Video Games
Metal Gear Solid V is a Side-Story to Rewrite a 1987 Game

Phil Hornshaw | 8 Dec 2015 15:00
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It Still Doesn't Work

Presumably, Kojima created MGS V both to add context to the later seeming evil-doer-ness of Big Boss, and to create a situation in which the story can simultaneously support Villain Big Boss and Good Guy Big Boss. They're two different people, in fact. Big Boss has an evil twin.

Except that evil twin isn't so evil, and MGS V does a terrible job of selling that angle of the story.

Despite several characters mentioning that decoy Big Boss (he's called Venom Snake in the game, so we'll go with that) has "become a demon" in his struggle to get revenge on Skull Face for killing his men and nearly killing him, that never actually seems to be the case. Players make choices about how they handle situations throughout the game-lethal or non-lethal, execute targets or kidnap them and let them join up with Big Boss's military outfit, and so on-and while it's not advertised, the game keeps track of all this. There's a hidden "Demon Points" system that notes how evil you are, and it alters your appearance accordingly to be more demon-like.

Too bad everything in the game encourages you to be a good guy.

All the gameplay incentives in MGS V make lethal actions a sort of dumb way to play, long-term. Why shoot guys in the head when you constantly want to kidnap them to join Mother Base and bolster your forces? Why kill assassination targets when it's always better to recruit them? Why be evil when it's so much more literally rewarding (if not morally rewarding) to be good?

And then there's the story. Some dark stuff goes on aboard Mother Base, that's for sure. Venom Snake's lieutenants, Revolver Ocelot and Kaz Miller, get paranoid about traitors on the base and torture people repeatedly-but Snake doesn't. He's often the guy stepping in (after a fair amount of torture has happened, to be fair) to put a stop to it. But he's never the torturer, he never rants bitterly about revenge (like Kaz), he never uses excessive force or treats anyone cruelly in the story.

Snake even rescues child soldiers. Repeatedly. The game explicitly forbids you from killing them as soon as they show up, and despite a cutscene that fakes like Snake's about to murder a cell full of kids, it's all just a big ruse.

All of this is to say that Venom Snake is a pretty good guy. Not the best guy, certainly. But he also doesn't descend through the course of MGS V to becoming a heinous, megalomaniacal villain in Metal Gear. In fact, he seems to be a pretty heroic character by the end of the story.

And that's probably because the story is unfinished.

Rushed, Disjointed, Confusing

Metal Gear Solid V's story is split into two chapters. The first concerns the main plot of Venom Snake tracking down and stopping antagonist Skull Face. But then that just ... ends. It's followed by Chapter 2, which is supposed to be about how Venom Snake goes on without a clear foe to battle. Without the drive for revenge, how does Venom Snake just live in the world?

Unfortunately, it's very clear that Chapter 2 is missing huge, important chunks of the tale, with the assumption being that MGS V was taking too long and costing too much, and eventually was forced out the door. The game is missing a clear ending (the Venom Snake/Big Boss twist is its final cutscene, which wraps up nothing) and several of the biggest plot threads are left dangling. All the most important stuff that happens in MGS V is off-screen or unresolved.

Venom Snake has some tough moments in MGS V, but whenever he's tested, he always comes out more heroic in the story than he went in. If Kojima's intent was to provide a good reason for Big Boss to go from battling to create a better world for soldiers while also resisting the Illuminati-like new world order of his former allies, to also be a nuke-bearing murderous dick in Metal Gear, well-he failed. MGS V doesn't really pave the way. If anything, it feels like more of the story is waiting to be told.

That's to say nothing of how little sense it makes that Big Boss sends Solid Snake to fight Venom Snake when the pair are working toward the same goal: Big Boss's soldier utopia. This doesn't rewrite Big Boss's intent for assigning the mission, and in fact, the "ending" of MGS V has Big Boss tipping Venom off to Solid Snake's mission. The false-flag idea of setting up Solid Snake to fail is unchanged. So what was the point of rewriting this, except to undo the original Metal Gear/Metal Gear 2 death-faking?

MGS V is a plot twist that doesn't fit with Metal Gear's plot. There are some potentially fascinating thematic implications in the Venom/Boss bait-and-switch, not the least of which is that the legend attached to the "Legendary Soldier" story of Big Boss seems to have gotten away even from the man himself. But overall, MGS V is a lot of work to alter the story of an 8-bit game with minimal dialogue that was built on a goofy plot twist. And in all the biggest ways, it fails to do it.


Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer and the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero's Guide to Glory: How to Get Off Your Podunk Planet and Master the Final Frontier. When he's not overthinking game stories, rewatching the films Alien or The Thing. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two annoying cats, and can be found on Twitter at @philhornshaw.

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