The opening segment of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this franchise: In a single, brutal sequence you get the full sense that this is a game of sneak-and-kill, Splinter Cell-like action, laced with ample helpings of military-anime outlandishness and sci-fi techno-fantasy.
It’s the kind of quirky combination that only creator Hideo Kojima seems to dream up.
In that game opener, it’s 1984 and we find out a hard-driving one-man army named Big Boss has been in a 9-year-long coma since his last military outing. He wakes just in time to drag his weak-muscled, broken and barely mobile body out of bed as an elite infantry unit hits the hospital he’s residing in. This squad of heavily armed killers is ready to splatter the innards of every living soul they find in an effort to get to him. On top of that, a superpowered “burning man” has shown up, too. With the blazing heat of a small sun this guy is incinerating everything and everyone within a 10-foot radius of his floating form. Oh, and he also seems to be after Big Boss.
Players have to somehow maneuver their barely-able-to-crawl battler to safety—a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the feeble fellow lost an arm and an eye in that decade-old struggle. Yep, it’s a pretty bad day to be named Boss.
If he makes it (which, of course, he will) he’ll have to rescue a captive comrade from a Soviet compound, set up a new private military contractor Mother Base of operations and reestablish a fighting force called the Diamond Dogs. From there it’s on to taking freelance assignments such as rescuing prisoners of war, blowing up strategic military assets, etc. And all of that is little more than a precursor to being able to take on an incredibly deadly, technologically power-packed super-baddie called Skull Face.
That old hospital bed’s lookin’ awfully comfy right about now.
Of course, such an over-the-top storyline is employed to simply give you the “opportunity” of pursuing 40 to 60 hours of creative and compelling lone-wolf commando-crawling-through-the-tall-grass missions. And nearly every situation is left pretty wide open for you to strategically script as you see fit.
Do you want to duck and slip behind walls and barriers, lure guards with short whistles and taps, and set them to snoozing with a tranquilizer dart? Go for it. Or maybe simultaneously detonating preset charges that take out a base’s power and communications grids is more your style. Why, you can even systematically work your way through an entire base, using what the game calls a Fulton Extraction System, to knock out and essentially kidnap every enemy you encounter, airlifting them back to your Mother Base for added manpower. Or, hey, what about just knocking down the front door with that bazooka in your hand? Those choices and many more are at your fingertips.
With each one triggering positive and/or negative consequences.
Now, what the game might call “negative” consequences will be unexpected deadly reinforcements showing up if you’re caught Rambo-ing your way through a given area. Or perhaps game-point loses from actions that are handled in too bloody a manner. What Plugged In might label as negative, however, are the game’s can’t-sneak-away-from messy bits.
Even if you choose to proceed with a full-on nonlethal goal in mind, there’s no skipping over the killing of some, and at least watching others being butchered and bloodied in large-caliber and high-def ways. When grabbing an enemy, for instance, gamers “get” the option of torturing the man or woman at knifepoint for information. In other situations, innocents are gorily murdered at point-blank range, taking bullets and knives to the chest, head, face and back. Men are blown up with explosives and left screaming and writhing in flesh-consuming flames. A genocidal contagion is unleashed that kills people who speak a specific language.
In one disquieting situation, a female assassin is battered and nearly drowned by a soldier before he tries to rape her. She responds by killing him and a half-dozen others in crotch-stabbing and bone-snapping ways. This particular young woman, I should note, has been genetically modified to absorb oxygen through her skin … which, of course, means she’s usually wearing as little cloth over that skin as possible. That turns her into an object of constant lust for gamers as she parades around in nothing but a gun belt and lingerie.
F-words pile up around the dead bodies, along with the likes of “d–n,” “h—” and “b–ch.” And young children, forced into soldiering service and battered by adult enemies, become a particularly troublesome part of the game’s grotesqueries.
So there’s just no way Big Boss can hide under his thin hospital blanket from all that solid Metal Gear muck.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.