Why Metal Gear Solid V is a huge disappointment

[It’s been nearly a year since progman.dt kindly translated my MGS5-themed Apocrypha into English, and I could never find time and motivation to edit and publish it. Well, now I did! You can find the Russian originals here and here]


When The Phantom Pain came out, it received rave reviews by the press. Its Metascore made it look like one of the strongest Game of the Year contestants, but for me and a lot of MGS fans it was a huge disappointment. The game’s got a lot of shortcomings that the press chose not to talk about, and it’s time we changed that.


First of all, let’s figure out who’s to blame. It’s very easy to put all the blame on Konami – mostly for their own misgivings, of course – but this time, it seems like the company really did all it could. Total creative freedom, studio named after him, five years and 80 (100 according to other sources) million dollars – Kojima had everything. He was treated like no other developer from Japan if not the entire world. And if, having all that, Kojima only managed to come up with what we actually got, maybe he was fired for a reason.


The fact that MGSV came out unfinished is indisputable. More than a half of the second chapter consists of repetitive missions, the story is a mess, the ending comes after the scene with ashes which should logically take place in the beginning of the game, and the finale of the kids’ arc is not even in the game but comes as a video on the collector’s edition that costs $100. That alone should have stopped many reviewers from giving it perfect scores. No matter how good the gameplay is, story has always been a crucial part of the Metal Gear franchise, and ignoring that MGSV’s story is severely unfinished is unacceptable.

Kojima, despite all his promises to release the game in its best form, and all assurances that it wasn’t going to disappoint us, didn’t even attempt to properly finish the game. It’s unknown when exactly Konami made the decision to enforce the September 1st release date, but that had to have happened at least half a year before release, because it’s exactly then – in the final week of March – we learned about Konami and Kojima’s falling out. Kojima had half a year to complete development of the game. By actively promoting the game before the release, he figuratively put his seal of quality on it, whereas what we got in reality was a half-finished product.


Here I’d like to mention two other prominent Japanese games that had experienced the same problem. Final Fantasy XII had been in development for about five years when Square Enix threw its director out of the company (because of his sickness, officially) and put two other guys from his team to finish the game as soon as possible and finally release it. As a result FF XII lost almost half of its original content (lack of story related scenes is especially noticeable in the second half of the game), but despite that managed to tell a story with a sensible finale, and the gameplay was really rich. The second example is Xenogears. Its second half was completely devoid of any gameplay, but nonetheless the story WAS finished. Yes, significant segments had to be compressed to a mere retelling of events, but the most important moments were revealed in quality cutscenes, and as a result Xenogears’ story is considered one of the best among all JRPGs.

But in the case of The Phantom Pain, both the story and the gameplay are unfinished. The latter is kind of understandable: creation and completion of unique missions is a lot of work, and sometimes it’s better to just do nothing than make god knows what. However, Kojima had an opportunity to bring the story to a conclusion considering the fact that nothing special was needed for that: as the very same «phantom episode» (which is exclusive to the collector’s edition) perfectly demonstrates, it’s enough to just show a couple pieces of concept art and write a sctipt for dialogue. Players are already used to listening to cassettes during gameplay, and if they had to choose between getting the rest of the story in the form of an audio drama (that is pretty popular in Japan) or not getting the finale at all, it’s obvious what choice they would have made. Writing a script and recording voices for it in six months is more than feasible. But instead Kojima decided to edit trailers and promise gamers that they aren’t going to be disappointed. And how can you NOT be disappointed?

Still, even if Kojima had been allowed to finish the game, it certainly wouldn’t have turned out great, since what we already have is, again, a disappointment.


The explanation of the word «Shalashaska» is just insane. No matter what kind of crazy mujahedin you are, when you’re tortured you don’t call your torturer a building. Especially a science institute. And you don’t add the name of a blade from faraway lands to that word. This excuse looks even worse than all those nanomachines mixed with parasites.



Let’s start with the gameplay which in this installment severely differs from what MGS series has been praised and known for. The Phantom Pain has an open world, but at the same time each mission happens in boundaries of an isolated space you can’t go beyond. Each mission has a specific starting point (although you don’t really need it since Snake could always be briefed by radio), and then you always just take a straight road to the mission’s objective. The open world adds nothing to the missions. It’s rather the opposite: enemies cannot go beyond territories they protect, nor can they properly look for Snake, and as a result almost every mission could be completed with just a bazooka. You could just sit on a nearest rock and shoot rockets at your enemies. They are finite, your rockets aren’t. This way you could even clear missions that require perfect stealth – after all, nobody sees you.

MGSV fans will, no doubt, tell me that it’s my fault that I choose to play in such a boring manner. OK, well, I could just run through an enemy base headshotting anyone who spots me thanks to Reflex mode. Is it also my fault that the game allows that? Or, if you don’t care about stealth, you could just get on the D-Walker, put a shield on your back – and become almost invincible. I guess I shouldn’t play like that either? Maybe air strikes are also there not to be used? As well as buddies? On a mission where you need to extract Liquid I gave Quiet a rifle with tranquilizer rounds, and I didn’t need to move a finger after that. On stealth missions a lone guard isn’t a threat at all: D-Dog can knock down even a full-armored enemy quietly.

Let’s just say it: MGSV is extremely casual. I’m not a pro at stealth games, but even for me this game seemed too easy. It doesn’t really punish failing stealth: it’s quite easy to murder all the enmies, so nobody’s looking for you. Even in Soviet occupied Afganistan the Evil Empire can’t send a couple of choppers and a division of well-equipped soldiers of its glorious Red Army to search for a guy who openly sabotages their stuff and kills their soldiers. It’s absurd.

The mission where you have to kill infected soldiers isn’t touching at all: they have no individuality, just a set of stats and a list of languages.


I’m not trying to say that MGSV has a terrible gameplay. It’s just that it’s good primarily when you are very close to your enemies and when you actually try to play stealthy (although killing everybody is always the easiest way since mission’s rating’s mainly based on clear time and disregards murders). MGSV is a great sandbox for various stealth improvisations. There is a huge amount of different mechanics intertwined in it that work the way you expect them to. And by combining those mechanics with various gadgets and tactics, you can really have fun with this game. However MGSV itself doesn’t encourage the players to do so. Instead the game gives them a cheap ability to call air strikes on specified positions. In MGSV players are left to entertain themselves: the game creates an environment for that but refuses to entertain you itself.

Getting to a specified point and pushing a button, or destroying/fultoning a person/vehicle is practically the full list of what you do the whole game. There’s a lot of missions in MGSV but they are all so similar that you might get an impression that the developers didn’t put a lot of time and effort into them. There are almost no missions that feel hand-made, and definitely nothing that can come close to Groznij Grad from MGS3. Futhermore, there’s no progress in regards to missions difficulty: from the very beginning of the game there’s nothing really new to them (except maybe enemies at some point get negligibly better equipment), there’s nothing that could surprise players. Just like the first Assassin’s Creed, MGSV amazes you at first with its great mechanics, but then quickly degrades into endless stream of boring and repetitive tasks.


Turn off the generator, wait for an enemy to come turn it on. Take him out. Rinse and repeat until the outpost is cleared out.

The irony of all this is that Ground Zeroes – the paid demo version of The Phantom Pain – was much more promising in terms of gameplay than what we eventually got. Camp Omega seemed vast and alive, and Snake couldn’t just run off to the desert from alerts. He also didn’t have endless rockets or easy ways to get rid of enemy bodies like Fulton. And even side-ops seemed more diverse.

But stealth has always been only half of the charm of the classic MGS titles. The other half is boss fights. Unique battles with flashy characters – each playing by a new set of rules and using new gimmicks – have made playthroughs really memorable. Alas, there are barely no boss fights in MGSV, and it once again underlines how needlessly monotonous the gameplay is.

In the mission where you have to hide from Sahelantropus, you can put Huey in a car and simply drive away with him… and get a Game Over because the script demands a helicopter escape. Bad game design? Sure is.


There’s nothing to do between missions either. The open world is basically a huge empty space with randomly placed enemy outposts that you have to deal with the same way as in the main missions. Side ops are embarrassingly void of anything interesting (but always have at least two entry points), and collecting resources becomes unrewarding and useless pretty quick especially when you gain the ability to extract entire containers.

The world in this game is dead. Where are civilians and locals? Why can’t we see the Soviets fighting with the mujahidin? We saw something like this in MGS4, only it was pretty pointless there (faceless soldiers A fighting against faceless soldiers B, and you, Snake, have to sneak past them), but MGSV could make use of those mechanics in its setting.

When you get to Africa, the game transforms into Resident Evil 5. Almost all your adversaries are not locals, but mercenaries, so the majority of them are white. This whole region’s history could be vastly discussed in the game (both Zaire and Angola went through a lot of horrible stuff), but instead Kojima decides to throw in bland PMCs and oh-so-evil Skull Face. The game’s events could as well happen in Central/South America, or Indochina, or Micronesia with no significant differences. Besides, although the game encourages you to go hunting animals with a tranquilizer gun, this Africa has no lions, elephants, or even crocodiles. They were in Russia, but not here in Africa.


Above all that, this vast but empty world is very uncomfortable to travel through. Side ops are often placed in the opposite ends of the map, and MGSV has a really convoluted system of fast-travelling. Yes, you could always call a chopper, but while you wait for it to get there, while you wait for all those loading screens to go away, you’re going to wish you chose to walk. You could also try travelling between bases using your cardboard box, but this way also has huge limitations. Other than that, moving from A to B is unbearably boring. Vehicles are extremely scarce – it always amazed me how seldom could I find a car in a huge Soviet base in Afghanistan.


Instead of using transitions, MGSV is pretending to be filmed in a single take by an operator with trembling hands. What’s the point? It was impressive in Ground Zeroes that had only five scenes, but in The Phantom Pain it’s just annoying.


And then there are those unskippable flights in helicopter. And credits that remind you every 10 minutes that Hideo Kojima is THE Hideo Kojima of all Hideo Kojimas in the world. And the whole episodic structure that adds nothing to the game but ruins a lot. Compared to the classic linear MGS games, MGSV seems like an endless chore, not an adventure.

Also it really bothers me (and many others for sure) that Snake doesn’t speak in his own voice. If Kojima wanted to get rid of David Hayter, he should have done so in MGS3, when Big Boss was first introduced to us as a new character. But no, Hayter voiced Snake up until Peace Walker, however in Ground Zeroes (which happens right after PW) Snake suddenly turned into Kiefer Sutherland. Again, in context of The Phantom Pain, an actor change like that could be justified, but it had happened back in GZ!

And why ditch the voice actor at all? The official position was that they needed a professional to act so they could capture facial expressions, but throughout the whole game Snake goes around with a straight face and almost doesn’t speak! Why hire an expensive Hollywood star and make a game about a silent protagonist? And when Snake does speak, it feels like Kiefer didn’t really make an effort to act.

Due to Snake being unusually silent, the majority of cutscenes are just bizarre monologues.


And another round of lashes goes to the cassette tapes, since a significant part of the story is told through them. First of all, separating the cassettes from the main narrative was a bad idea to begin with. Secondly, many of them would have been implemented as full-featured cutscenes in earlier MGS titles – so those important story points being reduced to nothing but audio feels cheap. Lastly, they are really uncomfortable to listen to. It’s implied that the player would be listening to them when on a mission. But Miller’s transmissions always interrupt them, and there’s no way either to skip all those endless and unnecessary «You’re going to extract him?», or to pause a tape in one click.



The cassettes aren’t the only problem of this game’s narrative. It’s completely devoid of any consistency, just like the gameplay that’s been broken down into a bunch of random missions. It consists of scenes that don’t really correlate and feel as if they were randomly put together, and more often than not contradict each other in terms of mood. Emmerich comes out straight of the torture room to joyfully greet Snake along with Ocelot and Miller who were treating him like crap ten second ago. Our hero, after maxing out bond level with Quiet and fondly embracing her while she was covered in burns, chills out and silently watches Kaz cruelly interrogate her. Previous big MGS titles could be compared to movies, whereas The Phantom Pain doesn’t even look like a TV series (despite all those credits) but rather a set of video clips. That may be because of the fact that we’ve already seen all those scenes in the trailers. Hell, there we saw scenes that aren’t even in the game! It seems like Kojima didn’t really care much about making sense and just kept producing footage that he could use in music videos set to his favorite songs about being nuclear and wild.


The entire game was spoiled in the trailers (directed by Hideo Kojima). Up to the very last missions.


And those scenes perfectly show how all characters don’t resemble themselves from the previous games. Snake used to be talkative, now he just keeps silent (and please don’t tell it’s because he’s not the real Snake – if he has all the memories of the original, and he himself believes he’s the real deal, then he should act accordingly). Ocelot, who’s always been a crazy and extravagant sadist, suddenly turns into the most sensible and humane character in MGSV, but Kaz and Huey, who were bros in PW, became batshit insane. Now the nice scientist is a hypocritical whiner who betrays pretty much everybody, and Kaz turned into a butthurt-powered fan of torture who has to be constantly kept in check by Ocelot, of all people. It takes literally a couple of cassette tapes to turn Zero, the root of all evil for Big Boss, into a good guy who actually saved Snake (this makes MGS4’s final scenes look even more idiotic). The ultimate villain is now Skull Face – who no one ever mentions neither before nor after MGSV.

Here lies another problem with MGSV: this game was meant to be the missing link between Peace Walker and original Metal Gear. But instead it comes up with yet another huge pile of superfluous elements that look forcefully pushed into an already bloated canon. XOF, Skull Face, parasites, Big Boss’ double – all of this either doesn’t correlate with the previous games, or blatantly contradicts them (a reminder: in MGS4 Big Boss explicitly said that Solid Snake had beaten him twice). Inconsistency shows up even in small details. For instance, in MGS1 Liquid wouldn’t shut up about his father calling him inferior to Solid, but there’s nothing to support that in MGSV. In MGS1 Liquid never mentioned that he had already piloted a giant robot before, him meeting Ocelot and his sweet childhood friendship with Mantis. Mantis in MGS1 didn’t seem to have had any special relationship with Liquid, could normally speak, and his powers were of a completely different caliber. Furthermore, MGSV tells us that Huey Emmerich, like Gendo Ikari, made his son get into a robot, while in MGS1 Otacon never mentioned anything about that, instead opting to point out that he loved anime and his granddad was on the Manhattan Project. On the other hand, Gray Fox and Naomi, who Big Boss is supposed to have met in Africa in 1980s, aren’t even mentioned in the game.

Kojima said it was more important for him to write an interesting rather than a consistent story (this alone should’ve discouraged the fans who still think there’s always been a monolith pre-planned storyline throughout all 28 years of Metal Gear), but even though MGSV is full of retcons, it fails to provide anything interesting.



OK, I’m Ishmael, you’re Ahab. Here’s a giant whale in your face. What? Still don’t get that Kojima likes «Moby Dick»? Okay then! This is Pequod! This is Pequod! This is Pequod!



Let’s answer one simple question: what is MGSV about? It’s about a very evil man without a face or a name, who evilly conducts evil experiments on humans and plans to infect the whole world with parasites in order to root out the English language. So when Kojima was talking about the words that kill, he didn’t mean a metaphor but literal parasites sitting in human throats and killing them when they hear words pronounced in a certain language.


Kojima believes that teaching English to American citizens is tantamount to ethnic cleansing. You couldn’t possibly find a video game that shows more disrespect to the victims of real ethnic cleansings.


The parasites, which no one heard about not before nor after, turn out to be the new nanomachines (only nanomachines, that were used to explain everything in MGS2 and MGS4, first appeared in MGS1, and MGS3 perfectly managed without any unnecessary explanations). They can do pretty much anything: recognize languages, distinguish one dialect from another, make a man go without food or water and live almost forever, give superpowers like invisibility, immunity to injuries and teleportation (well, almost).

Furthermore, the villain’s got a giant robot which, however, he cannot pilot. Not a problem – he’s also got a boy whose abilities include resurrecting a man who died 20 years ago and turning him into an unstoppable death machine, creating from nothing a flaming whale capable of destroying a helicopter, piloting a robot that has no control system, and removing parasites embedded in people’s vocal cords. Kojima’s got two omnipotent deus ex machinas up his sleeve – isn’t it a little bit too much?

That’s not everything about the boy, though. He doesn’t speak and doesn’t seem to have any personality, he simply tunes to the wishes of a nearby person with biggest butthurt. The boy is so powerful he can control pretty much anything in the world, and in the climax he dumps Skull Face, destroying all his plans, and defects to Liquid. Because of this boy MGSV boils down to a simple battle of who has the biggest angst that, of course, a teenager wins. It all sounds like a shit-tier anime story.

…then we’re in a crappy anime, son. The entire philosophy of the game boils down to «impossible is possible if you rage hard enough».

Do you know what else is typical for shounen anime? Creating your own copy. Not cloning, but copying your, so to say, essence into another human being (with the following shocking revelation «I’m not me»), like in Final Fantasy VII. Another famous anime cliché: memory manipulation that Ocelot is so proud of. He calls it «doublethink» (to make Orwell turn in his grave, I bet). «I know everything now, then I’ll purposefully forget it in order to remember sometime later» echoes the second arc of Death Note (around the point where it jumped the shark).

The MGS series has always tried to fine a balance between serious and over the top moments, but MGSV became an exception: there’s almost nothing to break game’s forced tragic tone; funny moments, humorous interactions and the fourth-wall-breaking gags that fans got used to are few and far between. Set against this overly serious background, all those dumb anime clichés look even more ridiculous.

Tapes dedicated to Miller’s hamburgers are about the only bright thing in this grimdark abyss of a game. Yet they are exactyl what what I (and many others) was expecting from an MGS game.


Kojima repeatedly underlined that MGSV’s themes are «vengeance» and «race». And the second chapter is called «Race» – but never touches any race problems, not once (and no, there aren’t any car races in the game either). That leaves us with only the first leitmotif.

«Nothing good comes out of vengeance» – the game tells us. This kind of philosophy is as deep as the morals read by cartoon characters from kids’ TV shows. Skull Face takes revenge on the English language, the heroes take revenge on Skull Face… Except it’s not really about their revenge. MGSV doesn’t even fully explore the theme of vengeance: as it turns out, Skull Face basically plans to destroy the world, so by defeating him, Snake and his buddies are practically performing a heroic feat.

He’s also basically a crispy-fried Hamburglar. 


Where is the promised «men turn into demons»? Throughout the entire game Snake does nothing but help people out: Kaz, a cybernetics guy, Emmerich, a mujahedin, various prisoners and spies, Liquid, African kids, endangered animals, and in the finale he saves the whole world. Later, by finding a cure for the infected soldiers, he prevents a parasite pandemic and saves the world again. There’s nothing reprehensible in the protagonist’s actions, even tortures are conducted primarily by Miller, and Snake shows a huge amount of humanity when he lets Huey go. We should be raising monuments to this guy!

Where are the promised taboo topics that Kojima feared could make him leave the industry? Yes, okay, Miller and Ocelot torture somebody once in a while (and those so called tortures are a child’s play compared to the ones we had to conduct in GTA5 ourselves), and that’s something that was a villain’s prerogative in the previous games. And that’s it? Because in the case of the child soldiers, the game practically makes you take care of them.

Where is that something that no one’s ever done before in this industry and that’s only possible in video games? Why with all those lies hasn’t Kojima’s nose pierced the fabric of reality yet?

The entire prologue consists of hamfisted attempts to show just how serious and adult this game is. How is Kojima doing that? More blood! More suffering! More atrocities!



Now, of everything Kojima said about MGSV, one thing really stands out. Quiet. When character designer Yoji Shinkawa mentioned that he’d been asked to make her «more sexy», Kojima took it to Twitter to respond to the growing shitstorm. He said that once we learn her secret about why she dresses like that, we’ll «feel ashamed of our words and deeds».

So, what’s the secret? Parasites, son.

A reminder that we should feel ashamed for Kojima’s camera angles.


After Ishmael burned Quiet in the beginning of the game, she had to resort to the magical parasites that not only brought her back to life but also gave her superpowers. Thanks to them she has to consume everything she needs to live with her skin, that’s why she rejoices over sun and rain and walks around naked. Feel ashamed yet?

It’s pretty obvious that Kojima simply wanted a half naked girl in his game, so he came up with that pathetic excuse for her being the way she is. If anyone should be ashamed, it’s him. Especially considering how her second trait – being silent – is explained.

You see, she’s got those evil parasites in her that will activate and infect everyone once she speaks English. That’s it, it’s the only reason. Nothing prevents her from speaking other languages (she does that in the game), nothing prevents her form writing, communicating with gestures, or at least humming in the Morse code. But she doesn’t do any of that. Why? For the sake of cheap drama, just like everything else in this game. Why is she behaving like a child under the rain, why is her behavior so weird considering she’s lived with the parasites for two months tops, and before that she was a normally speaking human (and a skilled assassin to boot)? Because directed by Hideo Kojima.

In the «phantom» episode 51 Snake suddenly loses the ability to distinguish colors after a grenade explosion. Nothing like this happened before, and it’s just another excuse to build cheap artificial drama. 


But the worst part of the game is its ending. Apparently Kojima planned it from the start, as the hospital mission was shown when The Phantom Pain didn’t yet have MGSV in its title. Since the very beginning MGSV has been a big ruse; we were lied to from the start when we were promised the missing link between Peace Walker and Metal Gear. The whole game is not about Big Boss but a nameless character who was convinced during coma that he’s Big Boss.

This fact alone discourages immensely. Hypnosis? Is Kojima seriously trying to say that not just facts but all memories of one man (who’s also in coma) could simply be transferred to another? And it happens after Big Boss clearly said in MGS4: «They’ve never managed to control people at will… Let alone turn one person totally into another.»

In Ground Zeroes the medic was a pre-set character who had his own face. The fact that you can change it in TPP sets an amazing precedent: the game retcons its own prologue.


And to what purpose? To explain Big Boss’ double death in MG1 and MG2? And that’s it? But that wouldn’t help MG1’s story — nothing could help MG1’s story, as it tremendously contradicts itself. Even with the explanation that the real Big Boss and the Boss Solid Snake killed are two different people, the story still doesn’t come together. It’s simply unbelievable that, first, Big Boss would order to kill his double (twice: before Snake he sent his best agent Gray Fox), and secondly, that he would underestimate his clone so much (who’s sharing his code name to boot). And MGSV doesn’t explain that at all. Just when our Venom learns the truth from Big Boss, the scene skips ten years ahead to Outer Heaven, and he, having smashed the mirror, silently goes away to get killed by Solid Snake without explaining why he’d do that.

MGSV was expected to be Big Boss’ story, story of the legend, a man-who-sold-the-world, but in the end he abruptly pops up and quickly goes away to do… what exactly? And why? And how? We never see how Outer Heaven was founded, never learn how Big Boss assumed command of Foxhound, or how he trained Solid Snake. We never see how Big Boss turned into that unpleasant person we met in Metal Gear 2, where he was waging wars with surrounding countries and growing orphaned children into cannon fodder for the next massacre. In MGSV Venom tries to keep children away from violence, whereas Big Boss in MG2 intended to train and throw them on a battlefield (by the way, Solid Snake could easily kill those children without instant Game Over – so who’s the demon now?).


The funniest thing is that all those story tricks were used earlier in the series. In MGS4 the characters were chasing Big Boss’ body in order to learn in the end that he’s alive, and it’d been his clone’s corpse. In MGS2 the idea that anyone could become Snake and relive his deeds laid the foundation of Raiden’s entire mission – though MGS2 explored the topic in much more detail and it also was well-suited in the setting of the game. Loss of voice – why, it’s been in the very same MGS2 where the Patriots selectively censored people with nanomachines. Tortures were shown in MGS3 where they looked real and brutal unlike this game. The weepy story of Skull Face’s childhood – we heard the same about Beauty and the Beast members from MGS4. Child soldiers are scattered across the whole series – from B&Bs to Gray Fox and Raiden.

This goes beyond self-references; it demonstrates Kojima total creative impotence as a writer. He just cannot say anything sensible about topics he, in the most superficial way, touches in his latest games. He makes great promises but never keeps them; he churns out retcon after retcon in pursue of a drama but in the process cripples good things he achieved in the previous games. Kojima is not a Messiah of the gaming world. He’s a Peter Molyneux, a George Lucas. A Sean Murray, if you will.

I’d like to finish this text by wishing Kojima to retire (he was going to leave the industry if his ‘taboo project’ failed – perfect timing!) and let his proteges direct, but, as the whole situation with Metal Gear Solid: Rising showed, developers trained by him cannot create anything worthwhile. The best Metal Gear of the last five years, Revengeance, was made almost without any Kojima’s assistance. Perhaps it’s a sign.