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We are currently sitting on the cusp of what – if early reviews from select outlets can be believed – will be the most intense and cinematic video game of the billenium. I’m not sure if there really is a “billenium,” but I do know that since Metal Gear Solid dropped into our laps critics have clamored to extol its storytelling virtues. Pointing to Kojima’s masterpiece as the proof video games can tell a compelling story to a broader audience. Why? If “awesome” is used too much during game reviews, then I think it’s only fair to point out how overused “cinematic” is when talking about Metal Gear. And cinematic is exactly what critics hone in on when it comes to the Tactical Espionage series.
The problem with calling Metal Gear cinematic is that the term has no context. The best I can come up with is that there are credits as you begin playing, and some cut scenes use dramatic camera angles. These are indeed cinematic concepts, but they are not exclusive to Metal Gear. Just about every game released uses a few cinematic principles as part of the presentation.
Considering that we’re playing video games here it is a bit odd that so many people are willing to sit down, twiddling their thumbs, while an eight minute conversation and bizarro world altercation takes place on screen. I am one of the biggest proponents of story driven gaming, but what Kojima does is remove the player from the experience. Not exactly the best use of his craft. If while watching Iron Man I had to direct the movie for a few minutes every so often I would be frustrated and upset.
This must mean I hate Metal Gear, and obviously think the entire concept and series is a worthless pile of tripe. No. I simply think the game, the critics and the creator have embraced the pretentious nature of trying to make video games more like movies. That is a horrible idea. It’d be like early filmmakers placing scrolling text on the screen for the audience to read. I don’t want a movie watching experience when I play any game, I’d actually like to play.
And if we’re going to go into doing it right then we have to mention two of the best implementations of gameplay with story within the past year. Both BioShock and Grand Theft Auto IV have been able to keep you engaged with the characters and story even as you explore the game world. I have vast complaints about reading the stupid text messages on Niko’s cell phone – and this is despite my having a 55” HD television. But subtle uses of hidden UI like this keep you invested in what is going on. And Rockstar’s pointed and relevant use of cut scenes is something all developers should take into consideration.
I guess the truth of the matter is that it pisses me off that Metal Gear is constantly held up on a cinematic pedestal while the actual game is left lying in a neglected heap. I still remember renting the original NES version (original to us Americans, shut up about the MSX) day after day for a week until I finally beat it. It’s one of those games that I have vivid memory of – and to this day I can still recall the look of the electrified floors and intensity of figuring out how to get past them. When Solid arrived in my hands I flipped out. I played it, I loved it and I have never looked back.
I’m a sneaking freak. If it’s got some stealth element to it I’ll play your game. Hell, I’ll even bring it into games that are all about the finding and shooting. I’d commonly crouch walk across all of Coagulation in Halo 2 and steal the enemy flag. Of course I’d often find myself being killed by teammates who thought I should partake in suicide Warthog flag runs. But the point is that the gameplay style Kojima brought to the world is damn close to perfect.
Rather than remove us from that brilliance only to indulge his own movie maker fantasies, perhaps it’d be better for a genius like Kojima to look to Ken Levine and ask how he is able to keep the game going while the story unfolds. Separately the gameplay and cinematic elements of Metal Gear have been consistently good. Good is a relevant term though, and as long as you like some crazy ass shit you’ll have few problems with the story. It’d just be nice if gameplay and cinematic storytelling could meld a little bit better for Metal Gear Solid.