So I did it, I finally finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It took me some 60 hours, but I finally got through the campaign and have seen the connecting pieces of the Metal Gear saga. Nearly 20 years of playing the series and I finally know the whole story!
Except that’s a lie, I really don’t, because good lord does Phantom Pain’s ending throw a spanner into the cogs (or GEARS, if you will) of the series’ narrative.
Now my previous diary entries have been more focused on my wacky adventures in the game rather than specific plot points, but for this one I will have to jump straight into SPOILER TERRITORY. So after the below image, it’s on like some kind of Donkey Kong.
So, turns out the charater we’ve been playing as for the entire of Phantom Pain is in fact not the real Big Boss but a decoy referred to as “Phantom Big Boss”. We’ve really been playing as an unnamed medic from the prologue game, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, who has had his appearance remodeled to look like Big Boss and also underwent hypnotherapy at the hands of Ocelot to gain all of Boss’ memories, knowledge and skills.
So what happened to the real Big Boss? He was the man named Ishmael with the fantastically rendered butt-crack and also voiced by Kiefer Sutherland from the introductory sequence.
So while Phantom Boss is running around rebuilding Mother Base and waging war against Skull Face and XOF (more on that later), the real Big Boss is said to be off enjoying anonymity and amassing an assault against Cipher. And Kaz and Ocelot are in on the whole thing, humouring Phantom Boss until the real one is ready for them to come back to his cause.
Let me just say that this is a cool twist on its own, one which I suspected as soon as Ishmael had Kiefer Sutherland’s voice and also because I didn’t recall Big Boss in later games having a robotic arm or face shrapnel. It explains the inconsistencies in his behaviour, being really silent all the time, loitering at the sidelines in cutscenes and letting Kaz essentially run the whole show. He may have Big Boss’ face, memories and knowledge, but he still isn’t him and those subtle hints were great.
This is all well and good, but the revelation also undermines pretty much the entire point of the game, which was to tell the story of how Big Boss went from the hero of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to the villain we know in Metal Gear 1 onwards.
Throughout the course of Phantom Pain, Phantom Boss is complicit in torturing his allies and slaughtering his own men in order to contain the outbreak of an incurable parasite. These moments of ruthless pragmatism began to create a darker Big Boss, one who is truly becoming the demon he often refers to himself as.
Except none of that happened to Big Boss, it happened to Phantom Boss. There are now two Big Bosses and, according to the end-credits timeline, the fake one becomes the villain of Metal Gear 1 and the real one the villain of Metal Gear 2.
So we now know why Metal Gear‘s Phantom Boss is evil, but what about the real one? We still don’t know, and have instead just been given a game that was pretending to explain it to us but instead psyches us out, adds a doppelganger and tells us the story we really wanted to know is unimportant.
This poses issues to the series’ plot line of creating copies of Big Boss; you know, the reason main characters Solid, Liquid and Solidus Snake exist. Because this means Big Boss essentially pulled it off better than anyone else by himself. I don’t know, it just feels off to me.
But I digress, let’s move on to other aspects of the conclusion.
Carrying on from the origins of Solid and Liquid Snake, there is a child named Eli in Phantom Pain who is revealed to be a young Liquid Snake. He was found to be in charge of the child soldiers army and, in an act of rebellion against Phantom Boss and Mother Base, stole the Metal Gear procured from Skull Face and rode off into the sunset. And that’s it, that’s all we know about what happened to him and the Metal Gear.
We apparently were supposed to find out about it in a mission that was cut from the game, so maybe it will be released as future DLC? Probably not though, given Konami are moving away from AAA gaming and more towards pachinko machines.
And lastly, there’s Quiet. Quiet’s conclusion ties heavily into the parasite mentioned earlier, which was engineered for Skull Face and targets the vocal cords of the hosts, only becoming lethal when the host speaks a specific language.
It is revealed that the reason Quiet does not speak is due to the fact she knows she is carrying the English strain of the parasite, her mission being to spread it among the Mother Base staff. But her time with Phantom Boss gave her a change of heart, and she vowed to never speak a word so as not to kill them all.
That vow is put to the test when Phantom Boss is bitten by a venomous snake (see what they did there) and Quiet is the only one who can radio in a support helicopter. It is probably the best character moment for her in the entire game, agonising over whether she will speak to the pilot, thereby activating the parasite and condemning herself to being a walking contagion, or let him die.
Obviously, she speaks and it was pretty powerful, if drawn out by lengthy helicopter directing.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a brilliant game and is definitely my top candidate for game of the year, but the narrative was a huge letdown overall.
Criticisms of the series’ reputation for long cutscenes resulted in fewer, shorter ones relying on being vague to keep things tight. The rest was filled in with audio tapes that either waffled on longer than some codec calls in previous entries or involved conversations that would be better suited to actually being cutscenes.
On its own, the story is actually OK, but when placed in the context of the series it leaves much to be desired. But the gameplay mechanics are so amazing that even this Metal Gear Solid purist has to rate it highly. It really is that good.