Though we may never know how it came to be, Metal Gear Solid V’s Ending stinks.
I know I’m late to the party, but I finally finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain this past week. As a big fan of the Metal Gear series as a whole, I was going into the ending with less than stellar impressions of the game’s story as a whole. Only reinforcing this opinion was the game’s ending, which could have been made far better even without the cut content.
Full spoilers ahead
It’s a well-known fact that Metal Gear Solid V barely ends; a clone of Big Boss escapes confinement, a floating boy is just kind of there, and a nuclear-armed mech gets hijacked. How do those story points wrap up? Unless you have a DVD with cut content from the Collector’s Edition, you don’t really know. What we are left with is a twist. Not only a twist, really, but THE twist, the one that left some fans feeling cheated and others enlightened, the revelation that Venom Snake is a body double for Big Boss’ protection. The whole affair just left me feeling unfulfilled.
The twist itself could have been cool, but was neutered by transgressions on the part of the rest of the game. There was set-up, but I don’t feel that the story was ever focal enough in The Phantom Pain to make this count. Venom Snake’s physical features aside, there was very little concrete in the Phantom Pain that pointed to body doubles. Sure, there was the whole thing with Eli’s DNA test not matching DNA taken from Venom Snake, but that was tucked away in a single three-minute audio log startlingly close to the end of the game. The Phantom Pain’s lens was pointed squarely at gameplay this time around, which should be fine, but I never got enough of the game’s story to really care for any substantial amount of time. This lack of investment made for a climax, if you can even call it that, with no real payoff. It was like playing the last four bars of a symphony without the first fifty minutes; it was loud, but there weren’t any motifs to build off of or bring to a head.
This lack of set-up was only a subsection of MGSV’s final moments’ problems, though; throughout the entirety of the last batch of cutscenes, I felt absolutely nothing. The most memorable moments in Metal Gear Solid are all defined by their emotional impact, and the ending of MGSV has none. It was perfectly clear what sort of ramifications this revelation had for the lore of the series, but what was left murky was the consequences it would have for the characters. We were told that Venom Snake accepts his role as a second Big Boss, but it was done in the most impersonal way possible; the scrolling-text timeline can be used for interesting tie-ins and easter eggs (the line of text at the end of Peace Walker regarding Miller’s death), but using it to tell us of what becomes of Venom to the soundtrack of a Big Boss-read audio tape just robs the ending moments of any gravity that they might have had. We need to see Venom taking his new role on in some capacity, not have it relegated to what are essentially the end credits after a symbolic cutscene of him getting the news.
We wouldn’t even need any of the now-legendary Phantom Pain cut content for this to have happened, either. Obviously, there would never be an ideal solution when a major chapter is cut from the game, but there is enough already there that the problem identified above could have been remedied, at least somewhat. Two of my three favorite missions in The Phantom Pain were the two story missions directly preceding “Truth: The Man Who Sold the World”. “A Quiet Exit” and “Shining Lights, Even in Death” offered two interesting, character-driven story beats in a game that was unfortunately devoid of them, at least by the standards of its series. I think the second chapter would have worked so much better if the filler, non-required Extreme story missions in between actual new content was cut completely (we don’t need a fifty hour game for the sake of it, guys), and the two story missions identified above were moved until after Venom Snake’s true identity is revealed.
Even a piece of Venom Snake living in full knowledge of his identity would have turned the twist from an interesting moment with some symbolic and canonical implication for the ultra-fans to something that has actual emotional impact for a player who either doesn’t care as much about the Metal Gear Solid chronology or a first-time player drawn in by The Phantom Pain’s silky-smooth gameplay. I think that “Shining Lights, Even in Death” would have made for a particularly powerful end cap on the experience. There was one moment that could have held particularly savory subtexts. In case it’s been a while since you finished the game, “Shining Lights, Even in Death” has Snake enter Mother Base’s quarantine to investigate a new strain of the ever-persistent vocal cord parasite that has infected a great number of his staff. Players walk around the bleak quarantine tent for the first half of the mission until they find a set of goggles that lets one sort the infected from the clean. Because of the incredibly volatile threat the virus poses, players are now forced to retread their fresh footsteps and gun down every single infected Mother Base soldier. Towards the end of the mission, players enter a room filled with a half-dozen of your men and the soft sounds of the Peace Walker main theme. One says “We live and die by your orders, Boss!” as the soldiers, all infected, salute and wait their turn. This was the most emotionally-charged scene of the entire game for me, and shooting these soldiers, whose trust lies fully in their Boss, would have worked so potently as a way to show Venom Snake becoming Big Boss.
Putting feelings for the rest of the game aside, I think that The Phantom Pain’s ending was a big swing and a miss. I would love to see that cut content someday, but it’s so hard to judge what isn’t there. Sadly, what is there barely amounts to anything at all.