Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Windows
Reviewed On: Xbox One
I’ve probably started and re-started this review half a dozen times. Not knowing where to even begin describing a game like Metal Gear Solid, but also not wanting to disappoint. Intimidated, I suppose, would be the best way to describe my feelings towards this review. Intimidated. I’ll briefly touch on the story, but I’ll be spending the bulk of the review discussing what mechanics worked and what didn’t.
I won’t be discussing Kojima’s falling out with Konami, as I’ve written about it enough already, and I don’t want it to tarnish the review.
“Started from the bottom, and now we’re here”
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a sequel to 2014’s Ground Zeroes. Ground Zeroes as a game was very short, and acted very much as a tech demo, or introduction to the full-fledged release. Really it was just released to whet our appetite, and to stop our complaints about the widening gap of time between MGS 4 and 5.
At the end of Ground Zeroes, Punished “Venom” Snake’s base of operations is attacked and destroyed after an ex-filtration mission, and the captive we extracted during said mission was a bomb in disguise. These simultaneous events have left Snake broken, and in a coma for nine years. The opening of MGS V: The Phantom Pain has us waking up from our coma, coming to terms with the aftermath of the events from nine years ago, and escaping the hospital during an assassination attempt on our life.
“WE HAVE NO TOMORROW, BUT THERES STILL HOPE FOR THE FUTURE”
We establish a new base of operations and begin our revenge story, going after those that came close to killing us in the prequel.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, like its predecessors, is a game that works really well on so many levels. Hideo Kojima in the realm of attention to detail, has no equal. Doing the game no justice at all, it would best be described as an open world action stealth game, and Kojima’s most ambitious project to-date, but the game is so much more, so deeply detailed, so mechanically sound, so engaging.
As the MGS series creator, director, writer, and designer, Hideo Kojima tried something very different with the latest outing. Prior MGS games were solid in gameplay, but relied heavily on story and lengthy cut-scenes to tell the tale. With MGS V, these cut-scenes are pretty much completely eliminated, with the player left to tell their own tale through the open world missions and exploration. Granted, there is still a ton of voice-over narration, and audio tapes to be listened to.
The open world is broken up into two locations, Afghanistan and the Angola – Zaire border region of Central Africa. Afghanistan being very dry with desert terrain, and sand storms, and Africa more lush, with jungles and rain storms. Each area has significant, key enemy bases and small towns related to the story missions, connected by dirt or muddy paths, and the rest of the map is peppered with small enemy outposts. The third area is our operating base, which is an off-shore oil rig. This is our base of operations where there are multiple platforms attached, each catering to a different type of support group. There is the Command Platform, Combat Unit, R&D, Resource Development, Support, Intel, and Medical. Upgrading and expanding these throughout the game gives us access to more advanced tech, mission intel and assistance, and weapons. The fourth and final area is our helicopter, which acts as our transport between the base, and either Afghanistan or Africa. The helicopter also acts as a mobile operating base, where we can upgrade our equipment or initiate the next mission.
While in the field, we can extract enemy soldiers or equipment to help bolster our off-shore base. This is through a device called a Fulton, which is basically like a parachute that picks up the soldier and shoots them up into the sky to be picked up by our helicopter. The enemy soldiers get placed into the teams that suit their skill set and extracted vehicles and weapons can be used in later missions.
MGS V is not a true open world game, and its world not entirely seamless like a Grand Theft Auto or Far Cry. The game is broken up into missions and side missions. Missions need to be selected from our iDroid, and in a means to progress the story, we need to stop back at the off-shore base to check in. When selecting the mission, we can pick the drop-off point, and select our gear and buddy for the trip. At any point during the mission we can select weapon or vehicle drops, or exchange buddies. Before the mission can be completed, an extraction is necessary, either by means of helicopter or exiting the conflict area. Just call the helicopter from our handy iDroid, and meet up at the nearest drop point, and mission complete. We then get the mission’s spoils, and notification of the next mission.
Between the main missions, there are side missions, which can be initiated at any time, in any order. Completing some of these is a requirement before advancing the story, but the rest are available to help grow the base’s resources or involve an especially skilled soldier that needs extraction to help with the bases future upgrades. These missions are less strict and can be started from the ground through the iDroid, and are completed by just finishing the objective, no extraction required.
The downside to MGS V’s mission structure design is it ruins the seamlessness and immersion of the story. For example, some of the later story missions end with a cliff hanger and “to be continued”. And then we find ourselves back in the helicopter, ready to pick the next mission and load out. We can go back to our base, or explore the side missions. But then re-initiating the story where it left off, everything is hectic once again, as if there was no interruption.
The story missions are a little boring or repetitive at times. There are a few spread out across the two part campaign that are one hundred percent story dedicated, either boss fights or missions that truly drive the story. The rest are either infiltration or extraction based, or intel gathering. These missions provide little tidbits of story and background information, but are more purposed towards learning the world and mastering the game mechanics, both action and stealth.
As stated, the campaign is split into two parts, part one being the bulk of the story, and part two feeling like it was tacked on, meant as an expansion. But part two is where the story concludes for each of the secondary characters, and has the final mission, which is a replay of the game’s first mission. Part two is primarily composed of replay missions from part one, just augmented to play a specific way: mandatory stealth, no load out, extreme difficult, etc. These are not a requirement to complete the story, and are just for those who want to test their skills in a tougher field.
Part two just felt messier, incomplete. The story is solid but the presentation feels raw. Possibly at this point Kojima was already on his way out and was feeling the pressure from Konami to wrap it up and ship the product. There’s even an incomplete chapter cutscene on YouTube, a cut ending.
The game’s mechanics are truly its strongest feature, and this has been the case throughout the entire series. I can’t stress this enough. In MGS V’s case, it’s especially notable due to the open world. The player is left to their devices when infiltrating an outpost. Snake is more nimble than ever with his smooth transitions from stealth to action poses; gone are the days when we were tied to a rigid camera.
Our mission buddies include D-Horse, D-Dog, or D-Walker. Or we can have Quiet, a story character, available later on in the campaign. D-Horse is primarily used for navigating the vast terrain, D-Walker is a small mech that we can ride, and is helpful with navigating and is useful when engaging an outpost gets hairy, D-Dog and Quiet are good for stealth engagements and highlighting enemies and objectives, and at any time we can swap out one for another.
However the player wants to attempt a mission, that option is available, full assault or sneaky, and the game permits many a failures before its game over – reload checkpoint?
“YOU’RE FACE TO FACE WITH THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD”
If you get spotted, the game time will slow down, allowing the player to locate the threat, and eliminate the threat before they announce your position, alerting the base. If you get spotted, or an enemy thinks they’ve spotted you, they will then alert the base through their radio, and they will check your last known position, or call for backup. Assuming you still have your wits about you, you can take out any enemies quietly, or vacate that area and hide. The enemy will eventually give up, and continue their routine, just on a higher alert. Its only when you’ve alerted the whole base to your position, and you are unable to escape, and end up getting killed, that the mission will end in failure. The game is very forgiving. That said, the enemies will adapt to your chosen gameplay style throughout the campaign. You’ll start noticing more helmets if you’re adept at headshot, or night vision goggles if you prefer excursion under moonlight; the enemy will even start setting up dummy soldiers to reinforce their numbers.
“WORDS CAN KILL”
Your intel support team back at home base will suggest you scope out a town or base prior to infiltration. Find a high spot, and use the binoculars to tag enemies to watch their route. You can even advance time while in-game if you prefer daylight to night, or reverse. Guards will finish their shift and go to sleep, but others will likely take their place. I didn’t have the patience for this feature, and instead would always infiltrate at my earliest convenience, and roll with the punches as they came. Just note, when extracting a prisoner, sand storms are your friend. On numerous occasions I was able to infiltrate a base completely unseen without removing any enemies, and extract my target. I’ve also had missions go so sideways that enemy helicopters were searching for me with troops on the ground. Its instances like these where a mission can play out so different each time, that makes the Metal Gear Solid game what it is – unmatched free-roam, free-form experimentation.
The weirdest feature in the game has to be the ability to play a mission as any of your Combat Unit’s staff. Male or female. They’re just Boss. Everyone you meet thinks they’re Boss, and will treat them as such. Boss can literally be anyone.
And the infamous cardboard box is back, and better than ever. It’s tougher, and has a more robust feature set, including allowing the player to stand while in the box. A funny feature with the box is the ability to attach a guard image poster to the top and standing in front of enemy guards. They will salute you as their commander.
The game’s whole presentation is near-perfect. The story, while lacking focus at times, tells an emotional tale of loss and recovery, of deceit and love. Kojima’s storytelling and direction has never been better. While some of the missions seem tedious, the actual story driving missions are powerful and will truly keep you engaged. Kojima has a way of including current events and melding them into his fictional worlds. Last generation is was micro technology and private militaries. This generation child soldiers in Africa, nuclear warheads, war-time interrogation techniques, and the diversity of language around the world.
“I WONT SCATTER YOUR SORROW TO THE HEARTLESS SEA, I WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU”
Kojima has created two believable, living, breathing areas filled with enemy encampments and wildlife. He’s placed us in the center of these war torn countries and given us a home base to manage, that requires resource and staff management far too detailed and involved than it ought to be. He’s given the tools to play out the missions with freedom and experimentation. He’s made a sand-box world, given us Snake, and told us to go play – be nice or be deadly. Kill or extract. Snake even has a shrapnel horn stuck in his forehead that will grow to mimic a demon if you’re evil enough.
And the game is gorgeous looking to boot, with Afghanistan’s hard rocky valleys at sunset even surpassing Red Dead Redemption’s brilliant vistas.
In the realm of achievements, considering the unique type of game, and imagination of Hideo Kojima, the achievements are pretty unimaginative. There are those dedicated to completing the main missions, some side quests, and completing the bond with your three breathing buddies. The rest are completionist – bleh.
For those that like stealth incursions, horses, e-cigs, or snake. Snake? SNNAAAAAAKEEE!!!
To the Rescue (Extract a female prisoner) – 15G
Man’s Best Friend (Raise bond with D-Dog to the maximum) – 15G