The Merits of MGS

Is the MGS series worth playing through? I am really wary because I hear they are heavily story/cutscene-driven but people with good taste seem to like them and I love the visual design.


The thing is, however long the cutscenes are (and they get way too long with some of the longest clocking in at 90 minutes), there’s an equal dedication to the gameplay systems. Beyond that, Kojima has no problems with using gamey abstractions wherever he wants with no hint of irony. Characters will actively tell you to press the action button when needed. He makes up things like jungles in Russia when it suits him. There’s the Soliton Radar based on “currently existing technology”. MGS3 introduced the “Active Reload” system, which allowed you to reload a gun by unequipping it, also canceling that gun’s animation. This was mentioned in the manual. MGS games break the 4th wall frequently without making a joke.

Beyond that, they’re just good games. The first one is kind of rough and simple, don’t know if I’d really advocate it, but it has its moments like vulcan raven. The second one onwards is where it really comes into its own. The games offer an absurd number of options to the player in how to distract enemies, take them down, manipulate their AI, and even simply move around.

I’d personally consider Metal Gear Solid 3 the actual best stealth game ever made. You can capture animals, live or dead, to serve as food. They all help different amounts. Some can be released to distract guards. Some are poisonous. You can also poison guards by blowing up their food supply, then tossing them rotten food, which they’ll eat. You can knock guards out, shoot their limbs, then they’ll walk with a limp. You have disguises where you need to show your face to some people and hide it from others, camouflage based on floor tiles, a stamina meter that depletes based on how much you’re carrying at one time. It has bizarre things like spinning snake in the survival viewer to get him to throw up, which can actually help food poisoning. You can knock on walls, throw expended magazines, shoot guards in the foot so they’ll fall asleep later rather than sooner, timing it for the perfect moment, or in the head to take them out now. You can diveroll through windows or over walls. You can of course hold guards up, shoot out their radios so they can’t call for help, interrogate them, and throw them to the ground, knocking them out. You can plant TNT and remotely detonate it. You can fake kill yourself and come back to life. You can leave dirty magazines on the ground to occupy guard attention. All the bosses leave you special items if you can take them out nonlethally.

The Metal Gear Solid series is fantastic. It has this amazing dedication to simulation as a way of augmenting gameplay complexity, not for a sense of realism or immersion, and frequently has characters tell you to press the action button, or comes up with awesome abstractions that fit the gameplay really well.

It’s the bizarre perfect split between a story focus and a gameplay focus. There’s nothing else like it.

5 thoughts on “The Merits of MGS

  1. treeghettox August 26, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    Uh, I’m pretty sure you could Active Reload in MGS2. I distinctly remember using it during the MG Ray fight.


    • Mulgar H August 27, 2016 / 1:00 pm

      Tactical reload’s been in the series since MGS1 but I already corrected him about this on twitter


      • treeghettox August 30, 2016 / 11:09 pm

        Maybe the manual didn’t reference it until MGS3? I only own the discs so I can’t check.


        • Chris Wagar August 31, 2016 / 3:26 pm

          I’m told it was in the earlier manuals. my mistake.


  2. Gilgamesh310 October 19, 2016 / 12:21 pm

    I’ve just started reading your articles, and I like a lot of what I’ve read so far, but I have to strongly disagree with you regarding MGS, and especially the third game. I don’t think it’s even close to being the best stealth game, and find myself getting really frustrated with the praise it gets. What you said about the gameplay mechanics, is all true, but most if it is just there for shits and giggles and doesn’t have much direct bearing in the stealth itself. None of it is pragmatic in getting through the game. Which is the thing with Kojima. He’s great for gimmicks and Easter eggs et al, but the core gameplay often suffers. The best way of getting through most MGS games, is just to shoot soldiers in the head with the silenced pistol. It breaks the game in a sense. I was glad to see Matthewmatosis at least, point this out. The camouflage is all well and good too, but it’s tedious as fuck having to go in and out of the menus to access it every time. The same goes for accessing other stuff from the menus, and removing items that damage your body. This is all very tedious. The Last of Us actually handled the backpack feature *way* better, due to the fact that it all happened in real time and was quicker. There’s so many issues I have with this game(and most of the series) from a stealth perspective. The stealth mechanics are very bare bones, compared to games like Thief and Splinter Cell. Those games had very deep systems regarding viability and audio, that no MGS game even came close to replicating. A big problem I did have with MGS3, was how ridiculously long the alert and countdown phases were. You would often need to wait in the one spot for literally 5 minutes, before it goes away, and it’s fully safe to move on. I know you have a safer passage in caution mode, than on the alert or evasion phase, but the length of time for all of them is long, and it just discourges hiding, but venturing out and shooting instead. Which is yet another problem I have with the game. It’s too easy to get from one area to the next without sneaking. Once you have the shotgun in particular, you can blast lots of enemies away with little difficulty, before triggering the next cutscene, and cancelling the alert. MGS2 handled this aspect better, by making it easier to die when not being spotted, and having the alert phases go by quicker, but it wasn’t until MGSV, where I actually became satisfied withe the gameplay. That game does certainly have pacing issues, and chapter 2 was rather poor, but I consider it to have the best gameplay in the series. But I think the best Thief and Splinter Cell games,B completely shit on it, from a gameplay standpoint. I’d also say Thief has a better and certainly more elegantly presented story.


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