Among the bigger reveals at this weekend's Spike Videogame Awards was The Phantom Pain, an ostensibly new IP for Xbox 360 and PS3 that's abundant in prosthetic limbs, blood-spattered hospital corridors and giant, burning whales. I say "ostensibly", because wiser (or at least, nerdier) heads than mine have decreed that the new game is, in fact, Metal Gear Solid 5 wearing a sexy viral marketing dress.
There's a fair bit of evidence for this. The game is the work of an obscure Scandanavian developer, Moby Dick Studios (that would explain the whale, then), which is run by one "Joakim Mogren" - an anagram of Hideo Kojima that also calls to mind the latter's mysterious Project Ogre. "Phantom", meanwhile, could be a reference to a line from the debut Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes trailer: "from Fox, two phantoms were born". Neither Kojima, Konami or Moby Dick Studios (which doesn't currently operate a Twitter feed or Facebook page) are available for comment at the time of writing. You can probably expect that state of affairs to continue.
The idea has Metal Gear fans in fits of ecstasy, naturally, but I'm not quite as sold myself. Kojima's dalliance with novelty in the shape of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance notwithstanding, bearing the Metal Gear label means several things. On the plus side, it means the game in question will be an astonishingly over-produced, feature-laden slab of interactive cinema. On the minus, though, it means the game will plug into a body of sci-fantasy lore that goes back decades, encompassing enough in the way of twists and turns to strangle a herd of elephants. It also implies a divisive mix of high action and stealth, punctuated by marathon cutscenes.
There are whiffs of labyrinthine subtext in the Phantom Pain footage - if that whale's not a psychological construct of some kind, I'm an oozing penis metaphor from outer space. But the video also paints the picture of something decidedly less exposition-heavy and considerably nastier than Metal Gear Solid. A man hauls himself out of a hospital bed, his body dead from the shoulders down, his forearm terminating in a blunt hook. Menacing shapes are glimpsed at the end of a corridor. Dramatic white intertitles disclose a crisis of identity. Then, as the unnamed protagonist regains the use of his legs, all hell breaks loose in the shape of gun-toting invaders. During one particularly hair-raising sequence, two groups open fire on a crowd of patients from either end of a corridor, blood flecking the screen as the protagonist scrambles for the safety of a doorway.
This seems a setup worth exploring for itself, rather than for what it has in common with one of gaming's most heavily laden licenses. Admittedly, there are signs that Kojima is aiming to depart from formula with his next few games. "I don't like being thought of as 'the Metal Gear guy'," he protested last month, adding that the next Metal Gear Solid game will "[introduce] concepts intended for entirely new intellectual properties using the Metal Gear brand".
It's a slim possibility, but the Phantom Pain could be neither a Metal Gear sequel nor a new IP. Kojima published a Twitter rumination on the subject of a Silent Hill reboot in August, in what may have been a hint as to forthcoming work. "It would be a scary game if we make Silent Hill game on FOX engine," he observed. "Silent Hill is in closed room setting and doesn't require full action so that we can focus on the graphic quality. Enemy doesn't have to be a lot or move fast. It only requires scariness by graphics and presentation." Linguistic hiccups aside, that's a blueprint that fits what we've seen of the Phantom Pain like a glove.
Any thoughts to share?