Editor’s Note: At EGM, we like to get away from boilerplate previews and have a more natural conversation when we see an upcoming game we’re excited about. Party Chat is a preview format intended to give you (and us) more of what we both want: off-the-cuff opinions that inform and entertain instead of a boring list of developer-approved bullet points. Please let us know what you think in the comments below!
Andrew Fitch, managing editor: When it comes to Metal Gear at EGM, we’re packed with diversity?each of us has a different level of appreciation (or not!) of Hideo Kojima’s wordy stealth-action franchise. Personally, I’m a longtime fan even going back to the NES entries, and I got a chance to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain at Konami’s LA studio for two days last month. Mollie and Ray, you two also got to play it at a pre-E3 event for a couple of hours, too.
And, Josh, you haven’t played it at all but remain Hideo Kojima’s biggest skeptic on our staff. With that in mind, is there anything, given your status as our Hideo-hater-in-residence, that I could tell you based on my hands-on time with the game that could convince you that The Phantom Pain has turned a corner for the franchise?
Josh Harmon, associate editor: If you told me there were a ?disable all dialogue and cutscenes” option, I?d pre-order the game right away. To be clear, I think Kojima is, and always has been, a great systems designer. He?s done a lot for stealth games, and as a fan of the genre, I appreciate that. But somewhere along the line, someone apparently told him that vomiting up Wikipedia articles and inane conspiracy theories as stilted dialogue made him a great writer, and I struggle to get past that and enjoy the actual (solid) gameplay.
Andrew: Well, you’re in luck! Thanks to the prohibitive costs of Kiefer Sutherland and his apparent disinterest in actually speaking into a microphone for longer than 10 seconds at a time, The Phantom Pain is pretty short on cutscenes?at least once you get past the prologue. Most of the narrative dump is delivered via cassette tapes you collect, which consist of Troy Baker?here playing series staple Ocelot?stating a bunch of information and Sutherland’s Snake nodding or grunting in recognition. It’s really all about the action here, based on my 12 hours or so with the game.
Josh: You have my attention.
Andrew: Plus, you’re free to play those cassette tapes while you’re on missions (like in Ground Zeroes, if memory serves), so that info dump doesn’t interrupt the action. Personally, I still like to pause the game and listen to the Metal Gear lore, but you don’t have to.
Ray Carsillo, reviews and previews editor: Well, that gives me hope. In the two hours I played, Snake indeed barely talked, but everyone around him yammered on about dreams and hope and revenge and what was stolen from them and all sorts of garbage that made me want to stick pencils in my ears. So, if you’re telling me it tones down after that, Andrew, that makes me happy?because this might actually be a Metal Gear Solid game I finish instead of being driven mad by the inane ramblings. But my two hours didn’t assuage my fears of history repeating itself, even if the gameplay felt better than it ever had before.
Mollie L. Patterson, executive editor: See, I?m going to be the voice of unreason and say that I didn?t think there was enough narrative in the portion of Metal Gear Solid V that I played. I feel like this is Kojima reacting to all of the negativity of MGS4?and while I don?t know that I want to return to the horror stories I?ve heard of the 60-minute cutscenes fans sat through in that game, over-the-top weirdness is kind of what Metal Gear is. Really, in a lot of ways that I?m sure we?re going to be getting into, this isn?t feeling like the Metal Gear I?m used to?and I?m having very mixed emotions about that.
Andrew: Didn’t you and Ray play the same portion of the game? What felt “off” about it to you?
Mollie: Well, beyond a Snake who was bizarrely quiet due to having a voice that was obviously a luxury Konami wasn?t sure it could afford, the entire structure of what I played of MGSV just felt wrong to me. I know you and I talked a bit about it before, Andrew, and you said that it plays more like Peace Walker?a game I?ve yet to touch. But a Metal Gear game where I?m picking what to do next from a mission list? And some of those missions feeling like the types of glorified fetch quests we get in other sandbox games? This isn?t Metal Gear! I want the ridiculous story, the crazy drama, the movie-like flow of quiet moments and epic battles. It feels like Metal Gear Solid V is just another open-world experience, and given how same-y they?ve been feeling to me lately, that?s got me worried.
Ray: I loved the ability to choose what mission I did next. It gave me a sense of freedom that I’d never felt in a Metal Gear game before. That translates into the missions themselves, too. I would mark soldiers from hundreds of meters away and then plot out different paths toward completing my objectives. I could go in guns blazing or super-stealthy, whereas you were screwed if anyone saw you in previous Metal Gear games. And tying up unconscious soldiers to parachute balloons to be whisked away and coerced to joining my new team at Mother Base was more than enough zaniness for me. I immensely enjoyed my short time with Metal Gear Solid V. In fact, I’d say I liked what I played more than almost any of the previous entries.
Andrew: My feelings are closer to Ray’s than Mollie’s. I will say, though, that after only a few hours, I had a pretty lukewarm reaction. The survival-horror-esque prologue didn’t do much for me at all, and it took a while for things to heat up once the main narrative began in earnest. But then I realized that, wait, I didn’t have to tackle a main mission that was frustrating me. I could just do a fun little side mission that revolved around sending a lost sheep back to Mother Base. So that’s what I did, and things really opened up from there.
Mollie: Thanks for being a jerk and reminding me that I didn?t get to play the prologue at my preview, Andrew.
Andrew: You weren’t missing much?trust me. New-gen crawling simulator.
Josh: Not to be the stereotypical hater once more, but sheep? Really? I?ve seen the screenshots, and that just looks inexplicably dumb.
Ray: It’s Metal Gear. There still have to be some stupidly random things in there.
Andrew: The sheep thing is just a fun little diversion. I actually appreciate that the game has all these short little “side ops” that you can do in 10 to 15 minutes. It gives you a chance to take a break from the main stuff
Mollie: Why do we need diversions, though? That?s my argument here. Every Metal Gear I?ve enjoyed has been about that one beginning-to-end story. No matter what you thought of the story itself, it had a proper flow to it. Now Snake is hopping back and forth between the countryside and Mother Base, like it?s no big deal to be doing that. More and more, I?m starting to think that the move to open-world game design was the wrong one here.
Josh: Correct me if I?m wrong, but didn?t Kojima say that MGSV was going to tackle serious issues, like racism and sexual assault (which we saw handled poorly in Ground Zeroes already)? How does putting sheep on balloons fit that agenda? I?d ask if Hideo Kojima had ever heard the phrase ?tonal whiplash,? but I?m pretty sure if he had, Liquid Snake would have spent five minutes explaining it already.
Andrew: In relation to the tone, I found the setting disconcerting for a Metal Gear game. After the decade-long Afghanistan war, to face the Russians as the “enemy” in that country when they’re essentially facing the same thing U.S. soldiers did?it felt a bit…wrong. They’re just soldiers following orders, like our guys did. War in Metal Gear games has always felt pretty detached and cartoony to me?Snake Eater was a James Bond-style fantasy from my perspective. But this conflict is close enough, real enough that it feels uncomfortable. Maybe that’s Kojima’s aim here.
Ray: I don’t think the Afghanistan setting and mid-’80s tone was really drummed up enough for it to be that big of an issue for me. It just felt like a generic desert and killing Russians?and,well, that’s what we do in video games. The only way the enemy could’ve been more of a non-factor for me is if they were Nazis, but that obviously wouldn’t have fit the setting at all.
Josh: Well, folks, let?s hope Putin doesn?t read EGM. But, Andrew, let?s put the storytelling aside for a moment, since I don?t think we?re going to reach any kind of consensus, and I?m never going to feel optimism toward Kojima-san?s efforts on that front. What about the gameplay itself?the systems and whatnot? Was it basically just a bigger version of Ground Zeroes?
Andrew: Bigger, yes, but also more complex. One reason Ground Zeroes didn’t really resonate with me was that the missions were so straightforward. Here, you can rush right in and try to reach your objective, but if you explore the area, you’ll find intel and the like that’ll help you on the mission. One thing I liked was that Snake doesn’t unerstand Russian at the beginning, and you have to find a translator, or you’ll never understand what the soldiers are saying (never mind that Snake knew Russian back in the ’60s and Snake Eater, but a combination of a head injury and Kiefer’s voice made him forget it, apparently?). But that’s an optional objective, and there were other examples like that I encountered.
Mollie: That was actually one of the most interesting parts of the game to me?the whole ?find a translator” aspect?and the kind of thing I love about Kojima. He adds in those crazy little details that so many other developers don?t.
Andrew: After playing The Witcher 3, though, I’m not sure the “openness” of MGSV‘s world will be all that impressive. Part of the problem is that it’s a stealth game. I tried making my way from one end of the map to the other and kept getting attacked?not much really happened unless I triggered missions.
Ray: It’s impossible to compare this to The Witcher, because while you could go off and explore, like you mention, you’re really not supposed to. Snake’s motivation is to get the mission done, and to me, that screams that you have to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible, whereas Geralt is all about trying to find where he can get his next bundle of crowns?and opportunities for that can come around any corner. But considering how linear most MGS games are to begin with, this is a nice step forward to at least afford you those options, even if it feels like you’re being punished for taking them.
Andrew: Yeah, I guess that what was bothered me?this is ostensibly an “open-world” game, but I felt like I was being punished for trying to take advantage of that openness at times.
Josh: Andrew, I?m surprised at how skeptical you sound about the game so far. You?re usually Metal Gear?s biggest advocate. Are you really having that many reservations?
Andrew: No, I just have small concerns?I actually did want to clarify that I very much enjoyed the game, and it got better as I went along and was able to equip Snake with more interesting weapons, toys, and camouflage. I especially like how they’ve made the cardboard box much more of a flexible tool now, too. Ray, you enjoyed that as well, right?
Ray: Yeah, I used the cardboard box to get out of a few sticky situations and was happy to see it return very early in the adventure.
Andrew: The box has always been this very defensive mechanism in the games, but now you can use it to sneak up on people and pop out and attack?so it’s become this very offensive weapon as well, particularly as you start to upgrade it back at Mother Base. I’m hoping to see similar stuff like that in the final game with other familiar Metal Gear elements.
Josh: So, on the whole, would you say it?s shaping up to be a triumphant note for Kojima to go out on? A bang, rather than a whimper?
Ray: I think it’s a big bounceback from MGS4, to be sure, but I’m not ready to crown it this glorious achievement just yet.
Mollie: As much as I hate to say it?because I should be supporting the idea of doing something different?I?m worried about MGSV?s less-focused open-world style and some of the other decisions. And now that this looks like Kojima?s last Metal Gear offering, I?m not really sure this is how I want the entire crazy journey to end. Then again, I never could have expected two-thirds of what I got in Metal Gear Solid 2, so maybe the guy?s got one last gigantic surprise in store for us. Plus, no matter what anybody else says, I?m already a huge Quiet fan, so if for no other reason, I?ll be playing it to see what?s up with her. If only this were Metal Gear Quiet instead of Metal Gear Solid…
Ray: I’m a huge Quiet fan, too, but for all the wrong reasons.
Andrew: I didn’t even find Quiet in my playthrough, so I have no opinion on her yet!
But as far as my opinion on the game goes, I’m pretty optimistic. It felt like a mix of Snake Eater and Peace Walker to me, which isn’t a bad thing. I think with Metal Gear Solid 4, Kojima was trying to satisfy the fans, which is why we ended up with all the “nanomachines” nonsense. Here, it feels like he’s been freed up to tell more of the story he wants to tell, and much as Kiefer’s half-asleep acting might try to pull things down, I’m already finding it more interesting than MGS4. At the very least, it feels like Kojima is going out on his terms?from Konami and from Metal Gear Solid?and I think that’s all we can hope for with a creator like him.