The resurrection of Zack Snyder's Justice League is one of the most incredible things I've ever witnessed in nerd culture. Right now, fans are watching a four-hour superhero movie mostly because they really wanted it. If the same thing could happen in games, there's no doubt in my mind what game would get the Snyder Cut treatment: Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.
It's half a decade old now, and Hideo Kojima has moved on from Konami to make games in his own studio, but The Phantom Pain's infamous Episode 51 is still a bitter memory for Metal Gear fans. If I could will a version of a game into existence through the power of Twitter and a dopey hashtag, it would be this one.
The Snyder Cut movement came after fans learned that vast swathes of the movie went unused when director Zack Snyder left the project after a family tragedy and Joss Whedon took over. Whedon made a ton of changes before the theatrical release, and Snyder hinted that there was a very different version of the film no one would ever see. A Snyder Cut, if you will.
Warner Bros. insisted that the version folks saw in theaters was the only version of the film, but three years and one furious Twitter campaign later, the company changed its mind. Snyder returned to Justice League with a $70 million budget to reshoot scenes and restore his original plan.
This whole saga got me thinking about MGS5 and everything around its dramatic release. If you bought the collector's edition of the game, it came with a behind-the-scenes Bu-ray that revealed the existence (or non-existence, within the game itself) of episode 51, aka Kingdom of the Flies.
An entire mission involving Snake pursuing Eli and a young Psycho Mantis after they hijack Metal Gear Sahelanthropus and fly off Mother Base was cut from the final game. In the game we played, the boys still steal the Metal Gear, and everyone just sorts of let them get away with it. That scene didn't sit well with me or with other players at the time, and we later found out why.
From the video below, you can see that Episode 51 would have wrapped up a significant plot point and given us more context on how Eli and his floating psychic buddy would grow up into Liquid Snake and Psycho Mantis.
Anyone who's played through MGS5 in its entirety will tell you that the tail end of the campaign just sort of ends. It's abrupt and anti-climatic, leaving several open plot threads seemingly unaddressed. There are a bunch of post-game radio conversations you can play after the credits roll that'll help fill the gaps. But I can't help but wonder if, with more time, these would have been full-length cutscenes instead.
One of the most common criticisms of MGS5 (and there are plenty) was that parts of the game felt disjointed and incomplete, which is odd for a Kojima project. His games are often super polished. And they're almost always filled with cutscenes, for good and bad. Bits of MGS5 just feel unfinished, from this weird jeep ride to the final mission structure. Even the number of over-the-top cutscenes is unusually light for a guy who ended Metal Gear Solid 4 on this 26-minute whopper. Maybe that was an intentional shift for Metal Gear Solid 5, but the narrative around its development made it easy to assume this wasn't the finished game Kojima had planned.
The last year of production saw a lot of drama between director Hideo Kojima and publisher Konami. Kojima departed Konami and started his game studio, Kojima Productions, soon after MGS5 was done. That same year Konami announced a corporate restructuring and talk of the power struggle between Team Kojima and Konami during the final leg of development dogged MGS5 after release. Konami went as far as removing the 'Kojima' name from all of MGS5's branding and the Konami Los Angeles office. It all clearly seemed tied to the issue of the game's ever-growing budget and Kojima's refusal to cut corners.
It was easy to look at Kojima's dramatic exit and assume anything in Metal Gear Solid 5 that felt rushed or incomplete came from Konami pushing the developers to wrap things up before they were fully ready. Fans created the inevitable online petitions to reinstate the cut content to no success. There were months of Reddit threads where fans speculated that we only really got to play 60-70% of the intended game, and that whole acts were cut out.
The drama kicked up again a year later with MGS5: The Definitive Edition, which included prologue Ground Zeroes, The Phantom Pain, and all the post-release DLC in one package. A datamine of the PC version unveiled many unused assets from cut missions, audio conversations, playable characters, and even an additional ending.
Konami said that cut content is just that: Cut. Not missing, but intentionally omitted. Despite the fan narrative that Metal Gear Solid 5's ending was missing, Konami maintained that it did have its intended ending. On Twitter, the company shot down the hopes of any cut content being restored.
the ending isn't and never has been missing, but this is a prequel game to Metal Gear (released 1987)August 30, 2016
Fans briefly assumed, given the success of MGS5, that Konami would have gone back and found a way to include all the cut content in a "definitive" version of the game. Instead, Konami announced spin-off Metal Gear Survive using the same engine, then declared it was getting out of triple-A game development to focus on mobile gaming.
With Justice League, Warner Bros. maintained that Joss Whedon's movie was the version, up until it bowed to years of fan pressure to let Zack Snyder make his director's cut. It's not an exact parallel—Justice League was a critical and commercial flop, while Metal Gear Solid 5 was critically acclaimed despite fan reservations over some of its seemingly incomplete scenes. And today, the major difference between Warner Bros. and Konami is that Warner is still in the business of making big movies, and Konami has shifted to smaller projects.
A part of me wishes that Kojima could somehow buy Metal Gear from the protective clutches of Konami and release the version of the game he originally wanted, warts and all. But the reality is that game development almost always involves cutting content. A studio's vision for a project often has to be trimmed down to due time or budget or because an idea simply doesn't work. Maybe MGS5 was no different than any other game, and its cuts were ultimately for the better. But its final chapters always left a bad taste in my mouth.
The likelihood of what I want seems next to impossible. Konami and Kojima putting their differences aside after a messy breakup to give us a version of MGS5 on modern hardware, hours of the campaign restored or made fresh, more cutscenes, a photo mode, and a revamped multiplayer? The price and scope of a project like this would be the cost of an actual Metal Gear. It's an impractical, ridiculous idea, and I want it more than anything.
We may never get the Kojima Cut, but it's a nice dream—as long as I wouldn't have to play it in 4:3.