Feature-Length Cut-Scenes?

OK, so the Metal Gear Solid series is hardly known for its subtlety and brevity in storytelling, what with several 20-minute scenes in MGS3 and… well… the whole of MGS2, but the reviews of MGS4 are blowing my mind. Some of the reviews, notably Edge, are claiming that the game has two extremely long cut-scenes.

That’s a bit like saying that Metal Gear has a big robot in it, of course, but word is that these sequences are pushing the 90-minute mark. And Konami doesn’t want reviewers to mention it.

In the interest of fairness, GamePro is saying that it’s an exaggeration. We’ll find out for ourselves in less than a fortnight anyway, but I’ve always had respect for Edge and can’t imagine that such a prestigious magazine – possibly the only gaming publication that I’d use that word to describe – would make a claim like this about such an important game without there being some truth to it. And would Konami really care if reviews mentioned that the cinemas were no different to the other multimillion-selling games in the series?

True or not, it brings up an interesting question about storytelling in games. Would having 90-minute cut-scenes actually help games as a storytelling medium, or does it undermine it and defer the job to the conventions of film? Half-Life tells a story within a game and BioShock does it even better, and the irony is that the part of BioShock’s story that attracted the most criticism was the least game-like part: the ending.

Personally, I don’t think that it’s a good thing. It speaks of the limitations of a game’s ability to tell an effective story – or maybe Kojima’s limitations as a storyteller – that as much of a third of a relatively linear game could be completely non-interactive, essentially telling the story in film form because a game couldn’t do it. It’s like someone accusing cinema of being unable to capture internal emotion like a novel can and a prominent director compensating by putting pages of text up on screen. Different media should have different conventions, and while games are still discovering theirs, this sort of thing is a step in the wrong direction. Watching something like Metal Gear REX face up to Metal Gear Ray might look mind-blowing, but if I’ve got a game on it’s because I want to play something, not watch it.

That’s not even mentioning the more practical issue of accessibility. What happens if I’m playing MGS4 late at night and suddenly find myself committed to sitting there for another hour and a half? I know the game allows you to pause cut-scenes, but can you save your progress in the middle of the scene? Or do you just have to pause it and leave the PS3 running until your next opportunity to play?

Given that there’s a clear disagreement between people who’ve actually finished the game on something as simple as cut-scene length, I think it likely that the ’90-minute question’ is down to differing use of the term ‘ending’. For example, I see people talk about MGS2 and 3 having hour-long endings when they’re actually nowhere near that and it’s only the case if you count, say – MGS2 spoilers – Arsenal Gear, the codec weirdness, fighting alongside Snake, the Metal Gear Ray battle, the fight with Solidus, and the actual ending cut-scene (only a few minutes long) as “the ending”. MGS3’s final cut-scene was very long and one of the most affecting scenes in gaming, but it’s similar to MGS2’s finale if you count the various boss fights and escapes at the end.

Regardless, only ten days until we can see for ourselves and find out who’s full of lies and who may have been sucked in by the hype. I honestly doubt any game can live up to the levels of hysteria that this game has commanded since its announcement, but if I like it anywhere near as much as I did MGS3: Subsistence, I’ll be happy.

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