We remember Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for lots of things. An unfinished conclusion, answers to questions no one really asked, and a woefully underused Keifer Sutherland displacing David Hayter’s iconic growl in Snake’s shoes are all among them, and perhaps better forgotten.
But let’s not forget the blood-curdling prologue. Years after its release, Snake’s awakening in a Cyprus hospital that’s being attacked by a ruthless hit squad remains one of the most captivating openings in the series. It’s carefully paced and thick with the kind of tension you’d expect from a classic horror game, and there’s even a pair of mysterious supernatural assailants that haunt Snake like menacing phantoms.
After the hype surrounding P.T., Kojima’s playable teaser for the since-cancelled Silent Hills, it was clear that he longed to explore the horror genre. He’s no stranger to scary material, whether it’s Psycho Mantis’s mind games in Metal Gear Solid, Raiden facing a trippy AI with his junk in hand in MGS2, or The Sorrow making you face all the enemies you’ve killed throughout MGS3.
MGS5 goes a step further. It convincingly masqueraded as a new horror game when The Phantom Pain revealed its first trailer at The Spike Video Game Awards in 2012, without explicit affiliation to the Metal Gear Solid series.
After the sound of a helicopter crash and a hail of gunfire, your character awakens from a nine-year-long coma in the infirmary. As if hospitals aren’t scary enough in this day and age, you’re covered in shrapnel that can’t be removed, your left forearm is amputated, and you quickly find yourself the subject of a manhunt as soldiers descend on you.
Like previous entries, you’re stripped of any gear that you can use to defend yourself, but rather than tapping into your fists of fury and procuring weapons on-site, The Phantom Pain also renders you limp and out of control. Your muscles haven’t atrophied but that doesn’t mean you know how to use them after nine years of immobility. For the first ten minutes of the opening, every single movement is agonising as you flail forward trying to follow the one person that’s helping you.
Many in the Metal Gear series rank among the best stealth games of all time, but even when you regain the use of your legs, the consequence of getting caught is higher than ever. One wrong move and you’re doomed to restart from a checkpoint because you’re simply too vulnerable. But it isn’t just about covertly crawling your way through fire and witnessing brutal executions, it’s the beautiful staging of it all that’s designed to build tension.
Kojima dangles the carrot for just long enough to make you believe you can escape, even giving you a handgun to fight back, only to prove how futile it is. You can now manage the soldiers, but you also have to deal with an unstoppable duo of supernatural strangers: one telekinetic floating child in a gas mask and another hulking man on fire with pyrokinesis. You’re simply the rope in a game of tug of war, and by the end of the ordeal you’re left beaten and broken.
It still embraces the campier elements of its predecessors – your attention is drawn to the open flaps of your helper’s patient gown several times – but cheap laughs aside, it’s distinctly darker than anything that came before. The battlefield is more blood-soaked than ever, and it’s easy to believe Kojima would continue going down the rabbit hole if a sequel were on the table.
As it turned out, Kojima’s next project would be Death Stranding, which isn’t shy about its horror roots. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic USA, The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus and Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen lead the cast, and Kojima finally collaborates with Guillermo del Toro to craft a macabre vision of a world plagued by the undead. Once again, you’re just as powerless in the first area of Death Stranding as you are in MGS5’s opening moments, leaving you unprepared for overwhelmingly deadly enemies you can’t even see. By design, there’s no way to fight back.
Much like MGS5, you inevitably become a ferocious force that’s kitted out to deal with just about anything the game flings your way, but the struggle lasts longer in Death Stranding.
So there’s no doubting Kojima’s chops, nor Metal Gear Solid’s fertility. What if Kojima’s very public and messy break-up with publisher Konami hadn’t happened, and MGS6 served a full meal of the horror-infused appetiser we got in the MGS5 prologue?
It’s likely MGS6 wouldn’t stray too far from the established formula, but there’s no telling how long you’d need to relinquish control before finally stepping into the driver’s seat, and I say the longer, the better. The series isn’t short of loose threads, either, and the wibbly wobbly chronology of the series means we could pick up at any point in the timeline.
The obvious path would be to continue where we left off with Eli, as there are over fifteen years until we next see him appear, but there’s also scope to dive deeper into Raiden’s history as a child soldier, step into the shoes of Vamp before he joins Dead Cell, or uncover more about Psycho Mantis since his background is largely retconned. That’s to say nothing of the original characters, helicopter-hungry blue whales, and nanomachines, son!
MGS6, in whatever form or genre, still seems like a long shot. Konami retains the rights to the series, and while there’s every chance the game could work without the creator at its helm, Metal Gear Survive doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. That said, the original Metal Gear Solid now has DualSense controller support on GOG, there’s (theoretically) a movie on the seemingly never-ending horizon, and rumours are swirling that a Metal Gear Solid 3 remake is in the works, so things might finally move away from pachinko machines. Looks like it’s your move, Konami.