Assembling a Metal Gear Solid Frankenstein

Shaun dissects the MGS series to share his thoughts on what should and shouldn't carry over to MGS5.

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I've been spending a lot of time thinking about Metal Gear Solid this past month. I suppose that's to be expected considering I've also spent a lot of time playing Metal Gear Solid this past month. See, back in June I decided it would be a wonderful and not-at-all-ridiculous idea to go back and replay each game in the series from the original MGS through Peace Walker. Having just wrapped up MGS4, I'm very nearly done with this particular journey through the inner-psyche of Hideo Kojima.

The interesting thing about playing each game in rapid succession is that it really lets you see the threads that connect one game to another. Sure, Kojima and his team are pretty much hell-bent on never making the same game twice, but that doesn't stop them from borrowing certain themes and mechanics from older games (e.g., 4's twist on 3's stamina and camouflage systems), and wrapping them up in new ideas and ambitions. Each game has its own distinct personality, but there are clear building blocks carried from one game to another.

It all makes me wonder about Metal Gear Solid 5. Anyone who follows MGS news--and by that I mean Kojima's personal Twitter feed--knows that MGS5 is due for an official announcement any day now. So which ideas will it borrow from older games, and which will it eschew? In the time I've spent revisiting the series, I've constructed this sort of rough image of how I'd like to see MGS5 answer that question. So, without further ado, here's what I'm hoping to see (and not see) carried over to MGS5…

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

What to keep: Discrete acts. Prior to MGS4, the only real "chapter break" in the series was MGS2's transition from the Tanker section to the Big Shell section. Every other story has pretty much been one continuous trek through a specific part of the world. MGS4, however, used a five-act structure that sent Solid Snake all around the globe, venturing to five distinctly different locations in each portion of the game. It was a great way to add more geographical and gameplay variety in a way that still meshed with the overall story. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing MGS5 borrow this format.

What to lose: The Drebin Shop. I've always loved the way MGS games make you adapt to the tools you have at hand; how finding a random weapon in a random corner early on in the game can drastically affect, say, how you approach a boss fight at the end of the game. But with MGS4's introduction of the Drebin Shop, you could basically buy any weapon at any point, then slap a grenade launcher on it and call it a day. I can totally see why some people would enjoy the convenience of this system, but it really took away from what I loved so much about making do with what I happened to have on me at any given moment. The result was a game where I didn't feel as much need to explore each section of the game, knowing that most anything I missed could just be bought outright if I had enough Drebin points. I'm hoping MGS5 returns to a system that encourages more exploring and adapting.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

What to keep: Varied and distinctive boss fights. I'm of the opinion that MGS3 has the best boss fights in the series by a margin roughly the size of mainland China. They're just plain fantastic. The battle of wits and endurance against The End? The pitch-black darkness suddenly burting into flames against The Fury? Seeing the ghosts of all you've killed against The Sorrow? Each fight is so distinctive, so brilliant. I'd love to see MGS5 return to such a varied selection of boss fights.

What to lose: One-dimensional villain. MGS3 is my favorite game in the series, so choosing something to ditch is a tough chore. But, gun to my head, I'd have say its use of a flat, one-dimensional villain. Volgin is just so over-the-top evil that it's almost comical. And that's fine! You don't need to show a vulnerable human side to make a great villain (see: Joker in The Dark Knight) but you do at least need some mystery, some intrigue. Volgin was just a cackling electrical storm of villainy. Here's hoping MGS5's nemesis is a little more fleshed out.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

What to keep: The element of surprise. Remember when MGS2 swapped the beloved Solid Snake for an unknown kid named Raiden? That was one game that didn't care one bit about catching the player off guard. In fact, it reveled in surprising you. I think MGS5 is in the right position to borrow a page from Sons of Liberty's lesson plan. As the fifth numbered entry in the MGS series (sixth if you count Peace Walker), there's no better time than now to use the element of surprise to catch players off guard and challenge what they expect a Metal Gear Solid game to be. It doesn't have to go crazy with the cliffhangers and bizarre story twists, but looking back I think there's something to be said for MGS2's utter fearlessness.

What to lose: Level design. Despite the fact that MGS2 redeemed itself in my eyes after 11 years of disappointment, it's far from a perfect game. One thing I'd like to avoid seeing is the sort of constricting, confusing level layout that the Big Shell chapter suffers from. The whole hub-and-spoke design of the Big Shell offshore decontamination facility makes you feel like you're crossing the same bridge to get to the same strut over and over again. It makes the middle third of the game really drag compared to the beginning and end.

Metal Gear Solid

What to keep: Narrative focus. With the possible exception of a post-credits easter egg teasing an entirely new villain in the form of Solidus, I'd argue that the original Metal Gear Solid has the most tightly focused narrative of the series. That early on, there were few enough loose ends and stray story threads that Kojima and company were able to really keep the spotlight on Snake and his journey through Shadow Moses without too many side characters jumping in to say "Remember me!" Following the fairly comprehensive resolution in MGS4, it would be great to see MGS5 bookend the series with a more focused and personal story like the original.

What to lose: Overzealous Codec. 15 years later, the original MGS still holds up quite well. Except, perhaps, for the barrage of Codec calls you have to put up with early on. I swear, for the first half of the game Snake spends half his time crouched down with a finger in his ear listening to tutorials, introductions from new teammates, and God knows what else. Later games really found the sweet spot of making the Codec an optional tool for seeking out tips for boss fights or simply taking a breather when you need a break from the action. There's really no reason why MGS5 would return to this type of Codec usage, but better safe than sorry right?

So what do you think? Which elements from the older games do you desperately want to see in MGS5 and which could you just as easily live without? Let us know right here in the comments!

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