, if a little tedious, but it felt mostly like it belongs in an MGS game. From there though, things got really…I don’t even know how to describe it….boring, maybe?
Once you find Naomi, you end up in a market square. From there you watch a very lengthy cutscene where Raiden finally reveals himself. He’s clearly grown over the years and has become quite the formidable ninja. He dispatches Gecko after Gecko with grace and ease, and it’s really cool to see him be awesome (instead of as the whiner I remember). The cutscene ends after a couple of minutes and it’s time to play some more…for about two minutes. You work your way through the market square and you’re greeted by another lengthy cutscene. This time Raiden takes on Vamp in another really well directed action sequence. Regardless of how I feel about the game’s story, it’s obvious that Hideo Kojima has a great flair for action. I kept thinking about how cool the MGS movie could be if it has this type of style.
Once the Raiden / Vamp altercation ends it’s time for another cutscene as we flee the battlefield in Otacon’s helicopter. Act 2 is officially over and now it’s time for a “Mission Briefing”. This is really just code for “another 15-20 minutes of story”. Once the mission briefing is over, Act 3 starts, but that proves to be mostly more cutscenes and story. Snake has donned the octo-camo face mask and he looks younger, but he’s not quite able to slip through security so Meryl appears from seemingly out of nowhere to whisk him through. The two of them proceed to have another extended discussion about Liquid, Snake’s aging, and Meryl’s role in the mission.
Finally after about 45 minutes of non-interactive story, I was able to actually play the game again. This time my mission was to find and track a resistance member so that I could follow him to the resistance hideout and meet up with “Big Mama”, the mysterious figure holding Big Boss’s corpse. This sequence took about 20 minutes to complete as the resistance member is pretty good at not getting himself into too much trouble. Once you work your way through the city and get to Big Mama, you’re greeted with another really long cutscene. This time it felt like it was somewhere between 15-30 minutes.
In the roughly 3 hours that I ended up playing MGS4 this week it felt like I spent the majority of my time just watching cutscenes. That is something I’m simply not a fan of in games. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate story, but what video games bring that media like television and movies don’t is the element of interaction. Why disregard that when telling story? Why not use interaction as another vehicle for storytelling? Metal Gear Solid 4 leans hard the other way. Instead of feeling engaged in the story of the game, I feel like the gameplay (which is a lot of fun) is just means to move you along a track from story episode to story episode. It almost feels like a really interactive TV show, rather than a game.
Go home MGS4, you’re drunk.
Since MGS4 demands that I sit through it’s extended story sequences, I’m going to give you my feelings on them…they’re real dumb. The whole story is real, real dumb. Not only is the story real dumb, but it’s presented in this way that I find to be borderline offensive in it’s arrogance. It’s hard to find a piece of media with as big a budget that feels as narcissistic as this game does. It’s as though Hideo Kojima would accept no feedback in terms of dialogue, pacing, or story presentation and instead released his first draft of MGS4 as a finished, perfect, retail product.
The game’s story is told in these incredibly disjointed, longwinded, sometimes downright stupid sequences. The story is so convoluted that even as I attempted to pay attention to everything that was being said, I still felt like I had little understanding of what was going on, but that’s definitely not because the story is short on exposition. Kojima seems to leave nothing unsaid. Instead, things are presented almost entirely in dialogue with characters explaining in painful detail every event that has led up to a particular moment. At one point Big Mama takes you through a verbal history of the Patriots, going all the way back to WWII. She goes into detail about her role with Big Boss, Zero, the Patriots, the AI’s, Solid & Liquid Snake. The thing is, she just drones on and on about it, and the more she talks, the less sense any of it makes. Instead of the exposition being a crutch to clarify things it muddles them.
It’s hard to keep up with all of this when there is so much going on, too. At this point in the story I’m dealing with Big Boss not really being dead, Liquid (who is now possessing Ocelot) lurking somewhere, Snake’s aging, Raiden (maybe) dying, Snake being the carrier for some type of doomsday virus, Naomi possibly being a traitor, Meryl’s gang of weird misfits, and the fact that I’m pretty positive Col. Campbell is actually Zero. Truth be told, that’s not even everything. All of this is being juggled in these massive story sequences that don’t even make a lot of sense. I have some vague, general understanding of what’s going on, but there is just so much that feels unnecessary that I’m left feeling completely lost.
I do have this one glimmering hope left for the story though. I would love to see the ending pull some kind of weird subversive twist where none of this ever mattered to begin with. I’d love it if basically the entire plot was just a red herring to what’s really going on. If that happens, I feel like I’ll have to stand up and slow clap at not just MGS4, but the series as a whole. But if Kojima ends this game with another speech about the “war economy”, private military corporations, and how we should all be free, I think I’m going to vomit. Also, could I maybe play this game some more?
A bit about next week.
This series has carried on way longer than I expected it too. I’ve had my ups and downs with MGS4, and overall I like the game, but it’s time to wrap this bad boy up, so I’m going to try really hard to pry myself away from Super Mario 3D World for long enough to finish this thing.