For many veterans to the Metal Gear Solid formula, both the E3 and Gamescom gameplay presentations of Metal Gear Solid V were a gentle yet vital reminder that The Phantom Pain will remain a Metal Gear Solid experience throughout. For newcomers however, this is a problem.
Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear Solid series has previously stated that he would like to take his newest game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to new extremes of story telling. His ambitions for the new Metal Gear Solid intend to break down the barriers of taboo, and will feature themes such as torture, child soldiers, extreme violence, (implied) sexual violence, war crimes and many other dark topics not often seen in video game storytelling. That's some pretty grim stuff, not to be laughed about.
Many newcomers to the series, however, (honestly guys, where have you been all this time?) have taken Kojima's word rather seriously, and with the release of the new Gamescom gameplay trailer... Aren't exactly happy with what they've seen.
In light of Mario-Kartesque Horse Manure Road traps, balloon-goats and sexy boxes, many prospective Phantom Pain buyers are feeling more than a little put off. Kojima stated that he wanted to make this game serious, so how will he ever marry the yuks and the "yuck!"s? Can a game be both gritty and light-hearted at the same time? Kojima-san is ruining his own game with gimmicks and toilet-humour!
But what I'd like to attempt to clarify is that this is all normal for Metal Gear, and ultimately, it's better for us as the player as well.
It's easy to scream about immersing oneself in a game, and the video game industry has been striving to achieve a level of realism and complexity that no other platform can really achieve. Games are by their very nature flexible, broad, explorative. Head-bobbing is a feature in these games. Footsteps. Battlefield's "wartapes" audio setting. Shaky-cam. Rumbling triggers every time you fire off a shot. Virtual Reality just over the horizon. It's clear that everyone wants to immerse you into their world and games are one of the better mediums in which that can happen.
However in a sentiment that I myself relate to, Mr. Kojima believes that a video game with 100% immersion/realism is a recipe for disaster, taking too much of an emotional toll on the player to really be enjoyable:
"With a movie it's probably easier to sustain intensity and seriousness over the 90-minute duration," he says. "But in an open-world game it becomes exhausting, demotivating and even uninteresting for the player. In order to avoid that fatigue, I try to interrupt that heaviness with visual jokes in the world, something to provide the player with some comic relief and change the mood dynamically."
In a world where a child is incarcerated within a Cuban-US Black Site and is forced to perform sexual acts upon another prisoner who is also his love-interest, it's easy to see how this kind of narrative can become tiring quickly.
And this isn't new for Kojima. Across all of his Metal Gear Solid games we've seen jokes that break up the tension, and that do so without affecting the pacing or flow of the narrative. We've heard the upset stomachs of many Sasaki family members, we've seen fat bombers on roller-skates, dancing women and hilarious codec calls. We've been told to turn off our consoles and to watch James Bond. We've also been given incredibly stylish crocodile hats. We've fought shamen and we've fought naked. We've seen it all. None of this hampers the 92+ average Metacritic rating that the Legacy Collection boasts on its jacket.
And by contrast we've seen beloved characters die. We've seen families torn apart by tragedy. We've seen the beginning of a nuclear uprising. We've been perpetually reminded that nuclear armageddon is precisely one button-press away at any given time. We've experienced government conspiracy and social commentary. We're dropped into the deep end of philosophy in which we're all just pawns in one big role playing game. We've seen the torture and the death and destruction. And the microwave tunnel, too.
Given these darker undertones, it's still difficult to imagine a world in which a Metal Gear game takes itself too seriously, because that's what makes the game what it is. It's a game that indulges in its own story but takes the time to push us back a step and say "please enjoy me, because I'm just that. A game." With all of our CODs and Battlefields and our competitive multiplayer e-sports, it's incredibly easy to forget that fact, and it's a reminder we seldom get to enjoy.
Video game creators don't seek to give us a harrowing experience. First and foremost they want a game to sell, but it's in their interest that it's fun, stress free, enjoyable and memorable. That's what the definition of "game" and "play" is after all. It's all about enjoyment.
Maybe you still disagree however. Maybe you feel that a game can be enjoyable without humour. Maybe you thrive on stress. I'm sure it's not that uncommon after all. All I can say for certain is that the only way Hideo Kojima can truly ruin The Phantom Pain is by robbing it of its Metal Gear Solid heritage.