It’s so hard to say goodbye…
It has been a long and bumpy road to get here. The Metal Gear Solid series is the reason I started a website. Every entry in the series has been one step up from the last. The circle is now complete. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain may be the last entry that matters, the last directed by Hideo Kojima, it is the end of an era, and it has been an amazing ride. The Phantom Pain is a much different beast though. Taking a lot of what made the series one of my favorites, and stripping it away for more refined, and addictive game play. The end result is a masterpiece of a game that falls short on what it means to be Metal Gear.
The Phantom Pain is the continuation of the story of Big Boss. After the events of Ground Zeroes, he laid in a coma for nine years only to wake up to one of the most bizarre prologues in gaming history. The opening sequence is an hour of pure insanity that comes standard with the series, and lays the groundwork for what could be one heck of a ride. After that opening sequence though, the game takes a sharp turn. Foregoing the insanely drawn out cut scenes with a more subtle approach to storytelling. This Big Boss doesn’t speak that much and most of the story is told through cassette tapes. This is not the Metal Gear Solid I remember.
Platforms: XB1, PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
The core campaign took me about 35 hours to complete, and again it offered little of the craziness I was used to, but this is only the beginning. After the “credits” roll, the game showcases a Chapter 2, with more promise of insanity. Needless to say Phantom Pain delivers on its value. To complete everything it definitely reaches upwards of 60-70 hours, and there are plenty of things hidden throughout the game.
While the story didn’t romance me as much as I had wanted, the game play is where Phantom Pain shines. Anyone who played Peace Walker will be somewhat familiar with the structure. Phantom Pain is essentially just a bigger, better version of that outing.
The game is broken down into main missions and Side Ops. The main missions progress the story, but simply mainlining them is robbing players of what makes Phantom Pain so special. The areas in MGSV are open, giant sandboxes for players to tackle missions as they see fit. A lot of them are certainly similar in style, but how I approached each one was what made it special. Extracting targets from a heavily-guarded camp was tense. I could sneak in and extract them without anyone noticing, or go in guns blazing to feel like an action hero. There is no wrong way to play, but there are consequences.
The massive amount of tools and such also help. Each mission allows for deployment load outs that can change a play style. Big Boss earns various buddies to take on missions, yes there is a horse, and also yes there is a dog that eventually gets a sneaking suit and a knife. Weapons can be modified and upgraded to do more damage, or stun enemies. Everything is tailored to how I wanted to play. Change my mind during a mission? Simply call in a supply drop to switch tools. Do I need air support? Call it in. The game is so intricately designed it is scary. I was learning new things I could do 20-30 hours in, and it never seemed to let up.
This is what makes Phantom Pain so special – the variety of ways to tackle any scenario. Kojima and his team have given players a plethora of tools to complete the job, and researching and upgrading them is actually the other half of the game. Mother Base is a game all on its own. I loved getting new sections, exploring them, and of course expanding my army. Players are tasked with assigning members to different areas, depending on their expertise. Everything also happens in real game time, so if a base expansion needs an hour to complete, it takes that much play time to construct it. It can become tedious, but the end result is usually worth it.
If all of that isn’t enough, Phantom Pain also has an online component in the form of Forward Operating Bases (FOB). These are structures outside of the main structure, and their sole purpose is to construct nuclear arms, and defend against online invaders. Players can also invade other’s FOBs in an attempt to secure resources for themselves. This portion of the game adds a layer to toy around with even after the credits roll. Sadly, I did not enjoy this mode at all. Players invading, and possibly ruining all my hard work is not a desirable way to play. Also I spend so much time building up Mother Base, I had little reason to want to expand it any further.
Phantom Pain continues to be one of the hardest games for me to digest. The MGS series is one of my all time favorites. This entry is by far the most enjoyable to play, even now I am thinking of different ways to tackle missions, and how much more I can upgrade to toy around with in this enormous sandbox. At the same time, I miss the ridiculously long Codec conversations, the overuse of slow motion in cut scenes, and the questioning dialogue from my protagonist. It feels like a different series altogether.
Fox Engine is a beautiful piece of technology. The worlds in The Phantom Pain are clean and visually appealing. The game runs at a rock solid frame rate, and the characters look fantastic. My one gripe is that the open spaces the game throws players into is barren so much of the time. Vast areas with nothing to explore, but it is still gorgeous. For the first time the audio is not as impressive. While the 80s licensed tracks are great, the score never clicked with me. Also the voice actor changes really struck a nerve with me. Kiefer Sutherland rarely speaks in cut scenes, and Troy Baker as Revolver Ocelot just doesn’t feel right. The audio tapes, which house most of the story remain the most interesting piece of the game, sadly most will never hear them.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the most divisive game in the series for me. On one hand I love the game play. Building up Mother Base, the missions, the stealth and gunplay all feel so refined. The open-world sandbox is endless fun. The Metal Gear portion though sadly disappoints. The boss fights are lackluster, the cut scenes are not as wacky and outlandish as I expected, and the story never really grabbed me. The Phantom Pain is the best “game” in the series by far, but also the worst Metal Gear. Still, it will be hard to top it when it comes time to choose my game of the year.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.