Metal Gear Sequel: Making a Case for The Phantom Pain
Final Fantasy. Call of Duty. The Legend of Zelda. Super Mario.
These are just a few of the series that would come to mind for any person that would be willing to play a few rounds of gamer word association. So just what word comes to mind when you do happen to group these storied brands into the same carpool? Sequels. Love them, hate them or just flat out feel indifferent towards them. Even with our current console generation and the original IP revolution that has spawned from it, many of us still find ourselves drawn towards new adventures with familiar faces. Since 1987, Hideo Kojima has been leaving his mark on the video game industry by seeking to add his own progressing epic to the faction of longstanding series previously mentioned above with Metal Gear.
As Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looms on the 2015 horizon, should we entertain the idea that it could possibly be the last addition to the Metal Gear mythos? After all, how much longer can the franchise possibly last? Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima has certainly done a tremendous job wowing hordes of players with his tales of political intrigue and military espionage for over 20 years now. We’ve watched his menagerie of characters mature and grow exponentially over time. Through resurrections, mistaken identities and even good old fashioned bait & switch, a core multitude of characters have been commencing battles for decades now. For once, it’s an ongoing war that we wish would never end.
Although therein lies the rub.
As has been his custom, the eccentric Kojima has made several proclamations following each Metal Gear addition where he insists that the version scheduled to be released will be his last. Ever the opportunist, Hideo has tirelessly advanced the Metal Gear franchise and has benefited from the rapid rate at which the technology of video games matures. Originally, it appeared that Metal Gear Solid 4: Rise of the Patriots and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker would be his console and handheld farewell tours respectively. Can the Kojima Productions team leader honestly call it quits when he still appears to be at the top of his game?
The Phantom Pain, which takes place in Afghanistan nine years after the events portrayed in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, has already started to make its rounds on the teaser trailer circuit. The sequence, woven into the Sony E3 2014 press conference, suggests that players may want to gird themselves for an emotionally arresting adventure. Over the years and releases, the Kojima penchant for creating a dramatically charged narrative has flexed and strengthened. Any attempt to retrospectively compare the likes of the original Metal Gears to that of the modern era titles, such as Peace Walker, shows that the property is capable of a never-ending evolution. The Metal Gear genetic makeup is still very much in play after all this time, seeking to indulge those of us who like to take our military stealth encounters with a healthy portion of sneaking around in cardboard boxes. Even better, can anyone else remember the first time your heart skipped a beat at the first sight of the classic Metal Gear alert siren, emphasized by the exclamation marks that appeared over enemy characters? These functions may seem ham-fisted at first but they are never-the-less necessary. They are Metal Gear Solid. But with each passing entry into the series, the ultimate Kojima endgame seems less and less to be about the “who” and “what” of the universe he has imagined.
In the games, all of the action is dependent on the will of the player to complete their assignments passively or aggressively. Only care enough to go guns blazing, dispensing justice one magazine at a time without regard for loss of life? The Snake Eater sequence of Naked Snake wading through a river of souls occupied by all NPCs killed up to that point in the game was a harrowing billboard of player morality in a violent setting. These outcomes remain dependent on those of us engaging in the series, challenging our willingness to tread the dilemma line that every soldier faces. Kojima wants us as his audience to feel the truth, elements and enduring side effects of what such a harsh approach to conflict can induce. Despite the over-the-top circumstances and character abilities, the stresses of stealth and infiltration are still apparent to those that have played the series with all the gusto of a legitimate clone super soldier. Sure, the tension of your military insertion has always been cut when the most dangerous scenarios can be made slightly lighthearted by a little tongue-in-cheek humor. This intriguing combination has managed to maintain a pedigree for critical fanfare. Review scores always seem to find themselves on the higher end for the franchise, earning flagship designations for nearly every console that they’ve been released on. Those faithful to the Kojima cause continue to be blessed by a talented video game artisan.
There will always be someone out there who will say that they couldn’t possibly consider playing a title that has a 5 in it, especially pardoning the fact that there are far more than 5 games in the Metal Gear arsenal. In their shortsightedness, all they can manage to see is a cheap repackaging attempt or a heartless milking of a proverbial cash cow. Lest we forget, a new gamer is made every day. When that new gamer steps into their local retailer and has to make that brutal first gaming choice, they may not be able to combat the instinct that compels them to start from episode 1 and work their way forward. They will flock to that fancy new display at the front of the store or to the one that is given the most real estate on the shelf walls of their respective section. Somewhere, somehow Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will be a maiden gaming voyage for some fledgling joysticker. In doing so, they are offered the luxury of circumventing any previous versions that may have proven to be less than stellar. Sequels are a telling methodology of developers and studios showing a willingness to keep original fans interested while working that much harder to integrate new enticing changes. Kojima Productions have acted on this formula for decades now and have continued to deliver in spades. It’s our responsibility as the consumer to let Hideo Kojima know whether we’re finally ready to lay the Snake fraternity to rest . . .
Or are just ready for our next opportunity to reload and save the world from certain military mayhem.