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There’s an ar­gu­ment to say that some videogame se­ries were best suited to more rudi­men­tary tech­nol­ogy, when a di­rec­tor’s cre­ative vi­sion had to be squeezed into a slice of mem­ory, their dreams more crudely ren­dered in chunky pix­els. Hideo Ko­jima’s Metal Gear se­ries, which de­buted in July 1987, poked at grand and se­ri­ous themes such as nu­clear ar­ma­ment, the co­er­cion of the mil­i­tary and ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied soldiers, but it did so play­fully and, at times, with its tongue pressed firmly into a bat­tle-scarred cheek. Dur­ing sub­se­quent years, Ko­jima has been able to more fully ren­der his vi­sion for the se­ries with each suc­ces­sive leap of con­sole tech­nol­ogy, inch­ing ever more closely

METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHAN­TOM PAIN PLAT­FORM: Xbox 360/One, PS3/4 CAT­E­GORY: Stealth Ac­tion DE­VEL­OPER: Ko­jima Pro­duc­tions PUB­LISHER: Kon­ami DUE: TBA

to re­al­ity’s like­ness, while main­tain­ing that play­ful, oc­ca­sion­ally out­ra­geous silli­ness that felt so com­fort­able in the 1980s and 90s. LOAD OF HORSESHIT >> For some, this year’s PlayS­ta­tion 4 ti­tle Ground Ze­roes, a pro­logue to the forth­com­ing ‘full’ Metal Gear Solid V: Phan­tom Pain game took the jux­ta­po­si­tion too far. Here


was a game named af­ter the site of the Septem­ber 11th ter­ror­ist at­tacks on New York’s Twin Tow­ers, in which play­ers at­tempted to res­cue or­ange jump­suit-wear­ing cap­tives from a re­al­is­ti­cally ren­dered Guan­tanamo–style prison camp… while crouch­ing un­der a card­board box. That tonal con­tra­dic­tion seems set to am­plify in the full game, which be­gins when Snake awak­ens from a coma, be­fore rid­ing into a swel­ter­ing desert on a mis­sion to re­turn a pair of sun­glasses to a kid­napped friend. At the start of the scene the cam­era tilts down­wards to show Snake’s horse defe­cat­ing onto the sand with a com­i­cal kerplunk. More­over, here is a game in which the pro­tag­o­nist lives on a gi­ant oil­rig sur­rounded by a pri­vate army he calls the “Di­a­mond Dogs”, each mem­ber of which has been re­cruited by be­ing knocked un­con­scious and, af­ter Snake straps a bal­loon to their an­kle, air­lifted back to base. Satire can be an ef­fec­tive way to skewer power struc­tures such as gov­ern­ments and ar­mies, but if the game is at­tempt­ing to make a po­lit­i­cal point, on the cur­rent show­ing, it’s ask­ing its player to fill in a lot of the blanks. But Ko­jima re­mains adamant that he has a se­ri­ous point to make. “Amer­ica is not as strong as it once was,” he tells me in a quiet room at E3, away from the flash and the growl of the sur­round­ing show floor. “But in Hol­ly­wood the US army is still pre­sented as be­ing the good guys: they are al­ways de­feat­ing the aliens or for­eign­ers. I am try­ing to get away from that nar­ra­tive. There is a mes­sage that these movies might not be the only way to view world events.”

The ef­fec­tive­ness of the di­rec­tor’s idio­syn­cratic ap­proach re­mains to be seen. But the ef­fec­tive­ness of some of the game’s core sys­tems isn’t in ques­tion. Af­ter all we’re fa­mil­iar with the mother base, that sanc­tu­ary to which Snake re­turns af­ter his mis­sions. In the won­der­ful Sony PSP game Peace Walker, ar­guably one of the strong­est en­tries to the se­ries, play­ers were able

to re­cruit en­emy soldiers to Snake’s pri­vate army by knock­ing them un­con­scious (ei­ther with a sharp knock to the back of the head, or a tran­quil­izer dart) and be­fore air­lift­ing them safely back to the base. Once there, soldiers could be trained up in or­der to of­fer Snake sup­port dur­ing sub­se­quent mis­sions. In The Phan­tom Pain, it’s not only downed foes that can be air­lifted to safety. En­emy ve­hi­cles, gun tur­rets, weapons, di­a­monds and ship­ment con­tain­ers can all be sent back home. At E3 one of Ko­jima’s staff mem­bers demon­strated how VIPs, high value tar­gets and even lo­cal flora and fauna can be air­lifted back to base when a sheep was hoisted into the sky and sent off on its merry way. Ac­cord­ing to the team, ev­ery mis­sion in the field pre­sents a new op­por­tu­nity for Snake to scav­enge for re­sources. ALL YOUR BASE >> In be­tween mis­sions Snake re­turns to the base, where he is now free to roam the metal walk­ways and in­ter­act with his sal­vaged team (the sheep seemed calm, if a lit­tle non­plussed about its new­found, seabound sur­round­ings; at least no an­i­mals ap­pear to have been harmed in the mak­ing of Snake’s mother base). On the rig, both Snake and your cap­tured soldiers are able to train and up­grade their pro­fi­ciency in shoot­ing and close quar­ters com­bat. Your soldiers (who du­ti­fully salute when you pass by) can also be as­signed dif­fer­ent re­search roles, used to un­lock new strate­gic op­tions and re­sources. As in Peace Walker, the more men you as­sign to a cer­tain re­search task the quicker you un­lock new items such as med­packs, ammo crates, other as­sorted use­ful re­fills. In time your teams will even en­able you to call in airstrikes at will. These re­sources can be air­dropped into the field dur­ing a mis­sion and even here there’s the po­ten­tial for vis­ual hu­mor, as the game’s con­sis­tent sys­tems can be turned to your ad­van­tage. Ko­jima’s team mem­ber demon­strated how a care­fully placed air­drop can knock out an un­sus­pect­ing sol­dier if it lands on his head.


The in­ter­play be­tween the game’s sys­tems can also be seen in Phan­tom Pain’s dy­namic weather sys­tem. If you at­tempt a Ful­ton air­lift dur­ing a sand­storm the re­cov­ery bal­loon will, ac­cord­ing to Ko­jima, be in­flu­enced by weather, po­ten­tially be blown off course en route back to base. Dur­ing mis­sions you col­lect GMP, ei­ther by air­lift­ing di­a­monds and other valu­able

re­sources back to the base, or sim­ply by com­plet­ing mis­sions (with more cur­rency awarded for more ef­fec­tive play). This money can be spent in myr­iad ways, in­clud­ing the pur­chase of UAVs which guard your base, and other new add-ons, which will ex­pand the ar­chi­tec­tural lay­out of your home in ways that are, re­port­edly, unique to you. Ko­jima boasted that, as no two bases will be ex­actly sim­i­lar, it’s likely that you’ll want to show yours off to other play­ers, al­though he made no men­tion of ex­actly how this will work in the fi­nal game. ARE BE­LONG TO US >> As your base grows it will be­gin to at­tract the at­ten­tion of the wider world that will, ac­cord­ing to Ko­jima, be­gin to see you as a threat. In time, the base will be­come sus­cep­ti­ble to at­tack. Dur­ing the demo we saw how, when­ever there’s an im­ped­ing at­tack, the base’s alarms sound, ral­ly­ing your troops to their as­signed spots. It’s an in­ge­nious switch up of the usual Metal Gear rhythms of play. Snake has, for decades, been sent out to in­fil­trate bases. Here he is re­quired to pro­tect one from in­vaders. As such it’s cru­cial that you air­lift de­fenses back to the base: anti-air gun tur­rets and even jeeps. But when it comes to the base, Ko­jima has been con­sid­er­ing more than mere func­tion­al­ity. He’s worked to find ways in which story and sys­tems can be drawn to­gether so that one re­in­forces the other. “I think about ways that I can use the game sys­tems to re­in­force my story a great deal,” he tells me. “At some point, when your base reaches a cer­tain size, the world be­gins to take no­tice; you come un­der at­tack. At this the player has the op­tion to ac­quire a nu­clear weapon, in or­der to de­ter these at­tacks. It’s a sys­temic way to look at the threat and cy­cle of nu­clear weapons on the world.”

Sca­to­log­i­cal horse­play hu­mour aside, it ap­pears as though Ko­jima has a clear mes­sage with The Phan­tom Pain. More­over, it’s one he hopes to tell through more than the usual pa­rade of cutscenes.

"Right, so, 30 min­utes of pi­lates then back to kid­nap­ping live­stock."

Din­ner's sorted Now that's in­con­spic­u­ous!

Big Boss (aka Snake) is look­ing more and more vil­lain­ous with ev­ery new game Snake look­ing very mu­jahideen – prob­a­bly not by ac­ci­dent ei­ther

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