Read that again, because no matter how many times I read it, I still can’t believe it. At first I thought it was a typo: 90 minutes of cutscenes. Which by itself is pushing it for any game. But no, and the fact that all these reports are specifying cutscenes as plural makes it sound like there will be more than one 90-minute break from the action.
Now, this information hasn’t been confirmed with certainty at this point, even with reviews of the game already making the rounds online and in print media. That’s because Konami has only supplied reviewers with preview copies under certain restrictions as to what the writers can talk about. Specifically, reviewers are forbidden from referring to the game’s installation time on the PS3 and the length of its cutscenes, both issues that might draw some negative criticism of the game. Not only is this an execrable practice,* but it only supports the rumor that the cutscenes will indeed be that long.
* I have the highest respect now for the Electronic Gaming Monthly editors who refused to accept Konami’s B.S. and delayed their review.
So going on this information, I think it’s clear at this point that Hideo Kojima doesn’t have anyone around him saying “No.” Criticism of the earlier games often focused on how interminable some of the cutscenes were, forcing players often to make a choice between keeping track of the plot and getting back to gameplay. You know, the part that was fun.
Also, what bugs me even more about a feature-length cinematic is that it necessarily will include some action scenes to hold the player’s attention throughout. Action scenes that could be played. The opening cinematic of Devil May Cry 4 had the same issue, as Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw so rapidly pointed out in his “Zero Punctuation” review of the game. The opening cutscene has three separate fight scenes, all of which could be playable, but for some reason are not. I can’t imagine how many equivalent scenes will be in a cinematic that’s longer than some recent theatrical blockbusters.**
** I’m looking at you, Cloverfield.
I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of the Metal Gear Solid series. I’ve never played any of them. But it’s this kind of information that makes me even less willing to play them. I don’t play games for the cutscenes. In fact, I think they represent everything that is wrong with storytelling in games. By their nature, they pull the player out of the game, destroying any sense of immersion it may have built up. More and more often these days, I find gamers willing to praise a game’s “story,” when really, the game itself is doing nothing to advance the plot.
In some cases, a game really isn’t trying to break the narrative mold. Halo is a good example of a game that focuses on gameplay first and story second. That’s fine, if people recognize it as such, but there’s the increasing misconception that Halo actually contains a good narrative. It doesn’t. It’s cutscenes might, but they’re not the game. Sprinkling them here and there to advance the plot may be a necessary evil, albeit the sign of a weak game narrative. Making players watch a full-length movie when they paid for a game is straight-up masturbatory storytelling.
Not only is the Metal Gear Solid series’ reliance on cutscenes poor storytelling, but it is actually damaging to the concept of strong gaming narratives. Note the reaction of many MGS fans to the news of the fourth installment’s feature-length cinematics. Most claim that it’s a sign that the game will have a great story, while some even say that long cutscenes are one of the things they love about the series. Really? Why not just watch a movie? Because the series is so popular and the game will undoubtedly sell well, there’s a danger of MGS4 being held up as an example to follow for designers hoping to tell a story in their games. I’m pretty sure that most designers are smarter than that, but I pray that the publishers are as well.