We all knew that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, my personal Game of 2015, would be the last real Metal Gear game after the now confirmed departure of creator Hideo Kojima from publisher Konami. Heck, it’ll probably be the last real game from Konami since, as well as ditching talent like Kojima, they also cancelled the promising new Silent Hills project, have been accused of tormenting staff and began turning all their good franchises into pachinko machines.
But regardless of all this, and the fan backlash/negative press that followed, Konami have said that they plan to continue the Metal Gear franchise and have this past week been spotted advertising jobs on their Japanese website for a “New Metal Gear.” Now that Hideo Kojima is officially moving on to his new independent studio, the question must really be asked: what will Metal Gear be like without him?
The first thing we need to acknowledge when it comes to this hypothetical is that there have been Metal Gear games made without Kojima’s input, such as the PSP’s Metal Gear Ac!d series, but they haven’t been core parts of the main franchise story. The most prominent offshoot was Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (apparently an actual word, despite its contrarily silly nature), a 2013 hack-n-slash game starring Metal Gear Solid 4‘s Raiden and developed by Platinum Games (of Bayonetta fame). It was a lot of fun particularly due to a really cool slow-motion-slice-up-enemies-how-you-want feature.
But you know what it was missing? The bizarre, Kojima-ness.
In Kojima’s Metal Gears, he always seemed to straddle the line between making an anime cartoon and an American spy thriller, though as the series went on it certainly started leaning closer to the anime side of things. The stories were grounded in Cold War politics, 1980s action movie tropes and modern military warfare, but still had giant robots, super human villains and the occasional cyborg ninja.
Not being a huge fan of anime, it was the balance Kojima always used to strike between these Western/Japanese narrative devices that I really enjoyed about the series. The mission objective of each game was always something like rescuing the US President from a terrorist cell holding him hostage, to locating and disarming a nuclear weapon, to even a straight up assassination plot. It was through these stories we’d learn things such as the nuclear weapon was not a conventional missile but a bi-pedal robot death-machine, or the terrorists holding the President were a vampire and an immortal woman waiting for death. Metal Gear Solid is James Bond with a sci-fi twist.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, on the other hand, almost completely forwent the spy thriller part and opted for full blown Dragonball Z-esque crazy. I’m surprised half the game wasn’t Raiden staring down his enemies while single sweat beads slid down his face.
Then there is the matter of Kojima’s quirky sense of humour.
The Kojima quirks are some of the biggest highlights of the Metal Gear saga, because no other game has allowed for the strategic placement of pornographic magazines to directly benefit a CIA sanctioned infiltration mission. Snake can sneak around in a cardboard box, take pills to feign death, and more recently use horse defecation to cripple enemy transport; the list goes on. I don’t know how he does it, but Kojima somehow manages to work these features into the games while still allowing me to take them seriously and that is something I doubt anyone else could imitate.
I mean, I’d love to see someone try, but something tells me Kojima quirks cannot be taught…
But, having someone other than Kojima helm the next Metal Gear Solid game could have its benefits. For starters, it could result in a better representation of any female characters, as Kojima reached a new low on that front with Metal Gear Solid V’s unnecessarily naked, mute sniper Quiet. This wasn’t just a one off either. Metal Gear Solid 3 may have featured The Boss, Snake’s strong, un-objectified mentor but also included Eva, an undercover blonde bombshell who spent most of her time in a jump suit unnecessarily unzipped down to her navel and was constantly followed around by some sexy saxophone tunes. The original Metal Gear Solid‘s Meryl Silverburgh, a naive soldier in way over her head, could be “caught out” in her underwear in certain parts of the game for no other reason than “because sexy”. Now, I love Metal Gear Solid as a series, but I’ll be one of the first to say it has problems when it comes to women.
And that’s such a shame, because so many of the female characters throughout the series have been amazing characters, at least in concept, and ruined by the game pandering them to the “male gaze”. This was particularly true regarding Quiet, whose non-verbal moments with Venom Snake, internal conflict surrounding her choice to not speak and many of her bad-ass combat moments would have made for a much stronger, and more subtle, character if it weren’t for her ridiculous lack of clothing and the way the game gawks at her for it. The moment I unlocked the alternate costume for her that was essentially normal combat fatigues I was amazed at how different her character comes across since she looks like what she is: a hardened soldier, not a sex object.
Much like how JJ Abrams approached Star Wars: The Force Awakens by listening to the 10 plus years of criticism the prequels got, perhaps a new director could do the same here.
Speaking of balance earlier, Kojima’s storytelling always lacked some when it came to the ratio of cutscenes and gameplay. The movie-like cutscenes of the first four Metal Gear Solids are some of the best I have ever seen, but were also justifiably met with a lot of criticism for being too long at points. Earlier games featured some scenes lasting up to 30-45 minutes, while Metal Gear Solid 4 had a string of cutscenes lasting for 71 minutes. That’s bordering on what is known as “feature length”, essentially becoming a film break between gameplay. And then there were the codec calls, little radio conversation interludes between gameplay sections. Some of these were quite lengthy, others completely superfluous (looking at your “why won’t you talk about our relationship during a combat situation” whining, Rose!), but they mainly functioned as narrative exposition that couldn’t be shown in cutscenes.
Over the past 17 years, Metal Gear Solid gained a reputation for being the game series you watch rather than play, and one of the first things that struck me about The Phantom Pain was that it was evident Kojima and his team had responded to the criticism by having almost no decent story cutscenes at all. Aside from the prologue and the ending, the cutscenes were the opposite of what they used to be: they were short, had nearly all the expositional dialogue removed and featured almost no story in them at all. Codec calls were also gone, replaced instead by hours of tape recordings of conversations that the player could listen to at their leisure. These tapes were problematic as they were too distracting to pay attention to while out on a mission, but too dull to just sit and listen to in the transport helicopter. And some of the conversations were ones Snake was present at and would have made for better cutscenes any way.
Suffice it to say, Kojima either had to have all or nothing. But storytelling in video games has come a long way, with masterpieces like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us combing gameplay sections with character interactions as well as the occasional cutscene. If the series as a whole is anything to go by, Metal Gear Solid has proven it can have a fantastic narrative and ingenious gameplay, but as technology has gotten better since the PS1 original it’s never been able to truly merge the two. Some new blood could perhaps be what is needed.
When I first heard the news that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain would be Kojima’s last Metal Gear, I was shattered. How could I not be? The man behind my favourite game of all time was leaving the series behind. But behind the scenes rumours seem to indicate it was time, and despite my obvious love for Phantom Pain in calling it game of the year for 2015 it was a clear the series could use a new shot in the arm.
So farewell Hideo, I eagerly await your new project with Playstation as well as whatever new horizons Metal Gear Solid is heading towards. But those horizons are at the whim of Konami, so maybe I shouldn’t be holding my breath…