MGS4 AS A HOAX
Met at the beginning with universal praise even more so than previous MGS iterations, the game was later subjected to indifference or hatred. You could say it’s the least favorite Metal Gear right now, of the major ones. People usually go with MGS1 most of all because of nostalgia, some with MGS2 for the postmondern narrative (when they get past Raiden), and some with MGS3 because of Big Boss or the game’s Cold War jungle setting. But MGS4, with its depressive, tedious tone, its aging snake and its only two linear levels of interactive combat and freedom, has somehow been forsaken and cast into oblivion by both the gaming community and the Metal Gear community. The former because it thrives on new games and has a very short attention span so as to remain loyal to any game that’s two years old, and the latter because, I suppose, began to realize what was wrong with it, and why the older games are generally better.
The positive universal acclaim by the major gaming news sites and fans didn’t last long, and MGS4 slowly started to become dreaded, the opposite process of MGS2, first loathed and now even competing with MGS1 for popularity. While MGS2 was initially criticized because of its story (like MGS4) there was a field where it triumphed universally despite the outrage, and it was because of its upgraded mechanics. It was a far cry from MGS1’s outdated engine. The AI, the physics, the graphics and the animations where top-notch, the best the PS2 had to offer, putting every other game of the moment to shame. The cutscene to gameplay ratio hinted at a preference of cutscenes over gameplay, even more so than in MGS1, but they were interesting and filled with action and a smart script, carrying the story forward in an amazingly dynamic fashion. Just watch the cutscenes of each game and reach your own conclusions. Sure, MGS2 is not without its flaws, but … it has something. MGS4 just doesn’t have that same energy.
When the enthusiasm and the novelty of MGS4 wore off, articles against it started to appear by fans, brutally criticizing it with extremely hard to ignore evidence of its flaws, while even some gaming news sites “rebelled” against the consensus and flat-out said what they thought, not treating the game as worthy of automatic 10 scores. Articles such as “Why Metal Gear Solid 4 is nowhere near as good as you think” pretty much nail every single flaw regarding gameplay, presentation, graphics, sound and plot, and I should say, it’s the best and most in-depth review of the game so far. If you liked or didn’t like MGS4, chances are that article will awake something in new, giving you new reasons to hate it.
That article, however, deals mostly with what is presented to us, without really questioning Kojima’s intentions. Terry Wolfe, on the other hand, cared more about finding out why the game was made terrible to begin with, and wrote an excellent and well-structured analysis of MGS4’s history and development which you can read in this very website, through three articles named “The Long, Dark Path to MGS4,” “Kojima vs. MGS4” and “MGS4 Sold Out: The Evidence.” In these articles the reasons for the game’s existence and its creative and artistic direction are analyzed steeply, detailing the decisions by Kojima that resulted in what is now MGS4 … and why it’s terrible.
The problem with MGS4 is actually the same problem MGS2 and MGS3 suffered from; it’s not a heartfelt artistic creation like MGS1. MGS2 and MGS3 were emotional responses to Kojima’s mindless fanbase who demanded more guns, more stylish boss fights and less preachy storytelling. MGS2 was a twisted tale on MGS1 designed to test the fanbase, while MGS3 was the revision to Kojima’s failed theory of his fans loving his games for their moral or philosophical content. I have never understood Kojima’s feelings regarding the “cool stuff” overshadowing the “smart stuff,” as the majority of people aren’t going to be exactly brainy, so it’s to be expected. Yet, he kept on giving the fanbase what he thought they wanted but through a series of punishments designed to make them feel “bad” about it. The VR Missions disc of MGS1, the Substance and Subsistence versions of MGS2 and MGS3, everything in these games has very subtle underlying messages intended to insult the gamer who craves such content. But why would Kojima feel so dissappointed in his fanbase? As Terry Wolfe explains in another article, the reason for the cool aspects in MGS1 in the first place was due to Shinkawa’s artistic details, which enhanced the look and feel of the game, pretty much eliminating some of Kojima’s own ideas, which in all honesty, were quite terrible. Kojima has a lot to thank Shinkawa for making the game so popular and beloved. In fact, without the inclusion of characters such as Otacon and Cyborg Ninja, it could have perhaps not been so extremely popular, or reach such a wide audience. Instead, Kojima insisted on making games to gripe about his successes and his fanbase rather than design the games he truly wanted to create. MGS2 was a very bitter response to MGS1’s success, and MGS4 was the supposed realization that fans only wanted brainless action and style over substance. MGS4, moreover, was designed for something much more different than MGS2’s infamous bait-and-switch trick with Raiden.
For you see, I have a theory of my own regarding MGS4; I commonly refer to the game as an “intellectual imposture.” Intellectual imposture refers to the title of a book by the physicist and mathematician Alan D. Sokal, which deals with the story of his publishing of a purposefully-made nonsense article in a postmodern cultural studies journal (“Social Text”), that became instantly lauded and praised without question. When he revealed the hoax, he showed the intellectual community upfront how easy it is nowadays to lie in matters of science and turn it into pseudoscience, and how abuse of the scientific language and fallacy in general are enough to convince people and perpetuate baloney and pseudoscience. The entire event was so massive that up to this day, it is referred to as “the Sokal Affair.”
Doing a similar act is referred now as “pulling a Sokal,” and my contention is that Kojima basically pulled a Sokal on the Metal Gear community and the gaming community in general with the creation of MGS4. His goal? To demonstrate how he could build an uninspired, tedious, boring and lackluster Metal Gear game using fan service, nostalgia and hype to garner universal 10-point score reviews. He wanted the world to judge a Metal Gear based on all the things fans supposedly wanted (guns, combat, stupid boss fights, returning characters, action cutscenes, cyborg ninjas, online mode) with none of the unsatisfactory plot mechanics or blatantly traitorous gimmicks from MGS2, and see whether it would score higher than any of the previous games. He succeeded unimaginably.
For these reasons, which you can read in the articles I linked (not to mention the images I posted) it would seem to me that it’s safe to say that it’s not conspiranoid or farfetched at all to claim MGS4 is nothing more than a Sokal, a shiny cover hiding its ugly interior and shady development history. The evidence is there in the game, clear as day and especially clearer when you contrast it with the games that precede it, although I believe the strongest evidence is the powerful sensation of tedium that will travel through your body at the thought of rewatching its cutscenes on a second playthrough. Kojima, after the fiasco of MGS2, has seemed greatly offended by what his fanbase demanded, and has in vain tried to pass on his beliefs to it. MGS4 would be the final confirmation he needed before moving on to other projects or absorb the truth about what his fans were truly like, and what they wanted from him. The sole fact of knowing about MGS2’s development and the game’s goal is enough to believe that Kojima isn’t beyond “trolling” people with hoaxes or games purposefully designed to “betray” the player and fail systematically at satisfying their demands.
To further support my theories, I shall show you IGN’s final thoughts on the game so you may see the absolute exaggeration behind the reviews for the game.
This is the equivalent of writing an essay or paper for high school or university doing exactly what the teacher wants, betraying your beliefs in the process and eliminating that with can be perceived as non-scholarly academic work (refusing to use what they taught you), with the sole goal of satisfying their expectations and thus getting a high score. It’s about not thinking independently and conforming with the establishment. That’s what MGS4 is, but with all the meta-references hinting at how painful it is for an artist to do that.
But it doesn’t stop there. The first phrase of IGN’s verdict’s is even more outrageous, and reads the following:
“Is it possible to give a game an 11? If so, this would be the game that would merit that score.”
Over-the-top is too subtle a term to describe this. It’s absolute exaggeration for the sake of it, the act of dishing out high scores left and right mindlessly and only because it was the expected reaction to be had for a game narrating the end of Solid Snake. It was hyped to be epic and to defeat our expectations, and the return of old characters, massive fan service, hollow nostalgia and wonderfully-done (yet corny and tedious) cutscenes and graphics did the trick just right. The teachers are pleased.
In conclusion, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” is the unloved child of Kojima’s failing marriage with the series, a game that was only produced due to death threats, pressure from the fans, and perhaps, a Japanese sense of duty, with the exclusive purpose of proving a point and lashing out at the world. As such, it remains unloved and forsaken by its own creator, the franchise’s fans and the gaming world. To some, it has turned into a textbook example of everything that should be avoided when designing a videogame. In the future, it will probably still be unchallenged as the least beloved of the series.
Thusly, dear friends, I end my explanation of why no political ideology can be extracted from MGS4’s narrative.