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It was a se­ries known for its mem­o­rably in­ven­tive boss fights, but the lat­est in­stal­ment is where every­thing fell apart… Martin Kitts Pub­lisher Kon­ami / De­vel­oper Kon­ami / for­mat xbox one / 360 / re­lease date Sept 2015

Done right, boss fights can be em­phatic punc­tu­a­tion, di­vid­ing and de­lin­eat­ing a game’s var­i­ous chap­ters, and no game is bet­ter known for its bosses than the Me­tal

Gear se­ries. The mad roller­skat­ing bomber Fat Man, the ghostly en­counter with your fallen foes con­jured by The Sor­row, the poignant bat­tle with your beloved men­tor in a field of white flow­ers… MGS has had more than its fair share of clas­sic bosses.

Done badly, boss fights can be ru­inous dif­fi­culty spikes. There’s no more de­mor­al­is­ing feel­ing in gam­ing than strug­gling for ages to wear down a boss, only to have him call on some mag­i­cal heal­ing power.

Un­for­tu­nately Me­tal Gear Solid V is rid­dled with this sort of thing, and it doesn’t help that most of the bosses are just dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions of the same en­emy, the Skulls Unit. They’re pretty scary the first time around, ad­vanc­ing slowly like re­lent­less, bul­let­dodg­ing zom­bies. Nat­u­rally, I ran away when I found I couldn’t hit them.

Soon enough they’re back, and there’s no avoid­ing the sec­ond en­counter. At least you get a mis­sile launcher this time, but still I must have died half a dozen times be­fore I fi­nally beat them. Wouldn’t want to meet those guys again…

So, on with the rest of the game, which is great un­til the Skulls show up yet again, this time with bet­ter ar­mour. And again, and again. Five times in all, only one of which is re­ally dif­fer­ent enough to be con­sid­ered a truly sep­a­rate boss.

Even the two bosses that aren’t Skulls are sub­stan­dard. There’s the Man on Fire, who roars a lot, sets every­thing alight and ab­sorbs bul­lets. He’s hor­ri­ble to fight, guarded by a weird float­ing child who you can’t hurt at all and is seem­ingly there only for aes­thetic ef­fect: look, a creepy float­ing child ver­sion of Psy­cho Man­tis; but, damn, this means a re­ally an­noy­ing boss fight.

I’m not quite sure how I got past that one. I think maybe I man­aged to get him wet and his fire went out long enough for a chop­per to air­lift me to safety. Ei­ther that or he spent too long chas­ing me around and his float­ing friend had to go. Not know­ing for cer­tain how you ‘won’ is not the mark of a great boss bat­tle, and nei­ther is a feel­ing of re­lief that it’s all over and you’ll never have to play it again. It wasn’t al­ways this way. For ex­am­ple, take Me­tal Gear Solid 3’ s rightly fa­mous show­down with sharp­shoot­ing cen­te­nar­ian The End, a high­light of the se­ries. If you ap­proach the fight head-on it’s a typ­i­cally gru­elling af­fair, as you’ll get shot if you stick your head up for more than a few sec­onds while look­ing for him. Even MGS V can do that.

By­pass op­er­a­tion

But the real bril­liance of this en­counter, and the main rea­son it’s held in such high re­gard, is that it has hid­den ways of al­low­ing you to by­pass the fight. If your sneak­ing skills are high you can creep up on him while he’s asleep. If frus­tra­tion gets the bet­ter of you and you aban­don your game for a while, you’ll find he has died of old age while wait­ing for you to pop your head back up. Al­ter­na­tively, in an ear­lier scene you can catch a glimpse of the old chap re­lax­ing un­aware in a wheel­chair. Whip out a sniper ri­fle and that’s it. The End.

MGS V re­hashes this en­counter to a cer­tain ex­tent in the fourth meet­ing with the Skulls, the cy­borg bikini sniper squad ver­sion, but only the worst parts. It’s just a whole lot of crawl­ing around in the mist, belly-wrig­gling slowly to­wards a marker on your HUD un­til you can land a sin­gle shot on one of them, at which point they all tele­port to new lo­ca­tions and you start again.

Then there’s the gi­ant ro­bot Sa­he­lan­thro­pus. There’s noth­ing re­motely clever about this fi­nal boss en­counter, it’s just you and a lim­ited amount of ammo ver­sus a near­in­vul­ner­a­ble, rocket-spew­ing bul­let sponge. Shoot him a bit, run away while he pum­mels the area with mis­siles, re­peat un­til you’re re­duced to ping­ing darts at his me­tal arse while scour­ing the bar­ren en­vi­ron­ment for any­thing that might chip an­other pre­cious pixel off his health bar.

It’s ar­du­ous. It’s no fun what­so­ever. Hav­ing spent around 85 hours en­joy­ing most of the rest of the game, I ac­tu­ally gave up at this point. Re­turn­ing a cou­ple of weeks later (sadly his bat­ter­ies hadn’t run down while I was away) I even­tu­ally man­aged to take him out, but it’s not an ex­pe­ri­ence I’d rel­ish re­peat­ing. It’s not the way the Me­tal

Gear se­ries de­serves to go out.

“Hav­ing spent around 85 hours en­joy­ing most of the rest of the game, I gave up at this point”

right Boo hiss, that bunch of ab­so­lute bar ste­wards!

ABOVE Skulls Unit van­ish­ing snipers: not as good as The End.

Be­low Sa­he­lan­thro­pus: not as good as Me­tal Gears Rex or Ray.

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