I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone scoffing that a Steam user has written a thumbs down user review which reads, “160 hours played”, or some other similarly large number. I find this a bizarre argument – hinging entirely on, “but… but… you got your money’s worth! Price / Hours Played = Crazy Cheap!”. And yet we demand professional journalists play a game through to completion (or at least put in a whopping number of hours) before writing their reviews lest they suffer the wrath of the internet dismissing the lot as ill-informed twaddle. So professional games reviewers need to play the lot before determining a game is shit, but the layman can (and should) make a snap-judgement after only a couple of hours? When both those reviews serve the same function for customers? Bonkers.
Take Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Ask me if I like it. Go on. Ask. I’ll assume you have. The answer is, I have no idea yet. I really really liked the opening until it started going on waaaaay too long. For someone who clearly loves film-making, Hideo Kojima really needs to learn about editing. Trim out a quarter or so of the fluff (not one chase sequence, but two! Three! On and on it goes!) and it would have been spectacular – instead, all that excitement and interest started slipping and I began willing it to be over. Maybe some people like this kind of guff but to me, it was just bloated self-indulgence.
Once that was over and I started getting into the meat of the game itself, I started liking it again (once I was over the initial frustration of not knowing what I was doing, who characters were, and what the Hell was going on – I still don’t to be honest, I just stopped caring so much). The mission stories started becoming interesting – the surprising moments of darkness and gritty elements began to hook me. But it’s the kind of hook that’s snagged incredibly precariously – at any moment a spike of pretentious nonsense could rip it free and send me plummeting into… this analogy is wearing thin – it could make me start hating it at any moment, is the gist.
So the over-arching story makes no sense to me – as someone who’s only experience of Metal Gear games is playing the NES version when I was nine or so (I remember bollocks all about the story, I almost certainly didn’t actually read any of it), and Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 of which I remember that Revolver Ocelot was a Boss who I killed and Psycho Mantis made my controller vibrate. So basically, I’m playing MGS:V without any context to the story what-so-ever. It’s confusing, and it doesn’t give a shit that you’re confused – in fact it seems to revel in that fact as if that somehow makes it better (it doesn’t).
It’s a game which is sometimes silly, sometimes dark, sometimes easy, sometimes punishingly difficult, and loves not giving you information that you really could have done with knowing before you started the mission. It tells you, for example, in opening credit sequences for every mission – a credit sequence which credits NPCs as if they were actors in a film – that this mission features a guest mecha “Mechatron 5000” (or whatever) and a heavily armed gunship immediately after you’ve selected your loadout. Thanks for that, game. Either tell me that before I choose my weapons, or don’t tell me at all – don’t tell me just so you can laugh at my expense about how horribly ill-prepared I am for the mission.
It’s a game with no difficulty options apart from wearing (quite literally) a “chicken hat” which some may find funny (probably mostly those who don’t need to wear it) and some may find horribly insulting.
It’s also a game which I cannot actually fathom why it’s open world (ish). It dispenses that oh-so-unrealistic vision cone on the mini-map (which no longer exists) which always felt fine – it’s a game mechanic, innit – and instead places enemies in a realistic context with equally unrealistic vision. Hiding in a cardboard box in a warehouse made some degree of sense in the PS1 game (even if daft). Lying prone in a blade of grass with a sniper rifle poking four feet into the air while a guard nonchalantly wanders by just feels crap. It’s not so much my amazing stealth skills as horribly incompetent henchmen. Context is everything and an open world landscape with Metal Gear Solid limited vision enemies just feels like totally the wrong context.
But when it works, by God it works – it does what it does so well, executed so competently by a team clearly at the pinnacle of games development that, in those moments, all the frustrations, irritations, frequent moments of confusion, those all melt away and you’re left thinking, “yes! I see it! I see why so many love these games!”. And providing that the game-wide story arc has some level of resolve (I’ve given up on having the series-wide story arc explained to me by this game), then I think I’ll be happy. Thumbs up user review. If not, thumbs down. I won’t know until I finish it – and if I end up unhappy, you can piss off if you think that when it says “100 hours played”, that changes anything about how I felt about it.