A Metal Gear Virgin’s Phantom Pain Diary, Day 1: What?

What. What?

SPOILERS FOR MGS V’S PROLOGUE CHAPTER BELOW, INCLUDING IN SCREENSHOTS. STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED STOP STOP STOP NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHY ARE YOU STILL READING

I have never played a full Metal Gear game. I think I did two levels of Metal Gear Solid 1 decades ago, and struggled through about an hour of Metal Gear Solid 2 before I decided I couldn’t stand the cutscenes any more. The next two games passed me by entirely, but I did play the entirely of Metal Gear Solid V prequel Ground Zeroes, which I thought was a brilliant stealth game underneath its preening shell. It changed my opinion on the entire series, which I’d broadly dismissed as puerile lunacy which had no respect for my time. I’m starting to shift on that a little, starting to appreciate that such a direct tap into a creator’s mind is a rare and precious thing even if the look-don’t-touch manner in which it was presented was not something I could tolerate.

I’m never, realistically, going to back and replay the other games, but Ground Zeroes did make me excited about The Phantom Pain. I wanted more of that: more of that flexible, meaty stealth and combat, more 80s Walkman music, more massive sandbox meandering and yes, maybe more of the absurd plot and character design. (Though I was one of those who thought the notorious bit about the second bomb was unjustifiable).

Question is, can I possibly understand Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain if I don’t know the impossibly long story so far, and can I possibly appreciate it if I don’t? Only one way to find out. I don’t know how long this series will be, or quite what direction it will take. It’ll be part in character, part review, part verbalised bewilderment, I suspect.

What?

To start from the start, Metal Gear Solid has one of the strongest openings in recent memory. A distorted cover version of David Bowie’s 1970 hit The Man Who Sold The World which sounds as though it comes from David Bowie’s 1980 album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), while I watch a blurry world through the eyes of an unseen, unnamed protagonist. He blinks, slowly, painfully – the world washes red, then back to the blur, as the serpentine song warps in and out. Terrible things have happened. Consciousness ebbs.

A doctor. A coma. An explosion. Human bone and teeth lodged in my heart, in my brain. A missing hand. A phantom pain. A chance to choose a new face, painstakingly, debating over every feature, tweaking, perfecting. Wait, who I am? Am I not Snake, this man I have seen on the front of all those boxes. Can I be this man instead, then?

No, I cannot. A full-featured character creation tool included purely as a feint. A murdered doctor, his throat slit before he can change my face (and oh God, my two-year-old daughter walks in at this point; “what they doin’ daddy? Are they dancing?” Eyes shielded, ushered out, panic). A gun at my head. Another wounded man, face in bandages. Sets the assassin on fire just as I seem to die. Is he real? He sounds like Kiefer Sutherland, but I thought I was supposed to sound like Kiefer Sutherland. Is everyone Kiefer Sutherland? Who am I?

An escape. I can only crawl. A horrible wet, slapping noise as my emaciated chest – nine years asleep – collides with the cold floor again and again. Who am I? Who is this masked man who sounds like I should sound? Is he real? He keeps… disappearing. Returning suddenly. Never quite noticed. Is he me? Am I me? Who are these men with guns, why are they killing everyone? Who – God, who is that man on fire, impervious to bullets, to rockets, to high-speed collisions?

Luckily he’s afraid of water.

I keep dying, I swear it. But I always get back up. How many times have I died already? Am I dead now? Who am I?

Escape, somehow. The man on fire pursues, aided by a flying woman in a gas mask and distended, fiery arms. They seem unable to kill me. Maybe they don’t want to.

But they do want to PLUCK A GIANT WHALE FROM THE SEA, SET IT ON FIRE AND THROW IT AT A HELICOPTER.

And so they PLUCK A GIANT WHALE FROM THE SEA, SET IT ON FIRE AND THROW IT AT A HELICOPTER.

Then the man on fire rides on a flying unicorn on fire. I didn’t manage to get a screenshot of the whale because I was paralysed by excitement and confusion, but I did manage to get one of the unicorn.

Do you see? Do you see?

Somewhere along the way, the man who sounds like I should sound seems to have died. I don’t know if I believe it. I don’t know if he was real. But now another man who sounds like I should sound has found me. He has long hair and a knowing smile, and a horse. We ride the horse. Somehow, we escape the flaming unicorn. Then there is a montage, and now I have a robot hand and

And I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

I don’t know what happens next. But, in the space of around an hour, I’ve changed from someone who’s sneery towards Metal Gear Solid into someone who, for now at least, adores it. Does any of this make sense to anyone who played all the other games? Maybe, maybe not, but I don’t feel as though it matters. I just feel that I should enjoy the ride.

Next: stealth.

100 Comments

  1. Jediben says:

    Thank you for the spoiler warning. I will read in 4 months when I have completed it.

    • dahools says:

      Likewise want to read but must play first. . . . trying so hard to resist. . .

    • Syra says:

      Agh I thought “how spoilery can it be” and read the first bit next to that character customiser photo and was BURNED BY THE SPOILS.

      IT STINGS.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Thanks for that. I was seriously considering reading, but now I must wait!

        Somehow!

  2. ResonanceCascade says:

    So yeah…this game is pretty much amazing. Might even topple The Witcher 3 as my favorite AAA game of the year so far. They slathered Deus Ex all over my Metal Gear, and it’s the best meal I’ve had in a long time.

  3. Jericho says:

    Yeah, I played through a couple of hours of MGSV last night and will try to get in a few more hours this evening. Absolutely loving every second of it so far, but I loved the previous games as well (Well, at least MGS1-3. Never owned the consoles necessary to play MGS4 or Peace Walker). It also doesn’t hurt that I grew up in the ’80s and have a certain love for ’70s and ’80s pop music, so the soundtrack to this game is absolutely sublime to my ears… Uhg… It’s like Vice City all over again…

    • phenom_x8 says:

      Welcome to the world of PC gaming, then… (in assumption that you have the original copy of course)
      link to ppsspp.org

      • Creeping Death says:

        Hmm. I dont have a PSP but I do have a Vita with a few PSP games purchased from PSN on it. Could they be transferred over to work with this?

  4. Geebs says:

    I know you said you’re not going to play them, but MGS1 is pretty short and good fun, and MGS3 is a fantastic game – and both have the goofiness dialled way back by the standards of the series.

    • Wedge says:

      Did you just say MGS3 has the goofyness dialed “back”??? Sure it’s all emotional and crap in the end, but that one is easily the (intentionally anyway) silliest in the whole series otherwise.

      • Geebs says:

        It’s kept relatively brief (cf. MGS4), and also within a relatively tight scope i.e. it’s Big Boss’ story and the Legacy is really just a McGuffin. I don’t think I’m saying anything worth clutching an entire string of pearls, I’d say my opinion a warranted a brow furrowed in the general direction of a modest-sized piece of abalone at best ;)

  5. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    “Does any of this make sense to anyone who played all the other games?”

    Alec, you may be interested to know that the prologue you describe actually includes almost no direct references to other games (the exception being that Man On The Horse Wot Helps You Out, who is not simply a returning character but the only character to be in EVERY numbered MGS game – but even that fact isn’t too relevant to said prologue). Admittedly, there is a greater context in terms of patterns – the prologue is brilliant, but it’s also doing stuff that the series has done before. But that’s in presentation, the way Bad Guys are introduced, etc; for now, there is now greater pre-plot elements that explain things. Ishmael (Bandaged Dude Wot Helps You) is certainly intended to be something of a mystery.

    I think most of the game will take this form – before things went kaboom at Konami, this was intended to be a sort of “relaunch” of the series, an entry point for people like yourself who weren’t enmeshed in the mythos. So far, a lot of the cassette tapes are “exposition for people who didn’t play the previous games or just forgot.”

    • darkath says:

      Actually all the characters of this prologues are people from past episodes, including that dude one fire and the flying girl. Well may be not bandage man who seems to be unreal.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I fall into that latter camp; I loved MGS for the original PS, drifted in and out of the series and it’s spinoffs over the years, the anime-ish monologueing and preening always puts me off a bit, but the action is solid and the experience is compelling.

      Yet despite having completed all the numbered games and half the spin-off’s, I have no idea who the fuck is who, who is a clone of who, who is an imposter impersonating a clone of who, or who is actually a secret-agent/double-triple-agent/president of the united states/clone.

      But to think they pulled all of that off without ever having to resort to time travelling at all is pretty impressive in of itself.

  6. Aetylus says:

    Well done Alec, I’ve never played any metal gear games before and had no intention to until I read what you wrote here. It makes no sense whatsoever… and sounds awesome.

    • AgingGamer says:

      I have had a general disdain for MGS games based on watching some play throughs / cut scenes and reading a couple of articles that tried to explain the story. I haven’t, however, ever actually played the games.

      Now, thanks (?) to this article, I felt compelled to try MGSV. Gee, thanks, Alec… ;)

  7. BlackMageSK says:

    The flaming whale soaring through the sky was the most majestic thing I have ever witnessed. It doesn’t need to make sense, it is too glorious for that.

    • Baron Bacon V says:

      I like how, when the first trailer came out, and it showed the whale and the unicorn, everyone thought that that must be some symbolic thing, or it was a hallucination.
      Nope. That totally just happened.

      • laser-gods says:

        I think it still might be symbolic. MINOR SPOILER apparently the shrapnel lodged in Snakes head can cause visual hallucinations

      • Eproxus says:

        It is symbolic. Ahab and Ishmael are characters from Moby Dick.

  8. Cyrus says:

    Any comments on the fact that the retail disc is merely a disc with an installer? For shame Konami.

    • Alec Meer says:

      My comment is this: that sounds very annoying.

    • gwathdring says:

      As opposed to a disk without an installer?

      • Distec says:

        I would like it to play the OST when I pop it into my CD walkman.

        Been a while since I’ve been able to do that with a game. :(

      • HothMonster says:

        He worded it poorly. Apparently he only thing on the disc of the box copy is a 9mb steam installer. No game files.

    • UncleLou says:

      Not that this is an excuse, but I could imagine it’s a consequence of the PC version being pulled forward two weeks.

      It also seems kind of fitting for a Kojima game, though. Making a poitn about the waste of resources through physical media in the digital age, or somesuch. :p

  9. Carlos Danger says:

    The vast amount of slow crawling and blurry eye scenes I found a bit grating. Started thinking it was a new game type, a rail crawler. I think it will get better but the opening fell flat for me.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I definitely would hate a game that played entirely like that opening (The Order 1886, anyone?) but as far as opening cinematics go (albeit a vaguely interactive one in this case), I loved it. It helped that it opened with that great rendition of The Man Who Sold The World.

    • amcathlan says:

      Is it possible to skip all the idiocy/unicorns and get to the game? I want a new stealth shooter, and this one seems awesome, but even thinking about watching MGS cutscenes is giving me a headache.

      • DarkLiberator says:

        There’s always a skip option for story cutscenes I’m pretty sure. I’m able to skip them if I wanted to.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        This game does have wacky/epic/epically-wacky cutscenes, but it’s no MGS 4. The vast vast majority of your time in the game is spent playing the game, and playing it your way. The first half hour or so is relatively heavy on cutscenes, but nothing out of the ordinary for any story based segment in a game.

  10. iucounu says:

    +1 for Red Dragon reference

  11. Shadow says:

    Question: how’s the performance? Same as Ground Zeroes’, great? Worse? Somehow better?

    • CrookedLittleVein says:

      Seems to be running fine so far on my mid-tier machine; it plays like a damn fiddle.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      For me, it’s oddly running better (and Ground Zeroes ran very well) but the graphic options are also slightly different (all the same features, but they’ve put it in different slider buckets) so that may be while.

    • Enso says:

      Runs lightning fast on my gtx 580 until certain points where it slows down like nuts. Doesn’t seem to be caused by draw distance. I might try turning off the high end smoke rendering. Or vsync :p

    • darkath says:

      If you can run GZ you can probably run TPP. There’s more stuff to display, bigger maps, more people, physics etc, in TPP so obviously it’s more demanding. But overall the engine optimization is on par with GZ.

  12. noodlecake says:

    Would it be possible to run this on a fairly mediocre laptop with everything turned right down? I’m away from home for a month where my fairly low end gaming PC lives.

    • darkath says:

      Runs in 1600×900 at 45 fps on my laptop (core i5 2,6Ghz, Nvidia 640M LE 512Mb 8gigs, windows 8), low-medium settings.

      • noodlecake says:

        That’s cool, but definitely doesn’t sound like a mediocre laptop. :P I’ll give it a go anyway and see. This laptop gets very hot running Shadowrun: Dragonfall which has low poly models and pre-rendered backgrounds.

  13. geldonyetich says:

    Is it possible to spoil Metal Gear? Is it possible to spoil a game that introduces plot twists with all the coherence and utter vehemence of a bulletproof flaming man on a flaming alicorn?

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I’ve completed all the numbered games and I still have no idea what’s going on in the series.

  14. rodan32 says:

    I used to like whales, but then I learned the words “fecal plume”. Now I’m OK with occasional whale-burning-and-hurling.

    • Buggery says:

      Man, Whales gotta shit too. Ain’t nobody going to harpoon you and harvest your fats for ruining a public toilet.

      Besides, without whale crap we couldn’t use phrases like “flocculent precipitate,” which just feel so lovely to say out loud.

  15. Morph says:

    A character creation tool and then you don’t play the character? That’s… genius? I don’t even know.

    Idea for game – start with heavily detailed face creator but early in the game your enemy steals your face Face/Off style.
    Or maybe this is the plot to MGS?

    • Monggerel says:

      Um…

    • hungrycookpot says:

      When I made the character and then it was tossed out, I immediately assumed that it must be there for some sort of online play, we know there are online modes where other players attack your Mother Base, so I assume this is your avatar as a soldier of fortune who defends it while Snake is out, sort of like GTA 5 did it with the separate online avatar.

  16. CookPassBabtridge says:

    On wishlist for some future steam sale then. Looks great, but no game is worth FORTY SIX POUNDS though. I just don’t want to play them NOW RIGHT NOW bad enough to shell that out. I’ll still enjoy it in a years time.

    • Geebs says:

      I paid that for Wing Commander on the SNES, and it was worth it, dammit.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        We’ve had this conversation before, and in the end the conclusion was “SNES games were massively overpriced”. Thankfully its now long enough go though that it was probably our parents who had the “HOW MUCH???” reaction, rather than us.

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          Caveat: I was an Amiga 500 owner. We got everything cheap for some reason. £19 was about the average I remember paying :) Also note I am talking UK prices here, dollar prices seem to historically be way higher, somewhat unfairly.

    • Shadow says:

      You never -have- to pay the full price for any AAA game these days. There’s 20-25% discounts right off the bat, or higher if you know where to look.

      It’s becoming basic knowledge for a PC gamer.

      • Premium User Badge

        JimmyJamNYC says:

        This. I got 23% off on release day…and I bought it after reading this awesome review of the prologue.

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          “Never buy any game on release day ever”. Isn’t that also standard knowledge for PC gamers these days?

  17. Monggerel says:

    I found the Wolfenstein hospital opening to be a bit more than what I usually like to stomach (as in Wolfenstein).
    Apparently armed men methodically sweeping a hospital and executing everyone in the most sadistic manner possible is a raw nerve for me.

    Otherwise, this game is good and excellent in a fantabulous mixture of wonderment. There was a guy, but now he’s in the sky flying high. It’s fine.

  18. Baron Bacon V says:

    Played the first three hours of the game, I got She Blinded Me With Science set to play on my helicopter when it picks me up and drops me off. This game is wonderful.

  19. Flavorfish says:

    Even as an MGS vet, I wasn’t really a fan of the opening. I’ve grown to see long, rambling, nonsensical cutscene laden introductions as an obstacle between me and the core game.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I didn’t really find it rambling at all, i thought it was a pretty elegant way to introduce new players to the MGS stealth concepts while also giving the core MGS audience, those who want some sort of outlandish story, something to chew on and set up the rest of the nonsense to come.

  20. WastedJoker says:

    The requirement to enter name and custom face is for the online parts of the game rather than any gimmicky trick by Hideo.

    • darkath says:

      He used the online part of the game to create a trick in the prologue and played us like a damn fiddle.

  21. int says:

    I just got the puppy back to base.

    Why can’t I pet it? Why can’t I pick it up? Why doesn’t the dog fetch my empty mags? This game sucks!

  22. scrub tier says:

    “The Man Who Sold the World” is appropriate because

  23. Fry says:

    “…puerile lunacy which had no respect for my time.”

    Best summary of the MGS series ever written. Given the changes made for this game, I might actually check it out. Has anyone got far enough to tell me if there are still boss fights, and if those boss fights sucks?

    • Bobtree says:

      There are boss fights. I just ran away from one to complete my mission instead of engaging, so that didn’t particularly suck.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Normally comments like that one just get a small sigh out of me and nothing more, but this one kind of caught my interest.

      Small disclaimer here: to my mind, MGS3’s final boss fight (The one against Boss herself, I don’t think the one against Ocelot after really counts as a fight) is just about the best handled ‘boss battle’ in gaming. You can tell I’m coming into this a little bit biased. But even so…

      Care to indulge me for a minute and explain what your problem is with MGS re: how it handles boss fights? I’m genuinely curious now.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        I’d argue that The End’s boss fight is the best. It allows you to use MGS’s stealth tactics (has there ever been a stealth based boss before this?), but there are so many different ways to complete it.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          Seconded, I think The End is possibly one of the best boss fights in gaming so far.

    • Shadow says:

      What’s puerile is such an extreme simplification. Regardless of Kojima’s idiosyncrasies, there’s far more complexity to Metal Gear, and it deserves far more credit than that. Even if it’s not your thing.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        I would never suggest the MGS is simple, but I do agree that it comes off a little douchy. It’s the same thing as if you watch an anime and then imagine those as real people standing around and talking the way they do, you’d conclude they are all a bunch of self-absorbed r/iamverysmart assholes.

  24. ShaunOfTheFuzz says:

    “I didn’t manage to get a screenshot […] because I was paralysed by excitement and confusion”

    Welcome Alec. Welcome to Kojima’s magical brain place. You are one of us now.

  25. Iajawl says:

    Was surprised to see RPS covering this since I didn’t think it was a PC game. Turns out it has been released on PC. I watched some gameplay footage and it still seemed like a console game to me though.
    The article was also a bit to ‘artsy’ for my taste.

    • GAmbrose says:

      It’s not “Artsy”, it actually summed up my exact thoughts playing the Prologue.

      A constant stream of “What the fuck? This is great” Alec failed to mention crawling after a mans butt crack for what seems like an eternity, but he did the flaming whale and firey unicorn justice.

      Good old Kojima.

  26. Junne83 says:

    Am i the only one who believes the “flying woman in gas mask” is actually the one and only Psycho Mantis? The much younger version that is

  27. JSoi says:

    Having played all the “main” Metal Gear Solids save for Peace Walker, I had no idea what was going on in the Prologue.

    • Barchester says:

      Peace Walker, ironically, is the only game you really need to play to get this one’s story, as it’s a direct sequel.

  28. Synesthesia says:

    If you are loving this, and seriously think you will never play any of the previous ones, I urge you to reconsider. Play at least mgs3. You will not be dissapointed.
    These games are huge, and ooze authorship everywhere.

    • ThricebornPhoenix says:

      Oh my, yes. If you don’t like MGS3, you don’t like video games. Harsh, I know, but it’s better that you know the truth. Now you can plan the rest of your life accordingly.

      Leigh Alexander wrote a (semi-spoilery) thing about it.

      As a series, I like Metal Gear Solid. I love MGS3. What are too-long cutscenes and creepy voyeurism next to, e.g., a boss that you can defeat by turning off the game for a week?

  29. blainemono says:

    Yes, that prologue was boss.

    A big boss if you like.

  30. OmNomNom says:

    You’re tempting me to play this now. Having generally disliked all the earlier MGS games i had assumed this would be a turd. I may stand corrected.

  31. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    This game is marvelous.

    I was standing at mother base after a mission and noticed I was out of Fulton ammo. I went into my iDroid and requested a resupply drop.
    I stood still and watched the box lazily drift towards me dangling from its parachute. I thought the angle of approach might be wrong and that the box was going to drop in the ocean.

    Nope.

    Right above Snake, the box detached from the parachute, twatting Snake in the noggin and knocking him on his ass.

    Queue the most genuine laugh I’ve had playing a game for ages.

  32. Wowbagger says:

    The prologue almost turned me off the game to be honest, I’m a veteran of the series and have played all of them, but the level of crazy at the beginning was too much for me. Luckily it appears to settle down for the next bit, but I haven’t had time to start dicking about yet.

    • Shadow says:

      As the doctor explains in the beginning, Snake has a couple of shrapnel chunks jammed into his skull, which a cassette tape soon explains might cause hallucinations and altered perception. So that somewhat explains the craziness in the prologue. It seems to fade away after the escape, and I’ve barely touched the next chapter.

      I do hope it stays dialed back, though. There’s justification for it to some degree, but I’d rather the game weren’t a bad junkie trip.

  33. Maxheadroom says:

    Played and finished the first 2 (Starting on the PS1, not the old NES ones) and adored them. Never got around to or only briefly played the others though.

    Figured id give this one a shot so watched a couple of youtube story recap videos but was utterly lost.

    Debating whether to pick it up at all now if the story is going to make no sense at all to me

    Are there any big character reveals that I just wont get the relevance of?

    Who were the 2 I rescued in Ground Zeroes? None of the story recaps I watched even mentioned them!

    • DarkLiberator says:

      The two characters were from MGS: Peace Walker, the prequel to Ground Zeroes.

  34. Barchester says:

    I’m loving the hell out of this right now. Starting off with David Bowie, then throwing in a Pink Floyd reference (“just nod if you can hear me” just has to be deliberate) and then unicorns and flaming whales. Glorious stuff. If I could marry this game, I would.

  35. Neutrino says:

    Having read that it made so little sense to me that I’m not sure the spoiler warning was even necessary.

  36. Universal Quitter says:

    Personally, I was so blown away by the intro, I was afraid to play much more than the first mission out of fear that the rest of the game wouldn’t live up to my now absurdly high expectations. It’s been really good so far, but that was the greatest prologue I think I’ve ever seen in any game. I want to slowly absorb every piece of the game, now, soaking up each detail like a sponge.

    It only adds to it that in the back of my mind, I know Konami will NEVER release another game like this. It is unique.

    And the Fulton thing is just the greatest feature in gaming history. EVERY GAME needs a Fulton. GTAV? Where is my Fulton? EU:IV? Needs more Fulton.

    I hope the Just Cause 3 team is taking notes.