It has been a long time since I played Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but I haven’t really stopped thinking about it or trying to write this blog post; I am merely having trouble finding the words to express my thoughts about the game. MGSV is a game that has inspired many thoughts, most, but not all, of them complimentary to the game. Not only is it a massive game, but it is also likely the last game in the series. Or maybe just the last legitimate game in the series. On top of that, it seems to be Konami’s last video game, as they make an inelegant exit from the industry to focus on the actually profitable parts of their business. In many ways, MGSV feels like the last game of an era. Maybe that is because I played on the PS3, but it feels something like a farewell to that generation and a farewell to the last vestige of Japanese influence on the current gaming industry.
Part of me wants to use a post about The Phantom Pain to eulogize Konami; the hardest part of playing this game is having to reconcile its mastery with the loss of that titan. The video game industry without them simply feels wrong. Each console generation has winnowed out companies that were able to adapt to the new technology. They may have been masters at one point, but their times passed and they went away, with new developers rising to take their place. Mid-tier companies like Jaleco and Sunsoft sputtered and failed in the transitions to 16-bit and 3D. Throughout all of that, though, there were some stalwarts, companies like Nintendo, Capcom and Konami. No matter the system, you could expect to see their games among their most well regarded. (With the obvious exception of Nintendo on non-Nintendo systems) For more than two decades Konami developed a great mix of big time titles, like Castlevania, Gradius or Contra, and slightly lesser known fare like Legend of the Mystical Ninja and Suikoden. They pumped out tons of quality titles in all sorts of genres. Since the days of the Playstation, their biggest hit has been inarguably Metal Gear Solid. While Castlevania and Contra withered on the home console side, both series managing to make marks only with frequent and frequently excellent handheld titles, Metal Gear Solid kept the attention of gaming community. It is only fitting that with Konami making a lamented and ungainly exit from the video game business, Metal Gear Solid V is their last hurrah.
Eulogizing would make more sense if The Phantom Pain was a backward looking game, but it is not. It is still out there on the forefront of the gaming scene, where the series has always been. While it does play in many ways like previous MGS games, it does so much more. The first three MGS games were each one or two missions. Snake starts with a goal and each boss and area is another step in achieving that goal. MGSIV, for better and worse, expanded that, being comprised of several missions. MGSV takes that a step further; it is a full campaign. Snake deploys into two giant sandboxes with a giant list of missions to accomplish. This added scope leads to more gameplay systems added to an already complex game. Now, Snake runs an entire military force. The more he builds his base, the greater the resources available to Snake in the field. The base building plays into the online component. It also plays into the new buddy system, where Snake brings along a companion with a certain set of skills. It turns the whole thing into a very complex web that is surprisingly painless to navigate. The depth is there for players that want to dig into it, but it is also possible to just understand that bigger numbers are better and just play the game.
Where the game falters, at least somewhat, is in the story. The broad strokes are great, but that is all there is; the game is only the broad strokes. It plays as though the story portions weren’t finished, especially knowing how long winded the previous MGS games could be. Since I don’t want to spoil the big reveal that has certainly already been spoiled for everybody, I will say that the somewhat simple tale of revenge and a man slowly becoming the things he hates are done well.
That is really my problem in examining this game: I am not invested in it is enough. I can’t provide a strong break down of the gameplay because I was that player that barely took the time to understand it and just figured bigger numbers are better. Mind you, I played the game for near on 100 hours, but I never really dug too deep into all of my options. I used the same load out for most missions. I hand a tranq pistol and a tranq sniper rifle. I knocked dudes out and tied balloons to them to take them to my base. I snuck whenever that was an option and tried to avoid killing. And I am not enough expect enough in the story of Metal Gear to get really analyze its themes. I have missed too many chapters, including the opening one to this game. I am rarely an expert on games; I am more of a tourist. I come through and see the sights, but I don’t stop long enough to really dig deep into the details. I am fine with that, I would rather play a lot of different games than learn one completely. But The Phantom Pain is a game that needs to be examined by an expert.
What Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is to me is a last trip through a series and a company that is going away. I don’t know that it is a good farewell to either. It feels like an evolutionary step for Metal Gear, a game the takes the series to a new place just waiting for another game to perfect it, like MGS3 did for the original. And it doesn’t inspire much reflection on Konami, other than that at one point they used to make excellent games like this as a matter of course. I was glad to play this game, but it ends on a bittersweet note because I know that there will not be any more like it.
Every year, video gaming changes further from what it was when I started playing and I am less and less interested in putting forth the effort to track down the stuff I like. The pool of new games I want to play dwindles every year and every year I care a little less. The Phantom Pain is the first game in long while to remind me that there are things that I have never done in a game. If only other games offered similar new experiences.