Editor's Note: The three images incorporated into this article and the gallery that follows are a world first preview of what Konami will demonstrate at E3 2014. You can view the raw 1080p screenshots in the gallery.
It’s amusing to think of Shigeru Miyamoto as a primary influence on Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima. Though a professed admirer of the Mario creator’s work, the two men couldn’t be more different outside of their penchant for making fantastic videogames. Miyamoto is the modest genius who lives a simple life and works in his garden (which gave him the idea for Pikmin), while Kojima, though certainly a humble guy in interviews, has an obvious flair for the dramatic. I’d imagine that’s a prerequisite for someone who describes his next game as one that offers “limitless gameplay,” almost as nonchalantly as if it were a footnote or tacked-on feature. “Oh, yes, we decided to toss in ‘limitless gameplay’ this year. Finally got around to that.”
From the looks of things, “limitless” embodies much of what Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain aims to accomplish. Kojima’s lackadaisical mention of unprecedented open-ended play can be chalked up to the simple fact that The Phantom Pain appears poised to violently catapult a slew of stubborn gaming conventions directly to their new home on next-gen consoles, whether the industry is ready for it or not. For gamers, its a win-win; the more often teams like Kojima Productions serve up remarkable experiences, the higher the bar is raised industry-wide. In fact, The Phantom Pain was forced to hike its own ambitions when Grand Theft Auto V was released, if tweets from Kojima last summer are anything to go by.
And yet, undeterred by the almighty Rockstar and its ability to force blockbusters like Watch Dogs into six month delays for fear of incompetence, The Phantom Pain has a chance to impress like no other game at E3 2014. We all saw the trailer from last year’s E3, and we all know how phenomenal the game looks. Just watching it gives me instant chills, followed by fast-acting hypothermia somewhere around the eight minute mark. Still, hype is a finite resource, and with the game a year deeper into development, the time has come to talk details, pinpoint what The Phantom Pain needs to achieve, and how it ought to do so.
Metal Gear’s plot is among gaming’s most beloved (and, notoriously, most convoluted), yet it’s a series also known for abundant Japanese quirks and occasionally long-winded cutscenes. This is something Kojima began addressing with Ground Zeroes, and that the team plans to continue with The Phantom Pain. Not only is the game being acted and recorded by English voice actors first (to be dubbed in Japanese later), but a conscious effort has been made to avoid leaning on cinematic cutscenes as a storytelling crutch. Kojima has gone so far as to state multiple times in 2013 that the method is “outdated,” instead hinting he intends to use a new system.
That’s not to say that improving plot delivery requires stripping The Phantom Pain of its Japanese heritage either; it’s more that, like many storytellers in games, Kojima’s inspiration is often wrought from Western-minded narrative. This is a man whose favorite film directors include Sam Raimi, Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, and David Lynch, so it’s not terribly surprising to see such a shift take place. There’s little question the details of The Phantom Pain’s story will be top-notch (guiding Big Boss on an open-word quest for revenge is already sweeter than candy), but if Kojima and company can rid the experience of distracting question-mark moments, the real head-scratchers of the Metal Gear pantheon, we may have a true narrative gem on our hands.
Of course, with all the talk of a limitless open-worlds, The Phantom Pain will undoubtedly be judged against recent heavy hitters in the field: namely Ubisoft’s smash-success Watch Dogs and the indomitable Grand Theft Auto V. It’s obvious that gameplay across all three varies drastically, with The Phantom Pain’s trademark tactical espionage in a class all its own. Though I fully expect The Phantom Pain to iterate and improve Metal Gear gameplay, what will really set it apart from its sandbox brethren isn’t size or scope, but detail. Give us the real-time weather shown in last year’s trailer; let it unfold on its own, liable to affect any story or side mission in the game at the blink of an eye. Let the world evolve and undulate; give us something that simply wasn’t possible until next-gen and Fox Engine made it so.
Imagine infiltrating a prison fortress undetected through, say, a loose ventilation grate, only to be deluged by a blast from a sandstorm you never saw coming. You regain your bearings and manage to save a hostage held captive in a nearby cell, and escape undetected. Later, you tell your real-life friend about it, only to find that she avoided harmful weather entirely (on a warm, sunny afternoon no less), entered the fortress guns blazing through the front door, lost some hostages (but also free a whole lot more amidst the chaos), and escaped via horse-drawn-wagon as bullets whizzed perilously past. The Phantom Pain needs to provide options, and those options need to be susceptible to various conditions, states, and even random occurrences that its world will perpetually generate. We’ve seen the impeccable draw-distance of the horizon-line in last year’s trailer; now let’s see the gameplay equivalent.
I fully expect that The Phantom Pain will deliver the sort of experiences described above, if not encounters far more blood-pumping than I could feasibly conceive on my own. Fox Engine is scalable, and as such the visuals on next-gen hardware should look every bit as fantastic as the PC-approximations seen in footage up to this point, despite the existence of PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. At the risk of sounding too optimistic… what could possibly go wrong? Well, there is one thing.
Now, I don’t mean to stir the pot and suggest that game publishers are all out to get each other, or that they actively practice one-upmanship. But in this particularly case I feel there’s a chance for exactly that to occur. Rumors have circulated that Rockstar’s unannounced game at E3 2014 will be the next Red Dead; a series known for breaking open-world boundaries, and perhaps more importantly, for occupying a setting conspicuously similar to that of MGSV. If this year’s show were to host two massive, highly ambitious open-world titles, both for next-gen consoles, and both set in a place reminiscent of the Old West? It would be unprecedented. By all accounts, the only thing left to do would be to get your popcorn ready.
A Rockstar versus Kojima showdown would be strangely poetic after the famed designer’s tweets from last summer. Still, only a fool would let said tweets true meaning be misconstrued. In Japan, modesty is a highly desirable trait. Kojima learned this from his role model Miyamoto, and knows it better than anyone. Though he may keep things cool on the surface, this is a man wily enough to fabricate an entire fictional development team — Moby Dick Studio — to act as a cover for his latest project, just so he could effectively gauge public reaction to the Fox Engine. Do you really think he’s rolling over “depressed” as his tweets indicated? No. Certainly not. The Phantom Pain has been in development for an entire year since we saw it last, and though E3 is notoriously impossible to predict, it’d sure feel good to get a “game of show” caliber showing out of Kojima and his renowned game-making team.
And if Rockstar does crash the party with mind-blowing open-world gunplay from an occidental future? Well, in that case, may the best game win.