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Is Metal Gear cool as ever? Or a series that needs to evolve?

Remember when everyone wanted to be Solid Snake? The voice, the beard, the bandana, the attitude: he was the epitome of cool. Was. 

Ground Zeroes--a hot, new slice of Hideo Kojima-style sneaking--is just around the corner, but is Metal Gear Solid the series it once was?  Gaming has changed a lot since Solid Snake bid us adieu in 2008, and it makes me wonder whether the franchise, under Kojima’s guidance, has what it takes to stay relevant six years on. 

Kojima is a supremely talented individual who has delivered with Metal Gear ever since that first game took the world by storm back in 1987. The first ‘Solid’ game in 1998 was a huge moment in gaming history. His methods were fresh and his style of storytelling was wonderfully mad, punctuated with wry smiles and knowing winks. 


With each subsequent Solid adventure however the Metal Gear mythology has grown more bloated and convoluted. The wry smiles are more forced, the winks look more like a twitch. As such, following the release of MGS4--which appeared a fitting end to the series in its current form--the Kojima style of storytelling has been met with its fair share of criticism.

Long-winded exposition, complicated webs of narrative, incoherent jargon and mammoth cut scenes are all stylistic signatures of Kojima and Metal Gear--but does that form part of MGS’s kitsch appeal or are modern gamers after something different? Gamers joke about these things, and there is still a great fondness for the series and its games, but appetite for Metal Gear has diminished over the years.


Why? For me there seems to have been something of a disconnect between Kojima and his fans. When The Phantom Pain was announced with an impressive, lengthy trailer we all knew exactly what it was despite the bizarre ‘mystery’ of Moby Dick Games and the assertion that it wasn’t actually a MGS game. 

When it was eventually revealed to be MGS 5 the reveal had no weight because nobody bought the lie to begin with. That stumble was followed up with full blown, arse over tit tumble following the reveal of female character Quiet, who despite being a hardened soldier wears barely any clothes. 


As the issue of sexism in gaming reared its ugly--yet sadly relevant--head yet again, Kojima decided to make matters worse by stating plainly that he ordered designers to make Quiet ‘more erotic’ and that she was designed to sell action figures and ‘make you want to do cosplay’. 


Attempting to clarify this by saying that Quiet’s state of dress would fit with her character and be addressed in the game fell on deaf ears. Of course, similarly sexed up women have featured throughout the series, but always closer to B-movie than porn movie. 


Then there’s the small matter of replacing long-time Solid Snake and Big Boss voice actor David Hayter with big-name Kiefer Sutherland--one of the more unpopular decisions a game designer has made in recent years. In the eyes of fans it was a casting decision made due to Sutherland’s headline-grabbing name, and as far as fan-backlash is concerned, it was another example of misstep in the build up to the new game. However, it is an attempt to evolve the series. Perhaps not one that fans necessarily wanted, but it does demonstrate a willingness to change, and that's encouraging.

It’s also no secret that Hideo Kojima wants to move on and make something different--he’s been saying it since Sons of Liberty after all. In a recent interview with Game Informer he brought the subject up again: “To be honest, I've actually wanted to do something similar just to change it. I don't know if the Metal Gear brand sometimes is a bit heavy to carry. The franchise is difficult to handle. But so far I've had no success [in passing the torch].”


He tried to pass the torch during the development of Metal Gear Solid: Rising, but was unsatisfied with the progress being made, eventually handing the game over to Platinum Games who turned the concept into 2013’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  


The troubled development indicates a perfectionist streak in Kojima. It’s understandable, given that MGS is his baby, but if at the same time he wants to move on then that’s a contradiction that needs addressing. It certainly must be a difficult series for anyone to carry,  but would a fresh perspective from a new lead director be so bad? Metal Gear Solid’s success was born from a time in which games were capitalising on their fancy new third dimension and big releases were still emulating their Hollywood cousins. 

Metal Gear Solid did that best, and with each game since the franchise has increasingly, gleefully toed the line between AAA video game and tongue-in-cheek Hollywood wannabe. Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain will likely be great games and for many that will be all that counts--there’s nothing wrong with that either. However over the years the story of MGS has become more insular with each instalment. 

In this post-The Last of Us world, gamers want characters, not caricatures. Leading men and women like Ellie, Joel, Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio, Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston, The Walking Dead’s Lee Everett and BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth are becoming more commonplace.  


Metal Gear Solid doesn’t have to be as serious or as tragic as Naughty Dog’s horror classic, but it needs to adapt to fit in with the demands of modern console gamers. There’s nothing wrong with 80s-infused macho themes, but now would be an excellent time for the series to modernise. I for one, hope that it does.

13 comments

  • HIM - March 13, 2014 7:37 a.m.

    MGS should have ended in 2008. We don't need any more Big Boss prequels, interquels, or whatever. And, while I'm going to play MGSV, I'm more nervous than anxious... Peace Walker wasn't exactly Kojima's best work
  • bigwill1221 - March 14, 2014 5:43 p.m.

    Just let game developers develop games, it's what they want to make not what others want.
  • TheHalfanese - March 12, 2014 6:54 p.m.

    I don't think any of these arguments are particularly strong at all, and I would say that MGS is still as popular now as it has always been among gamers. Then again, I do get the sense that this article is playing devil's advocate, which would explain things. Nonetheless, I do think the majority of these criticisms (minus Quiet's sexualization; that's something I'd rather not get in to) are unfair to a degree and I do think that they can be easily dismantled if properly thought about. 1. Long cutscenes: I believe that in the same Game Informer interview cited above, Kojima also states that he's drastically cut back on the length of cutscenes. So there's one critique addressed, more or less. It's probably important to note though that MGS 2 and 4 are in themselves very, very meta critiques and deconstructions of the MGS series as a whole. The long cutscenes that they are both guilty of are commentary on the nature of the game and our opinions toward it. So really, they are there for more than the unraveling of really complicated plot points. 2. Unsurprising reveal: That's an opinion, I guess. I didn't buy the whole Project Ogre things either, but I was still excited to see the joke revealed and have my suspicions confirmed. And, simply knowing that a new MGS game is coming is fantastic news to me no matter the context. Also, all the details of the "fake game" hint toward plot themes. The game is apparently taking a bunch of inspiration from Moby Dick, as observable via all the references to it. 3. Kiefer Sutherland: I feel this is an incredible non-issue. The game clearly has a very serious story and theme (revenge), so Kojima brought in someone who could lend a serious performance to his story. I like Hayter too, but he isn't right for this. His voice-acting is pure caricature; nobody has ever or will ever speak in real life the way Snake does in game. If this game's story is going to be what it's shaping up to be - that is, a fall-from-grace revenge story - then Hayter would ruin the seriousness of the narrative. His voice would shatter immersion. I think he's justified in feeling ignored by Kojima, but then again, why should they have told him? Is it commonplace to go out of your way to tell people that they are not going to be involved on a certain job? Not really. Most people seem to have gotten over this, but it infuriates me that some people are still upset. 4. A narrative and characters on par with TLOU, etc.: Based on the trailers we've seen so far, we have gotten images of: interrogation, torture, child soldiers, a bomb surgically implanted into a young woman, loss of limbs, imprisonment, and the implied murder of innocent women and children. (At the hands of our progatonist, no less!) I know graphic content doesn't necessarily mean maturity, but from the way all these things have been presented so far, I think it's safe to say that we're headed toward a very mature story here. And let's not forget the more subtle narrative details such as the visual metaphor of the shrapnel in Big Boss' head and a demon horn. That's intelligent stuff, right there. This is the story of how Big Boss became a villain. The story of how man became blinded by his ideals. It has to be good. It needs to be. The content demands it, and Kojima knows that. All in all, I can't say whether or not MGS is truly as popular today as it was a few years ago, though I believe it is. What I can say, however, is that these criticisms proposed above are not valid reasons to feel disinterested in this game. Can I guarantee it will be everything I claim it's trying to be? No, unfortunately not. But do I think that Kojima is trying to achieve something magnificent with this game? Yes, I do.
  • mentalityljs - March 12, 2014 5:15 p.m.

    Although the story can be extremely confusing at times, I believe it's the charm of the game that outweighs the convolutedness which keeps players coming back. Also, there aren't many games that can achieve the same level of depth and detail, as well as balance between stealth and action.
  • Darkhawk - March 12, 2014 1:08 p.m.

    The Sutherland/Hayter business is just incomprehensible, not least because of how Hayter was handled. After over a decade's relationship with a game, to find out you're not involved anymore with a public announcement? What a dick (and unforgivable) move, regardless of how polite Hayter is being about it (what else is he going to do? Openly start bashing one of the Kings of Industry?)
  • phatsnake - March 12, 2014 10:23 a.m.

    The article discusses the MGS franchise from the perspective of an average gamer who spends just as much time on MGS as the next game and from that point of view it makes a lot of sense. Kojima's old approach was getting outdated specially in MGS4 where it felt that he was mainly addressing the veteran fans who religiously followed the saga like myself, while the rest felt lost, if not unwanted. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the complicated story of MGS and the lengthy cutscenes in the later installments specially in 4 were certainly a joy for me. Every true MGS fan including myself would happily watch a 20 hour cutscene written and directed by Kojima but the real question is: Is this approach good for the continued success of the franchise in the modern age of gaming? No. The writer refers to this modern gaming age as the "post The Last of Us" era which I refuse to acknowledge. While TLOU was a big step in the right direction, it was far from perfect. These imperfections include primitive AI that became apparent as the player approached enemies, broken scripted events, and the repetitive gameplay, specially the sneaking parts inhabited by bandits. Back to MGS, The writer did recognize Kojima's efforts to update his approach with the series, but failed to point out that Kojima himself described GZ and PP cutscenes as episodes of a TV show when compared to MGS4's movie experience. They also forgot to add that MGS is becoming an open world experience with many different ways to achieve your goal as opposed to the linear approach of the older games which was perfectly fine back then. Instead, they considered the replacement of David Hayter with Keifer Sutherland, a very controversial decision among fans, one that i personally hated, as that long awaited change.
  • JMarsella09 - March 12, 2014 9:19 a.m.

    I think the Metal Gear Solid series has evolved. Each game in the series has brought something new to the table, in terms of both story and gameplay, all the while retaining the very things that make it Metal Gear. As for appetites being diminished, well I don't know about that. Ever since the first Phantom pain trailer I have seen the internet explode in hype and desire. I think the serval controversies that have sprung up since go only to show just how much people care about this series. It's been six years since the last console game, and as someone who bought a PS3 for MGS4, my mouth is watering.
  • wiitard07 - March 12, 2014 7:03 a.m.

    I'm so excited metal gear solid is silly good, and I just need to procure a PS3 somehow to play through MGS 4. Then everything will come full circle. Sucks that on xbox I can play everything but the epic conclusion. Good thing MGS V is big boss again :p
  • BladedFalcon - March 12, 2014 6:35 a.m.

    Personally, my love and enthusiasm for the Metal Gear Series has never diminished, but I HAVE noticed several worrying trends and attitudes going on with the development of MGS V, which does make me feel that at this point Kojima is making changes to the series for the sake of making changes. Most of all, I think that if Kojima wants to do something else, he should just do it. Even if he always wanted to have control over the series's direction, no one lives forever, and he's eventually gonna die and if the series is still relevant, the torch will be passed on anyway. Might as well do it now when he can still oversee the change in direction, and again, giving him time to create something new. All in all though, I disagree that MGS as a whole needs to change. Yes, a lot of it's elements might not be as popular as they were in the past, but it still has a lot to offer, and most importantly, there's not any other game or series quite like it. So IMO, there is still a place for MGS's brand of overly complex, schizophrenic storytelling and weird sense of humor.
  • wiitard07 - March 12, 2014 7:06 a.m.

    I remember the first time I encountered Volgin in snake eater. Super serious cold war tone so far, realistic and super cool. Then LIGHTING HANDS. There really isn't anything this odd out there. Its excellent.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - March 12, 2014 6:28 a.m.

    The sexism comment is bullshit This is Japan were talking about, they don't give a shit and have been doing it for years. People are only starting to be aware but forget past titles, like how some bozzo blabbed against Gigolo mode in Killer 7 but ignoring the other games Suda 51 made. While I am against the 2 game decision, I know Kojima is just doing what's right, sometimes its not a new director, the main one can already understand what needs to be done. If he wants the series to evolve then let him, he should know what he's getting himself into. You don't also need a "characters not caricatures", frankly I would say MGS has built itself on Characters more than the games you listed, especially in Metal Gear Solid 4. They don't need to be "real characters" if what you already have grown as such. Who knows what'll happen, maybe your right, maybe were all wrong, but time will tell. In the words of Reggie "PLAY. THE. GAME."
  • Geo-Outlit - March 12, 2014 11:34 a.m.

    I thought it was Killer is Dead that had Gigolo mode.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - March 13, 2014 9:31 a.m.

    Your right I got it mixed up.

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