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393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Posted: July 12th, 2019, 11:34 am
by JaySevenZero
Here's where you can contribute your memories and opinions of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for potential inclusion in the forthcoming podcast.

Re: 393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Posted: July 17th, 2019, 10:05 pm
by ashman86
Metal Gear Solid is one of my absolute most favorite series, and, I rank MGS 3 as one of the most personally important games I've ever played. I have purchased entire consoles just to play the latest Metal Gear games: first the PSP for Portable Ops, which was touted as the first full-canon spinoff in the lead up to release, and again for MGS 4, which was one of only 2 games I ever played to completion on my sadly underused PS3. At a certain point in my life, I made peace with the fact that I would pay any price for Metal Gear.

Many of us are probably familiar with the Metal Gear cycle that Kojima perpetuated up until his split with Konami. He'd release a game to critical acclaim and then vow never to make another. Years would go by, and they'd announce the next entry in the franchise, but this time, he'd publicly promise himself, it really would be the last. And every time, I believed him.

MGS4 felt like a fitting send-off to the series to me. It may not have been perfect, but it gave me a sense of closure on Snake's and Big Boss's stories. I was content for the series to end there. But then we got Peace Walker. Another chance to play as Big Boss himself? Sign me up!

And then MGS5 was announced: "Metal Gear goes open world," the early teasers revealed. Did I say I was content after MGS4? Well it turns out I was painfully wrong! I needed an open-world Metal Gear in my life, and it was on the way!

And then they splintered MGS 5 into two games, which was all right. I was happy to pay $20 for a pricey but impressive demo-not-a-demo of the game, and Ground Zeroes turned out to be great. In fact, I bought it twice: first on Xbox One, and then again on PC after I'd built a new rig.

Sure, I missed David Hayter in the role, but Sutherland wasn't bad, and MGS 5 looked like it was ready to tackle some really interesting (and controversial) topics. My hype levels were maxed out. I consumed every bit of media I could, voraciously and repetitiously. Kojima's trailers for this game were his most masterful and his most self-indulgent, which, hey, is probably part of what made them so great.

When I finally got to play The Phantom Pain, I was immediately hooked by the stealth gameplay, which felt like the inevitable conclusion of the series' evolutionary trajectory up until then. I sank 50 hours into the game over the first few weeks, and I remember telling my wife one night about how I couldn't believe that two of the greatest games I'd ever played (i.e., The Witcher 3 and this) had launched so closely to one another.

I was compelled to play it with every spare moment I could find in part because the gameplay loop was so addictively good and in part by the tension that seemed to hang over every second of the game. I wanted to learn more of the Metal Gear story, and MGS 5 was drip feeding it to me, but I just knew that a flood of new revelations, retcons, and twists was headed my way.

At last I confronted Skull Face and defeated him, but there were still so many questions left to be answered. Was Eli actually Liquid? What was going on with young Psycho Mantis? When would Quiet make me feel ashamed of my words and deeds? Would we ever see any of the other characters from MGS 1 who spoke so highly of Big Boss? I couldn't wait to get some answers, and I also couldn't wait for Keifer Snakerland to start speaking up more.

But that tension never really went anywhere; it just sort of fizzled out. What's worse, the gameplay loop devolved into a monotonous recycling of missions. Extract this prisoner. Take out this tank unit. Clear this minefield. Again and again and again to the point of boredom. It took me well over a year to finish the main campaign as a result. I'd wanted so badly to do and see everything the game had to offer me, but I finally had to just power through to the ending, and I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

So many story threads were left hanging loose while others were tied up abruptly and awkwardly. There was a sense of earnest in many of the late-game cutscenes as if though Kojima had something he desperately wanted to say to players, but, eager as I was to hear it, there was just so little of substance to grab ahold of. The cinematography was almost invariably wonderful, and Sutherland's performance was fine, even moving at times, but it just felt like there was so much.. fluff.

The final cutscene in particular was very visually striking, and I genuinely liked the (not unexpected) revelation that Venom Snake was in fact a doppelgänger of sorts, which neatly (sort-of) explained how Big Boss died in Metal Gear 1 only to reappear in Metal Gear 2. But after I'd seen it and I'd returned to the gunship ready to select my next mission, I closed the game down and walked away. This was the finale we got to a series that had spanned five generations of hardware?

Where the gameplay had felt like such a wonderful perfection of stealth action before, now I could I only think about how limited the not-actually open world had felt and how limited our interactions with it had truly been. The promise of Ground Zero's single enemy base, with all its complexity, had been left largely unfulfilled. TPP's levels were generally smaller and shallower in design. And the story seemed so utterly inconsequential to the larger narrative of the series. Whatever unanswered questions we'd had about Big Boss and his ultimate fall to villainy were left unanswered. We hadn't even played as him this whole time! Venom was just another Snake to throw atop the already crowded roster.

Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is still a good game, but it's such an unsatisfactory conclusion to a series that has meant so much to me. In my head, I know I enjoyed playing it, but in my heart, there's something else, like a shard of shrapnel, poisoning my memories of the game and, if I'm being utterly honest with myself, of the series.

Re: 393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Posted: July 20th, 2019, 4:30 pm
by Kacey
Being born the year after Metal Gear Solid released, I was never old enough to play any of the games during their period of relevancy until The Phantom Pain. So it's no big mystery then that I didn't take issue with what many fans see as shortcomings, or simply a lack of time and thought forced by Konami. I had done enough reading into the lore to realize that MGS V was lacking in the story department- something I'd be able to tell anyways due to the anticlimactic manner in which the story's loose ends are tied. Great writing is well and good, but its absence doesn't ruin Metal Gear Solid V for me- even the most kneecapped story can create atmosphere for gameplay given enough thought. And that's where The Phantom Pain shines. The Phantom Pain's gameplay features some of the tightest, most refined design I've ever seen, doubly impressive when considering the scale of its open worlds and the amount of agency the player is given. For all of the polish credited to games like Max Payne 3, it exists because that game is so narrow in scope that each encounter can be meticulously orchestrated and detailed without missing deadlines. For The Phantom Pain to achieve a similar level of polish in an open world game that gives you as many approaches to each encounter as you can think up is simply remarkable. The Phantom Pain may not be the epic conclusion to the Metal Gear franchise that fans had hoped for, but even after playing the other games, it holds a special place in my heart, not only as a masterclass in game design, but as the title that ignited my love for the stealth genre.

Re: 393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Posted: August 8th, 2019, 8:18 pm
by Peditis
I've never been more conflicted about a game as I am about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I love it and hate it in almost equal amounts.
I played all the previous Metal Gear games in the span of a year back in 2014 and it immediately became my favorite videogame franchise ever: gameplay so tight yet so flexible, which allowed me to tackle each challenge in many ways; and a story and characters that, albeit sometimes bizarre, sometimes over-the-top, sometimes everything in between, engrossed me like no other series of games had before, that made me laugh as much as it made me cry and had me on the edge of my seat at all moments.
This is why I was incredibly excited for the then upcoming fifth numbered entry. I fully boarded the "hype train", so to speak. The trailers hinted at a story that would finally unearth the missing link of the overarching plot: Big Boss' turning point, his descent from hero to villain.
And Ground Zeroes served to fuel this idea. With Mother Base destroyed and Big Boss put into a coma and awakening 9 years later, it seemed like a great starting point for Phantom Pain.
The first mission, while a bit of a slog gameplaywise, felt very MGS in terms of tone, storytelling and cinematics, which were the things I was most excited about: a new MGS story.
But after that initial excitement this aspect of the game seemed to be left by the wayside. The first red flag was Big Boss' lack of dialogue. I was disappointed they didn't recast David Hayter, but I also thought that Kiefer Sutherland could bring a somewhat more serious tone compared to Hayter's iconic-yet-sometimes-campy performance, but he barely spoke throughout the game, making some important moments feel weird by him just staying silent.
Many of the missions felt like they had no relevancy to the plot, they were just “kill this”, “rescue that”, “destroy this”, etc. The game also took the criticism the previous games had to heart and went the complete opposite way: instead of long cinematics, it relied on long cassete tapes to deliver the story. Admittedly the cinematics in the other installments were too long, but they were far more entertaining than to just sit and listen to hours of dialogue. There were a few interesting ones, like the final moments of Dr. Strangelove, but as a device to tell most of the surrounding plot it felt lackluster.
MGS V has its moments storywise. Huey Emmerich's story arch not only served to establish him as a fully-formed character instead of just Otacon's father that looks and souns just like him, but it could be argued that he is the villain of the game: he hates Big Boss and the Diamond Dogs and he completely believes that all of his actions are justified, that he has the moral high ground. The use of languages to spread a disease was an interesting concept, and trying to desperately figure out why a lot of your recruits were getting sick put an unexpected kind of pressure, which shows how well handled that story moment was. This leads to one of my favorite moments: Mission 43, in which you have to manually put to rest several of your soldiers, brought memories of having to actually pull the trigger at the end of MGS3, and recognizing some of the names before killing them was heartwrenching.
But these moments are far outweighed by several other problems.
Overall weak characters was of them: Ocelot served only to tell you basic information about the gameplay and deliver some exposition, but, contrary to his every other appereance throughout the series, he had no actual character nor he contributed to the game's plot in any relevant way
Quiet is a divisive character for me. Initially I didn't much cared about her appereance since I was intrigued to see her story unfold, but when she started to suggestively pose in the helicopter and after that embarrassing “dancing in the rain” cutscene, my interest started to wane.
But the most disappointing character was Skull Face. He could've been one of those villains that is compelling not only for making you empathize with his personal reasons behind why he is doing what he is doing, but also because he fights you with his brain, masterminding several events and putting people against you, all while always being one step ahead of you. But as the game went on he started to feel less threatening and more boring, specially after that awkward silent car ride (I'm still baffled and somewhat amazed by how Big Boss' didn't say a single word during or after Skull Face's villainous speech, not even a SINGLE retort).
My other major problem with the game (and in my opinion, its biggest) is the final plot twist.
The reveal that you're Big Boss' “double” felt very rushed and out of the blue, but most of all, undeserved. You're supposed to believe that your character, someone who was never mentioned before outside of this game's context, is as good as "The Greatest Warrior of the 20th Century”. If it was someone we knew, like Frank Jaeger for example, it could have been a great reveal or at least have a little more gravitas, and the suspension of disbelief wouldn't be ruined since the facial reconstruction technology they have in the game seems to be way more advanced than the one we have in the real world, but as it stands, it falls flat on its face because at no point we have any sort of attachment to the unnamed medic.
Where the game truly shines though is in its gameplay and graphics. The Fox Engine is one of the most beautiful and smooth engines I've seen, and I have to give props to Kojima Productions for releasing a flawless PC port from the start.
You're given so many different options to face each mission. There are endless loadouts that you can select and customize, and each one is as valid as the next one, since the game doesn't punish you for picking one playstile over another, on the contrary, it encourages variety, adaptability and exploration, and after 130hs of playtime I still feel like I haven't seen most of what it has to offer.
If I have one complain about the gameplay is the bosses. Given the track record MGS bosses had, I expected this to be no different, but they felt incredibly lackluster and uninspired in this game. The Parasite Unit were interesting conceptually, but facing them devolved into shooting bullet-sponges, and the one-off bosses like the Man on Fire and Psycho Mantis were boring as well. The fights against Sahelanthropus provided some variaty, but still, they weren't all that great.
All in all, the gameplay aspects are what makes MGS V an amazing and very enjoyable experience, but with such a disappointing (and unfinished) story, and knowing that this is probably the last “true” game in the series, I can't help but feel that it fails as a Metal Gear, and that it sadly marks a bitter end to such an amazing franchise.

Re: 393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Posted: August 9th, 2019, 1:44 am
by caponeadam
MGSV was the conclusion of the action stealth system that Kojima introduced back in 1998. MGS4 was the first real attempt at making this often fiddly system appeal to a much wider mainstream audience with mixed results but I felt MGSV was where this now more western influenced system was perfected.

Just like Uncharted4, MGSV's game mechanics felt like they hit the pinnacle and that they had gone as far as they could without ripping up the foundations.

The story, characters, bosses, pacing and ending however were the weakest of the series. I couldn't quite believe how bland Ocelot felt. What was going on with Quiet, she was incredibly jarring and out of place which is really saying something for a MGS game. There was no emotional connection at all with these characters, this really felt at odds with the MGS series that I had grown up with.

I think like many, I finally came to a section where I defeated a boss and was soon met with a 'end of chapter 1' or something just as I thought that the game was wrapping up. It's absolutely baffling to me how huge this game is yet the final third feels so incredibly rushed to the point where it makes you repeat the long opening mission again. I was desperately convinced that something incredibly clever was about to happen during this repeat mission. I was sure Kojima would soon introduce a twist where you suddenly play a new perspective but it just never came. As the end played out I remember this feeling of sadness, I could tell even then that this wasn't Kojima's intention in regards to the journey to the conclusion.

I do genuinely believe that we will find out what really happened one day in great detail, it will probably just be an article but I'm secretly keeping my fingers firmly crossed for a 10 part Netflix series that covers the entirety of this tragic production. In my mind it will be the most thrilling and emotionally draining documentary since Making a Murderer.

Re: 393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Posted: August 19th, 2019, 1:35 pm
by Superuser
FYI I gave my thoughts on both MGSV games here (the previous topic, before it was split into two like this conflicted game was ;) ) and don't feel I have anything further to add. I hope you get something out of them.
Cheers :)