Post Script

Mother Base gives you a cause worth fight­ing for

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As open worlds grow ever larger, they run the risk of dwarf­ing their he­roes or, more dam­ag­ingly, los­ing the sense of what it is they’re out to achieve. The in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar so­lu­tion is to task play­ers with grad­u­ally seiz­ing con­trol of a map, their be­hav­iour in the world clearly charted by a sea of out­post/aban­doned-vil­lage/mag­i­cal-rift icons turn­ing from red to green. This ap­peals to the mind’s love of or­der, but can re­duce your revo­lu­tion/quest/re­venge to a list of car­to­graphic chores, a cam­paign of map tidy­ing that just so hap­pens to ac­com­plish nar­ra­tive goals you’ve long since for­got­ten about. Can you name even a sin­gle land­mark claimed for Dragon Age’s In­qui­si­tion? Doubt­ful, since com­man­deer­ing points was lit­tle be­yond a way to de­clut­ter your min­imap.

We can, how­ever, name our favourite sol­diers on The Phan­tom Pain’s Mother Base. It helps that Big Boss’s con­scrip­tion process sees un­ti­tled goons branded with Kojima’s trade­mark ‘ad­jec­tive plus an­i­mal’ monikers – we work along­side Vile Tiger, Sin­is­ter Ox and Ran­cid Python – but their con­tin­ual re­in­force­ment has as much to do with the way Big Boss’s HQ pro­vides a fo­cal point with which to con­tex­tu­alise his ad­ven­ture.

On the most su­per­fi­cial level, it’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your grow­ing for­tunes. What starts as a sin­gle Com­mand Deck, lit­tle more than a he­li­pad and por­ta­ble shower (fail to wash and flies even­tu­ally buzz around your head) can be ex­panded us­ing the Gross Mil­i­tary Prod­uct (GMP) earned on mis­sions. In­vest and Mother Base branches out to be­come a ser­pen­tine net­work of sub-plat­forms so vast that it re­quires a jeep to ex­plore.

The idea of fresh­en­ing up a di­lap­i­dated build­ing isn’t new, seen be­fore in As­sas­sin’s Creed II’s Mon­terig­gioni and Saints Row 2’ s var­i­ous cribs. What sep­a­rates Mother Base is that it is also at the heart of the story. Tired of be­ing used by the east and west, Big Boss and his Diamond Dogs are build­ing their own mil­i­tary haven; ev­ery coin you in­vest be­comes one in the eye for their en­e­mies. The very act of con­struct­ing a sec­ond Mother Base, af­ter the first one was de­stroyed in Ground Ze­roes, feels wil­fully an­tag­o­nis­tic, but Big Boss’s lieu­tenants also push him to­wards dead­lier coun­ter­mea­sures. By the time the pri­mary re­venge mis­sion con­cludes, Mother Base has grown so pow­er­ful that the game re­quires a sec­ond act to re­solve all the im­pli­ca­tions.

Of course, it would be easy to let these ideas re­side in Kojima’s patented cin­e­mat­ics. Yet hav­ing a hand in Mother Base’s day-to-day oper­a­tions al­lows the angst and is­sues of the cutscenes to bleed into the game­play. You’ll hear sup­port­ing cast mem­bers ar­gu­ing about the value of vi­o­lent re­tal­i­a­tion ver­sus the softer touch, only then to have to as­sign your man­power be­tween com­bat teams, In­tel squads or the med­i­cal bay that ban­dages up all of the above. It’s not sign­posted as a moral cross­road of any kind – com­pared to In­qui­si­tion’s panel of ad­vi­sors, for ex­am­ple – but your de­ci­sions do have im­pli­ca­tions about the kind of soldier you can be in the field, which is a far more per­ti­nent com­ment on mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions than a clearly plot­ted branch­ing story path could throw up.

The risk, then, is that not all play­ers will en­gage with those man­age­ment sys­tems. Play­ing the role of head of hu­man re­sources is less ob­vi­ously ap­peal­ing than dart­ing around mil­i­tary com­pounds shoot­ing peo­ple in the head. Yet Kojima finds sur­pris­ing ways to pull Mother Base into the thick of the ac­tion. A mis­sion might be in­ter­rupted by word of the base be­ing un­der at­tack, for ex­am­ple, forc­ing a hasty ex­trac­tion to deal with the in­truder. In the first in­stance, it turns out to be a tu­to­rial for the game’s For­ward Op­er­at­ing Base (a Dark Souls- style online in­va­sion mode), but hav­ing the fight spill into your per­ceived ‘safe space’ strength­ens your de­sire to pro­tect it. Smaller side ops back at Mother Base – spar­ring with a hos­tile cap­tive, or re­ceiv­ing a birth­day sur­prise – only re­in­force the idea of life at the out­post tick­ing along in the back­ground.

This blur­ring of hub area and war­zone is at its murki­est late in the story, when (mild spoil­ers ahead) an act of bi­o­log­i­cal sabotage in­ter­rupts base oper­a­tions and con­tin­ues to eat away at its in­fra­struc­ture un­til the cause is reme­died in the main cam­paign. We’re used to see­ing vir­tual loved ones held ran­som, but it’s rare to find a de­signer who’s will­ing to al­low your hand­i­work to be un­done. The more time you’ve in­vested in craft­ing your Diamond Dogs by poach­ing tal­ent and piec­ing to­gether ef­fi­cient teams, the harder the set­back hits. As a set-piece, it’s up there with some of Kojima’s most de­vi­ous. That it plays out al­most en­tirely within menu screens re­minds you of the in­ge­nu­ity the se­ries might strug­gle to repli­cate with­out its cre­ator.

And un­der­neath it all, Mother Base is still a clas­sic Kojima cre­ation, hous­ing grand ideas while main­tain­ing an off­beat sense of fun. For all that it’s easy to ob­sess over its deeper im­pli­ca­tions for Big Boss’s quest, it re­mains the Sey­chelles’ num­ber one tourist des­ti­na­tion, packed with smaller, sil­lier mo­ments: plas­ter­ing it with an ob­nox­ious logo of your own mak­ing, nav­i­gat­ing net­works of scal­able pipes to lo­cate the glint of a hid­den diamond stash, vis­it­ing the on­board zoo to ob­serve the spec­i­mens you’ve caught, or lis­ten­ing to two sol­diers gos­sip over how much they like Diamond Dog’s soft paws. Where so many other games tell you some­thing is im­por­tant and worth fight­ing for, The Phan­tom Pain lets you de­velop that bond with Mother Base for your­self. The en­tire game is richer for it.

The very act of con­struct­ing a sec­ond Mother Base af­ter the first one was de­stroyed feels wil­fully an­tag­o­nis­tic

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