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For Kojima, modernizing Metal Gear means a new approach to storytelling

Metal Gear is in a rough spot. Even setting aside the negative buzz around the series’ upcoming release, Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, the franchise has fallen out of favor in recent years, with the previous core outing, MGS4: Guns of the Patriots, being remembered more for its preposterous ending and overly indulgent cutscenes than its initially positive reception. From Ground Zeroes' debut as a confusing hoax to the recent rumors that it's a mere two hours long, MGS5 has prompted valid questions of the series’ continuing relevance. But Ground Zeroes certainly appears to be freshening things up, particularly with regards to its storytelling--but it may be to the chagrin of the series’ fans.

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to play through Ground Zeroes in its entirety, and I can confirm that its main story mission is incredibly short. Konami has propped up the prequel as something of a tutorial for the full game, The Phantom Pain, and it does introduce players to a lot of gameplay concepts that are new to the series. But, more specifically, I noticed some interesting changes to the way the narrative is delivered, and I got a chance to ask Kojima himself about his new methodology. Spoilers: It’s less lengthy cutscenes and more contextual, interactive discovery.

Ground Zeroes doesn’t have many of the cutscenes the series is famous for (I counted two), and that dearth partly accounts for the game’s surprising length. For those who come to Metal Gear Solid for its specific form of directed, long-winded storytelling, Ground Zeroes will likely hold little appeal. But that scarcity of cutscenes isn’t for lack of narrative. A significant amount of backstory is available through audio logs (cassette tapes for Big Boss’s Walkman, natch') you can listen to as you play, a feature that’s first for the series (even if shooters have been doing this for years).

Why not include those story details in elaborate cutscenes, as per the Metal Gear tradition? Assured financial benefits notwithstanding, Kojima says the decision to lean less heavily on non-interactive cutscenes was deliberate, and that it reflects an altogether new storytelling philosophy he wants to implement with Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain: “I want [players] to put these stories in their head, tie them together, and come up with their own story,” he told me during my Ground Zeroes play session. With MGS5, Kojima is less interested in leading players by the hand, and wants to instead deliver a story in a more contextual, interactive way.

He went on: “Through the mission[s], I want to spread small pieces of information all over the place, with small cutscenes that not everyone has to see, or tapes, or items that will tell part of the story.” It would appear, then, that Kojima is taking a page out of BioShock and Portal’s book, telling a linear story in a more free-form way that encourages exploration and discovery.

But with that new narrative structure comes a shift in focus across the board. If you’ve been keeping up with the coverage of the game so far, you also know that there’s plenty more to do beyond the main mission. Despite finishing the story in a single sitting, I played the game for eight hours and didn’t see all of its content. But aside from that main mission, none of it is narrative-driven, and none of it is canonical. So Ground Zeroes appears to be a game you’ll come to for gameplay first, and story second.

By adopting this more modernized (and, dare I say, Western) gameplay and narrative style, Kojima wants to prove the franchise is still relevant, and nimble enough to adjust to the needs of modern gamers. But some die-hard fans of the series may be turned off by such a radical change. With Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain pushing the narrative further into the background, players may be looking at a very different series with MGS5.

8 comments

  • fivebyfive87 - March 17, 2014 1:05 p.m.

    Metal gear does not need realism, it needs to be more anime-looking in order to keep our suspension of disbelief and tolerating some weird gameplay mechanics. You cannot handwave every plot hole with:"everything we can't explain is nanomachines, the rest is some pretentious speech about love and war"
  • Jackonomics2.0 - March 15, 2014 9:32 a.m.

    No not really, I would say even now MGS4 would hold up well, the best you can do is get rid of the stupid and unnecessary and just focus on what you want MGSV to be about. "Modernizing" is a strong word Try adding same sex relationships or anything for the trannies, they go wild for that shit and will throw awards left and right.
  • GenderBender_9000 - March 15, 2014 7:32 p.m.

    There's already a Metal Gear game that's without the stupid and unnecessary. It's called Splinter Cell. Stupid and unnecessary is what makes the Metal Gear games so unique (and I mean that in a good way)........... Also, I fully support your idea of putting same sex marriage in the Metal Gear games :D
  • fivebyfive87 - March 17, 2014 12:59 p.m.

    No it doesn't. I did hardly finish it the first time i played it because it was becoming increasingly pretentious, self referencing and overall inconsistent to play. I wish the whole game could have been like the first two chapters and not like the rest if the game.
  • Swedish_Chef - March 15, 2014 8:14 a.m.

    Keep the crazy, remove the stupid and unecessary.
  • TheGreyWizard - March 15, 2014 7:06 a.m.

    One thing is certain. The MGSV games will retcon a lot of shit.
  • Bansheebot - March 14, 2014 8:56 p.m.

    Who kidnapped Kojima and where did this clone masquerading as him come from?
  • archnite - March 15, 2014 5:40 a.m.

    Joakim Mogren was real and Moby Dick Studio has infiltrated Konami and acquired Meta Gear. We need to send it a highly trained, mullet haired soldier in for an Infiltration MIssion! I can't say I' not disappointed, but hopefully the craziness will be jut a crazy but delivered quicker. I love MGS4 to pieces but that game can be beaten in three hours sans cutscences.

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