Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain

It took months, but I finally finished and reviewed Metal Gear Solid V. It was a tough game to review, mostly because my dreams for an epic conclusion to the Metal Gear franchise seem to have been dashed by corporate stupidity forcing the game to be released before it was finished. Maybe Kojima (and Konami) have some elaborate trick up their sleeve, and there's going to be some crazy patch that replaces the recycled missions in Chapter 2 with real missions, and which adds the missing third chapter and the "Kingdom of the Flies" mission. Unless that happens, I'm going to operate under the assumption that the recycled missions of chapter 2 were put in as placeholders for missions that were planned but never completed. And I have some ideas of what a couple of those missions might have been about.

There's half of Foxhound from Metal Gear Solid 1, right there!

After retrieving the microfilm in mission 38, you get a couple of intel tapes that might inform exactly what chapter two was supposed to be about.

Informant's Report: Part 2 talks about the "Third Boy", who is a young Psycho Mantis. The first part of the tape reveals details on how Psycho Mantis' powers work. The second part is a bit more interesting, as it poses the conjecture that Eli was projecting his will onto the Third Boy, and controlling Sehalanthropous. This establishes how Eli (who would later be revealed to be Liquid Snake) begins his partnership with Psycho Mantis, the first recruit in his Foxhound team that would eventually take over Shadow Moses in the first Metal Gear Solid game.

Was mission 40 supposed to be about Sniper Wolf?

Metal Gear Solid V - Quiet / Sniper Wolf
Obtaining Sniper Wolf's handerchief from the retread of "Cloaked In Silence" unlocks the Sniper Wolf costume.

With that in mind, let's take another look at mission 40. It's a repeat of mission 11: "Cloaked In Silence". It's a repeat of the sniper battle with Quiet, complete with the same mission briefing and even repeating the cutscene of Quiet shooting down the pursuing plane on the way back to Mother Base. All the repeat missions in chapter 2 are reproduced verbatim from the original mission, right down to the bookending cutscenes (even though they make absolutely no narrative sense). But there's two interesting things about mission 40 that make it stand out. The first is that Quiet isn't wearing her regular bikini outfit. She's wearing a jumper - Sniper Wolf's jumper from Metal Gear Solid 1. She even has blonde hair. Secondly, completing the mission awards the player with a Handerchief item that allows Quiet to be equipped with the Sniper Wolf outfit.

Is this a simple fan-service Easter Egg? Or was Mission 40 supposed to be a battle with a young Sniper Wolf that would establish how Eli [Liquid] and Sniper Wolf first met?

Metal Gear Solid V - capturing Sniper Wolf
Quiet even wears this uniform during the battle.

Sniper Wolf was born in Iraq, and she grew up amongst military conflict, she moved around the Middle East and Africa frequently to avoid the authorities, and she was eventually rescued from that life by Big Boss. So her backstory is actually a near perfect match for an appearance in Phantom Pain! Maybe Iraq was supposed to be a third area of operations? Mission 40 could have been intended to be a mission in which the player finds a young sniper wolf, engages her in battle to test her ability, and then captures and recruits her. Kojima may not have had time to finish this mission, and so Quiet's alternate outfit model was used instead, and Quiet's duel mission became a place-holder.

I would expect that if a young Sniper Wolf had been planned, then Kojima would have already cast a voice and mo-cap artist. But as far as I know, nobody has found assets for any character model or dialogue from any one who could qualify as a young Sniper Wolf. IMDB does list some voice actresses for various soldier roles, but no young girls other than Paz's voice (from Tara Strong). But if the game is truly unfinished, and whole chapters hadn't even been developed yet, then it's possible that such casting simply hadn't happened yet. If early rumors of the mission list are true, then the game wasn't nearly as far along as we think. That mission list, by the way, has a mission late in the game called "Beauty of the Battlefield", which could be a prime candidate for the mission that would have introduced a young Sniper Wolf, and the fact that it takes place during a chapter called "The Cost of Revenge" could also be appropriate to Sniper Wolf's story. Though, this mission could also just have easily been a mission about Quiet.

Metal Gear Solid V - Quiet and Snake embrace
It is implied several times by behavior and dialogue that Quiet has romantic feelings for Snake.

Alternatively, the intent of establishing a link between Quiet and Sniper Wolf might be to imply that Quiet is Wolf's mother. There are hints of a possible romance between Quiet and Venom Snake. Ocelot suggests that Quiet might not have killed Snake because she likes him as early as right after you bring her back to base. There's the infamous "playing in the rain scene", and her final casette tape after "A Quiet Exit" even says that she has "feelings" for Snake. And then, of course, there's her suggestive poses in the brig and helicopter. It's possible that there could have been a point during design in which they were planned to have a romantic relationship and possibly even a child together (assuming Quiet is even capable of conceiving and bearing children in her condition). Alternatively, Quiet could have mothered Sniper Wolf prior to the operation in Cyprus. Her injuries during that operation, and abduction and experimentation by Cipher and Skull Face could have separated her from her young child and left Sniper Wolf an orphan...

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Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain

Are you one of the poor suckers who paid $30-40 for Ground Zeroes and were ready for The Phantom Pain to make up for your disappointment with what was little more than a glorified (and over-priced) demo? I wasn't, because I got Ground Zeroes for free from my PSPlus subscription around the same time that Phantom Pain was released. I was obviously disappointed with the demo's short length, and I didn't bother doing any of the side missions. But since I didn't pay for it, I wasn't as enraged as some other players might have been.

I actually really liked what little gameplay Ground Zeroes had to offer. The Guantanamo Bay arena was well-designed and offered some good infiltration challenge that tested my Metal Gear capabilities. The A.I. was surprisingly competent and adaptive - not so much that I couldn't exploit them occasionally, but still good. The graphics, lighting, and weather effects all looked outstanding. It was a fun experience. Not "forty dollars fun", but pretty fun. At least part of the battle at Mother Base should have been playable, and I didn't like that large elements of the story were hidden away in collectible audio tapes, but whatever.

I got Ground Zeroes for free on PSPlus, instead of paying $30-40 MSRP for a glorified demo.

Ground Zeroes gave me flashbacks to the phenomenal classic Sons of Liberty demo that came packaged with Zone of the Enders on the PS2. At least that only cost me a $3 rental, and I got to play Zone of the Enders too. After Ground Zeroes, I was looking forward to getting my hands on the much bigger Phantom Pain, and was optimistic that it would provide an equally good experience that would be worth the purchase price. Phantom Pain is a very long, very complicated, and very uneven game. So buckle up, friend. This is going to be a long review.

Table of Contents

After having written a lengthy blog post about how open world, sandbox game design almost necessarily puts the game's narrative in a state of limbo, I was amazed to start up Metal Gear Solid V and see the very first mission took my criticisms to heart. Of course, the game had already been released by the time I had written that opinion piece, so I can't take credit for having influenced its development, but it was still refreshing and gratifying. Anyway, in the very first mission, Ocelot tells you that Miller has been captured by Soviets in Afghanistan, has been tortured for intel, and has three days - tops - to live. You must rescue him before that time.

Metal Gear Solid V - three days to rescue Miller
Ocelot gives the player three days to rescue Miller...

At first, I didn't put much stock in Ocelot's claim. After all, sandbox games are notorious for saying that something needs to be done ASAP, but they never have the balls to actually walk the walk and enforce that objective. Until now. When checking my map, I noticed something in the corner that I hadn't noticed in other sandbox games before: an "elapsed time" counter. The game was plainly tracking how long it was taking me to complete the primary mission objective. I treated this timer with a certain degree of skepticism. But sure enough, failure to rescue Miller within the allotted time actually results in a "Game Over"!

This is exactly how I feel that priority objectives in open world games should be handled: make it apparent to the player (through dialogue and/or explicit notification) that an objective is being timed or that it is otherwise a priority, and make sure that there are reasonable, perceivable consequences for failure to achieve that objective within the expected conditions. Then design some early-game quests or objectives such that the player is put in a position in which they can (or must) fail; thus, teaching the player that when the game says "do x or else", the game actually means it. I put down the controller and gave Hideo Kojima a standing ovation. But would this opening mission set a precedent that priority missions must actually be prioritized, and would that precedent stand throughout the rest of the game? Or was this just a one-off occurrence that would not be representative of the rest of the game? Regardless, a tone was plainly set for the rest of the game, and the stakes had been raised.

... Failure to rescue Miller within the allotted time results in his death and a Game Over.

Would this refreshing precedent carry over into the rest of the game? Well, sort of...

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