McMillan’s Codex #3 by C.T. McMillan
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
From set pieces to story, videogames are making a transition into movies. The self-proclaimed auteur David Cage combines the mediums into titles that are lost in translation and suffer an identity crisis. It is obvious he would like to work in film, but as a developer Cage has less a grasp of film than of games. Hideo Kojima, formerly of Konami, also wants to make movies, but has a strong enough understanding to know the difference between the two when he made Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (MGS5).
When he started the series in 1986, Kojima wanted to prove action games could tell a story. The later titles featured movie inspired cut-scenes and accurately depicted the military from its jargon and equipment, to fighting techniques. The series also incorporates sci-fi with Kojima’s love of all things robotic. Each installment after MGS1 has been different from the last, adapting to the changing times. MGS5 is the last true MGS game and the most modern.
The first three took after the original 2D games with a top-down perspective and controls that would stump most players today. MGS4 was a shift into the contemporary with third-person controls and a 3D overhaul. MGS5 keeps the mechanics of 4 with an emphasis on smoothness. The feel of playing is streamlined, the controls slick and easy to coordinate. Snapping to a firing position is fast and switching between weapons or methods for dealing with enemies keeps the game moving without missing a beat.
A big component of gameplay is the management of the hub world called Mother Base. There the player manufactures guns, equipment, and populates it with captured enemies, vehicles, and animals. Weapons can be delivered via airdrop and the staff organized while the player is on mission. Resource acquisition is important as raw materials help Mother Base grow and allows the creation of the best items possible.
A staple of MGS is player choice. It is possible to not kill anyone except the bosses, but in the earlier games you could not do what you want to complete missions, a fact MGS5 has remedied. In an open-world environment, the player has free reign to choose not only who lives and dies, but also how they approach objectives. Players can be loud and destructive or clean and quiet. The only limit is their imagination. Whatever happens ends with a final score and letter rank based on performance. The game encourages players to work hard to get no kills and no alerts for the highest score possible.
Movies have always played a big part in MGS. The very first game’s box art was designed after a production photo of Michael Biehn in Terminator. The main characters, Snake and Big Boss, were inspired by Snake Plissken and Rambo. The later titles allowed Kojima to do more with the cut scenes and each has been different from the last in how they were shot. 1 and 2 were rather standard and restrained, where as MGS3 took after 007 with its aesthetic. The music was a call back to the 60s, set pieces extravagant, and the characters ridiculous with series villain Revolver Ocelot posing, meowing, and juggling pistols. 4 was contemporary in its presentation, taking note from Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan for a documentary approach.
MGS5 has opted for a long-shot style similar to Children of Men and Birdman. With the exception of a few parts, movement from the start of a mission to the end is uncut. The player can go from cut scene to gameplay without breaks in the shot. The camera remains behind the player, but moves in several instances before returning. Even when a character falls from a helicopter the camera follows all the way to the ground. There is even a vignette effect when the player takes damage that looks like film burns.
Kiefer Sutherland takes over the role of Big Boss, the first Hollywood talent featured outside of voice actors. His role is subdued with little to no lines as Kojima wanted to go for a Mad Max approach, making Big Boss a cipher for the player to put their self into his shoes. Big Boss’s feelings are conveyed more by his actions and expressions thanks to Sutherland’s facial capture performance.
MGS5 also contains references to literature. The goal of the villain is to change language to control the world, an idea similar to Newspeak from 1984, as well as the perpetuation of war to regulate society. The character Eli is a British child soldier who has a rotting, cyclopean pig’s head swarming with flies, an allusion to Big Boss and a reference to Lord of the Flies. Eli is also the leader of a group of savage children like the character Jack and carries a conch shell on his belt. Being a game about revenge, the game is packed with callbacks to Moby Dick. Big Boss’s call sign is Ahab, the support helicopter’s name is Pequod, a flaming whale is featured at the beginning, the character Miller is missing his leg from the knee down, and a character named Ishmael makes an appearance to guide the player through a level.
MGS is one of the few series to talk about subjects like war and PTSD. Snake and Big Boss never think of themselves as heroes, citing their histories as soldiers killing for the government. Big Boss’s motivation for becoming a villain is America’s treatment of veterans and sought to build a paradise where soldiers could be soldiers. He wanted to create a world in conflict so his men and women would have a purpose, a symptom prevalent in veterans who want to keep fighting after coming home.
The series’ main subject is nuclear weapons. Metal Gear is the name of a battle robot that can launch a nuke from any terrain, and the moral questions of such colossal artillery haunt the game. The last installment, Peace Walker, questioned the idea of deterrence as an excuse to proliferate weapons and prolong conflict. The overall message conveys a need for peace, an elimination of nuclear arms, and respect for the lives of human soldiers.
MGS5 is darker and its subjects more taboo. The Phantom Pain is a psychosomatic condition prevalent in amputees. Miller is in a constant state of anguish as a double amputee after his and Big Boss’s army was wiped out. He is obsessed with revenge and untrusting of others. Torture is used as new characters are interrogated at Mother Base, a result of Miller’s paranoia. The depiction is blunt and honest, showing the act of torture rather than talking about it, leaving players to make their own conclusions. Child soldiers have been featured in the series, but never so much now. Along with Eli is a band of African war orphans that are forced to work in diamond minds before being rescued by Big Boss. Faced with the trauma of living in a war zone, the orphans become soldiers themselves, unable to rehabilitate into a state of normality. They are even a regular enemy players are not allowed to kill.
MGS has always been a marvel of creativity and innovation since its inception. From gameplay to storytelling the games have become the foundation for which others have built upon. With the departure of creator Hideo Kojima, the future of the series is uncertain, but the present is more than clear. Metal Gear Solid 5:The Phantom Pain is a testament to the power of videogames.
C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.