Monday, December 29, 2014

Here's To You

Spent a great deal of time with 'Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes' over my Christmas break, and since the awesome first impression it left on me has now vanished, I've a new perspective I don't think I'd have had otherwise. It still looks great, and the sound design is still fantastic, but I now view it as more of an experiment than an actual demo.

Full disclosure: Apart from 'MGS1' and 'MGS3: Snake Eater', I've never gotten in to any of the storylines in a Metal Gear game. The seem to just drone on for hours and hours about things I've no interest in, as well as things I could honestly care less about and things that just don't make any sense to me whatsoever. Still to this day I just don't get the story of 'MGS2'. I have no understanding of it at all (Seriously, did anyone really give a shit about The Patriots?). But I still replay it once a year or so because it's fun to play. The gameplay is what keeps me coming back to Metal Gear. It's fun to sneak up on guards and interrogate them. It's a challenge trying to find every possible stealthy way to get from point A to B without being seen or heard.

In that sense, 'Ground Zeroes' delivers the usual high Metal Gear standard. It's loads of fun sneaking around Camp Omega and trying to extract prisoners without being caught in the act. What's not so fun about it is the grinding you have to do to actually understand who certain people are and why you should give a shit about them. Information is delivered via cassette tapes you find scattered throughout all of Zeroes' side missions. If you want the full story you have to play every mission and do a damn thorough job of searching every nook of Camp Omega.

For such a tiny level there are loads of places you'll probably never find until your 3rd or 4th playthrough (and if you're a completion purist, you will play every mission at least that many times). Why, if the stories on these tapes and these characters is supposed to be so crucial to the plot, they are split up between all of the missions is something I can't begin to understand. It just seems like a good way to only fill in the "hardcores" and leave the casual audience clueless. I had to listen to those tapes more than once to fully comprehend what was going on, and, for me, it wasn't even worth it. All the plot points contained within could've just as easily have been told via cutscene or as chatter over Big Boss' radio. And there are, as always in Metal Gear, elements to this games story that I'd love to discuss and dissect, but frankly I've no clue what they're about or why they are there, so I'm unqualified to do so.

'Zeroes' is pretty generous with trophies and achievements for a demo. And my God, will you work for them. They range from simple (Meet up with and rescue prisoner A or B), to somewhat challenging (Earn an S ranking on any mission), to downright frustrating (Complete Mission X without hurting a single enemy). The mission in question for that one involves you stuck in a chopper, providing cover fire for an ally spy attempting to escape the base who is being pursued by enemy troops. The trick is to just focus on the enemies actually shooting at him, and not the ones shooting at you. Let them hit you, you'll heal. He, however, will not. It's easy to go berserk with a machine gun and wipe out every troop in pursuit, but no so easy to very carefully precisely aim at their heads to take them down with a tranquilizer round in a constantly shifting helicopter. Especially the ones in vehicles. There's a part near the end where you have to take down an enemy chopper, which has 2 soldiers in it firing at you. Your best method to take down the chopper is to use a rocket launcher, but doing so will throw the enemies out of their chopper letting them fall to their deaths. Which ruins your flawless run. Both times I shot them with tranqs first they still fell and died. But you have to kill no one to get the trophy. Needless to say, I got an S rank on it long before I even thought of going for an S rank on it. I was going for the trophy. It's on the back burner for now though...

Another pain in the ass is the "Unlock All Challenges" trophy. Challenges are varied, ranging from "fastest extraction of prisoners" to "fastest takedown of all enemies" to "fastest collection of landmines". Each level has their own set of challenges, and each difficulty ("Normal" and "Hard", respectively) also has their own set of challenges. To unlock a challenge, you simply have to beat a mission once. That will unlock one challenge for that particular difficulty setting. Then you have to replay that mission and complete the previously unlocked challenge. This will, depending on the difficulty setting, unlock another set of challenges. So you're going to replay those missions on each difficulty setting at least 3 times to unlock them all. Your personal bests are then uploaded onto online leaderboards where you can compare your times with others from around the world. And if you don't give a shit about that, then it's just an "Alright. Whatever." feature. And if you're not a 100% completion purist and don't care about the trophy, save yourself the boredom and potential frustrations. While these missions are fun, they do get old on repeat playthroughs fast. Especially when you play one way and it goes flawless until one tiny little thing at the end and you're unable to re-create your playthrough with hopes of avoiding that one flaw again. It will happen at some point.

I'm still not sure of the homage to 'MGS1' level. It's a fun trip the first time around, and even more when you unlock the polygon Solid Snake skin, but it feels like a cashgrab type thing. I do not think it adds any value to the final product at all, and if I didn't actually play the original MGS I'd probably have no fucking clue what it was about. But I'm sure that's why it's locked away, only unlocked by collecting 9 (I think) patches from troopers' uniforms. It's for the hardcore, for sure. And it's kind of sad, in a sense. Kojima is such a creative guy and yet it feels like he thinks he'll never escape the shadow of the first 'MGS', so he feels he has to cater to a certain fanbase or piss them off. That's just my opinion, I could be wrong. I've read him say, in interviews with press for whichever Metal Gear is about to come out, that he's often thought of just stopping the series. That he's burned out and ready to move on. And yet, there the "Deja Vu" mission is.

I can't help but feel Kojima was just flying by the seat of his pants with this story. In the overall timeline of the series it just feels out of place and forced. Like Konami asked for another Metal Gear, he told them he was done with it and they said: "No, we're not asking, we're telling you." and he struggled to find something to have happen and to make it fit. And for all the emphasis MGS fans put on how "real" the series is, this one really cracks me up. So the argument is that MGS has always had more real world tech and storylines than any other military game out there. 'Cos, you know, every nation has their own bi-pedal walking tank with nuke capabilities that happens to scream like a dinosaur. And some nations even employ immortal vampires as mercs for hire, as well. Thematically, yes it's very real. Nuclear weapons are a very real danger to humanity, and Openheimer knew it all too late. Tech wise I think is another story. And the argument here is that people say this particular game is the most real of them all. So... the iPad has been around since '75 or so then? Well, that's pretty cool. How'd they convert tracks into MP3's? Oh, right. Big Boss carries a Walkman to listen to Chico's cassette tapes, so it was an early model iPad, hence the iDroid name. Gotcha. People always overlook the more fronted fantastical aspects of these games and focus on the more background reality they are based on. And I don't get it. These are video games, not documentaries. They may have serious tones and themes, and even messages, but at the end of the day, they are games meant for fun.

And I do not mean that as a disrespect. I think it's very admirable how Kojima can get his points across in even the most over the top settings and characters.

Finally, Big Boss himself. I love that character. It could've been easy to make him a very dislikeable human being, but he has 'Snake Eater' working in his favor. I feel bad for him, and honestly find myself hoping he finds redemption, even though I know how the story ends for him. It's easy to feel pain for a guy who has to shoot his mentor and possible lover in order to save the world. It's understandable how he can become bitter at humanity, lose faith in Governments, and even lose faith in general. Add in that his only person of comfort ended up being a Chinese spy who tried to betray him and leave him cold and alone having completed her mission, and you just can't help but feel for the guy. But with that being said, anyone who knows the U.N. is about to inspect his personal private military for hire base and has to destroy documents and hide a nuclear bomb before they show up is not a good person. This is a man wronged by the world, in his eye, and who has had enough of it. And I'm very curious to see where his journeys take him after Camp Omega. So with that impression left from this demo, 'Ground Zeroes' accomplishes its mission. But with only a B ranking. Which I think gets you a shotgun and a sniper rifle at the start of the level. Meh, they'll do the job.

In the end, I find 'Ground Zeroes' to become stale and repetitive after the 2nd or 3rd playthrough of each mission. But if you're a purist, there is hours of material in it to keep you occupied. It's a very jam packed demo, but only for the purists. But it is fun before the monotony sets in. And it's fun for everyone.

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