MGS V: (dx)V(k) Has Come To

After Witcher3, I decided to experiment again with DXVK. I took another game that I had begun on Windows but had never dared to complete it until now, because I have come to loathe dual booting. At the time I started to write this article, Steam Play/Proton were not yet available. Chances are high that you can now just fire up Metal Gear Solid V directly from within the Steam Linux client without any additional work. Funny how a few months can make such a difference! But let’s move to what matters.

Metal Gear Solid V. The one and last MGS game, and the first to get a proper PC version, with the multi-platform Fox Engine from Kojima Productions. It’s a real shame that after leaving Konami, Kojima ended up selling his soul again to Sony for his upcoming game, Death Stranding, after some positive signs of PC support with MGSV. It’s rumored that Death Stranding may get a PC version at some point, but that remains to be seen.

So… how did I get to play MGS V on Linux before Steam Play/Proton was around? I must admit I went the easy way this time around, by using Lutris to install Steam for Windows and the game automatically. Lutris also includes support for DXVK, while the default configuration points to an older version of DXVK. I could change the DXVK version by simply updating it in the Lutris config for that game, and apparently that is enough for Lutris to take care of it. So, I tested MGSV with DXVK 0.62 at the time of writing (we are now at 0.92!). Lutris then creates a launcher for your desktop environment. I went on and added the launcher in my Steam library. You know that Steam does not really like to see Steam under WINE running at the same time, right? My workaround was to create an extra Steam user, different from my main account, to whom I give access to all of my games(locally). This way, logged in Steam for Linux with Account B, I can launch MGS V running Steam in WINE with Account A at the same time. It’s a hack, but it works well. None of this is necessary anymore with Proton, once again. Thanks Valve, Codeweavers (see our podcast with them about Proton), Philip Rebohle and everyone else involved!

Once the game launches the magic begins. There is absolutely no telling the game is running on Linux. While I did thoroughly enjoy Witcher 3, there were glitches here and there, because of some incomplete translation of DX11 calls (again, this is not the case anymore since DXVK 0.90 I believe). In MGSV, the whole game is absolutely perfect, visually speaking. I have already clocked in 40-50 hours in and I have seen no glitches. I did experience some infrequent hardware lock-ups, though. There is a strange pattern to them: the game would lock up in the first few minutes when it occurs, requiring a reboot. Otherwise, I have been spending as long as 3-4 hours in one sitting without experiencing such freezes. So, it has not been a huge problem. And best of all, the game runs at 60FPS most of the time, butter-smooth (my config: i5, GTX970, Ubuntu 16.04). I say “most” because the game tends to slow down a little when you use binoculars, and when you get fired upon heavily, and in both cases it does not really affect the gameplay. It is such a great feeling to be able to just play the game and not worry about any artifact. Thanks to WINE, the Xbox360 controller is also recognized perfectly and everything works out of the box.

Now that you know about the technical part, let’s talk a little more about the game itself. I have always had mixed feelings about MGS as a series. But you should know that I care DEEPLY about MGS.

The first MGS game impressed me so much that I decided to start writing about video games. Few games touched upon so many themes, and mixed so many story elements in a perfect way. I became, like many others, an instant fan. This led me to discover the other works of Kojima, such as Policenauts and Snatcher.

Sure, that was 20 years ago. But consider that someone like me who typically scoffs at the idea of home consoles nowadays, went on to buy a PS3 just to be able to play Metal Gear Solid 4. I even bought the PS3 MGS4 special edition when it launched. Don’t laugh. That’s how much I cared about the series.

But truth needs to be told: I am a huge fan of MGS1. And not much of the rest of the series. MGS2 felt like a betrayal with the intrusion of Raiden, whom I never liked or even cared about. And even were it not for Raiden, I did not really like the story of the second opus. It was slow, awkward. The villain was boring. Even the then new Metal Gear felt poorly designed. And don’t get me started with Ocelot’s brain possessed by the transplanted hand of Liquid. This was so ridiculous I remember sweating when I saw it “what the fuck is going on? Please don’t do this…”. It’s like if you caught someone spreading shit on your brand-new sports car. Horrifying, really.

It was such a poor follow-up to the first episode. A worse game by all accounts.

Snake, only in the first chapter in MGS2. Sad…

Well, even the best make mistakes right? MGS3 came and redeemed a little the series. I remember standing just right next to Kojima at the ECTS in London in the early 2000s when they revealed one of the MGS3 trailers. At the time, Kojima had not reached a superstar status just yet: he dressed almost like a casual salary-man and you could come and shake his hand and tap on his shoulder without a horde of fans running after him. Of course, I did come and say hello to him. I had to. I did not reveal I had disliked MGS2. But I thanked him for MGS1.

Several years later, after I moved to Japan, it had become a habit to see him talk every single year at the TGS. He was already a different man by then: he dressed “cool” and fashionably for such events. He had also been mentioned in the big media like Time Magazine as an influential person. Even Stan Lee (R.I.P.) talked about him! He started going to the gym to keep in shape. He knew how to entertain a crowd of listeners, like a PR representative. Almost like a different person, really. It was nice to see him, but it would have been nicer if he made decent games, I thought. In the mid 2000s he was milking the series with horrible PSP episodes (Remember Metal Gear Acid? And Portable Ops?) and endless remasters of the older games.

A glimmer of hope appeared when MGS4 was announced. Finally, we would get to play Snake again. The real one, not Big Boss. OK, he had aged and looked like an old dude, but that was going to be the conclusion of the MGS series! Most characters were returning. Even the despised Raiden looked cool in his cyborg suit! I purchased a PS3 just to play that game. I did not even wait for reviews. Can you imagine that?

And darn, did it suck!

It was just not very good. Everything was slow, verbose. MGS1 was verbose too, but interesting-verbose. MGS4 felt more like blah blah followed by more blah blah to make you sleep. Like sentences full of buzzwords. The story and the codec communications were painful to listen to. The enemies were unimaginative. Bringing Psycho Mantis back in this fashion broke my heart. And I did not like the oji-san humor: just not funny, even under the influence of the bottle. Kojima was probably trying too hard to recreate something he did not completely understand: his former success. Could it be the George Lucas syndrome, where a creator has become so powerful that nobody actually dares to tell them that they are losing their way? Who knows? In any case, MGS as a whole felt more and more like a downward spiral. Still, I did not give up completely, believe it or not. I even continued to play the series on the PSP with Peace Walker.

Peace Walker was supposed to be a minor, secondary episode, but it was actually decent! The story line was acceptable, as long as you could swallow the premise of the game. There were some new mechanics involving capturing soldiers to create your own little army with the help of the Fulton recovery system. I must admit, it was rather fun, and the first time in many years that I was not thoroughly disappointed by Kojima.

And a strange thing happened. I did not think anyone would take Peace Walker seriously — it was a mobile game after all. But Kojima started to make it canonical, at the same level as the other Metal Gear episodes with proper numbers in their names. They even made a PS3 version. I thought they were just milking the franchise again, but this time it was different: it was going to be a kind of prequel for MGS5. And if you have not played Peace Walker, well you are going to miss on a lot of what MGSV talks about.

So that is where things start in MGSV. In the end of Peace Walker, your mother base is destroyed and your army obliterated. Big Boss falls into a coma and only wakes up in the prologue of MGS5, after 9 years of deep sleep. This would be the game that ties in the events of Big Boss with what led to Metal Gear Solid 1.

When MGSV was announced, I was kind of distracted. I watched Kojima talk about it at the TGS at least a few times. There was a feeling of deja-vu. And Quiet… sure, I have nothing against beautiful women, but I don’t really like MGS to look like an “adult” game or something. I liked MGS1 because it touched on mature, philosophical topics, and this MGSV made headlines by showing up almost an almost naked woman. It just was not necessary.

When MGS5 came out, I did not buy it immediately. Sure, I had become almost exclusively a Linux gamer by that point in time, so it was almost off my radar. I heard some good things about it, and a lot of bad. “The game was not finished” they said. “They did not let Kojima drive his vision”. “Konami bastards”. Popular opinions online.

Not being privy to what happened within Konami, I can’t say I share a huge amount of confidence with what Kojima can produce nowadays. Did critics or fans all suffer from collective amnesia or something? After so many mediocre MGS episodes where Kojima was fully empowered to do exactly what he wanted, why would suddenly MGSV be “incomplete” and “imperfect” because of Konami alone? This almost made the first MGS look like an accident. A strike of genius among a sea of average games. But I knew Kojima made Policenauts, and MGS was not his first good game. He was genuinely capable. So, MGSV got me curious: was it as bad as everybody pretended?

I did not expect much from MGS V, to be honest. But even a bad MGS game can’t be THAT bad. How many games out there try to tell stories? How many have high production values? How many try to introduce new elements in every episode? You can count the number of games that fill the bill on one hand, every year, or maybe even every other year.

This is the first time MGS goes Open World. A welcome change, but a double-edged sword for the series if you ask me. MGS games were always known for a very strong narrative, and somewhat imperfect yet entertaining infiltration mechanics. The transition to an Open World has a clear impact on both elements: the narrative structure is completely broken, but the infiltration game just got a lot stronger and more interesting.

The first chapter is a kind of exception: it feels like the old MGS games, very linear, interrupted by numerous (cool) cinematics. And then you end up into a very different game structure, where you decide upon what the next mission will be, at what time, and so on. This is inevitable. Either the game controls you, or you control the game. This is something one can observe in every Open World title. GTA has this issue, where the game is a bunch of loosely connected missions in a larger sandbox game. Even Witcher 3, known for its strong narrative, has some weaknesses. Think about it: Geralt is on a quest to save Ciri from the Wild Hunt, yet nothing prevents the player from spending vasts amounts of time to do something else completely unrelated to the main quest. This is the nature of Open World games: they give you freedom and lose grasp on the story line which becomes “something you can do” instead of “something you have to follow”. In that sense, MGSV is not a true MGS game, since it is the first game in the series that breaks away from the previous model. For all previous games in the series, everyone who completed the game had more or less the same experience from start to finish. The differences were in the details. In an Open World game, every gamer will have a completely different path from start to end — and this will affect how they will feel and react to the story.

MGSV even continues on the trend introduced with Peace Walker, by adding a meta-management game where you capture soldiers to populate your base, and organize R&D in between missions through a fairly convoluted tech tree to unlock new weapons and tools. You get credits by completing missions and side operations. Side ops are completely optional. On top of that, once your base has the right platforms, you can start sending groups of soldiers to complete randomly generated missions, and get cash or resources that way in parallel to your ongoing mission. Overall you rarely run out of cash, but unlocking everything certainly requires completing a lot of missions.

You can do story missions in any order you like: usually about 3 of them are unlocked at once to choose from. Side operations are not central to the story line, but provide useful bonuses — like capturing a Russian interpreter so that you can understand the conversations of soviet soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. You enter the battleground via a chopper, and you make your way to your objective. There is a day/night cycle so you can always choose to operate in the dark to make it easier to slip through enemy defenses undetected. It is always preferable to stay hidden and avoid direct confrontation: enemies aware of your position will send reinforcements, vehicles and shell you with mortar or snipe you at distance. This being said, I have become more and more daring from one mission to the next. I tend to ask for air support (i.e. rocket explosions) at distance first to make the enemies confused. Afterwards, I pick them one by one, sniping them at distance, and by the time they react they have already lost 4-5 men. I then go and hide for a while to lose them, and as their level of alert goes down, rinse and repeat. I have depleted several bases of soldiers using this very technique. It is not fail-proof though. If one thing does wrong, you end up dead in no time — but I enjoy the possibility to go on the offensive instead of favoring infiltration the whole time.

METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN_20150905141648

Your opponents’ reactions on the field are usually well scripted. They tend to logically (at least, for a game) and try to be careful as well. So much better than most games when you can gun down hundreds of soldiers without breaking a sweat. You still end up with strange edge cases though. Such as an enemy commander who stays put in the front seat of a Jeep while all of his comrades have been killed, sniped at a distance. Or the random soldier rushing to follow the same path as his teammates even though they have just been gunned down in the belly before their eyes 10 seconds ago. Yeah, despite good intentions it still feels like “a game”. Making very smart and life-like adversaries is no easy task, so I don’t think we can berate the game for that.

A lot of effort has gone into making each mission feel quite different. It’s pretty much always about assassination, sabotage or hostage rescue, but each base is distinct and unique and needs a different thinking. The first thing you do in MGSV before moving forward is to observe, binoculars in hands, the movement of troops, the place’s layout, to better plan for your next steps.

This time around you can also steal vehicles to move between places. It makes a lot of sense as maps end up being pretty large. Walking on foot is tedious, and your first “buddy” helping you to explore the surrounding is a horse. Later, as you unlock more options, you can go with a dog (very useful as he can detect enemies for you), Quiet, the mysterious woman sniper, or even ride a droid.

All missions involve extraction too. It may be relatively practical to reach some point and complete an objective, but you also have to return at the end. This is challenging every time you have to blow stuff up, since you will increase the alertness of soldiers around you. If you take care of destroying the air radar system, the return chopper will be able to land closer to you, which is a nice incentive to sabotage enemy structures.

In case something does not go along to plan, you need to create a diversion: that could be your buddy D-dog, running around distracting enemy soldiers, or you blowing stuff up at the other side of the map (using C4 or a grenade). There are natural places to hide, and man-made ones as well: lockers, garbage containers, toilets… and Snake can always carry the famous carton box to hide inside facilities as well.

This is Metal Gear anyway, and while the narrative takes a back seat this time, it’s not gone at all. You have a few cinematics here and there, either during missions or on the Motherbase, and a lot of materials in the form of cassette tapes you can listen to whenever you want. This is Doom 3 or System Shock all over again. I am NOT a fan of this way of doing things. It’s just a lazy way to force-feed story elements to the gamer in a very unrealistic way. Why would you listen to someone recorded speech when you have a radio/codec, or when you can meet them face to face? It just makes very little sense.

And that is too bad, since the general story is decently written (let me add it does not mean it’s plausible…). The campaign missions start slow but you progressively unveil more elements about what your adversary, Cipher, is doing. There’s a new Metal Gear in town, Sahelanthropus, bigger and nastier than ever. That is also disingenuous: after all, MGSV takes place before MGS1, about 15-20 years before, and yet this Metal Gear surpasses almost in every way the Metal Gear of MGS1.

This being said, the first encounter with Sahelanthropus is epic! That thing is HUGE, and will make you run for your life.

I guess there is some truth when people claim that the game was not properly finished. There are definitely some telling signs. Before the final fight with Sahelanthropus, you have a long ride on a Jeep with the main villain of the game. That guy keeps talking for something like 10 minutes while you move around to the location of the Metal Gear. And what does Big Boss do? Nothing. He is staring into the void, absent. Like struck by lightning, while you would expect him to react and argue.

This feels really, really weird.

It’s possible that they ran out of budget or time to make Kiefer Sutherland record more lines of dialog. Whatever it was, it does not feel right. Nevertheless, after you beat Metal Gear, the game reaches some kind of conclusion. Until you see… that this was just the end of chapter 1! Chapter 2 starts and while Metal Gear is out of the picture, the story continues. However, most missions are just cut-and-paste from previous ones, just on harder difficulty levels: Don’t get spotted. Start with no weapons at all. Don’t kill anyone… etc… Disappointing to say the least.

Other elements strike as strange: every single mission has credits at the beginning and the end. Hideo Kojima is at least credited 4 times in each of those, along with whoever worked on the mission. Why?? On top of being annoying, it becomes a spoiler when they announce right at the beginning that “Skull Face” is credited for this mission. Thanks for killing the surprise! I am not sure what they were thinking. Some cut scenes introduce new weapons as well, and then let you move around with Huey, their designer. But you can’t do anything in the room. It feels like there is something missing. Mother base is also full of locked doors everywhere, you can barely explore anything despite its giant size. Was it intentional?

Last but not least, for a game as vested in depicting weapons and vehicles with minute details, it is again a little sad that Kojima insists on putting supernatural aspects constantly in the game. MGS1 struck a proper balance at the time. In MGSV, you get a bunch of weirdos, like the Man on Fire, and Psycho Mantis just to name a few. Mantis is so powerful he can make the new Metal Gear fly from one place to another. The Skulls unit has stone-like skin and is almost invincible. It would be fine if it were only once in the game, but the skulls keep coming back in more and more difficult missions. It’s just… tiring.

So here we are. Well, I think I liked MGSV. Its best part resides in its missions and the whole range of possibilities they offer. It is genuinely fun to think about your next move, die, and try again in a different way until you figure out one of the multiple ways to get things done. Story-wise, it’s lacking. It could have been much more (instead of cassette tapes), and the key threat to humanity this time around is a little ridiculous. Also, there is no good rationale for the story to progress as it does: as mercenaries you are bound to complete missions for your clients, and in no way should it be in line with your own goals and objectives — the writing is lazy in that regard. In the years when the story takes place, there should be two major threats: nuclear war at a global scale, and for Big Boss, to see Mother Base crushed again by a major superpower. That should have been a good starting point at least. Too bad MGSV does not convey much about any of these very real threats — it is kind of missing the spirit and concerns of the time.

In a way, I am kind of glad this is the last MGS. It could have been better, but it’s almost certain that we did not need a 6th or 7th one — it was about time Kojima moved on to something else: he was probably a little tired of doing MGS for so long — and whether Konami pushed him out or not, being free to experiment again from scratch was probably the right move for his part.


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Dunk

I want give game journalists a chance but your article didn’t help the way I feel about them. You say you “deeply” care about MGS but then go on to say that MGSV is a prequel to MGS1 when it’s a prequel to the original MG. You also blame Kojima for MGS acid and portable ops when he had nothing to do with those games. That’s shows me that you did very little research when trying to look at the series. Kojima is by no means a perfect dev and because of that his writing can be a bit all… Read more »