Forever Alone?

After playing the Rainbow Six: Siege beta for a few hours, I’m not quite convinced that Ubisoft’s decision to axe a single-player campaign was the best choice. This has nothing to do with my own preference for campaigns, mind you, just that the netcode is pure garbage.

My memories of the Rainbow Six series are almost entirely dedicated to the online portions. I loved Rainbow Six: Raven Shield for it’s open-ended structure. It fit perfectly into co-op play and gave great competition to Counter-Strike for competitive play.

I played the hell out of terrorist hunt in Rainbow Six 3 on Xbox with my friend, Corey. He and I eagerly anticipated the expansion, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow, and continued to bounce between the two games in co-op campaign and terrorist hunt for a few years. We just loved experiencing that game style together.

As for the plotlines, I don’t really even recall what any of them were about. A tactical shooter is more about replicating a tense, life and death situation then it is about presenting any thought provoking questions to the player. Just take a look at how muddled the plot is in Rainbow Six: Vegas.

The sequel to that game was almost entirely a prequel. Apparently the first game didn’t make enough sense to enough people, so Ubisoft had to detail where the villain came from (I guess being Russian/Chinese wasn’t enough for Tom Clancy fans).

The Tom Clancy universe of games aren’t really tailored around being solo excursions. Splinter Cell was the first time that going alone made sense. Sam Fisher was a better ghost then the Ghost Squad and his mission was to leave as little a trail as possible. Bringing another player, while fun, wasn’t a requirement.

Even that series got expanded into a multiplayer affair. In the latest game of the series, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the game is markedly improved when in co-op (since the AI is brain dead). It feels excellent to coordinate your attack with a friend.

Even with pointless BS like this.

Enough with Ubisoft games, though. How about the fact that the last gen versions of the upcoming Black Ops III don’t feature a campaign? Well, if not for the price tag, I wouldn’t see this as an issue. From my times working at GameStop, most people didn’t even know Call of Duty had a campaign.

People used to tell me that they would tinker a little with it or plow through the thing on Easy and then forget it existed. Why Activision keeps trying to bolster the campaign is beyond me. Instead of wasting money on putting Kevin Spacey in the game, I think Activision should be boosting the MP up with a larger map count and more modes.

I’m also thinking of one of my favorite shooter franchises, Unreal Tournament. It’s new pre-alpha just released and it’s extremely fun. What doesn’t it have? Any kind of extensive single-player mode. There are bot matches, sure, but nothing in the way of story or character development; the game is focused on delivering the most fast paced and finely tuned multiplayer experience possible.

Having a game forgo a single-player campaign isn’t that big of an issue. To use Hollywood as an example, two of the biggest film releases this year were Max Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2. Both movies didn’t try to appeal to anyone outside of their target demographic.

Men wanted a more action focused film and got just that with Fury Road. Women were dying to have an all female cast be represented in a way that wasn’t sexist or objectified and got that with Pitch Perfect 2. Funny how disregarding a huge portion of the general population worked in those films favors.

There is nothing men can relate to, so let’s just cancel the whole thing. – Stupid Movie Executive, 2015

With Rainbow Six: Siege excluding a single-player campaign, I think Ubisoft is realizing that the main attraction and lasting appeal of the series is online. Now, I’d agree with them under normal circumstances, but this is Ubisoft we’re talking about. They tend to abandon support for their games a few years after release, leaving online a wasteland.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the netcode is currently horseshit in the beta. I’d join matches and the entire game would be littered with pings of 380. I have a 50 MBPS download, so my ping shouldn’t be higher then 40.

I’ve seen this happen time and again with a lot of newer releases; developers rush the game out to meet some arbitrary release date and the lasting appeal suffers. All conversations focuses on the horrible launch and how disappointing the online experience ends up being.

With a single-player mode attached to Rainbow Six: Siege, I think gamers would be more forgiving of any online deficiencies. The game truly marks an arrival of next-generation style gameplay. Destructible environments and particle effects not only make the game looks expensive, but have a tangible impact on the gameplay.

With a strong internet infrastructure, I feel that Rainbow Six: Siege could be a game changer. Without that (which is more then likely going to be the case), I don’t think gamers will stick around. That lack of single-player is going to feel like a wasted opportunity.

For the most part, I feel that a lot of developers should focus more on the strengths of their game’s concepts then on ticking off some checklist for marketability. Just like Unreal Tournament doesn’t need a campaign mode, Rainbow Six: Siege shouldn’t require one.

Remeber how this game had a campaign? Yeah, I don’t either.

Games don’t exist to cater to everyone at all times. If you don’t fit into the mold of what Rainbow Six: Siege aims to do, then just skip the game. Don’t complain that Ubisoft made a bad decision to eliminate single-player. Don’t nag EA to provide an offline option to Star Wars Battlefront when the entire concept was designed with multiple players.

It’s pointless to want every game to be the same. Not all shooters need a campaign mode, just as how not every fucking game needs tacked on multiplayer. We need to stop having developers split their teams into single and multi-player offsets and combine their powers to make the best possible experience they can. If that happens to be multi-player only, so be it.

Survivor’s Guilt

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an exceptional game with a shockingly awful story. Fans of the series are disappointed that many questions are not answered (or even brought up) and that the conclusion doesn’t really mesh with the Metal Gear canon. It seems that Kojima’s shift to open-world has put the plot on the backburner in favor of making an expansive and rewarding gameplay system.

That being said, there are a lot of individual moments that I truly enjoyed in the Phantom Pain. I like what the ending stands for and I’m really fond of the exploration of child soldiers in the modern world, but the side plot that focuses on Paz is probably the best of the bunch.

While Snake feeling remorse over the loss of Paz doesn’t make much sense for his character, it’s only after beating the game do you begin to understand the majesty of this side story. Since Venom Snake is actually the medic from Ground Zeroes, his guilt over being unable to save Paz makes sense.

Venom Snake may barely remember he is the medic, but his true identity can never be erased. He was there, staring at Paz as she blew up in his face. He even shielded Big Boss from the explosion and nearly died in the process.

You can’t even tell he had a different face!

Having lost his arm and identity, Venom Snake is left confused and alone. He doesn’t say much, constantly has people trying to kill him and bonds with a quiet woman who then leaves him. Worrying about Paz seems too minuscule in his life, but it’s very touching.

Throughout the course of the game, you can undertake side-ops missions that have you rounding up some of your soldiers from the MSF days. These guys were with you when Big Boss was taking on all the AI pods and saving the world from Paz and ZEKE.

The medic may not truly know that Paz was a traitor, but his mission with Big Boss to Camp Omega had one clear goal; bring Paz and Chico home. Even if Kaz and Boss’ intention were to extract information from them, they weren’t supposed to die in that plane.

The final revelation of Ground Zeroes turns out to be that Paz had a bomb implanted in her. Venom makes the call to extract it fast and proceeds to cut her open without anesthetic. It’s a tortuous scene that doesn’t make sense at first, but comes full circle with this side plot in the Phantom Pain.

The medic is guilty that, not only did he inflict more pain on Paz, but that he lived through the terrible ordeal. She was blown to pieces, but he is still alive and well. He cannot deal with the fact that he lost a patient that was so crucial to Big Boss’ plan.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though.

As such, when you gather up your soldiers from MSF, you are given memento photographs that showcase some of the best moments of Paz’s time with MSF. Things like her sun bathing, throwing a birthday party and singing with Kaz and Professor Galvez; it’s all really touching and helps to detail the internal struggle she suffered by being forced into hijacking ZEKE.

When you reach chapter 2 of the Phantom Pain, Ocelot informs you that a very important patient is waiting on the medical platform. When you go to inspect, you are dumbstruck to find Paz sitting on the bed. You saw her die with your own eyes; how is she still there?

At first, even the player is at a loss for answers. There is no conceivable way she lived through that incident. Unlike her falling into the water at the end of Peace Walker, Paz was torn asunder by a bomb. There is really no other definitive way someone could die.

As you bring the photographs back to Paz, it starts to become clear; this is an illusion in Venom’s mind that is materializing from his guilt. He has a classic case of survivor’s syndrome; he feels that he should have died in that explosion those 9 years ago.

The ending also has him relive the moments that ripped Paz out of this world. He sees her extract the bomb from her stomach and throw it on the bed. He tries his best to run for her and shield her from the blast. Nothing he can do changes the outcome; Paz is gone and Venom’s past life is over.

When he awakes from his delusion, Venom looks to the sky and realizes that life goes on. While he might have been able to do more, what happened is over. Paz understands that he tried his best, just as she did with Skull Face and Cipher.

More so, the medic comes to terms with the fact that he is now Big Boss. Though he never asked for the responsibility or the notoriety, the medic is Venom Snake. He is the Big Boss that the world will get to see. He will exist to increase the legacy of the hero he pledged allegiance too all those years ago.

With that revelation comes the image of a floating morpho butterfly (Morpho being the name of the pilot from Ground Zeroes). As Venom looks at it, he sees that Peace is written on the exterior of Mother Base. That was truly what Paz wanted and it is precisely what Venom will fight to give the world.

In a game whose story moments are so scattered and disconnected, this side plot does more to elicit emotion and understanding then anything else the game throws at the player. Not only that, but in a title dedicated to absolute player freedom, this quest has no alternate outcome; you have to face the fact that a character you may have bonded with is gone.

Much like life, shit happens. What defines a human is how they deal with the aftermath of a tragedy. What they give to life in their worst hour is how they will be remembered. Venom isn’t going to let anymore of his men die, not without a fight.

MGS V: Our Story

There are going to be MASSIVE spoilers in this blog. If you have not finished Metal Gear Solid V or are only part way through it, come back when you beat it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Lots of discussion has been going on since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. People seem to be pretty upset with the ending. An entire Kotaku article was written about how disappointing the whole affair was. (Then again, it is Kotaku)

I think people have the entire plot wrong. It may not be well written (in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s outright bad), but it has a bigger symbolic meaning then we realize. For the first time in any games plotline, you (the player) are the most important figure in it.

The big twist at the end of MGS V is that you were never actually playing as Big Boss. At the end of Ground Zeroes and leading up to the opening of Phantom Pain, Zero and Ocelot concoct a plan to fool the world and keep Big Boss’ enemies off him.

This leads to you getting a face lift and becoming “Big Boss”. In actuality, you are Punished “Venom” Snake, who was once a field medic and the best soldier of MSF. He had such a dedication to Big Boss’ philosophy that, when in the coma, his mind was easy to trick in believing he was Big Boss.

Thus kicks off a game where, without the twist, nothing big really happens. You get revenge on the man who destroyed Mother Base and the plotline just kind of peters out of existence. The credits roll, you lose a buddy and that’s really it.

It’s when you consider the twist that things start to get interesting. I won’t defend it’s place in the Metal Gear canon (as I think it makes no damn sense), but as a standalone game, Phantom Pain’s plot is pretty emotional.

For starters, it’s basically a gigantic thank you to every Kojima fan. Without us, he would never be the superstar developer he is today. By making us Big Boss, he is saying that no Metal Gear would be possible without our love of the series.

Or without *sob* David Hayter!

The shift in gameplay to an open-world also echoes this. Since we are now the most pivotal character in the plot, our choices are what Venom Snake goes with. There are multiple ways to accomplish any task, so the story is dependent on the player.

There are obviously some bits from Ground Zeroes thrown in to make some kind of connecting thread, but you could skip that game and not miss much. The ending might make less sense, but you wouldn’t initially feel shocked at how you were deceived.

In the aforementioned Kotaku article, the writer goes on about how Mission 43 becomes mess gripping once you learn you aren’t Big Boss. I actually think the opposite effect occurs; once you learn you’re not actually Big Boss, you begin to realize that you are the one making all the shots.

You walked into the quarantine zone on Mother Base and shot the soldiers that you extracted. Everything was done by you and has to be undone by you. If your character were Big Boss, it would be an emotional moment for him. Since it’s actually you, the impact becomes two-fold.

I probably would have cried more than strike a dramatic pose.

The Phantom Pain works wonders when it comes to player involvement. I do wish the narrative were stronger (or that Konami didn’t cut out the damn real ending), but I can’t think of how else to really get a player invested in an open-world style game.

A lot of sandbox adventures suffer from unfocused plotlines. Grand Theft Auto IV and V have really bad stories. Each one starts with an intriguing premise before falling into rote execution and repetition. In both of those games, the actions done are by your characters, first, and then you.

Assassin’s Creed III is another perfect example. The whole game is built around the growth and struggles of Connor, not you. Not only do I not care to see his story unfold, but the game takes so damn long to even do so that the gameplay simply acts as a distraction more then anything.

With the Phantom Pain, every bit of gameplay is story. Regardless of what you’re doing, those moments are a part of Venom Snake’s history. You decided to make it happen and it will be your own personal conclusion to Metal Gear’s legacy.

The previous entries in the Metal Gear series were all about how much of a bad ass Solid Snake was. Even with Metal Gear Solid 3, it was less you and more Naked Snake doing things. He was the one who got the glory and who had to put that final bullet into The Boss.

I just can’t help but think people missed that with the Phantom Pain. We were so used to games giving us a clear narrative and actual purpose that we were left disappointed. That’s not to say that every story beat is good (because that isn’t even close to true), but the whole of the Phantom Pain is bigger then it’s individual pieces.

Kojima has stated that the amount of player freedom in Grand Theft Auto V had made him depressed. He was positive that the Phantom Pain couldn’t reach the same heights as Rockstars latest blockbuster.

In all honesty, I feel that MGS V has the most freedom of any game I’ve played this year. It’s also more open ended then a lot of sandbox games claim to be. You’re given tools, a general location and then told to get at it. If anything, it echoes more of Far Cry 2 then it does Grand Theft Auto.

I truly think that Kojima was inspired by what FromSoftware have done with the Souls games. While those are a bit more linear then the Phantom Pain, they don’t beat the player over the head with exposition or cutscenes. You enter a world and rarely (if ever) lose control.

But I can’t control this! WHY?! WHHHOOOOOO?!

The cassette tapes were a decent idea with MGS V, just the execution of them didn’t truly work out. We may never know how much Konami’s decision to drop Kojima may have effected the game, but I do get the feeling that the story could have been grander if Konami just believed in their output.

Still, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is deeper then we all think. It probably won’t go down in history as a classic or even the best of the series, but it certainly deserves to be called a masterpiece. If nothing else, I believe we have a best new character of 2015; us.

Meaningful Content

In the last generation, we saw games getting bigger and bigger and budgets ballooning out of control. As publishers were looking to get as much return as possible, games became bloated with side-quests that had little to no relevance to the main story mode.

Just this year, we have been given three games that do away with such fluff. Bloodborne, The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. In each game, every bit of content feels just. You never waste your time in areas that plaster up invisible walls or grant absolutely no benefit; if you undertake a side-quest, the reward is readily apparent.

Take MGS V for example. At the very beginning of the game, you are unable to understand the soldiers in Afghanistan. This pretty much makes getting information a pointless endeavor. After finishing the first mission, you are informed of translators in the area that can be rescued. Doing so grants you the ability to understand the language in that area.

It’s an immediate payoff that gives the player a sense of accomplishment. Instead of including an activity because it’s cool, the developers thought to award some palpable sense of achievement within the game itself.

The Witcher basically has stronger plot points in the side missions then the main quest itself. One very early side quest has you tackling the mystery of a man’s wife who has gone disappearing. You get to be a detective and figure out what occurred and the impact this has had on the man’s life.

Did you take her?

It is supremely rewarding to dig into such a rich story. Most side quests can be boiled down to a few simple points; the game needs to be longer and the player can skip these. Since developers don’t want the player to “miss” any important content, one can reasonably skip the side stuff and still get the entire story.

Even before Wild Hunt, The Witcher 2 had an entirely different second act based on some decisions you made at the end of the first. It was a radical departure from what mainstream, triple A gaming was doing. That is getting a bit side tracked from my point, though.

With Bloodborne, while the world may not be entirely open as in Witcher and MGS, you can tackle most of the boss creatures in an order of your choosing. There are even a great few that you can entirely skip. A lot of the work in getting to them is shrouded in obscurity and requires one to think outside the box.

This leads to optional areas that are just as thrilling, frightening and meticulously detailed as the main game. More so, with the narrative being ambiguous and vague, the game encourages you to seek out as much information as possible. Without being told to, you are actively pushed to see the full picture.

This subtlety to approaching story in a game makes Bloodborne utterly captivating. Coupled with the brutal combat mechanics and steep difficulty and Bloodborne becomes a game that can consume your life for a good month or two.

Ah, yes, a good month or two….where is my cranberry juice?

I do remember games being like this in my heyday. Games on the NES, SNES and even PS1 were more about creating experiences that rewarded player skill and investment. Not every game was supremely long, but every bit of content was worthwhile.

I can’t think of a Mario game where I would want to skip levels (other then 8-3 in the original being a bitch). Shooters like Quake were so morbid, dark and terrifying that I was compelled to press on to see the corridors that lie ahead.

Then you look back at the last few years of gaming and you see pointless padding. Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider; newer entries in these series had so much pointless content that gamers gave up caring. Why do I want to climb towers in every city just to spot “important” locations? What benefit does collecting feathers or journals or hidden packages have for me?

I was amazed when playing Sleeping Dogs and found out that a lot of the side quests have a tangible benefit to the player. Finding the hidden shrines would increase your maximum health. Getting all of the statues in the story missions unlocked extra finishing moves for your combos. It was wild to think that side content could actually mean something in the modern era.

Then you look at inFamous: Second Son and all of the side stuff does basically nothing. Sure, you can level up your skills, but the game is so easy that nothing else over your starting arsenal is really required.

It seems that for as big as we can make game worlds, there is some nagging need to include as much stuff as possible. It’s as if the game isn’t engaging enough, so developers have a desire to distract you from how mediocre it is.

“You’re right! I don’t even care!”

There are some complaints that MGS V is devoid of life (something lobbied at Ocarina of Time as well), but that doesn’t even hold water. When I actively want to explore the game world, I don’t care if hundreds of things are crawling around. I like exploring landscapes and seeing nature in a natural state.

Taking a hike through a forest doesn’t bring you to a lost tribe or hidden tomb (unless you happen to be lucky); one takes a walk through nature to escape the fast paced nature of their lives. It’s a form of escapism that brings you back to reality and the purity of nature.

It’s also not a waste of time. Even though you aren’t technically accomplishing anything, you are freeing your mind of the bullshit from your daily life. Your problems disappear for a few hours in a safe, fun and refreshing manner.

Where are all the damn side quests?

When a video game so perfectly encapsulates that (such as MGS V), why am I going to complain about a lack of visible life? I don’t want more stuff in my games, I want my games to feel more complete.

I just wonder why it took so long for developers to finally get around to making completely worthwhile experiences. I think that, in the years coming up, we’ll see more and more games that cut out all of the trappings and stick to gameplay and extra missions that actually matter.

That, or we can just look at Super Mario Maker and make our own stuff. I wish Project Spark were as open-ended as Mario Maker, because I would love to get in on manipulating my childhood memories.

Children and War

There are some minor spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 5 contained in this blog. Not much regarding the plot is detailed, but if you wish to play that game with a fresh mind, do not continue past the picture.

Metal Gear Solid 5 may not have the most detailed plotline, but it does bring up a lot of interesting questions. Things that deal with nuclear warfare, genetic manipulation and honor are standard fare as far as Metal Gear is concerned, but child warfare is relatively new.

Aside from Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, we’ve never seen children on the battlefield or heard of their past. MGS 2 tried to describe how Raiden was robbed of his life because of Solid Snake, but what about kids who never had a chance to experience life in general?

The mission Blood Runs Deep in Phantom Pain tasks Snake with eliminating 6 targets. The client they have taken on requests this so that none of the rebels talk. It’s a dramatic increase from previous missions, but the biggest surprise is hardly the amount of targets.

When you approach the cell that contains the enemy, you find that they are children around 12 years old. It is truly shocking (despite pre-release footage showing them). Kaz gives you a short speech that details how there, “is no Heaven or Hell for these kids.” Snake mutters that there is another choice; Outer Heaven.

This begins a thrilling and nail biting escort mission out of the camp through a guarded river bed. Apart from being one of the best missions I’ve ever played, the game got me thinking about what war must do to these children.

Even when Snake gets them to safety, will their lives be changed? Being raised in a literal battlefield has to have some kind of scaring effect on the psyche of these kids. Is it possible that war is the only thing these kids will ever be capable of?

This is, sadly, a question that is raised often in real life. CNN has a report from former child soldier Ngor Mayol that explains how he is living after fighting at the age of 15. Without any form of rehabilitation, Ngor leads a normal life as a grocery store clerk.

In his own words, “My life experience in the military, I was so proud of it, to defend the territory of South Sudan.” For him, his time on the battlefield was noble. His cause made sense and he regrets nothing.

He has some nightmares of the friends he lost, but he seems to be friendly and calm. One cannot say if he is lucky or if PTSD doesn’t effect children as much, but all hope is not gone. Sometimes, fighting battles at a young age will do nothing to you.

The terrorist group, ISIS, has sent many children into battle as suicide soldiers. Girls are turned into prostitutes or sold as wives and other children are given AKs and told to shoot on sight. A lot of these kids don’t suffer from any mental trauma.

The biggest concern seems to be the never ending cycle of war. If soldiers are readily replaceable with children, then how many lives need to be spent to end a conflict? Can a man instinctively kill a child because the kid is pointing a gun at him? Is that a quandary that any person should be faced with?

Metal Gear never answers those questions. Instead, the game will automatically fail you if any of the children die. There are also later missions where you need to infiltrate a base camp that is entirely composed of kids. In that mission, as well, you cannot kill anyone.

It seems the stance of Mother Base, and Metal Gear as a whole, is that killing children is morally reprehensible. This is in stark contrast to the plotline that details the fall of Big Boss. If he is truly an enemy, why isn’t he getting his job done at any cost?

That isn’t what this blog is about. Much like how Hideo Kojima included children in the Phantom Pain to spark discussion, I’m writing this to ask questions. I want to know what other people feel on this situation.

While I’m fairly certain we all agree that putting children into armed conflict is deplorable, we may not all agree on how their futures will turn out. I don’t know that I would be able to escape the demons of my past if I had ever killed someone at a young age.

It also begs the question; is war natural? Is our species doomed to endlessly repeat a cycle of death and destruction? Animals in the wild will fight each other, but they don’t enlist thousands of comrades to fall under a specific cause. Humanity seems to be the only species which tries to justify it’s actions.

I guess when the going gets tough, throwing kids on the front lines is a quick and dirty solution. It’s similar to cigarette companies and their marketing campaigns; getting them hooked when they are young builds a trust that is hard to break.

Whatever the answer, I’m happy to at least be thinking about something that afflicts our world. Without Metal Gear coming along and placing me in ridiculous and outlandish situations, I’d probably never give a second thought to the war machine and it’s devastating impact on humanity.