Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series has always presented a curious blend of serious themes (nuclear war, military corruption) with action-movie humour and theatrics. The Phantom Pain, Kojima’s forthcoming blockbuster entry to the series, is no different.
It’s a game that, among other things, takes aim at the US detention of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay. It’s also a game in which the protagonist, Snake, lives on a giant oil rig surrounded by a private army he calls the "Diamond Dogs". While the juxtaposition in theme and tone may jar, the inclusion of this sea-bound base allows Kojima to revisit one of the strongest game design elements yet seen in the series, the ability to airlift enemy soldiers that Snake tranquilises back to this base during missions in order to swell the ranks of his army.
In The Phantom Pain, it’s not only downed foes that can be airlifted to safety (using a mechanism called the Fulton recovery system, which attaches a balloon to the soldier’s foot, yanking him into the air before floating him back to base). Enemy vehicles, gun turrets, weapons, diamonds and shipment containers can all be sent back home. During a studio presentation behind closed doors at the E3 conference this week, one developer demonstrated how even the local wildlife can be airlifted back to base: a tottering sheep was yanked into the sky with a yelp and a shower of fluff. Indeed, every mission in the field presents a new opportunity for Snake to scavenge for resources.
Once soldiers have been returned to your base they can be assigned different research roles there; the more men you have on a certain research team the quicker you’ll unlock new items that can be airdropped by the R&D department into the field during a mission (a carefully placed airdrop will even knock out an unsuspecting soldier if you manage to land it on his head). Eventually, you’re able to call in airstrikes and other mission-transforming back up.
Unlike in Peace Walker, the Metal Gear spin-off in which the Mother Base debuted, you are now able to visit your burgeoning fortress in the ocean, spending accrued GMP (the game’s currency gained from completed missions and airlifting diamonds and other valuable resources back to the base) on defences such as UAVs and even new add-ons to the base. Kojima boasts that no two bases will be identical and, as you make this rig your home you’ll want to show it off to other players. On the rig, both Snake and your captured soldiers are able to train and upgrade their proficiency in shooting and close quarters combat.
The base itself is also susceptible to attack. From time to time an alarm will sound and your troops (who salute every time Snake passes them) will rally to their designated positions. In this way, the Mother Base becomes something akin to a tower defence game: the more defensive items that you airlift from the field the better prepared it will be to withstand any attacks.
Away from the base on the field, this is a technological marvel, a vast pen world filled with interactive possibility. Clouds wheel through the sky casting dynamic shadows, coming together and parting in unrepeated patterns with the passing of time. The Phantom Pain’s dynamic weather system even plays a role in the Fulton recovery system. During a sandstorm, for example, it’s best not to attempt to airlift a soldier or military hardware from the field as the recovery balloon is influenced by weather and may be blown off course en route back to base.
The tonal juxtaposition that defines Kojima’s work is in full effect here in the expansive wilds. As you trot on horseback into one of the first areas of the game, the reeds tilt in the wind and the sand whips up in tiny clouds. On cue your horse lifts its tail and defecates with a nasal harrumph. That's probably one asset that Snake needn’t airlift back to base.
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