Why I Think Metal Gear Solid 4 Is Bad For Gaming

Okay first I’d like to start by saying that if people are huge fans of Metal Gear Solid 4, that’s all fine and good, but these are my thoughts on what Metal Gear Solid 4 means for gaming in general so I apologize if you get offended.  The reason is fairly simple and that is that Metal Gear Solid 4 is the latest forerunner of a gaming trend that seeks to turn games into more of the likes of interactive movies then actual gaming experiences.

There have been odd spikes in this trend such as the trilogy of “RPG’s” that were the Xenosaga franchise which I tried to get into but eventually just stopped playing once I realized that I had been going for 12 hours and fought maybe 20 battles tops.  Seriously, I thought that was bad when we had save points in between cutscenes, but I didn’t sweat it much because I knew that Xenosaga was just a random occurence in the grand scheme of video game design that would eventually be forgotten about with the passage of time.

Metal Gear on the other hand is insanely popular and it’s director Hideo Kojima elevated to borderline living deity status by many gamers everywhere.  I do not understand why, but I do understand this, that the Metal Gear franchise has ceased to truly be what I would consider a video game experience and has become more of a go from point a to point b and grab a cold one to WATCH the important parts of the game unfold type experience.  Yeah that’s right, you get to watch some of the most important scenes that seek to expose all the mysteries surrounding the Patriots and their purpose, Snake’s battle with the Foxdie virus inside him, the “Future of War” etc. instead of getting to experience them first hand through your actions as the player. 

8 and a half hours.  What does that number mean?  Is it the length of the game?  No it’s the length of the goddamn cutscenes (not including the credits) that you will be getting a chance to “experience” through what some have hailed, much to my inability to understand, as one of the single most important moments in “gaming” brought to us by the visionary Hideo Kojima.  “Gaming”….does that term even have the same definition it once held not even a few years ago?  7-10 hours?  What does that number mean?  That is the average span of time reported by gamers on their finished save file for MGS:4 for the time they spent playing, as in actually inputting commands.  The game duration counter does not count time spent in cutscenes.  Let’s do the math shall we, if we take 7 and subtract it by 8.5 what number do we get.  The answer is -1.5.  Now if we take 10 and subtract it by 8.5 we get 1.5.  Now if we assume for a second that the median of the 7-10 hour average time spent playing the game is 8.5 (in this case I just took the middle number because I’m not here to argue a math lesson since I suck at it anyway), that would make the gameplay length versus cutscene length a 1:1 ratio with a variance of +/-1.5 hours.  What does that tell us?  There are three options here:

a) You are watching the game as much as playing it.

b) You are watching the game MORE than playing it.

c) Metal Gear Solid 4 is just barely more of a game then it is a movie.

Now why is this a problem to me?  Well for starters I enjoy the media format of games as fully immersive and interactive experience unique from those of movies.  There is two way communication between me as a player inputting commands and the game as a form of entertainment responding, reacting and in turn communicating back through whatever means it’s programming allows for.  This usually results in many different possibilities to keep things fresh and exciting.  Movies I enjoy as a one way form of communication, that is the director’s communication of his screenplay to me as a viewer as a form of entertainment.  These two forms of entertainment that I enjoy have remained seperate for as long as I remember and now every year it seems like the line that seperates them is blurring.

Hideo Kojima may very well be thought of by many as an influential visionary with lots of interesting stories to tell, but I do not appreciate him telling them through the format of gaming and trying to pass them off as such.  What alarms me even more is that this man is held up to such a stature and so revered that his style of “games” that are more like movies are likely to be copied or duplicated by other developers due to their wild success.  This worries me because if Metal Gear Solid 4’s success that has made it the top selling game of this generation for Sony is any indication, this is just the beginning of the next level of the interactive movie passed of as a game trend.

This is something I don’t want to see.  We left this idea behind during the era of the first CD-Rom Format games that were on the Sega-CD and 3D0.  Does anyone remember games like Time Gal, Slam City with Scottie Pippen and other games that were basically more like interactive live action cutscenes that would switch the track depending on gamer input?  Well I never thought I’d say this, but those look almost appetizing to me compared to having to wade through overlong and frankly in my opinion overwrought cutscenes before getting a shot at the gameplay engine.

Hideo Kojima and Metal Gear Solid 4 to me, have now, with their runway success, just opened the door to allowing game designers to get away with laziness.  If they see (and I think it’s a safe bet the will) that a game can sell extremely well as long as it has glossy cutscenes and a high profile then they will keep it up.  I’m personally not ready to see the line between movies and games blur forever, but seeing as how Metal Gear Solid 4 is now the best selling PS3 game ever and FFXIII (by Square, whose games I frequently enjoy, but who I also have issues with for overkilling on cutscenes) is sure to be the next, I think I’m starting to see the trend that will define a significant portion of the seventh generation of Video Games.  While I don’t think of course that the end of video games as we know them are on the horizion, I think the 1:1 ratio style “VIDEO game” is about to become more prominent.  That’s why I think Metal Gear Solid 4 in the long run will prove to be bad for gaming as I know and love it.


19 Responses to “Why I Think Metal Gear Solid 4 Is Bad For Gaming”

  1. 1 Orange July 8, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I share the same opinion as you on the Metal Gear Solid series, I always felt that those games were both a movie and a game in the same time, wich in a sense kill some of the game potential since it’s basically go to point A to point B – Cutscene – go to point A to point B – Cutscene – Boss Time – Cutscene and this go on and on. Thing is MGS is more about art and some relexion on the issues of war than a proper game in his own right, it’s what make him totally unique. I don’t share Kojima’s vision of game design but I think it’s okay as long as others don’t follow his example (given the amounts of work and talent needed to create the MGS I’m almost positive that no one will try to reiterate this exploit). Then there are those RPG that don’t succeed in putting the right gaming pace and make you think that they would have been feel a lot better if declined in a 26 episodes anime series (Xenogears for PSX is the perfect example)…

  2. 2 Gsus July 8, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Could I get a source for that 8 hour claim? Because I’ve seen the following picture, from a pretty reliable member on a gaming forum and I see the same number thrown about everywhere else:

    20 minus 8 is about 12. By now, I’d think people would know better than to trust reported numbers / facts on the internet.

    Of course, I still need to play it myself (and get a PS3), but I’m not sweating it because I know that MGS4 is, to paraphrase, “just a random occurence in the grand scheme of video game design that would hopefully not be forgotten about with the passage of time.”

    The Metal Gear series has always been a odd ball in the gaming basket: From exploring “genetic predestination” in MGS1 to “memetic predestination” in MGS2 to honour and duty in MGS3 to implementing the hide and seek mechanic in the old series… Capturing the Zeitgeist: the Cold War fallout and nuclear proliferation in MGS1, censorship and information overload in MGS2, twisting the moral nostalgia in MGS3…`

    Of course, the unplanned, ad hoc nature of all the games leads to more than a few lingering loose threads and plot holes, which I hear are addressed in MGS4. Planning ahead would reduce the amount of loosed ends, but we’ve all seen what happened to Soul Reaver / Legacy of Kain, and Xenosaga.

    Now if it was about Resident Evil 4, there’s a pet peeve of mine: that over-the-shoulders view, the QTEs, now there’s a game that has been bad for the industry. Or Half-Life. Or Castle of Wolfenstein. Or Mario. Or Zelda.

  3. 3 Kaioshin Sama July 9, 2008 at 12:25 am

    @Gsus: I actually prefer Half-Lifes no cutscenes and all in-game plot exposition to Metal Gear’s essential ripping of control from the player. You don’t really have to listen to anything any of the characters are saying, are free to walk around during scripted events and it just feels more immersive. I get the idea of what Kojima is trying to do, but I’d prefer he do it more in the format of a game then in the format of a movie. Because of that the whole project comes across as something of a great idea, subpar execution style deal to me.

    If you want to talk about some other issues though, while I am thinking about it and “Kojima’s vision”, I also have a bit of a problem with the franchises sliding scale of requirement of suspension of disbelief. At some times it’s all based in real history, you have President Johnson giving Naked Snake his title in Metal Gear Solid 3, you get mention of Khrushchev, World War II and your weapons are of the type you would expect to see in whatever time period you are playing in. It feels realistic and norma, and then suddenly it’s all shattered when you have floating platforms in the woods, characters like the Pain, The Fury and The Sorrow coming after you, the middle of which seems to break the fourth wall, the first of which seems to make no sense, and the latter of which requires belief in the supernatural.

    Couple that with other weird ass things like the surreal abilities of some of your enemies in the games, the posters of Japanese Gravure idols who haven’t even been born yet in Soviet locker rooms and I’m not sure where exactly Kojima is expecting one to set their expectations. Is it supposed to be taken as a fictional entertainment piece, or a serious look at the ways of war. He seems to expect the viewer…err…player to see the games as both, but to me those ideas seem mutually exclusive.

    My main problem with the games is that I don’t find them nearly engrossing as others do. I would like to be doing far more then the game allows for, but it just seems more linear and structured. More like a story then a game. It’s like Kojima is so intent on getting his “vision” across that he’s forced the player to experience things his way. To me that’s just not enough like a game. I know it’s not a sandbox game or anything, but there is a middle ground I sort of wish the games could be occupying. Anyway…..that’s just the way I see it.

  4. 4 Gsus July 9, 2008 at 2:37 am

    The mixing of the surreal, unnatural, illogical and the real, natural, logical have always been a staple of fiction. A Prince of Denmark is set on a path of self destruction by the ghost of his father in Hamlet, in the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a man goes through electronic brain washing to find his true love, Murakami makes us chase wild supernatural sheep and talk with the dead.
    More plot-driven games, like more mainstream fiction, (like MGS) follow a more rigid structure than player-driven games. Player-driven games require a setting, set-up and goal. Plot-driven games require momentum, empathy, climax and finally a resolution. Those are limitations on the actions a player can take.
    Is one harder to get through if you’re “not into it”? Yes. Is one any less a game, in the strictest sense of the word, “an activity engaged in for amusement”, than the other? No. Is there a middle ground? Well…

    “Can love bloom on the battleground?”

  5. 5 Unentschieden July 9, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Metal Gear is more of a movie than a game true.

    But to call it a overall trend is not so certain. As “PC Gamer” at least I can think of some titels that excel at immersion, the actuall difference to Movies: The player himself interacts, offering different chances and demands to the “art”.

    Games need to be like a good Dungeon Master: Even IF the plot is linear he needs to make you think your actions have consequences. Planescape:Torment did that beautifully for example.

  6. 6 Anonymous July 9, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Well it’s obvious they don’t make games with tons of free movement anymore – probably because it’s quite time consuming to think of everything the player can do. The Grand Theft Auto games allow some of that though it still runs on traintracks from my experience. Games like Fallout are essentially games that have a start destination and end destination – you just have to find your way from the start to the end however you wish to. You can see the love they put into that game. This is rare nowadays considering the stuff can now produce big bucks and the suits certainly know that the shit will sell if it looks good enough that your high end computer chokes at maximum settings.

    If you think Metal Gear Solid 4 is bad for gaming, you haven’t noticed the trend of forcing the player to run on traintracks that has been common for a long time. The number of ‘RPGs’ (a complete lie in my book) that force the player to go from A to B to Boss Fight are so common it’s murdering what RPG, in a traditional sense, stands for.

  7. 7 Enact July 9, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I’m not so sure about that. An RPG is to immserse yourself into a role or a story, and I tend to think the more linier games do that better. It’s kinda of hard to really get attached to much when you are kinda just the silent protaginist given the illusion that what you do matters. Of course, some games do that well (MegaTen)but most don’t. I think the other thing is that since people now have big money to spend on big writers and stuff, that they are going all out. But really, I think it’s just a culture thing. It’s gone on record that the japanese care more about story and characters on average then about gameplay in general, though, that’s moreso the blending of them together then each being seperate.

  8. 8 Kaioshin Sama July 9, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    @Unentschieden: I think that the whole D&D style of games has sort of given way to what Final Fantasy is now. The last classic FF game or D&D style RPG from Japan in general I think was probably Final Fantasy V. It lives on in Neverwinter Nights and The Elder Scrolls, but those are western games. They made their choice and we made ours. Still I find myself interacting more in the average Japanese RPG then I do in Metal Gear Solid. That’s strange because MGS is supposed to be an action game.

    @Anon: Oh I have my own issues with the course of RPG’s over the past few years. At some point I plan to have a little go at them if it keeps up much longer.

    @Enact: I find in my experience with Megaten games (mostly Digital Devil Saga) that the battles are kind of pattern based and the games more linear then most. I think the attempt was at a puzzle style RPG of some sort, but it definitely feels a little rigid. And I think the increasing success and popularity of the Visual Novel format of “games” should indeed attest to the tastes of Japanese gamers. All sectors of the market seem to be in decline but for VN’s which are showing if not growth, at least stablility. It’s still more of a PC genre and I kind of hope it will stay that way.

    I continue to worry though that at least in the Japanese market that the Visual Novel style of games is creeping into the mainstream more and more. Metal Gear Solid as a franchise while not a Visual Novel style game is a stepping stone towards a more visually oriented and less interactive style of game, and that’s why I think that if it’s not a trend setter, it could very well be a starting point. It built the foundation that would later bring the stealth action genre into prominence, I don’t see why one can’t suspect it could bring another new one into prominence over time.

  9. 9 Enact July 10, 2008 at 2:33 am

    DDS is a special case, since it tries to be more like FFX and less….Nocturne, which is very non linier to the point where it can be a bit overwhelming (though, nothing beats Elder Scrolls). Personally, I don’t really mind this Visual Novel inspiration as long as it’s well implemented with fun and challinging gameplay, but I’m not a big of gamer as some people are so the lack of interactivity in some games I don’t really care too much about. After all, I had more fun playing Fate/Stay Night then I did with Devil May Cry 3, so that may tip you off there.

  10. 10 FantomFang89 July 10, 2008 at 5:59 am

    Before I comment, I’d like to say I really enjoy reading your Code Geass reviews, they always get me thinking and face-palming myself for things I never thought of or realized.

    On the topic of the MGS series, its one that has boggled me a bit when it comes to popularity personally. I would much rather go play a Splinter Cell game than any of them, because there I know I’ll have a solid control scheme and a story that isn’t way over the top. The gameplay there is just superior to me, and there is nothing like advancing the plot yourself, and actually “experiencing” the great moments that the game has, rather than watching them.

    RPG-wise, I was wondering what types of games you consider good. I consider myself fairly experienced in the realm of RPG’s, having played PnP RPG’s, and many series for numerous consoles, PC among them. So what makes a good RPG for you? Character-driven or plot-driven? Turn-based or Action, viva Tales of ___ or Star Ocean?
    As it is, I just find it so hard to find many good modren RPG’s. You gotta dig deeper year by year to find good ones, in my experience.

  11. 11 Kaioshin Sama July 10, 2008 at 7:01 am

    @FantomFang89: Yes the control scheme for Metal Gear is something I have a bit of an issue with as well, though it’s mostly just the way the buttons are mapped. Pressing x while moving even slightly throws you into a roll that could get you caught while pressing x while not moving will put you in a crouch. Moving from a crouch will put you in the prone position, while pressing again a will uncrouch you. However if you are prone then it takes two x presses to get you back into the standing position and god forbid you should try to move again before pressing x to uncrouch lest you go back to prone. It’s just so bloody annoying to get stuck in those positions because I forget how the controls work at times since I expect it to behave like a normal game. It’s excessively complex for an action game, and especially for one that requires quick precision on occassion. I swear it was done on purpose too….

    Anyway, my RPG preferences tend to be predominantly plot driven with some adherence to interesting characters, ones that allow for solid customization, but within reason, and a more action driven style of combat. On the customization issue, the party should never be able to eventually end up with all of the same skills in the end and this is something that has been turning me off each successive FF game since IX where the stat system has resulted in characters let are less and less unique by the end game, thus requiring less strategy and bringing less interest to the combat role side of their character development. In turning away from FF I’ve found that I’ve turned more towards the Tales of games where the characters have unique rolls and tilts to their abilities and I can control the action in real time. The cutscenes also use the in game engine more, aren’t as long and are generally less overwrought. I love the emoticons as well.

  12. 12 Sam July 10, 2008 at 10:19 am


    Aye, Fallout was a wonder of an RPG. Graphics are absolutely shitty even during its time, but it’s one of the few games that actually had true style throughout the whole game.

    Looking forward to Fallout 3 as the trailers seem to have got it feel pretty much spot on, but I do hope they don’t give us the shitty Elder Scrolls method of traveling. Fallout (and Fallout 2 and Tactics) got the traveling method spot on.

  13. 13 kataztrophy July 12, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Kojima has a major hard on for making people sit and wait for over elaborate storylines to play out. I would love to see a MGS movie, but If it was going to happen it would have already. At Least MGS 4 has the option to sut the scenes short.

  14. 14 blake steel July 15, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    You know these guys must have gone through a lot of stress to make all of those cutscenes. Yeah they are as long as hell but in my opinion these are the coolest cutscenes I have ever seen in a videogame, like the one where you see all the bosses in the game killing the soldiers. These guys also improved Raiden in the game. In metal gear solid 2 he was hated by a lot of people who played it. BUt in Metal gear solid 4 they made him look like a badass cyborg. Also the game has a couple of really cool battles like Raiden VS Vamp and Metal gear Rex VS Ray. The game also has everybody from previous metal gear solid games making their return including Meryl, Naomi Hunter, Eva/ big mama, colonel campbell, etc. So I can’t wait to get a PS3 so I could get this game.

  15. 15 Simmerl July 15, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    While I usually don’t like the gameplay in Kojma’s games, I really love that he seems to be the only one in the entire video game industry who wants to bring culture into his products.

    Another thing I really like about his style of directing is his tendency to mess with his fanbase. When you look at MGS1, the motivation of player and player character was about the same. Both you and Snake wanted to defeat the Bosses, stop Metal Gear, escape from Shadow Moses.
    In MGS2 however, Raiden’s and your motivation would differ. The game denied giving you the satisfaction of killing bosses, and in return you could force Raiden to do things which would strain his relationship with Rose. You know, like killing seagulls until she won’t let you save anymore.
    Only when Raiden is set free from the player, by throwing away his dogtags, he can become that badass cyborg ninja in MGS4. It’s his choice, not the player’s.

    I think highly of MGS2’s way of storytelling, no one besides Kojima seems to be able to transcend the medium game.
    He reminds me of Anno Hideaki, come to think of it.

  16. 16 lolipedofin July 17, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Wow… That was an extensive review and I can’t argue with those…

    MGS is close to what you describe as interactive games… i can’t argue with that, but what’s different between us is the fact that i like these types of genre…

    In my personal opinion, which could be wrong, these types of games are actually one of the reason why gaming world has grown more and more popular today, can you ever imagine that one day gaming business to stand on the same ground as movie business 25 years ago?? Hardly. And i think these games with immense, deep and meaningful story are part of the reason why more and more people flock in front of a game store.

    I honestly can’t picture myself as a gaming addict, had it not evolved from pure gameplay.

    But to tell you the truth, i think you should have little to worry about… If i’m not misinformed, i heard that Grand Theft Auto is still the leading game in term of sales in Playstation 3. This game is a complete opposite compared to MGS4, in term of the depth of the story and the manner you play it.

    And i read a review that said , MGS 4 is unlikely to garner too much newcomer to the series, most player of the game is a fans of the earlier games. And for me, the reason why MGS series could attract so many fans are because of most gamers that love good storyline had fell in love in this game.

    There will always be different types of fans to different games… As this industry move forward, i think there will be more types of games to satisfy different preferences by each individual, rather than it actually coning into one single kind of “most popular” genre. I personally are more of a fan toward “Japanese” games which usually stressed on the stories and art rather that “American/Western” games which usually stressed more on gameplay, sandbox type of games… No offense to those who are fans to those kind of games, it’s just a matter of preference and the way i view it. Like VNs, RPG’s, which explained why i love MGS 4 (though i don’t have a PS3 yet T,T).

  17. 17 Jamie August 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    I think this is an interesting subject, and I understand your concerns with games becoming more like movies. However, I represent someone who is concerned with games going the opposite way. If you look at how all mediums (bad spelling sorry) tell a story [books, music, movies] there are several characteristics. Beyond this there are certian rules to the development of a plot and characters. If you look at a game like Modern Warfare, the whole thing is linear and on rails. The object of the game isn’t really to tell a story. Without all the gaming/action, the story would be pretty worthless. I think that MGS has an important place in gaming because it builds on years of plot mechanics and theory to tell a great story. And it follows the tradition of all great art in developing underlying themes to make people think about something important. Such as, nuclear proliferation and genetic destiny. In conclusion my point is just that, MGS seeks to tell a story, most games don’t. I really enjoy a game having a great story. And lets not forget to mention that MGS isn’t just running between screen plays. The actually game play is really fun and revolutionary.

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