Stepping up a Gear: Konami on 'the game of the year', Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It’s been seven years since there was a full, console Metal Gear Solid game. 

Yes, we’ve had 2010 PlayStation Portable title Peace Walker, 2013’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and last year’s Metal Gear Solid V prologue, Ground Zeroes. But next month’s The Phantom Pain is the first proper Metal Gear game since 2008’s Guns of the Patriots. 

And, judging by the early reviews, it appears to have been worth the wait. 

“Basically, it is the most engrossing and stunning game of the year,” marketing executive Jon Edwards enthuses. 

“Anyone who has spent any amount of time with it has been blown away by its depth, scope and ambition. It is one of those games where people go: ‘I wonder if I can do this?’ and they inevitably can. Many games claim to be sandbox, open-world affairs, but Metal Gear Solid V does offer incredible freedom. Yes, there are missions, but it is truly up to you how they are tackled. When we have shown it to the press, the interesting thing is that they don’t discuss just the missions or what they played, but how they did it. You get people swapping different stories, and discussing how they beat certain elements.

“Every new Metal Gear Solid title has seen Mr Kojima moving closer to his vision of a game that can match his scope. The Phantom Pain sees ideas formed in the PSP title Peace Walker come to fruition, as [the player’s HQ] Mother Base is not only explored, but shown – and used to add a tactical bent to the game. While the open-world idea first hinted at in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and then Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is finally realised, with the game worlds boasting huge scale but incredible detail, too. 

“It’s the game of the year – guaranteed.”

Since the first Metal Gear Solid, the stealth genre has been diluted into myriad other types of game. There are first-person takes (Alien: Isolation), third-person platformers (Assassin’s Creed) and even side-scrolling indie efforts (The Swindle). In many ways, it seems that stealth has never been bigger. 

“Is there really a stealth market?” Edwards retorts. “I’d argue that Metal Gear Solid is pretty much the only proper stealth title, and even then it is just a part of the whole. Sneaking is a key part of the game, but The Phantom Pain transcends such limitations, with decoys, snipers, a buddy system, and weapon drops and airstrikes. I would argue it is a true combat title, with stealth elements. And, thus, one of a kind.”

The Phantom Pain may seem simply like a Metal Gear Solid for a new console generation, but the changes run far deeper than mere polished looks.

In the same vein as PSP entries Portable Ops and Peace Walker, and unlike the seamless story of its numbered predecessors, The Phantom Pain’s narrative is divided into separate episodic missions.

These objectives are spread throughout a huge landscape, billed as 200 times larger than Ground Zeroes. Although past Metal Gear games have had expansive environments, this is the first true ‘open’ setting for the series. But for a franchise known for going against the grain, isn’t launching an open-world title in the age of the open-world triple-A game a little uninspired?

“Games progress by pushing each other,” Edwards says. “Metal Gear Solid V’s open world is just part of additions to its core. The huge game area is vital as it shows the scale of war. You don’t just get enemy enclaves in one place, they have sentries and checkpoints, and they are often set up in perimeters. The Phantom Pain recreates this, and mixes it with incredible guard AI where they check their outposts and patrol properly, making the scale essential as players pick the best route in.

“If anything, the larger setting benefits the gameplay and makes it more unique. Grand Theft Auto thrived when it went open-world and part of the fun of Far Cry is the mad stuff you can do. MGSV goes even further. It uses the open world to give the player opportunities. It doesn’t restrict them in any way. Watching people play, you can see them thinking about what they can do, while the night and day element where time passes and it gets darker also adds tactical assistance of hindrance, as the cover of darkness means the guards cannot see as far, but are more alert. Likewise, desert storms can blow in and provide additional cover – and none of this is at set times. It varies totally.”

In addition, The Phantom Pain is coming to PC. Metal Gear has been on the platform in the past, but before last year’s Ground Zeroes, it had been 11 years since the series was on PC. 

And – unlike Ground Zeroes – The Phantom Pain is coming to PC on the same day as its console release. 

“The PC version is stunning,” Edwards says. “We are so pleased to be able to release it alongside the console games, and that Kojima Productions has worked so hard to make it such a strong version. Like Ground Zeroes, the graphics are stunning in the new 4K mode, while the scale and online elements within the game are a perfect fit for the format. Metal Gear Solid V is such an entertaining game, we always wanted it to play the strengths of its host format, and the PC edition certainly does that. It is a stunning conversion.”

Unsurprisingly, Konami is going big on marketing The Phantom Pain. 

“It is a very key title for us and will have a huge retail presence,” Edwards explains. “We have cinema ads, blanket editorial coverage, a series of online take-overs, and outdoor ads all over the country. We have worked with Sony to produce the MGSV-themed PS4 – which is a stunning piece of kit – and we will be everywhere around launch. I do not exaggerate when I say MGSV is probably the best game of the year. Our push will remind people of that.”

Not only this – the firm has had a huge merchandise push for the game with the likes of Musterbrand and Insert Coin producing goods based on Metal Gear Solid. 

“The merchandise has been themed specifically,” Edwards says. “The 1984 Collection has done incredibly well, with the various ‘80s-themed gear doing very well, while the cardboard boombox has been nominated for an innovation award. With its great characters and heritage, there is a huge demand for good quality MGS merchandise but we are very selective with what we release. The clothing continually goes down well and we enjoy good relationships with Level-Up, Musterbrand and Insert Coin, while additional items such as Piggyback’s Player’s Guide are predicted to do very well.”

Some doubts linger over what comes next for Metal Gear. Creator Kojima says this game will close the loop on the 27-year ‘Solid’ franchise, and it’s unclear whether he’ll work on another game.

“Metal Gear Solid is a key Konami franchise,” Edwards says. “The company has already committed to future iterations, which we look forward to.”

Metal Gear Solid V features microtransactions, which will be good news to retailers looking to sell digital currency. But in the past, consumers have been vocal about their dislike for microtransactions appearing in premium games. 

“They are a minimal part of the game, and merely a short cut,” Konami marketing exec Jon Edwards says. 

“The player recruits R&D people to create weaponry and expand their base. While the entire game can be played without using them, microtransactions are available to speed up the development process. They also come into play with the FOB (Forward Operating Bases) element, when players set up additional Mother Base outposts. 

“Players can insure their base against attack in the multiplayer mode. Kojima Productions has merely added them as shortcuts, but have always stressed that the game can be completed without any cost to the player.”