Sigy Says – Life is Strange Review

The narrative driven, choice based adventure game has been a pretty big hit ever since Telltale made The Walking Dead. Lots of other studios have taken a crack at creating uncomfortable and trying scenarios for gamers to rack their minds with. Those studios usually forget to make choices have deeper meaning or create decisions that exist within a binary function of “right” and “wrong.”

Life is Strange attempts to tackle the problems these games typically face. It doesn’t quite nail the impact of decisions (deciding to go with an all or nothing type ending), but it certainly sidesteps the issue of viewing the world in terms of black and white.

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Life is Strange (PC [reviewed], Linux, OSX, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: Between January and October 2015
MSRP: $19.99

The main plot follows a week in the life of Max Caulfield, an 18 year old art student studying at a prestigious school in a fictional Oregonian town. She witnesses the death of a punk rock girl and, in a moment of desperation, turns back time. She doesn’t know what happened or how she did it, but manipulation of the very fabric of space and time is within her control.

The tale then follows her path to uncover the source of her powers, the reason behind the murder she originally witnessed and the problems facing Blackwell Academy. Lots of the story deals with a coming of age type narrative arc, before giving way to a murder mystery straight out of Law & Order.

The real meat and potatoes comes from all the different branching choices you’re given. Life is Strange deftly handles choices without falling back on “right” and “wrong.” Most decisions will never seem better or particularly easy. It’s all about figuring out how you would react or what causes the least amount of harm.

Max’s power of time control is also wonderfully worked into the gameplay. Once you make a choice and see the impact play out, you can immediately rewind to attempt the alternate option or just to tinker around with different outcomes. Instead of relying on the player to keep different save files or playthrough a second time, you can see basically all of the decisions first-hand.

There is one key part of the story that rips control away from Max and creates a heartbreaking encounter that can potentially end in tragedy. There are also story arcs that tackle the implications of getting a “do-over” and changing “destiny.” It’s not entirely original, but its application is very well done.

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What’s not so great is the dialog in the earlier episodes. Until around the mid-point of Episode 2, the writing is a bit wonky. Things like, “hella amazeballs” and “for cereal” are uttered without a hint of irony. It feels like an adult was trying to remember what being a teen was and mixed up some memes online.

The acting is also stilted, at first. I’m guessing no one was exactly sure how the game was going to pan out during the development of the first episode, but it just feels like a lack of direction was going on. Some of the lines are either a bit too soft or lack any dramatic weight. This does eventually pick up and turn into genuinely great performances (save for the final episode fizzling out), but it’s not thoroughly mesmerizing.

There are also some uncanny valley moments with the presentation. While this runs on the Unreal 3 engine, the characters are stiff and the environments feel detached. There is a very touching scene in a pool, but it looks like two dead mannequins floating in nothingness. I couldn’t get around that image, either.

What I did truly love was how gameplay elements were organically woven into the story. There are a lot of puzzles sprinkled throughout Max’s adventure and it’s awesome to not feel like you’re simply a spectator. You have to use critical thinking to figure out solutions based on the powers you’ve been given.

One scene has you gather chemicals to create an IED, blow open a door and then rewind so you end up on the other side. It’s a really awesome accomplishment. It truly feels like you came up with the answer on your own.

Chapter 4 is where this really shines. You have multiple pieces of information you’ve gathered over the course of the game that you’re required to piece together. You have to take a long look at any correlation and connect the dots. Even if you fail, the game has a few work-arounds to get you back on track (excluding your rewind).

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The final chapter drops the damn ball, however. There is a stealth section that is entirely pointless. Since you can rewind and remain in place, there is literally no reason to have characters searching for you. You cannot fail and pressing forward serves no repercussion. I understand it was a narrative device, but it utterly fails as a piece of gaming.

Honestly, the game was building up to a crescendo that Episode 5 never delivers. The definitive ending is certainly gut-wrenching, but the 2 hours leading up to it feel like a cop-out. It seems like DONTNOD had no idea how to really make your actions take affect or just wanted to impose their own will on the story. Regardless, Episode 5 does away with all of the good that the rest of the game exhibits.

There are some light puzzles, but everything is a forced, linear path and the dialog amounts to nothing more than expository exchanges with main characters. Some beats will tug at the heart strings, but most will just bore you (do I need to see that damn picture changing cutscene each time?).

That doesn’t destroy all the good that Episode 3 and 4 bring, but it does bookend the game with average scenarios. It starts slow and ends with a whimper. If you chopped out a little bit of the first episode, you could honestly combine it with the second and get the same result.

In all honesty, a lot of these games seem to crumble under marketing hype. Developers never know when to chill out with how cool their games are (or publishers pressure them into overselling their creations). Life is Strange is more about the relationship between two friends and how choices aren’t the end of the world (until they literally are).

I hate to be so harsh to a game that tackles such dark, dramatic and realistic topics like sexual abuse, stalkers, suicide and bullying, but most of the elements drag down the experience. The ridiculous twist of the real villain is also completely out of left field.

The game creates characters that feel like 3 dimensional beings and demands you look at them as more than caricatures, then the final chapter ends up labeling you a hero and the main bad-guy a psychopath. Dammit.

Still, Life is Strange is absolutely worth a playthrough. It’s not the best thing around, but it has an excellent mixture of gameplay and narrative heft to feel like a really important piece of gaming history. It will also resonate deeply with people who have suffered through similar tragedies in life.

I just wish DONTNOD nailed every aspect. This could have been a stone cold masterpiece.

6.5

All Right

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy this game, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.

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A More “Real” VR Experience

“We hope as more people get to see VR, the experience will become more normal. People will then come into the VR experience and just see another game instead of a toy.” – Cindy Miller, Lead Designer at Culture Shock Games.

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I spent my past weekend at PAX East looking at a bunch of “new” games. While I wasn’t entirely impressed with most of the showcase, I did manage to find a few interesting things. One of the more intriguing displays was for an indie game called We Are Chicago.

At first, my friend and I were simply lining up to try VR. We were glancing at the monitor and joking about almost everything in the game world. This older guy and his son were joining in with us as we kept pointing out some of the inconsistencies of the VR experience.

The demo consisted of a scripted conversation about inner-city life and a scene where the player is supposed to set the table. I wanted to get into the demo and start flinging plates around. I wondered how awesome it would be to teleport into a fridge or smack someone in the face. I was hell bent on breaking the game world.

Weird little glitches like disappearing doors and unshapely character models were just adding fuel to the fire. It was like some low budget B-movie with a more interactive twist. Who cares what the people are saying? The real joy is in tearing it apart.

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Just look at that!! How could you resist throwing it?!

As we kept waiting, though, I realized something about my behavior; I was being a real jackass. I won’t claim that every game should be treated as a masterpiece (or even with respect), but it’s hard to fault a small team for trying to break new ground.

The non VR experience of We Are Chicago is substantially better. It still has a way to go before being released, but its ability to convey a story through a slightly interactive medium looks to be taking an already tired genre in some new directions.

“We want people to empathize with how things are,” is what Cindy Miller told me. “We like the fact that we are touching on these topics and we are going to be giving some proceeds from the game to help non-profit organizations.”

That really hit me in the gut. Here I was, joking about how goofy the VR demo looked. When my friend asked the lead programmer, Michael Block, about the intended plotline for the game, I jokingly said, “It’s about a teleporting man who is tasked with setting the dinner table and refuses to.”

I suppose that is the downside to an expo dedicated to “new” things. People want to experience VR, but the show floor is so crowded that dedicating yourself to any one thing is a monumental task. When some indie developer has a quick, accessible demonstration out, you mainly want to fuck around with it to experience the technology.

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Which way did he go, George?

“We like the fact that a lot of people come for the VR and stay for the game. We’re happy that people get to experience it,” Cindy said to me with a bright smile. It doesn’t matter if people think her game is bogus; she is mostly happy to present the idea to the masses.

Thankfully, I’m not the kind of person to shut my mind off. I tinkered with the VR experience on the first day of PAX, but I returned to that booth every other day. The second day was to take another friend over and the third day was to grab some photos and quotes. I wanted to challenge myself with bringing out the better side of this game.

I don’t know if I should explain its plot details or any of the controls. At its best, the game feels like a Telltale adventure game before they began sucking up every contract possible. We Are Chicago is taking the idea of an interactive narrative to its logical conclusion.

We’ve seen games built on making us empathize with protagonists or thrusting us into difficult scenarios, but none of them have truly dealt with real life problems. The abundance of World War II shooters may have all been based on true stories, but none of those felt real.

Most gamers also don’t have to live in a shitty slum. A lot of us have a comfortable life. The worst problem we will ever face is pissing our boss off. None of us know the emotional toll that constantly living in fear brings. None of us need to worry about stray bullets flying through our walls and killing our families.

Cindy and Michael both told me, “Everything that happens in the game is based on real events.” Cindy then added, “Our writer came from Englewood and is bringing his personal experience into the game.” Well, damn. Safe, secure, blissfully happy me gets to go home to white suburbia while these developers have grown up in a crappy reality.

Did the rest of the attendees connect with this game on the same level? I honestly don’t think so. People were so happy to get into a VR headset that the conversations might as well of not happened. You could have put stickmen in place of the character models and no one would bat an eye.

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Half of these people probably never even saw the game. I know Jed didn’t!

I didn’t want to leave the expo and have this game become a distant memory. I didn’t want others to see the low budget and think this game was a joke. VR may be the future, but if it robs a game like this of its narrative punch, then it doesn’t deserve to survive on the market. VR should be opening people to new realities; it shouldn’t be relegated to a simple plaything.

Thankfully, We Are Chicago will be releasing as a standard game first. The VR experience was mostly made for PAX (and was finished in a week), but will become available at an unspecified time after the game is finally out.

I feel that is for the best. I’d rather the discussion start with how dramatic the game is rather than how ridiculous a flying plate looks in VR.

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Cindy Miller (Left), Michael Tisdale (Center), Michael Block (Right)

Not Every Game is For You


Hyper Light Drifter was just released this week. Word on the street is that the game is quite challenging. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the release of the title; people have fallen in love with the visual style and were waiting to dig their claws into the game.

Gaming Blog “Rock, Paper, Shotgun,” posted an impressions piece in which the author, John Walker, claimed the game was just too hard for him to finish. While I can respect him leveling with his audience about his personal experience with the game, I’d like to make a counter-point to his stance on difficulty.

The closing few paragraphs of the article mention that gaming shouldn’t cater to one specific group of people. I completely agree with that, but not in the way Mr. Walker claims. He said that every game should be made accessible with different options to allow less experienced players to see the game.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Certain games are built around their difficulty. If you changed Dark Souls, for instance, to have an easy mode, its atmosphere wouldn’t feel as foreboding. It’s similar to the problem Resident Evil 6 has with its fundamental design; Capcom wanted to make an action shooter, but shackled the end product to Resident Evil’s past as a survival horror game. You got a pathetic attempt at modernizing a franchise and a really unfrightening horror vehicle.

Some games can withstand different options for various skill levels. Things like Ninja Gaiden and God of War are focused more on empowering the player than berating them. You get to execute enemies in a glorious, bloody hurricane of destruction. The option exists to make the games challenging (and Ninja Gaiden is pretty unforgiving on any difficulty level), but the design wasn’t based around an uphill battle.

You can be this awesome and suck. It’s crazy!

I can understand Mr. Walker’s frustration in being engaged with the game until the first boss. It is truly aggravating to be sinking into a game’s atmosphere and have it pull out the rug from underneath you. We do live in 2016, though, where the amount of available games is staggering. A quick run through Steam, GOG or Green Man Gaming can let you find something else you’re interested in.

There are also a tremendous amount of games built on being a more spectator driven experience or even just a plain easy one. It might suck that you can’t play this one specific game, but just look at how much else you can find online. It’s similar to being rejected by someone you like; don’t fight it, just move on and go your separate ways.

I can’t disagree with Mr. Walker’s assessment that gamers with the mentality of difficult games being only for them is selfish. That is true; I just feel he misses a key point. Not every game is going to be built for your own skill level. If life had an easy option, we would all be sitting on our asses and getting nothing done.

So honestly, I feel Mr. Walker just needs to accept that not everything will be his cup of tea. It’s pointless to change a game’s core design just because you find yourself at an impasse. If your life is so full of other distractions or obligations that you can’t put the time in to learn a game, maybe it’s time you started looking for different games.

The options are staggering.

Games As a Service

Man, Street Fighter V is certainly great. It’s got ranked matches and player matches and…replays and…some short story bits and…um…not a whole lot else. I mean, comparatively speaking, this isn’t much different than Super Street Fighter II on SNES, but that also released in 1994.

A lot of developers like to look at their games as “services”. When DLC is factored into the development cycle, one is constantly thinking about what is coming next. Does the base game end at going gold, or do you continue to release things steadily throughout the year?

Most of us gamers grew up in an era where ceasing development was the end point of any changes to the game. There are always going to be last minute changes, but for the most part, calling a project finished meant just that.

More recently, however, games have continued to grow and expand. Killer Instinct launched on Xbox One as a free-to-play game with multiple seasons. Hell, that game is prepping for a third season and PC release; it is far from being finished.

Not finished? The hell, you say?

For that matter, Sony has molded Driveclub into a pretty respectable racing sim. That game launched with a laundry list of issues, but those barely remain. The constant stream of extra campaigns and new courses has also kept the game from becoming stale.

If you look at the history of Street Fighter, you almost see the same thing. Capcom had listened to fan feedback and kept tweaking the foundation that Street Fighter II was built on. When the game’s initial run was complete, we ended up having six official versions of it; if you want to count the HD Remix, that makes seven.

For that matter, both Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III saw three different versions (and Alpha had some console ports with different things). Capcom has never been one to release a fighter and call it a day. Their previous efforts without the internet lead them to creating multiple SKUs.

Street Fighter V is just the natural progression of their developmental mindset. They are no longer shackled to brick and mortar releases or physical distribution. The internet has changed the way which they can tweak their titles.

That doesn’t excuse the lack of features in the current version. For $60, it is insane to expect people to be okay with waiting for content that is available in other games. A story mode is coming, but what is included just seems insultingly bare.

And this is insultingly not bare (in the final game).

For that matter, why are most of the online features not present? You would think with all of the work done onStreet Fighter IV that Capcom would have some grasp of what their community wants. Basic multiplayer lobbies and better replay features should be present.

This is all putting aside the fact that Capcom rushed the game out for tournament players. The deadlines for making EVO qualification were at the end of February, so Capcom needed this released to allow hardcore players to get in the competition.

That doesn’t do much for the more casual gamer. I’m of the mind that a company as big as Capcom could have spent more resources to finish all of the features for launch. There is no compelling reason that anything should be absent, apart from planned DLC.

If EVO were such a big concern, why not release a cheaper, digital only release with an upgrade option? We do live in the age of the internet, which is something Capcom is clearly banking on. My main concern becomes when any kind of server support for Street Fighter V is ceased; people will have a game on disc that is basically nothing.

Then again, we are in the year 2016 and there are still Street Fighter II tournaments being held. Capcom has created a legacy with this series that will not burn out. Even if the genre of games saw a hiatus between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV, the rise of social media and blogging has given niches a voice.

I know, Ryu; it is really stupid.

Those voices wanted a return to the glory days of 16-bit fighters. Since 2009, I can’t even recall the amount of fighting games that have appeared. BlazBlue, Mortal Kombat, Persona 4: Arena, Guilty Gear Xrd; I could be here for a while mentioning them all. There was always an audience for this genre, but developers just assumed no one wanted to play them.

As it stands, though, Street Fighter V is a bit disappointing. The game may be solid and have legs, but the amount of content present is unjustifiable. Anyone whom drops $60 on that and is happy is either blinded with nostalgia or just plain easy-going.

Hopefully Capcom doesn’t go back on their word. They stated that Street Fighter IV would be a service, yet we’ve seen four different retail releases of the game. For what is planned, I have hopes for Street Fighter V. I like that playing the game will earn me new characters, which just plain makes sense.

It’s almost like an old-school game; almost.

Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye

For youth growing up in the 2000’s, AOL Instant Messenger was basically a way of life. Not having a screen name meant you didn’t talk to anyone, apart from meeting at school. Gone were the days of clogging up phone lines or leaving your baggage at school; now you could continue the conversation at any moment.

It allowed kids to express themselves freely while also giving others the time to calculate their responses. Talking face to face can be intimidating and difficult, but an instant messenger gives you lots of free time to contemplate just what you will say.

That doesn’t mean everything you type will be perfect. Far from it, actually. Emily Is Away shows just how mixed any seemingly innocent response can be. When two people are not ready to express how they feel about each other, it doesn’t matter what medium of communication they are using.

While this game may not resonant so much for younger gamers, anyone who actually used AIM will get struck right to the core. We’ve all had that one person we wished we could be 100% honest with. We’ve all wanted to speak our minds completely, but fear that saying the wrong thing will ruin everything.

It’s hard to see that come rushing back, especially when the entire look and feel of AIM is recreated down to a tee. It’s neat to be taken back to a desktop from my youth and have it function basically the same way. I’ve also come to hate that damn message noise, for all the awkward things I said in my past.

What the game reveals, though, is that both parties are in the same situation. A lot of men like to believe that women are manipulative bitches, but that isn’t the case. Emily does care for you (well, the you from this game), but she doesn’t know how to say it. She’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Life has no single answer and she is just trying to figure everything out. She was always a friend, but possibly could have been more. If both parties had just said what they wanted, then maybe this romance could work. The great thing about this game (much like Depression Quest) is that the correct response will come up, only your character will erase it.

Sometimes it’s easy to type things in a furry of rage and adrenaline, but then you begin to second guess yourself. I remember moments like that, even if I tended to just speak my mind without caring. Still, Emily Is Away definitely captures all those awkward transitional phases of life.

You can replay chapters, but all of the choices in place do not allow you to game the system. The outcome is fixed, even if your personality can be manipulated. It doesn’t allow you to have the happy ending you want, which is a bit of a bummer, but also partially realistic.

Instant messengers were a very impersonal way to chat with friends. You had anonymity and never needed to look someone in the eye. You didn’t even need them to be present; you could type up a literal dissertation and plant it at their virtual doorstep. It had all the convenience of the modern era with just enough of a margin of error to make mistakes.

It just made things weird. I remember my last year of high school and constantly talking to the one girl I fell for. She would blurt out her exploits and I’d be filled with rage, but I internalized everything. Since she couldn’t see my face, she never knew there was an issue.

I also got into some sociopathic practices and made dummy accounts to try and catch her in lies. It was a really troubling part of my life that I’ve done everything to forget. While I will never be cleansed of the nightmare, at least I acknowledge how wrong it was and never practice it.

Emily Is Away doesn’t get that dark with it’s narrative, but it does make one wonder about how things could be different. If you said something else or badgered Emily a little more, maybe your future could come true.

While it’s mostly just a different way to experience a story, Emily Is Away does end up being a really cool little game. Essentially a choose your own adventure style game, Emily Is Away can shed some real insight on how you live and love. It also allows you to not hurt anyone in the process.

Survivor’s Guilt

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an exceptional game with a shockingly awful story. Fans of the series are disappointed that many questions are not answered (or even brought up) and that the conclusion doesn’t really mesh with the Metal Gear canon. It seems that Kojima’s shift to open-world has put the plot on the backburner in favor of making an expansive and rewarding gameplay system.

That being said, there are a lot of individual moments that I truly enjoyed in the Phantom Pain. I like what the ending stands for and I’m really fond of the exploration of child soldiers in the modern world, but the side plot that focuses on Paz is probably the best of the bunch.

While Snake feeling remorse over the loss of Paz doesn’t make much sense for his character, it’s only after beating the game do you begin to understand the majesty of this side story. Since Venom Snake is actually the medic from Ground Zeroes, his guilt over being unable to save Paz makes sense.

Venom Snake may barely remember he is the medic, but his true identity can never be erased. He was there, staring at Paz as she blew up in his face. He even shielded Big Boss from the explosion and nearly died in the process.

You can’t even tell he had a different face!

Having lost his arm and identity, Venom Snake is left confused and alone. He doesn’t say much, constantly has people trying to kill him and bonds with a quiet woman who then leaves him. Worrying about Paz seems too minuscule in his life, but it’s very touching.

Throughout the course of the game, you can undertake side-ops missions that have you rounding up some of your soldiers from the MSF days. These guys were with you when Big Boss was taking on all the AI pods and saving the world from Paz and ZEKE.

The medic may not truly know that Paz was a traitor, but his mission with Big Boss to Camp Omega had one clear goal; bring Paz and Chico home. Even if Kaz and Boss’ intention were to extract information from them, they weren’t supposed to die in that plane.

The final revelation of Ground Zeroes turns out to be that Paz had a bomb implanted in her. Venom makes the call to extract it fast and proceeds to cut her open without anesthetic. It’s a tortuous scene that doesn’t make sense at first, but comes full circle with this side plot in the Phantom Pain.

The medic is guilty that, not only did he inflict more pain on Paz, but that he lived through the terrible ordeal. She was blown to pieces, but he is still alive and well. He cannot deal with the fact that he lost a patient that was so crucial to Big Boss’ plan.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though.

As such, when you gather up your soldiers from MSF, you are given memento photographs that showcase some of the best moments of Paz’s time with MSF. Things like her sun bathing, throwing a birthday party and singing with Kaz and Professor Galvez; it’s all really touching and helps to detail the internal struggle she suffered by being forced into hijacking ZEKE.

When you reach chapter 2 of the Phantom Pain, Ocelot informs you that a very important patient is waiting on the medical platform. When you go to inspect, you are dumbstruck to find Paz sitting on the bed. You saw her die with your own eyes; how is she still there?

At first, even the player is at a loss for answers. There is no conceivable way she lived through that incident. Unlike her falling into the water at the end of Peace Walker, Paz was torn asunder by a bomb. There is really no other definitive way someone could die.

As you bring the photographs back to Paz, it starts to become clear; this is an illusion in Venom’s mind that is materializing from his guilt. He has a classic case of survivor’s syndrome; he feels that he should have died in that explosion those 9 years ago.

The ending also has him relive the moments that ripped Paz out of this world. He sees her extract the bomb from her stomach and throw it on the bed. He tries his best to run for her and shield her from the blast. Nothing he can do changes the outcome; Paz is gone and Venom’s past life is over.

When he awakes from his delusion, Venom looks to the sky and realizes that life goes on. While he might have been able to do more, what happened is over. Paz understands that he tried his best, just as she did with Skull Face and Cipher.

More so, the medic comes to terms with the fact that he is now Big Boss. Though he never asked for the responsibility or the notoriety, the medic is Venom Snake. He is the Big Boss that the world will get to see. He will exist to increase the legacy of the hero he pledged allegiance too all those years ago.

With that revelation comes the image of a floating morpho butterfly (Morpho being the name of the pilot from Ground Zeroes). As Venom looks at it, he sees that Peace is written on the exterior of Mother Base. That was truly what Paz wanted and it is precisely what Venom will fight to give the world.

In a game whose story moments are so scattered and disconnected, this side plot does more to elicit emotion and understanding then anything else the game throws at the player. Not only that, but in a title dedicated to absolute player freedom, this quest has no alternate outcome; you have to face the fact that a character you may have bonded with is gone.

Much like life, shit happens. What defines a human is how they deal with the aftermath of a tragedy. What they give to life in their worst hour is how they will be remembered. Venom isn’t going to let anymore of his men die, not without a fight.

MGS V: Our Story

There are going to be MASSIVE spoilers in this blog. If you have not finished Metal Gear Solid V or are only part way through it, come back when you beat it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Lots of discussion has been going on since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. People seem to be pretty upset with the ending. An entire Kotaku article was written about how disappointing the whole affair was. (Then again, it is Kotaku)

I think people have the entire plot wrong. It may not be well written (in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s outright bad), but it has a bigger symbolic meaning then we realize. For the first time in any games plotline, you (the player) are the most important figure in it.

The big twist at the end of MGS V is that you were never actually playing as Big Boss. At the end of Ground Zeroes and leading up to the opening of Phantom Pain, Zero and Ocelot concoct a plan to fool the world and keep Big Boss’ enemies off him.

This leads to you getting a face lift and becoming “Big Boss”. In actuality, you are Punished “Venom” Snake, who was once a field medic and the best soldier of MSF. He had such a dedication to Big Boss’ philosophy that, when in the coma, his mind was easy to trick in believing he was Big Boss.

Thus kicks off a game where, without the twist, nothing big really happens. You get revenge on the man who destroyed Mother Base and the plotline just kind of peters out of existence. The credits roll, you lose a buddy and that’s really it.

It’s when you consider the twist that things start to get interesting. I won’t defend it’s place in the Metal Gear canon (as I think it makes no damn sense), but as a standalone game, Phantom Pain’s plot is pretty emotional.

For starters, it’s basically a gigantic thank you to every Kojima fan. Without us, he would never be the superstar developer he is today. By making us Big Boss, he is saying that no Metal Gear would be possible without our love of the series.

Or without *sob* David Hayter!

The shift in gameplay to an open-world also echoes this. Since we are now the most pivotal character in the plot, our choices are what Venom Snake goes with. There are multiple ways to accomplish any task, so the story is dependent on the player.

There are obviously some bits from Ground Zeroes thrown in to make some kind of connecting thread, but you could skip that game and not miss much. The ending might make less sense, but you wouldn’t initially feel shocked at how you were deceived.

In the aforementioned Kotaku article, the writer goes on about how Mission 43 becomes mess gripping once you learn you aren’t Big Boss. I actually think the opposite effect occurs; once you learn you’re not actually Big Boss, you begin to realize that you are the one making all the shots.

You walked into the quarantine zone on Mother Base and shot the soldiers that you extracted. Everything was done by you and has to be undone by you. If your character were Big Boss, it would be an emotional moment for him. Since it’s actually you, the impact becomes two-fold.

I probably would have cried more than strike a dramatic pose.

The Phantom Pain works wonders when it comes to player involvement. I do wish the narrative were stronger (or that Konami didn’t cut out the damn real ending), but I can’t think of how else to really get a player invested in an open-world style game.

A lot of sandbox adventures suffer from unfocused plotlines. Grand Theft Auto IV and V have really bad stories. Each one starts with an intriguing premise before falling into rote execution and repetition. In both of those games, the actions done are by your characters, first, and then you.

Assassin’s Creed III is another perfect example. The whole game is built around the growth and struggles of Connor, not you. Not only do I not care to see his story unfold, but the game takes so damn long to even do so that the gameplay simply acts as a distraction more then anything.

With the Phantom Pain, every bit of gameplay is story. Regardless of what you’re doing, those moments are a part of Venom Snake’s history. You decided to make it happen and it will be your own personal conclusion to Metal Gear’s legacy.

The previous entries in the Metal Gear series were all about how much of a bad ass Solid Snake was. Even with Metal Gear Solid 3, it was less you and more Naked Snake doing things. He was the one who got the glory and who had to put that final bullet into The Boss.

I just can’t help but think people missed that with the Phantom Pain. We were so used to games giving us a clear narrative and actual purpose that we were left disappointed. That’s not to say that every story beat is good (because that isn’t even close to true), but the whole of the Phantom Pain is bigger then it’s individual pieces.

Kojima has stated that the amount of player freedom in Grand Theft Auto V had made him depressed. He was positive that the Phantom Pain couldn’t reach the same heights as Rockstars latest blockbuster.

In all honesty, I feel that MGS V has the most freedom of any game I’ve played this year. It’s also more open ended then a lot of sandbox games claim to be. You’re given tools, a general location and then told to get at it. If anything, it echoes more of Far Cry 2 then it does Grand Theft Auto.

I truly think that Kojima was inspired by what FromSoftware have done with the Souls games. While those are a bit more linear then the Phantom Pain, they don’t beat the player over the head with exposition or cutscenes. You enter a world and rarely (if ever) lose control.

But I can’t control this! WHY?! WHHHOOOOOO?!

The cassette tapes were a decent idea with MGS V, just the execution of them didn’t truly work out. We may never know how much Konami’s decision to drop Kojima may have effected the game, but I do get the feeling that the story could have been grander if Konami just believed in their output.

Still, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is deeper then we all think. It probably won’t go down in history as a classic or even the best of the series, but it certainly deserves to be called a masterpiece. If nothing else, I believe we have a best new character of 2015; us.