“I won’t scatter your sorrow to the heartless sea. I will always be with you. Plant your roots in me. I won’t see you end as ashes. You’re all diamonds.”
The first game I played for an extended period of time in 2017 was not released in 2017. I’m not sure why it took me so long to play through Metal Gear Solid V, but I could say the same thing about Metal Gear Solid 4, which I didn’t finish forever, so hey. Metal Gear Solid V is entirely different from its predecessors, much more of an open world sandbox that takes full advantage of the wild ideas hiding within the recesses of Hideo Kojima’s head. The story of The Phantom Pain is probably the weakest of the series, but the gameplay is absolutely the strongest, so you give a little and end up taking a lot in this case.
Mission 43 is deep within the utterly strange and divisive (and almost certainly unfinished) second act of The Phantom Pain, and it finds you forced to return to Mother Base to fight a new outbreak of the vocal parasites that were a major part of the game’s overall story arc in act one. You’re tasked with entering a quarantine zone and finding the source of the outbreak, only to discover that the infected can’t be cured and must be eliminated in order to ensure the new virus can’t spread to the rest of the Diamond Dogs. The design of the sequence is brutally ingenious, using the real names of soldiers you’ve recruited throughout the game to make sure there is some connection to the people you’re forced to kill. Sure, you spend so much time in the game fultoning random dudes that you can’t really claim to have a relationship with any of these guys, but recognizing their names is enough to generate empathy as you’re forced to exterminate members of your team. And every time you pull the trigger, the game makes it clear that you’re killing your own men, greeting you with a recorded “Staff member has died.” By the time you get to the end, your soldiers are saluting you and welcoming death, knowing they would rather sacrifice themselves than infect their fellow men. It’s quite the visual.
“Shining Lights, Even in Death” is Metal Gear Solid V at its most cinematic, a supremely well-designed scenario with a hell of an ending. As Punished Snake overlooks the sea, unable to callously throw away the ashes of the comrades he was forced to gun down. He takes their ashes in his hand and spreads them across his face, staining it white, and orders the remains to be pressed into diamonds so those who sacrificed themselves will never be forgotten. While The Phantom Pain rarely reaches the cinematic storytelling heights of the predecessors in its series, this mission reminds us just how good of a storyteller Hideo Kojima can be when he puts his mind to it.