For the past few months, and probably until Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain launches on the first of September, the ongoing fallout between Konami and Hideo Kojima has been a never ending news story. With Konami steadily erasing Kojima’s name from any of their products, and various individuals who were involved in The Phantom Pain’s development revealing details that have helped fuel the speculation and rumour as to what exactly happened between the once prolific publisher and the eccentric game developer. And it’s probably not a bad scenario for either side, it keeps the soon to launch Phantom Pain in the media spotlight, and has many theorising what Kojima might do next. Either way it’s keeping us aware of The Phantom Pain’s existence, but is also distracting us from looking at the game itself. So after new gameplay demo footage was released a couple weeks ago I thought it high time to take a look at The Phantom Pain and just exactly what’s going on in Hideo Kojima’s head when it comes to making a Metal Gear game.
First thing’s first though, one must declare where they stand on Kojima and his rather particular approach to game development. Personally I loved the original Metal Gear Solid on the PS1, and the cold-war era prequel that was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots however, I’m far less keen on, and I’d probably go as far as to say they’re bad games. Not terrible, but certainly nowhere near the standard of the other two, too full of Kojima’s own brand of weirdness for my tastes.
It’s that very weirdness that has me concerned about The Phantom Pain. The core gameplay genuinely looks great, and although I didn’t approve of the way Ground Zeros was delivered to players, it was at least enough to convince me that The Phantom Pain is being built upon solid foundations. What does concern me, like I say, is the seemingly excessive amount of Kojima’isms that seem to be the main focus of almost every demo we see.
The first alarm bell was rung last year when we saw the return of the signature cardboard box and a few of its various new features. In principal I’ve no issue with the concept, it’s a perfectly reasonable - if rather amusing - thing to include in any stealth game. Even its appearance in the Metal Gear Rising: Revengance spin-off as a nod to series fans was fine. But when you start using it as a lure, by having a bikini clad woman on the front, and using it to attract horny guards then things start to feel as if they’ve gone a bit far. It’s more than a little stupid to try and convince us said guards can’t tell the difference between a picture on a box and a real woman, Metal Gears enemies have traditionally always had poor eyesight but c’mon now. Aside from that it’s a little creepy in all honesty, what are we to assume will happen if a particular guard’s unable to tell the difference no matter how close he gets? Is there going to be some sort of horrific gloryhole mini-game accompanied by the sound of Keifer Sutherland crying into a mic? Sorry but the whole concept is just too weird, even for Kojima to get away with.
More recently, and thankfully slightly less ridiculously, footage showed off yet another of the cardboard box’s new powers. It’s not a major gripe, but seeing the box used as a sledge to slide down a rocky hilltop was another thing added to my share of concerns about The Phantom Pain. I get that certain aspects of reality, like how many bullets the player character can take, need to be exaggerated to stop any game being horrendously unenjoyable. But it’s things like this, and the ‘sexy lure’ that stray too far into the territory of parody and upset any consistent tone the game may otherwise be attempting to maintain. It’s as if someone’s told you a semi-convincing lie about some obscure fact, immediately after which they ruin any chance of convincing you by adding layer upon layer of outlandish bullshit on top. To the point where you start to wonder what opinion of you this person must have to even attempt to convince you of it. And so it can leave you asking, if Kojima can’t respect his audience and is happy making up any old shit then why should I pay any attention to anything he does?
Elsewhere additions like using your horse’s droppings (seriously, this isn’t Mario Kart) as makeshift oil slicks to send enemy vehicles crashing off road, and remote guided, rocket propelled artificial limbs just adds to the growing list of bad ideas. These are the sort of jokes you might expect any sane developer to make in-between thinking up genuine ideas. I’m not advocating on the side of total realism here but shouldn’t a Metal Gear game be closer to the likes of a Splinter Cell or a Dishonoured rather than a Saints Row? Even Just Cause is more measured, and when you can say that you’re in dangerous territory.
It’s all the more annoying when these demos show off some truly wonderful gameplay, things that you’ve always wanted to see a game allow like the freedom to tackle small scenarios in six or seven different ways. The most recent of these gameplay segments showed us numerous ways in which we could conceivably eliminate, or capture a target, from long range or close quarters stealth gameplay, sabotage, trickery and full-blown action. In fact The Phantom Pain looks set to offer players so much variety I’m still clinging to hope despite the various Kojima’isms.
Sure I could, and probably will, play the game whilst making an effort to ignore the fact that such ludicrous features exist. But their presence still irritates. Imagine what could have taken their place in regard to development time and how good The Phantom Pain could be otherwise. Like I say, I’m still hopeful about the game, but going in knowing it already could have been far better isn’t the way I want to start any game. By now it seems Kojima’s ideas have started to run wild, and are pushing his games into an almost slapstick-like sub-genre, something very niche and aimed primarily at anyone who likes the realism of Call of Duty but would prefer the developer supplied the childish humour rather than leaving it to its online player base. From his sexist character designs, patronising new features and just plain bad ideas, it’s clear that whatever Kojima does next it’s probably a good idea that he’s got someone beside him at all time to serve as a sort of minder, filtering out the nonsense yet still able to capture those great ideas when they come along.