PCPOWERPLAY - - Front Page - Devel­oper Kojima Pro­duc­tions pub­lisher Kon­ami price $ 85 AvAil­Able At steam, re­tail www.kon­

S nake is a master of rein­ven­tion, each new Meta Gear re­lease shed­ding the skin that coated its pre­de­ces­sor. While the wider out­look vi­sion has re­mained con­stant since the se­ries shot to global fame and ado­ra­tion with 1998’s PS1 re­lease, the finer de­tails of sneak­ing, in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing and Cold War in­trigue have been twisted and warped to met the ever-chang­ing de­mands and de­sires of what has be­come a fer­vent and ex­pec­tant fan base.

If lu­mi­nary di­rec­tor Hideo Kojima is at­tempt­ing to prove his mas­tery over the medium by de­mon­strat­ing that he is ca­pa­ble of de­sign­ing new con­cepts around old ideas then he’s mak­ing a grand case for him­self. Phan­tom Pain con­tin­ues the tra­di­tional of al­ter­ation and par­tial rein­ven­tion, do­ing away with the strict and pro­tracted nar­ra­tive se­quenc­ing of Me­tal Gear Solid IV and re­plac­ing it with some­thing al­to­gether more adapt­able. While Phan­tom Pain’s vi­sion of ‘open-world game­play’ isn’t quite in keep­ing with the likes of Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto, it’s cer­tainly more di­verse and ex­pan­sive than any­thing this se­ries has come close to in the past.

Gone is the strictly lin­ear pro­gres­sion that has hitherto been so es­sen­tial to Kojima’s vi­sion of how nar­ra­tive should be pre­sented to the player. While the core plot threads are set in stone and im­mov­able, many of the pe­riph­ery twists and turns can be ap­proached and in­flu­enced in a way that suits you and your play­ing style. This is pre­dom­i­nantly thanks to an open world arena within which mis­sions can be tack­led in an or­der of your choos­ing.

At any one time you have ac­cess to a hand­ful of es­sen­tial nar­ra­tive mis­sions, as well as hordes of op­tional side quests. It pays might­ily to keep track of the po­ten­tial re­wards re­lated to each mis­sion as the early ac­qui­si­tion of cer­tain skills makes for a smoother ride later. For in­stance, whether or not to launch a mis­sion to gain the ser­vices of a trans­la­tor is en­tirely your de­ci­sion. How­ever, with­out one, and in light of Snake’s in­abil­ity to speak the lingo lo­cal to the Mid­dle East and Africa, your un­der­stand­ing of the finer plot points will be found want­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, and per­haps

more im­por­tantly, not un­der­stand­ing en­emy sol­diers pre­vents you from in­ter­ro­gat­ing them for fur­ther info on the lo­ca­tion of pris­on­ers and re­sources.

The back­bone of the nar­ra­tive can’t be in­flu­enced, how­ever. This should come as no sur­prise given Kojima’s ded­i­ca­tion to pro­vid­ing an au­thored story. Me­tal Gear is Kojima’s most prized cre­ation and, as such, it’s too valu­able to al­low the player power over the vi­sion.

Blend­ing an au­thored nar­ra­tive with the par­tic­u­lar re­al­i­ties of open­world game de­sign is not an area that games, as a whole, have been wholly suc­cess­ful in the past. By def­i­ni­tion, po­si­tion­ing a nar­ra­tive that is closed to in­flu­ence within the un­re­served space of an open world is dif­fi­cult. The open­ness tends to un­der­mine the nar­ra­tive, while the nar­ra­tive re­stricts the po­ten­tial of the open world to be fully ex­plored.

Only in Phan­tom Pain’s clos­ing mo­ments does Kojima’s at­tempt at this most dif­fi­cult of bal­anc­ing acts come un­stuck. Un­til the fi­nal two hours of what is, at a mad rush, a 40 hour jour­ney, the sto­ry­telling ranks amongst the finest seen in an open world game. The char­ac­ters, events, lo­ca­tions and ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences might be as typ­i­cally bizarre and car­i­ca­tured as we’ve come to ex­pect from this se­ries, but there’s no deny­ing the skill with which they are wo­ven to­gether. Kojima con­cedes de­feat over the course of the game’s cli­max by rip­ping down the fourth wall and en­hanc­ing a pac­ing re­quired to com­mu­ni­cate the proper ten­sion. Un­til that point, though, there can be no com­plain­ing as to Kojima’s abil­ity to tell a story within an open-world.

The same ideal can be ap­plied to the game­play it­self, which man­ages to re­tain the se­ries’ tal­ent for pro­vid­ing master­fully de­signed lev­els de­spite the move to a com­par­a­tively lim­it­less en­vi­ron­ment. Such a com­bi­na­tion is per­formed by lock­ing ma­jor en­emy strongholds away from each other us­ing the con­tours of the land. Bases are of­ten lo­cated at one end of a canyon or at the foot of a cliff, ge­o­graph­i­cally sep­a­rated from in­stant re­in­force­ments.

This al­lows level de­sign­ers to de­sign en­emy camps, forts and out­posts as iso­lated lo­cales that de­liver the same de­gree of pur­pose and am­bi­tion as any­thing else bear­ing the Me­tal Gear name. One of the things that has made Me­tal Gear great is the care and at­ten­tion af­forded to the lay­out of en­vi­ron­ments. In the wrong hands, com­plete free­dom to craft re­gions within an open-world can lead to a lack of per­son­al­ity and co­he­sion to mis­sions.

Sec­tion­ing off ar­eas solves this prob­lem, al­beit by cut­ting up the en­vi­ron­ment into sec­tors that are, for all in­tents and pur­poses, lev­els unto them­selves. Again, this is not open­world in the same sense as Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim. The open-world ef­fect is achieved through the fact that you can sim­ply ride your horse from one mis­sion to the next, com­plet­ing side mis­sions and gath­er­ing re­sources along the way, but cer­tain ar­eas of the map re­quire you tread a very lin­ear path to ac­cess them.

Said re­sources col­lected dur­ing down­time are used to up­grade your equip­ment via Mother Base, an off­shore oil rig that acts as your camp of oper­a­tions. You can visit Mother Base at any time in or­der to change which

gad­gets and weapons you take into the field, as well as ex­pand the struc­ture it­self. The more plat­forms you build, the more equip­ment you can de­velop and en­hance... although the catch is that the con­struc­tion of new plat­forms is very ex­pen­sive. De­vel­op­ing new equip­ment in this way helps en­velop the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence un­der a sin­gle blan­ket of pro­gres­sion, with ev­ery re­source found and ev­ery post-mis­sion point adding to the im­prove­ment of Mother Base and the di­ver­sity of your ar­se­nal. So long as you keep find­ing Mother Base the right re­sources it will re­spond by grow­ing big­ger and stronger and, in turn, gift you more ways to suc­ceed.

It’s here that much of Phan­tom Pain’s po­ten­tial for cus­tomi­sa­tion is found. What to de­velop and when is en­tirely down to you, the ac­qui­si­tion of those re­sources re­quired to build your dream new toy di­rect­ing in­flu­enc­ing which mis­sions you choose to do and when. Sim­ply ig­nor­ing Mother Base’s of­fer­ing and go­ing through the en­tire nar­ra­tive us­ing ba­sic equip­ment is an op­tion, of course, but to be so Spar­tan in your ap­proach is to miss out on the op­por­tu­ni­ties cre­ated by some of the game’s more elab­o­rate gad­gets.

What Kojima has achieved is a bal­ance be­tween so many el­e­ments that it’s dif­fi­cult to pi­geon-hole Phan­tom Pain into a de­fin­i­tive genre. It’s an RPG, stealth ‘em up, shoot ‘em up and base man­age­ment sim­u­la­tion wrapped into a sin­gle pro­ject. The fact that it not only works, but ac­tively re­de­fines what we should ex­pect from a nar­ra­tive-driven open-world of­fer­ing, is tes­ta­ment to Kojima’s con­tin­ued bril­liance as a de­signer.

It would have been easy to sim­ply con­tinue on the same suc­cess­ful path and craft a Me­tal Gear that hits all the fa­mil­iar but­tons. Phan­tom Pain does that, but man­ages to do so within a con­text that was pre­vi­ously ig­no­rant of. In a land­scape that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lated with copy-cat se­quels and re­gur­gi­tated ideas, it’s re­fresh­ing to see a se­ries as ven­er­ated as this one take a risk in an at­tempt to stay rel­e­vant.

Cy­ber­netic jazz hands

Snake des­per­ately needs a shave

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