SNAKE? SNAKE?! SNAAAAAKE!!!
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
THE CAMERA TILTS DOWNWARDS TO SHOW SNAKE’S HORSE DEFECATING ONTO THE SAND WITH A COMICAL KERPLUNK
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.
IN TIME YOUR TEAMS WILL ENABLE YOU TO CALL IN AIRSTRIKES AT WILL
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