June 25, 2008
I am ready to write about MGS4 today, being that I finished Act III last night, but first I want to quote something I just read.
This comes from PS3Fanboy, which links to Zero Punctuation’s pretty good MGS4 video:
Sometimes you have to wonder whether Yahtzee enjoys playing any games. This week he predictably lays into Metal Gear Solid 4 for exactly the reasons we expected. He dislikes the amount and length of the cutscenes , which are fair points. We know a lot of people can’t get passed (sic) the heavy story. He goes on to label the gameplay cluttered and says that the entire series is badly written. Strong words.
Obviously we don’t agree with what Yahtzee says, but the video is still hilarious — and in the end, that’s what Zero Punctuation is all about. Ignore the complaints for what they are, vehicles for his unique brand of humor. Our favorite part of this week’s episode has to be the insinuation that Snake and Otacon are more than just good friends. We must say, it crossed our mind at times while we were playing through the game, too.
What I love about this quote are the qualifiers. “Obviously we don’t agree… Ignore the complaints for what they are.” As if they have to quell the fanboy rage before it starts, as if by linking to anything somewhat derogatory about the sacred franchise, they themselves are now implicated and responsible. The “Obviously” part is the thing that kills me the most. Why is it obvious? Is it obvious because the site is called “PS3Fanboy”? Does that mean that anybody who says that MGS4 is nothing less than a gift from the heavens is somehow blaspheming? More to the point, is there any middle ground that MGS4 can fall into? Or can it only be a “love it / hate it unconditionally” sort of discussion?
I digress. (How apropos!) I’m not here to talk about the press; I’m here to talk about MGS4. Specifically, Act III.*
[Here there be spoilers, insofar as I mention a key character who first appears at this point in the game. I couldn’t possibly spoil the story, because that would imply that I know what the fuck is going on with any degree of specificity.]
As I said before, Act III is, so far, the perfect example of all there is to love and hate about the franchise. The actual gameplay in Act III is pretty exciting stuff – for starters, you’re no longer on a battlefield but rather in a very noir-ish urban environment, with lush sepia tones, and you’re tailing a member of a resistance organization to his hideout. Then, later, you’re on the back of a motorcycle, speeding through rain-slicked streets, shooting out soldiers and flying monster-things, and I should come right out and say that this was one of the coolest sections of any game I’ve ever played. And then, finally, you’re engaged in a pretty satisfying boss fight, who gradually destroys the building you’re using for cover.
That all sounds great, right? Except here’s the thing – those gameplay moments maybe add up to about 30 minutes, tops. The entire whole of Act III – not including the mission briefing – took up almost 2 and a half hours. Before you even start playing, there’s a cutscene which is (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) at least twice as long as it needs to be, especially considering that the information it’s imparting isn’t necessarily all that complicated. And then, sandwiched between the tailing section and the motorcycle section is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The person you’re trying to meet is a 50-60ish Caucasian woman who goes by the name “Big Mama.” The only things big about her are her breasts, which I suppose is apt because she, as with every other female in this game, doesn’t believe in buttoning up the front of her shirt, so her boobs are just hanging out.
I’m surprised there hasn’t been more said about just how ridiculous and gratuitous the boobs are in this game. It’s been remarked upon in lots of other games – the Prince of Persia sequels come to mind, and the Ninja Gaiden and DOA games are known for their physically impossible boob physics – but as far as I know, nobody’s made any mention of the non-stop cleavage that abounds in MGS4.
Anyway. Big Mama shows up and suddenly the game just grinds to a halt as she spends at least 30 minutes droning about the backstory, speaking in an unending monotone – as if the voice actress simply gave up trying to figure out how to put any emotional weight behind what she was saying, partly because her dialog is so stilted and forced and no human being would ever talk like that, especially when Big Mama is revealing herself as Solid Snake’s mother. IIRC, there’s almost no physical interaction between the two of them in this scene – she simply walks through this church, zombie-like, intoning about Zero and Big Boss and The Boss (two different people?) and cloning and AI and the nature of warfare and the tragedy of what they’ve been through. I seem to recall one particular sequence where she explains how she came to be Snake’s mother, and Snake says something like “So you were a surrogate,” and she says “That’s an awfully cold way to put it”, and then 10 minutes later she says “I asked to serve as a surrogate”, as if the previous conversation specifically referencing that exact word hadn’t even happened.
I would go on, but that would imply that I could retain any of it. Luckily, we have the internet, so let’s just cut and paste some dialog from the script. But before I do, let me be clear: I don’t necessarily have a problem with the story, and I don’t have a problem with long cut scenes. My problem is that the story is told so poorly. Snake in particular seems to suffer from a particularly bad case of what my wife and I call “Legolas-itis”, except it’s somehow worse; Legolas (in the LOTR films, in case you weren’t following) often simply blurts out the obvious, with such pithy observations as “The horses are getting restless.” Snake can’t even blurt out the obvious – he is mostly reduced to repeating nouns of sentences he’s just heard.
I digress. Again. (How apropos!) Here’s some snippets from Act III.
Snake : I need to talk to you. Raiden sent me.
Big Mama : My, how you’ve grown… David. It was you, not I, who was
created from the rib of man.
[Big Mama places her hand on her stomach.]
Big Mama : But I gave you life. I am your mother.
[Snake stares at Big Mama in utter shocked.] (sic)
Snake : What?
Big Mama : Les Enfants Terribles. You can’t grow a human being in a
test tube… Not even a clone. You need a woman’s body to
give it life.
Snake : You mean… A surrogate mother?
Big Mama : That’s an awfully cold way to put it. I am your mother. I
gave birth… For the Patriots.
Snake : Gave… Birth?
Big Mama : The man who wants me dead… Is Liquid. Your twin. You think you know him, but I know him better. He was once Ocelot… But Liquid has taken control of his soul. And now he’s locked in a bitter struggle with Zero.
[Snake walks over to the front of Big Mama.]
Snake : “Zero?”
Big Mama : The founder of the Patriots.
Snake : Founder? When did this happen?
Big Mama : They’ve found us. We’re moving out.
[As Big Mama and the resistance members begin heading out the door, Snake receives another Codec transmission from Otacon.]
Otacon : Snake, the PMCs are converging on your location. Damn it! They’re sending in Gekko! They’ll be on you in less than five minutes!
[Snake hurries out the door after Big Mama.]
Big Mama : Are they ready?
Resistance : Yes, ma’am.
Big Mama : We’ll escape through the canal route using the real van. Get it ready. Hurry!
Resistance : Yes, ma’am.
Big Mama : Snake, over here. We’ve got decoy vans set to draw some of our pursuers away.
[Big Mama walks over to a sheet-covered object near the side of the church. She removes the sheet to reveal a Triumph motorcycle. Snake and Big Mama look on in the courtyard, watching the resistance members preparing for their escape.]
Big Mama : All of these children were orphans. They work in arms factories, and when they grow up, they want to join a PMC. They seek revenge on other companies… PMCs that killed their parents and use their earnings to support their younger siblings. There are countless child soldiers like these in the PMCs. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can get combat training. The FPS games these children love are distributed for free by these companies. Of course, it’s all just virtual training. It’s so easy for them to get absorbed by these war games. And before they know it, they’re in the PMCs holding real guns. These kids end up fighting in proxy wars that have nothing to do with their own lives. They think it’s cool to fight like this. They think that combat is life. They don’t need a reason to fight. After all, for them it’s only a game.
[Big Mama hands Snake a Vz. 83 submachine gun.]
Big Mama : Zero is the cause of all this. Defeating Liquid won’t change things. Unless we stop the Patriots’ System, the cycle will go unbroken.
[Big Mama gets on her motorcycle and starts the engine.]
Big Mama : Hop on. Hold on to me.
[Snake gets on the back of the motorcycle and hangs on to Big Mama’s waist. Allowing the engine to run for a few seconds, Big Mama calmly enhales the air around her.]
Big Mama : With so many wars being waged, oil and biofuel have become as precious as diamonds. It’s been a while since I went out for a ride.
Snake : You sure about this?
Big Mama : I only get off my bike when I fall in love… Or fall dead.
Snake : Big Mama….
Big Mama : Call me EVA.
I don’t get it. I don’t know how to get that. Again – I don’t care that Kojima has such lofty cinematic ambitions, but bad dialog is bad dialog and this, my friends, is among the worst. It lacks any semblance of humanity – it utterly lacks the rhythm of natural speech. I’m not saying that this game needs to be like a Mamet script, with people stepping all over each other – I’m just saying that people don’t talk like this, ever, not even when they’re high. People only talk like this in shitty sci-fi stories written by hyperactive 12-year-0lds, and I haven’t even talked about the character’s names. And when the gaming press refuses to acknowledge shit like this, it becomes very easy to understand why gaming still has a hard time getting taken seriously. If there was ANY indication from Kojima that this game’s story was meant to be looked at with an eye towards camp, then that would at least be something, but even then the scene could be twice as short and still be effective.
I’ve got 2 acts to ago, and it’s only because the gameplay itself is so refined that I’m staying with it until the end. But my bullshit quota is pretty much full up at this point.
* It should be noted right up front that I’m playing MGS4 on the “Naked Normal” difficulty, which is one step up from Super Easy. This is because I am trying to not hate the game, and so I’d rather be able to see everything there is to see first. I’m not sure if higher difficulties make the enemy AI smarter, or simply less easy to take down with a headshot; in any event, the enemy AI is pretty fucking stupid. At one point in Act III, there’s a helicopter hovering over a city square, with a search light that points all over the ground. I had inadvertently set off an alarm (I’m still not sure how), and ended up taking out the helicopter with an RPG. Literally within 20 seconds of the helicopter exploding, I intercepted a message from an enemy patrolman saying that the sector was now “all clear.” This is preposterous.