393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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JaySevenZero
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393: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Post by JaySevenZero » July 12th, 2019, 11:34 am

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.

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

Post by ashman86 » July 17th, 2019, 10:05 pm

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.

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

Post by Kacey » July 20th, 2019, 4:30 pm

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.

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