Tag Archives: Hideo Kojima

Best of 2015 #3: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainDespite The Phantom Pain facing ardent attempts to undermine it from both Konami’s avarice and Kojima’s lack of restraint, its qualities manage to shine through. And believe me, if the game is still shining after living through this many attempts to torpedo it since release, the core game must be shining pretty damn brightly.

It would have been higher on the list this year were it not for some poor design decisions and an annoying structure. It’s a superb 15-20 hours stretched quite thinly over 50-60 hours, with the second act being mindbogglingly bad in its design. I was wishing for it to hurry up and finish by the end, which even with the best underlying gameplay in the world, is not a good sign.

But when The Phantom Pain is at its best, it’s so, so good. The open world complements an infiltration game incredibly well, dramatically increasing the strategic options in a series that has always been famous for giving you more than one way to complete an objective. Going back to classics like the first game, suddenly the option to go through the front door or the vent doesn’t seem too freeing. Do you go in from the north, south, east or west? Day or night? With a sniper or the dog? By vehicle or on foot? With explosives or silenced weapons? Non-lethal or live rounds? Extract or eliminate?

It’s just a shame when all this variety is used to infiltrate the same encampment for the 12th time. Hopefully whomever is in charge of Kojima now won’t give him such free rein.

Best of 2010 #4: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Metal Gear Solid: Peace WalkerConsidering the esteem in which the franchise is held, Metal Gear has a lot of disappointing instalments. This, however, wasn’t one of them, following up the best in the series – that’s MGS3, for those who aren’t keeping count – and absolutely stomping over the letdown of Portable Ops. This was a proper Metal Gear Solid game, originally planned as MGS5, and it’s a strong contender for my favourite of the lot.

Even if the story was mostly utter rubbish, taking a huge dump on some of the best characters, if you let that affect your enjoyment of Metal Gear games they’d never get anywhere near these lists. Cramming console games designed for dual analogue sticks onto portable systems rarely works, and indeed here it takes a period of acclimatisation, but in no time at all I had my head around it and, by the end, I found myself hoping that some of this game’s advances will get ported back to any future MGS games. This is the first one in which I’ve been able to make use of the CQC system, for example, now that it’s been slimmed down and the need to regulate pressure on the buttons as well as direction on the stick has been removed.

It’s looking increasingly likely that 2010 could be the PSP’s last year as Sony’s primary handheld console, and despite some of its most impressive games coming out – Persona 3 Portable also deserves a mention – it’s been an ignominious end, with mediocre hardware sales and almost non-existent software ones. This, though, must go down as evidence that the system had more to offer. Aside from its segmented areas – methinks as much down to hardware limitations as it is portable game design – this could have quite easily been a PS2 game, and as that seems to have been the Holy Grail of PSP development since the beginning, it’s one of the biggest compliments I can pay to one of its last great games.

What a finale, though, both to the Metal Gear Solid series and the PSP’s viability. I’ve had rocky relationships with both, but they’ll still be missed.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

The Metal Gear series gets a lot of criticism for its labyrinthine story and ridiculous plot twists – AIs controlling the world by filtering the Internet, anyone? – and I’m no huge fan of it either, but my time with Peace Walker has convinced me of something.

Like how Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is the real main character in Star Wars, the key player in Metal Gear is not Solid Snake but his ‘father’ and frequent antagonist Big Boss. Considering Kojima’s love of pop culture the similarities in structure can’t be a coincidence – great warrior with good intentions is manipulated into evil, while his son defeats the super weapons of the true villain’s powerful organisation before reconciling with the father shortly before the father’s death – but unlike Star Wars, I actually far prefer the prequels in the Metal Gear Solid series.

Snake Eater is the first stop, which is by far my favourite game of the lot. In its Subsistence form with a competent camera, at least – it’s not a coincidence that every MGS game since then has used it – it offers some restraint in its story, a Cold War setting where the series’ brand of nuclear paranoia makes sense, features some of the best boss battles in the series, infinitely more interesting environments than the generic warehouses of Solid Snake’s adventures, and, in Naked Snake and The Boss, has the series’ two best characters. Not to mention my favourite ending in any game ever.

The previous PSP game, Portable Ops, didn’t really do it for me, but Peace Walker is built as a full-on entry in the series that would be as at home on a home console as it is on the PSP. It was originally going to be Metal Gear Solid 5, in fact, but don’t let its demotion from the main series line-up make you believe that it’s any less than those entries. It’s up there with MGS3 in my opinion, and everyone should play it. Continue reading Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

But seriously, are games art?

Now this is a one-time-only thing, because although this is an important argument in a sense, it’s one that I’m sick to death of hearing about. Someone says otherwise, gamers variously trumpet the likes of Ico or flame the person in question, and then we repeat the whole thing again a few weeks later. Roger Ebert has done it again, with the prominent movie critic reiterating his stance that games can never be art. Some points I agree with, some I disagree with, and some of his statements are factually wrong; gamers’ responses have ranged from decent to predictably defensive and/or vitriolic.

So, are games art?


Any creative product is art, be it a film, a game, a painting, a sculpture, a novel, a poem, a play, or anything else. As far as I’m concerned, this is indisputably true, and if I could quite happily leave the argument there.

The difference comes in artistic merit. The Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David and the doodle on the back of my notebook are all art, but no one’s going to argue that the former two are worth far more, both monetarily and in every other sense. Likewise, Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey are both far more worthy than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but all three are art in some sense. Creating art is one of the primary motivating factors to all but the most commercial of filmmakers, and as a result there are a lot of films with artistic merit.

Artistic merit is where gaming can fall short, because it’s still treated as a commodity, an industry driven by sequels and following the leader. Shadow of the Colossus, Katamari Damacy, Okami, BioShock and Grim Fandango are examples of games that I would consider to be artistically important for various reasons, while I couldn’t say the same for FIFA or the latest movie-licensed game. FIFA is art, but I’d never show it to someone to show them what the medium can do beyond be a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

My personal opinion is that part of the problem is that there aren’t enough gaming auteurs. Too many are designed by committee and marketing departments, and while I could reel off dozens of great directors, authors or musicians from the last 30 years who have created true art within their media, there still aren’t that many in gaming. Miyamoto and Kojima are two who can be assured top billing and have the clout to get their pet projects made on their name alone, but beyond them you’re probably going to be struggling already, and knowledge of them outside those who follow the industry is almost nil. There’s also very little opportunity for people with big ideas to get their game through development and then into gamers’ hands through commercial channels, with the indie art project games usually either curiosities on the PC or, at best, a sleeper hit on the iPhone.

I’d almost say that the early arcade games did a better job of being artistic in their own right, because they were gaming in its purest form – interactive art, often made by a handful of people. Things like Electroplankton are their direct descendants.

I’m sorry if this seems like doom and gloom, but we have to remember that gaming is a young medium. It’s only 15 years or so that it’s been able to tackle the bigger issues by presenting us with something beyond bleeps and bloops – although my previous point on the artistic merit of those stands – and those gaming auteurs are starting to emerge, however slowly. Film wasn’t taken seriously as anything more than a technical gimmick at the beginning, and rock music was once the downfall of civilisation that games now are.

When today’s gamers are tomorrow’s art critics and we have more developers whose body of work is big and pretentious enough to be called an oeuvre, and maybe when you can make a go at getting an independent game on the shelf next to the new Call of Duty, then we’ll be the ones complaining that this new-fangled holographic VR nonsense isn’t art. That’ll show ’em.

Best of 2008 #3: Metal Gear Solid 4

Metal Gear Solid 4

It’s hard to believe that after so much hype, so many trailers, so many years in development, Metal Gear Solid 4 actually came out last summer. It always seemed destined to be one of those epochal games, assuming it could live up to that astronomical hype, and it really did.

I had my doubts that it could come anywhere close to tying up all those loose ends that the last two games in particular had left, and while it had to utilise some insanely long cut-scenes to do it, I put it back on the shelf at the end more satisfied than I had any right to be after finishing a game with such a labyrinthine story. Some didn’t like playing a game that you could spend up to an hour not actually playing, but if you came away from the game with that as a complaint you apparently hadn’t played a Metal Gear game before.

That’s not to say that MGS4 was more of the same, because it deserves credit for being a game that wasn’t afraid to change what had always been a highly successful formula. While so many Japanese developers are struggling to make the jump to the current generation – can we stop calling it ‘next-gen’ yet? – Kojima and his team modernised what had been a bit of a dinosaur in terms of controls and movement in 3D space. Where MGS3 required three hands to perform some of the more complex techniques, this one actually felt like a proper, modern game, able to work just as well as an action game as it was the standard stealth fare.

I did have issues with it, the main one being that aside from the endgame, it peaked with the phenomenal first two acts, but overall the fact that this game even met my expectations was an achievement. That it exceeded them is testament to how big an achievement that was.

Metal Gear!?

The wait is over, then. What has been heralded as one of the truly genre-defining games of the generation is out, and now we have nothing left to look forward to or something.

I love Metal Gear Solid 4. Yes, it’s indulgent (I made it 75 minutes for the ending); yes, Kojima needs someone to rein him in occasionally. But I enjoyed the hell out of MGS3 despite the same flaws and the few annoyances I’ve had over the gameplay, which hasn’t aged particularly well in all honesty. MGS4 overhauls the controls rather than trying to retrofit yet more features onto the setup, and as a result it’s a lot more accessible than previous games, no longer requiring great feats of polydactylism to perform simple tasks.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Take the CQC system, for example. A good idea introduced in MGS3, which turned Snake – who, until then, was supposed to be a martial arts expert despite only being able to throw and do a punch-punch-kick combo – into a suitably versatile fighter. It was clunky, though, and far too easy when halfway through a non-lethal playthrough to grab an enemy and slit his throat. Here, with CQC moved from circle to R1 and fatal attacks requiring an entirely separate button press, it’s much more manageable.

The gunplay has received a similar reboot. Kojima has been taking notes when he played the recent over-the-shoulder shooters like Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, because it’s just about possible to play the game’s battlefield scenarios entirely from this perspective. Even if you don’t want to run around like that, which you don’t, mapping this function to L1 and separating the draw and fire functions – admit it: having both holstering and firing the weapon on the same button was the worst idea ever – has turned the shooting into far less of a crapshoot.

That’s two of my biggest problems with Metal Gear down in one fell swoop. Continue reading Metal Gear!?