After what felt like an eternity, the final chapter in the beloved Metal Gear Solid series has finally arrived. This game hopes to “close the loop”, filling in the final gap between the prequels, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and the first Metal Gear game. In this iteration of Metal Gear Solid, Punished “Venom” Snake, wakes up after a 9 year coma caused by a helicopter explosion during a Trojan horse-style attack on Mother Base and takes on an open-world, building up his team of shady missiona- sorry, mercenaries known as “Diamond Dogs” and his new Mother Base to combat and take revenge against Cipher, the secret group supposedly responsible for the destruction of Mother Base.
Metal Gear Solid is an interesting series to say the least. To say that it’s gone off the rails in the best way possible would be an understatement. Charismatic villains with complex plans, a ridiculous amount of twist and turns that make the player constantly tell themselves “I’m not entirely sure what’s happening, but I like it,” enough exposition and backstory to fill several encyclopaedias, exploration of deadly-serious real world themes contrasted with humour that could only be described as just plain silly, a ridiculous amount of tiny technical details, and memorable characters are all staples of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is no exception.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain changes up the formula by bringing the series to the open world, letting you go about how you complete your missions with a level of strategic freedom not quite yet accomplished in the other games in the series. It takes the Peace Walker format of various missions which you can select different equipment for with a Far Cry-esque open world with plenty to do in it while not doing actual missions. Side Ops, instead of simply being extra missions, are now their own mini-mission that happen around the map. All in all, I really have to say that it just works. Enemy guard posts are there to either sneak past or capture. Animals roam the wild, ready for you to capture and bring back to your zoo. Blueprints, resources, weapons and even enemy soldiers are just waiting for you to come around and steal them. Enemies also get tougher the more you progress, even when replaying a previous mission, so it never feels like you are just raising hell simply because you’ve progressed enough in the game to do so. Raising hell just becomes an organic thing that happens due to player skill and mindset of how to deal with various obstacles.
Eventually you start unlocking special repeat missions with different kinds of difficulty modifiers. Three to be precise: Extreme, which simply ramps up the difficulty; Total stealth, which gives you game over if you are spotted; and Subsistance, which deploys you into the mission without any weapons or equipment so you have to make use of what you can find around the area. Its a really enjoyable mechanic, with extra difficulty with extreme making things interesting on its own, Total Stealth making things tense because, if you fuck up the mission’s over, and Subsistance, which makes you have to get creative with how you complete your objectives.
Would I say it’s a perfect game? No. There are definitely glaring flaws in it. I’ll get more into those later, after a bit more gushing over how much I enjoyed it. I was a bit worried with Kiefer Sutherland replacing David Hayter as the voice of Big Boss. Especially with the promotional material coming off as him rushing to do his lines as quickly as possible, but, while he doesn’t seem as talkative as in the previous games, Jack Bauer’s voice coming out of Big Boss’s mouth just feels right and Keifer does a great job of it.
Of course the story is about what you’d expect from a Metal Gear Solid game in terms of sheer ridiculousness. Without wishing to spoil anything, I’ll just say that I really enjoyed watching everything unfold the way it did and while the characters seem to be less charismatic, it fit with the theme and the backstory enough to not be a huge downside. Again, without wishing to spoil, seeing the events of one character play out was really unexpected and well executed in a way that my perception of them totally and gradually changed as the game progressed.
Also I don’t know what kind of fairy dust the Fox Engine runs on, but from what I’ve heard it runs great across pretty much all computers, including lower end ones. Framerate drops rarely happen, which is unexpected of such a nice looking game. Of course, being from the Metal Gear Solid series, it of course has to have a certain level of mandatory little technical detail here and there that really makes the game something really absorbing to just dig into. Unconscious enemies placed face-down in water will drown. You can hide in a toilet and play a cassette tape of a soldier having “stomach problems” to make enemies not want to check it out. Stuff like that.
Alright, enough gushing. Time to get down to business with what exactly is wrong with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. To start things off, I’ll pose a question: Why the hell do mountains always fucking suck in sandbox games? Why does it always have to be completely ambiguous whether or not you can actually walk or climb up a particular part of the mountain instead of just falling backwards repeatedly? The oddly, but suitably named “Crack Climbing” mechanic doesn’t help either because they never seem to be where you need them or are invisible to the naked eye.
There’s also way too much “helicopter time.” Going in or out of a mission area or Mother Base takes a good amount of time. Say you want to go to Mother Base then go on a mission. First you pick a landing zone, watch Big Boss sitting in the chopper for a few seconds, look at your buddy or whatever for another few seconds, wait for the helicopter to get to the landing zone, get off do your stuff in Mother Base, call the chopper, wait for it to arrive, get on, wait for it to depart, pick your mission, gear up, then AGAIN for the helicopter to land. This isn’t even including load times. It’s really just not an enjoyable experience using the helicopter, which you have to if you want to visit Mother Base every now and again (which you need to do.)
Now that I’ve gotten two relatively minor gripes out of the way, I’ll move onto the larger ones. Two massive ones to be precise. Firstly, the online component. It’s very badly designed from both a technical standpoint and just a gameplay standpoint. Simply being online makes menu loadings take forever. Forward Operating Bases, MGSV’s PvP mechanic (not to be confused with Metal Gear Online) that allows you to build separate bases and get more resources and staff at the cost of risking invasions from other players who can steal your staff and resources is just a bad mechanic. Games should never EVER punish you for not playing, which it does because you can get invaded while not playing and have your stuff stolen. They also aren’t an optional mechanic (you can choose to play offline when the game loads up, and change status any time you’re on the helicopter – fact Ed.), as the game forces you to build an FOB that exists online and can be stolen from at any time.
This all would be fine if FOB invasions were an enjoyable experience for either the invader or defender, but having been on both sides of that, I can say it’s not. It’s always either a steamroll one way or another. As an invader, you get one chance to accomplish your objective, if you die, that’s it, you’re done. Well-defended bases are a hassle to infiltrate, and if the host joins, not only are you sent back to start, but the odds are stacked heavily in the defender’s favour. It’s not uncommon for a defender to instantly die to an explosion or a shotgun blast to the chest from a player character who spawns even if you fulton or kill them. On the flip side, it also happens occasionally where you’ll jump to your FOB to rid yourself of a pest, only to find all of your staff unconscious and the defender ready to knock you out and fulton you, then run to the objective. Even in situations where you quickly rid yourself of an invader, you’ll find they’ve already extracted some of your resources and staff. It’s not a fun experience for either players and apparently there are also hackers floating around. Big surprise.
The second major gripe I have with the game is it just kinda ends. I mean the “final” mission is pretty gut wrenching and is an alright stopping point, if not anticlimactic. The hidden two story missions kinda tie things together a bit more but not really. This would be a much less big of a deal if there wasn’t bullshit afoot. Again, avoiding spoiling anything, there’s a pretty MASSIVE plotline that happens and goes completely unresolved. If you look online, you will find a video included on the PS4’s special edition Blu-ray detailing a final mission. To sum it up, it is for all intents and purposes, a true final mission that brings closure to the plotline and ends the game with an actual climax. Somehow that got cut. The final mission got fucking cut. I don’t know who made this decision, but I don’t know how they would think that’s an alright thing to do.
Two glaring flaws aside, I still give a hearty recommendation to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The amount of time I’ve sunk into this game is ridiculous because it’s just so absorbing and a delight to experience. While I won’t say that it did a whole lot to close the gap between the prequels and original Metal Gear games, it’s still enough of an enjoyable ride to go through, whether actually doing the story missions, listening to cassettes with hours worth of exposition and fluff, or just dicking around in the open world sandbox, giving animals and guards alike a free balloon ride to your little slice of Outer Heaven, it’s easy to see why Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a very strong contender for my Game of the Year.
Do It Any Way You Like: A huge amount of strategic freedom, allowing you to accomplish your objective in a ridiculous amount of different ways.
Who’s Footprints Are These?: Lots of fun technical details.
Wasteland Not Being Wasted: Two expansive and varied sandboxes, just begging to be explored and pilfered.
Tactical Espionage Operate: Part Stealth, Part Base Management.
A Hideo Kojima Game: Amusing mess of an Insane story.
FOBs Are FUBAR: Even when the online component is working properly, it’s just not enjoyable.
Ends Not With a Bang, but with a Whimper: Ending is fairly unsatisfying, possibly due to the intended ending being cut.
What an adventure. I’ve been interested in the Metal Gear series for a long time, but had never played one. A little of the first and a little of Snake Eater. This being truly my first game, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the the thought that went into this game, and reading up on the other games, the series as a whole. Phantom Pain follows Big Boss 9 years after the events of Ground Zeroes, having spent the duration in a hospital bed, comatose. I played with a keyboard and mouse primarily and loved it. I had a small quip with Ground Zeroes’aiming that felt that it wasn’t precise enough, but Phantom Pain has fixed that. I have noticed otherwise that there’s not quite enough control over key bindings. While setting my own keys, I noticed that while something like the zoom or shoulder change functions would activate if bound to numbers when you used the iDroid.
Another thing I found unfortunate is a small concession to many people, but something I would have used. The iOS/Android app that accompanied the game as a secondary screen does not work for PC. It effectively acts as a dedicated iDroid screen and allows you to do pretty much everything the iDroid does including acting as a minimap. Other than that I’d say this game is otherwise flawless.
The way the game looks and performs is stellar, even when running maxed out settings on three monitors I was still able to hold 60+ fps, where most games don’t. On a small note, getting it to work for multi monitor setups requires hacking the .exe and cheat engine, check out wsgf.com if you want to learn more about multi monitor stuff. Back to the game, I’ve seriously been having an amazing time with this game, and even though I’ve never played MGS much it reminds me of the nostalgia I have of playing games on PS2 when game generally had game feel down pat. This may very well be one of few examples where I’m almost glad the source material was a console. This is porting done right.
As a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, including the original Metal Gear games, the prospect of a game that would fill the gap between Peace Walker and Metal Gear and explain Big Boss’ fall to being a villain was a huge draw. As the other reviewers have already mentioned, the story isn’t the best and ends with a bit of a wet fart far too early. The “Truth tapes” that unlock late in the game however fill in the fluff that Metal Gear fans really wanted to hear and manage to make the game’s story almost satisfying. That said, huge chunks of the story are just plain stupid, not “Kojima-complicated-stupid” but just dumb.
What really saves the game is the gameplay, overriding all the negativity of the story. Broadly the gameplay is simple with only a handful of commands available but little details make it – tranquillizer rounds have differing effectiveness depending on where and how many times you hit an enemy, they’ll drown if left face down in water, the aforementioned toilet poop tape trick and any one of a hundred other small details make for a truly satisfying stealth experience. Special enemies like the Skulls Unit and enemy strike teams or gunships can force you to adapt rapidly or die, sometimes repeatedly, but special items (which I won’t spoil here) can level the playing field on subsequent encounters. Your companions too can change the way you play and they often act intelligently all on their own, for example, by DD (the dog) putting himself between you and enemies when they think they’ve spotted you so that they mistake what they saw for him and back off.
Once you’re done with the story, you’re nowhere done with the game; side ops, tapes, research, expanding Mother Base, getting staff, combat deployments, secrets, customization and just plain messing around in the game’s two huge environments is so enjoyable that it’s easy to lose dozens of hours just stealing enemy stuff or seeing how you can mess with them in new and inventive ways. As a huge Metal Gear fanboy I want to hate it for the dumb story and true ending (which is equal parts sad and stupid, again not going to spoil it here) but I just can’t. The gameplay is too good and the mission design is spot on, sometimes you don’t even know you’re making a choice that shapes Big Boss and Diamond Dogs and that’s a seriously hard thing to do in a videogame. If there’s one game in the whole series that everyone should play, with or without prior knowledge of Metal Gear lore, it’s this one.