Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Phantom Pain

Aside from giving out its share of awards to numerous video games, one feature of the annual Spike Video Game Awards is airing trailers for any big upcoming releases to get viewers hyped. At the 2012 Spike VGAs, however, one rather unexpected trailer aired for a new IP called The Phantom Pain, from an entirely new, and Swedish, developer called Moby Dick Studio, headed by Joakim Mogren. Just watching the trailer, with its premise of a survival horror set in a hospital, was enough to get me hooked on wanting to play the game, to the point where I picked up my copy on launch day. Fortunately, the game itself seems to have lived up to the hype.

The game begins with a patient (you) waking up in a hospital as another fellow patient helps you up. The patient, without explanation, emphasizes that you need to get out of the hospital. Through flashback, the player character has woken up before from a coma, at which point a doctor reveals that your character’s left arm has been amputated. This, combined with how long you’ve been out, makes your character a little weak, but the fellow patient tries to help you out by leading you through the hospital. However, escape become more complicated when the military shows up, searching for you for some reason, further compounded by your character having frequent hallucinations. Because of the player character’s coma, he has some mild amnesia, causing him to periodically flash back to past events as he tries to piece together what exactly led up to current events.

One of the patients, Ishmael, who tries to help you escape.

The story of The Phantom Pain is expertly written, with the player character’s backstory having some particularly emotional events which make him more sympathetic to the player over time. As the game progresses, more patients try to help you out; some end up as casualties, but each time it’s made very emotional. The game also takes full advantage of its setting to create an unsettling atmosphere, and at times you are left to question who to trust. There are also some elements of Die Hard thrown in to shake things up a little, such as it taking place entirely in a hospital, but what’s used is used to great effect to make the story more interesting. In the end though, the climax of the game makes playing through very worthwhile.

The gameplay is particularly interesting, in that the player character is helpless to do much of anything, at least initially, leaving you to mainly have to hide away from danger most of the time as fellow patients try to assist you. The player character does eventually regain more of his strength over time, though he still can’t do much due to having an amputated left arm and a bandaged right eye. Due to the way the game is made, every moment in which your character feels helpless can really be felt, as he is prone to knocking down or slipping off of things he tries to use for support, causing whoever’s with you to try and help you through it. As you recover your strength, more options open up for you when it comes to sneaking around military soldiers, such as walking while crouching or hiding out in an air duct, making stealth portions more akin to Metal Gear or the aforementioned Die Hard, but it still works within the general survival horror atmosphere. Even if you manage to make it through a section of the hospital though, there are places where you have to run from one of your character’s many hallucinations, some of which can be enough to veer you towards a different path altogether, compounding your mission. Military soldiers present in the hospital also have amazing AI, as they can detect any noise you might make and respond accordingly, so it really keeps you on your toes, so to speak.

The player character initially struggles to move.

The graphics for the game are really impressive, with great detail put into environments and character models to create a sense of realism. Since the game takes place at night, the lighting helps enhance the general atmosphere and tone of the game, which helps make some hallucinations the main character faces, including a flaming Pegasus and whale, a bit more frightening. The realistic look of the game also makes some sections of the hospital particularly unnerving but the game, thankfully, never really gets too gruesome.

The voice acting is really great in The Phantom Pain, and you can really feel the emotion the voice actors put into their roles. The player character doesn’t really get to say much, but even then you can really feel what he’s going through. The soldiers you encounter also have a surprisingly wide range of dialogue, similar to the dialogue pools of the mooks you encounter in the Batman: Arkham series, which prevents the experience form getting monotonous. The background music, or lack thereof, also enhances the atmosphere of the game greatly, though a rather haunting score can creep in at just the right moments to really get your heart racing.

One of the more intense moments of the game.

The Phantom Pain is a really amazing survival horror game. The game knows how to take full advantage of its setting and manages to build an interesting character by slowly revealing his history over an extended period of time. Fans of survival horror and/or stealth games are more likely to enjoy this game, but the premise of the game might interest someone who normally doesn’t play the survival horror genre, as it did for me. Moby Dick Studio delivered an amazing new IP and I can’t wait to see what the studio does next.

Or not, since the (very convincing) reveal of The Phantom Pain and everything surrounding it was revealed to have been, in actuality, a trailer for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain from Kojima Productions. Happy April Fool’s Day!

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