Being someone else in Metal Gear Solid 5


Tom Francis is a former writer for PC Gamer and current game developer. He's been playing Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and writing up his thoughts on his personal website. We've been enjoying his musings and he agreed to let us share them with you here. You can follow the development of Tom's next game, Heat Signature, at its official site.

If you have keen eyesight, you might have noticed that the person in my screenshots is not straggly-bearded horned male Venom Boss Big Punished Ahab Snake. She’s Amber Fox, a low level support officer I think I extracted on an early mission [update: Andy tells me you get her by importing your Ground Zeroes save], along with another Fox with the same tattoo who might be her brother. She’s not a story character, just one of hundreds of recruits I have milling around my base.

Once you unlock the ‘combat’ bit of your base, you can choose to play as anyone you station there instead of Big Venom Punished Ahab. This is bizarre for many reasons.

1. It must have been a huge amount of work to support something that there is little practical reason to do. The recruits mostly differ from Ahab Venom by lacking some of his abilities, and their own special traits often just restore one of them. Only two of my hundreds of recruits are women, and yet they’ve modeled a female-tailored version of every outfit Punished Big can wear. She has her own voice acting for common commands interactions like interrogating guards, and presumably the male recruits do too.

2. And yet, it’s also a little shoddy. Not in any ways that matter at all to me, but it creates all these little contradictions and narrative ‘bugs’ that you would think a highly polished game like this would hate to ship. Everyone keeps calling you by the wrong name, some cut-scenes show your character but people treat you like Boss, others replace you with Boss, others won’t trigger unless you switch back to Boss. None of that is a problem for me, I’m just really surprised they were OK with it.

3. And it seems totally at odds with a game that often seems determined to tell a very specific character-driven story. It has a long and expensively produced intro to set up who you are in this world, and why you’re doing this, then also puts in loads of work to let you not be that person.


Anyway, I’m absolutely delighted that they did it despite all of this. I hate playing as grizzled old men in general, and the ridiculous miscellany of costume-shop accessories on Snake Boss’s face made it hard to forget: “You’re playing Hideo Kojima’s alternatingly extremely silly and extremely self-serious fantasy.”

Amber Fox just looks cool. It’s nice to be a woman in what is not only typically a man’s role, but in this case actually is a specific man’s role. I like when people call her Boss. I ret-con that she really was just some random recruit, given one field op to test out the new combat unit idea, and pulled it off so spectacularly that she became the organisation’s primary operative, and now everyone’s just kind of in awe of this very sensible, very practical, mysterious woman who just showed up and killed it. It made stories like this one all the more exciting for me, because I wasn’t playing as some superhuman legend, I was just a new recruit who had to nearly break herself to get the job done, and came out bleeding and gasping but triumphant.

This was the last game I expected to let me write my own story.

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