It’s human nature to collect things. Apparently. Freud thinks it stems from our infancy and upon realising that hitting up the Gents or the Ladies when nature calls means ‘losing a part of ourselves’, losing a degree of ‘control’. But y’know, Freud thinks a lot of things. And the Gents can keep that part of me anyway. The rampant accumulation of things isn’t just the way this steadily crumbling modern world works either; it’s the hinge upon which some of our most successful virtual escapes swing too.
Pokémon, for many of us, could be accused of dishing out the first hit, the one that gets you hooked; and while almost every game these days seems to factor in some form of rabid collecting extravaganza; coins or feathers or pages or tapes or ribbons or fragments of discarded hope, there’re few instances that can be considered quite as impactful, or as addictive as collecting ‘em all in Red or Blue.
Of course, the difference is that the procurement of elemental-based critters is pretty vital to your progression in the game; as opposed to a tacked on extra aimed squarely at nefarious completionist types who have more time than sense. And who I am insanely jealous of. Chiefly because I have neither. The mere fact that you can actually do something with your Pokemon collection makes it that much more urgent and addictive.
Like anybody who is good and correct, I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; a game that has been heralded as The Best Stealth Game Ever Made by Simon Parkin over at The Guardian. It is glorious. But you probably don’t need telling that. What may come as a surprise is that MGS: V is the new Pokemon, sort of, and that I feel like I’d be half as enthusiastic about it without the Catch Em All element.
If you’re unfamiliar; MGS:V, like its predecessor Peace Walker, has you accruing an army, an army comprised largely of enemy soldiers you’ve shot in the face with a dart. After non-lethally eliminating them as a threat in the field, you can strap a weather balloon to them and hoist them back to your base, where they presumably undergo some sort of extensive indoctrination process. After an upgrade or two, your weather balloon (or Fulton Surface to Air System, if we’re being picky; something which I’ve just found out, actually exists) can carry away gun emplacements, mortars, vehicles, even shipping containers.
There’re few things as satisfying as silently eliminating an outpost’s worth of guards, before strapping the entire thing to the stock of a Birthday’s store and watching them sail skyward, knowing your base is all the better for it. After finally reaching the top Fulton upgrade recently, I spent a good deal of time clearing outposts and euphorically ballooning anything that wasn’t nailed down back home, as opposed to doing any actual missions. When it was finally time to crack on and splinter my way through the game’s myriad of stealth-em-up soirees, I missed it. I missed just running from outpost to outpost, and airlifting all of my enemy’s things. Big Boss aka The Bastard Balloon Bandit of Afghanistan.
PC Gamer recently reported in a round-about complimentary manner, that Metal Gear’s open world felt empty. It does, to a degree. But it sets a precedent that makes it as addictive as one that is bustling. For me, the opportunity to stealth and steal, to slink and pinch, to sneak and swipe is all the encouragement I need. That said, without this pretty obscure aspect of the game, I’m pretty sure I’d be significantly less enamoured at this stage.
Of course the wanton tonne of story and side missions, a mesmerizingly complicated narrative of double and triple crossing that even Freud would find difficult to figure out, and an undeniably beautiful engine are what make MGS:V noteworthy typically, and there’s something to be said for all those elements. Still, only 16 missions in, and I’m feeling a drag that has only been alleviated by balloons. Also skating round on those Walker Gear things.
A little while ago, I wrote with jubilant glee how much fun I had sat in Peace Walker’s menus, organising my base and sending my indoctrinated band of slave driven soldiers off to do time-reliant missions for me. Of course, all this functionality returns in MGS:V, and what I really want now is to be able to manage this from my phone, when I’m supposed to be doing something else entirely at my desk. The whole Mother Base and Diamond Dogs set up lends itself to an iOS or Android counterpart, organising the people and the items you’ve stolen in-game and sending them out on more missions. It’d be hooked into your main game of course as well, so once you return to it you can reap the rewards.
I’m a good way off putting a full stop on MGS:V, and yet it’s already clear that Kojima and his team have really achieved something here, bringing the series into the new generation with just the right number of shiny new angles blended with an important dose of nostalgia.
The games have long had a special place in my heart; I forged friendships upon moving half way across country based on a shared love of the series’ ridiculousness, friendships that are still prevalent today. It is one of those games that kept me sane during times of IRL upheaval, the kind of anchor that really reminds you of something; sends you thundering back through the annals of gaming significance. Like many, the originals are a staple of my gaming youth and for me, balloons and all, this feels like a glorious step forward, even if it’s the last step the series takes at all.
Viva La Kojima.