I played Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PS4, and ran into no technical issues whatsoever.
This review will be spoiler-free, I promise.
So here it is. The final true Metal Gear Solid game. The Phantom Pain marks the departure of Hideo Kojima, arguably the greatest video game auteur to date. Whether you loved or hated his craziness, you can’t deny that he made a huge impact on the industry we all love so much. Metal Gear is a huge part of why I love video games and hell, why I love stories altogether. Everyone knows the well-documented (yet still rather vague) fall out between Kojima and Konami, the game publisher that seems to be flaunting the pantomime villain role at the moment. Kojima is now cut off from Metal Gear, so Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the end. I’m calling it here, the Metal Gear Solid VI pachinko machine is non-canon.
It’s hard to know where to start when talking about this game. Metal Gear Solid has always been a rather impenetrable series, because you have to start at the beginning. It’s a weird Japanese-made Western Anime really, with hundreds of characters with complex backstories and complex relationships. And there’s big mecha robots called Metal Gears, which very often either threaten, or save the world…kinda. It’s so dumb. It’s so utterly fantastic. It’s a series that has been criticised for long cutscenes (I’m pretty sure there’s one in MGS4 which is pushing 90 minutes) and convoluted control schemes.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain seems to be Kojima Productions’ opportunity for a rebuttal. MGSV is a beautifully intricate game, which is heavy on gameplay and decidedly light on story. KojiPro have created an astounding stealth sandbox that is a pleasure to exist in. This game is undeniably decisive, throwing off many of the shackles of previous Metal Gear games to pursue something totally different.
The Phantom Pain is very much a big-budget sequel to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. You play as Big Boss, a gravelly voiced war hero who is out for revenge. Nine years ago, your military base was attacked and you barely escaped with your life. At the start of The Phantom Pain you wake up in a hospital in Cyprus after a fairly lengthy nap, having to deal with the fact that nine years have passed and you are now sans left arm. After a fairly lengthy tutorial mission, you are tasked with rebuilding your base to become the private military giant you once were, and swearing vengeance on all who wronged you.
That set-up is pretty much the only story you get for the first 20 or so hours. The progression is entirely gameplay-based. As you take on missions in a meticulously-crafted Afghanistan and Africa , you evolve your Mother Base and become stronger. Among your tools, the star of the show is the Fulton delivery system. Basically, it’s a balloon that can propel anything into the sky and back to Mother Base. If you tranq soldiers, you can Fulton them back and they are convinced to become part of your army. If you Fulton animals, they can take pride of place in your very own zoo. As you progress and grow, you start to be able to Fulton bigger things. Trucks, hell yeah. Big shipping containers. Yep. Tanks. Why not? There are actually later missions in the game where I completed the objective by Fulton-ing all the tanks I was supposed to be fighting against.
The Fulton mechanic is dumb as shit (Fulton-ing sheep is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a game this year) and it really illustrates the fact that the game is brushed with that same Metal Gear style even if it is not echoed as much in the story. Don’t get me wrong, the story is still very much Metal Gear. It’s just that it is so much sparser. Skull Face, the main villain of the game, doesn’t really get the time he deserves, and his sections seem rushed. Gone are the days where Otacon calls you on the Codec to give you a 15-minute potted history of a boss.
The Codec is swapped out for a cassette player and a radio here. Occasionally your pals Miller and Ocelot will call you out in the field, but you can still play the game while they are talking. There is also no back and forth between them and Snake while you are on a mission as in previous games. The cassette player is the real Codec substitute. Throughout the game you will receive tapes on certain subjects. These can be mission briefings, background on characters, or news items of the world. This is where you can find the traditional codec stuff, but you can listen to it anytime (even while out in the world) and Snake does sometimes even open his mouth.
Much has been said about Snake, some people even going as far as to call him a ‘silent protagonist’. This was rather distressing to hear, as in the past it often felt like Snake wouldn’t shut the hell up. In every previous game, Snake, voiced by David Hayter, was always a part of the conversation. You were very much playing a character with his own thoughts and feelings of what was unfolding around him. Now, in The Phantom Pain, Kiefer Sutherland voices Big Boss, and although he does a fine job, he is rather quiet. As the game progresses, he gets more chatty, and he has full-blown conversations in the tapes, but it isn’t the same.
I have some thoughts as to why this is, that kind of justify Snake’s occasional, albeit very obvious muteness, in my mind. Firstly, he’s a tired tired man who has been through hell. He’s just woken up from a nine-year coma with only one of his arms and a horn-like piece of shrapnel in his head. He knows he needs to keep fighting but something in him is just like ‘Yeah, fine, whatever.’. This changes throughout the game as he gradually kind of comes back to life, therefore he talks more and has more of a stake in the world. The second, and more granular, reason is that The Phantom Pain is so gameplay-heavy that Snake almost becomes an avatar for the player. You are going out and doing these missions how you want, when you want, and with whoever you want. The Phantom Pain is all about multiple ways to approach problems, so you don’t want a character who chooses a way for you.
The Phantom Pain does a great job of letting you craft your experience. You create your own Mother Base, giving it your own signature flair, down to colours and logos. You can build and evolve it however you want, creating different platforms, assigning staff and developing weapons. There are a hell of a lot of weapons and items to try out. My particular favourites were blow-up decoys (that could distract tanks long enough for me to Fulton them out), the cardboard box (which you can attach anime girl posters to, so soldiers run up and gawk at them) and a loudspeaker for your helicopter (so you can blast out Aha’s Take On Me and strike fear into your enemies – that’s not a joke, it actually does strike fear into them). You can also customise weapons, develop new uniforms and even go out on missions as one of your staff to train them up.
Another great aspect of The Phantom Pain is the buddy system. Throughout the game you will run across potential allies. At the start of the game, you get the strengthy D-Horse, a horse that can poop on command. Very soon, you will meet the lovable D-Dog, who can sniff out enemies and distract them and Quiet, a mute sniper who can scout out camps and provide you with valuable cover. Quiet is definitely the best of the buddies by a country mile, but you’ll want to play around with all of them. Social links track how much you’ve used a buddy and how you’ve treated them. The higher the social link, the more commands you have at your disposal.
Much has been said about the character of Quiet and her barely-there costume, so I’ll try to keep it light. But yeah, it’s pretty bad. The Metal Gear series has always had pervy camera angles and scant costumes, but with Quiet this all seems to have been turned up to eleven. It’s a huge caveat of what is undoubtedly the best character of the game. Quiet is a badass, and her story is integral to the game, but she comes with a huge asterisk that didn’t need to have been there. I can brush it off, but when I think of someone completely ignorant about video games looking at it (like Mr Jimmy Kimmel for example) that’s what makes me sort of scared about it. And if anyone thinks I, or any other person, am being too harsh, I have two words for you: BOOB PHYSICS.
The Phantom Pain is not without fault. In fact, it’s insanely misbalanced. The story is distributed in such a strange way that I don’t even really know what KojiPro was going for. Essentially you have two chapters. The first chapter is the game. The Skull Face thing. And at the end of that, there’s a resolution. And that’s fine. But then it goes into Chapter Two, which has weird repeats of missions with new parameters but there seem to be big-ass story dumps all over. There are indeed longer cutscenes in this thing but they’re not there for a long time. I stand by my testimony (from Twitter) that Chapter One is for the people who’ve never played a Metal Gear before and Chapter Two is for the fans. But nevertheless, it’s still jarring and Chapter Two kinda seems like a mess.
I would love to see some kind of chronicle of this thing’s development, and would not be surprised if KojiPro had to cut some corners in Chapter Two. I’m just glad that The Phantom Pain got out there. It is a phenomenal video game, if not necessarily the Metal Gear experience that all the fans wanted. It still has the Kojima flair, even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing in a few places.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a phenomenal experience. As a stealth sandbox game, none can topple it’s breadth of gadgets and possibilities. As a Metal Gear game, it is light on story but manages to keep the quirkiness that seems to infect anything Kojima touches. It is a worthy swansong of a team that will probably never get to make anything like this again. And that’s sad. But still, what a send-off.
METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
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