The Phantom Pain’s Phantom Appeal

It’s what you DON’T see that makes it fascinating.  Negative space.  The words “METAL GEAR SOLID V” literally cut out of the title, instead of being shown front and center.  It’s brilliant, intriguing, and (hopefully) reflects a deeper theme within the game — of letting our imaginations go wild, for better or worse.

Is The Phantom Pain really Metal Gear Solid 5?  Or is that what we’re supposed to trick ourselves into thinking?

The Phantom Pain

Remember when Kojima talked about a “taboo” project that could potentially force him to leave the industry — the project which was eventually revealed to be the “devil” project?

I wonder if this huge misdirection is part of that intended controversy…

“My next project will challenge a certain industry taboo.”

”If I mess up, maybe I’ll have to leave the industry. But there’s no escaping it – I can’t pass otherwise.”

At the time, most people assumed that the “industry taboo” would consist of the subject matter — things like demons, religion, etc.  But that seemed pretty underwhelming, and unworthy of Kojima’s history of marketing mastery.  I figured that it would have something to do with retconning the history of the Metal Gear series.  But perhaps it’s something bigger.  Here he explains further:

“The game I’m working on right now is dealing with quite a few issues that are pretty delicate and taboo,” Kojima said in a Q&A session, as transcribed by Shack News.

“I’m not sure if they’ll end up being in the final product or not, but that’s something that I want to continue to strive for.”

Perhaps the game deals with taboo subjects, but I’ll theorize that the REAL taboo is the game design itself, from its presentation to its conclusion.  Sly hints and misdirection, designed to spark viral speculation, are already fueling a blaze of speculation and hype that certainly doesn’t seem justified by what we’re shown.  Will there be a surprise twist once we start playing?  Will it be Metal Gear Solid 2 all over again?  It’s smoke and mirrors, and I can only hope that it’s a double bluff.

If not, I’ve grown too cynical for the marketing game.  Sure, I felt a wave of enthusiasm the same as everybody else who connected the dots and realized Kojima was behind it, but to persist in that enthusiasm without noticing the potential problems feels naÏve.  Instead of jumping on the hype train, I’m doing my best to find problems with it.  I ask myself, would I care about The Phantom Pain if Kojima wasn’t involved?  If this really was the work of “Moby Dick Studios” and some guy named “Joakim Mogren”?  Would the trailer inspire me with curiosity?  Does the gameplay look interesting or satisfying, based on the the one little trailer?  The answer is no on all counts.

Granted, even a cynical guy like me knows that Kojima will deliver something special by the time the game is released, especially if this is the “Ogre” project he’s been obsessing over for years, but let’s not let our imaginations get the best of us here — even if that’s the whole point.

The Phantom Pain seems — and I stress “seems” — to have a generic visual style, generic character designs, extremely limited setting, and a potentially awful habit of using partner-driven behavior to guide our actions.  A fellow hospital patient drags us under a bed as a guard approaches, and leads the way as we crawl behind him.  This isn’t good gameplay, even if it is cinematic.  Being stuck in a crowd of people who are getting shot at doesn’t seem interesting either.  I can only hope Kojima has a lot more up his sleeves.

Kojima is a tricky guy, but it would be beneath him to think he could fool anyone with such simple hints.  Has he lost his touch, or is he just getting started?

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