As what appears to be the final game in the Metal Gear series from creator Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid V is an interesting beast. The usual focus on story and long cutscenes take a back seat to a more gameplay driven experience and it works. For those of you who put gameplay first and foremost, this is the Metal Gear for you. If you are coming for the story, it takes awhile for it to start moving.
The gameplay in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the best it has been in the series and some of the most satisfying I’ve played in years. The controls are tight and satisfying and, honestly for me, perfect. Sneaking in games has never been my strong suit, but every time I was spotted in this game, I immediately knew and accepted that I had made the mistake on any given mission. Instead of navigating from story mission to story mission in closed off locations, all missions take place on one of two massive maps: one in Afghanistan and one in Zaire (modern day Democratic Republic of Congo). When you decide to take on a main story mission, you will be transported to a sectioned off portion of each map instead of having access to the entire thing. However, even though the sections are smaller, there are always several ways to go about any mission. For example there is a base built into the side of a hill where Russian forces have occupied and intel about a caravan of tanks you need to destroy. I approached from the east and worked my way up, eventually taking down the caravan with a mixture of mortar strikes and rockets. Fellow TGN staff member Chris approached from the west and worked his way down the base only to give chase on his horse as the caravan drove by eventually taking it out. That is the beautiful thing about this open world. Many games that are open world still only allow tasks to be completed a certain way, while MGS V lets you approach almost every situation how you want to whether it be stealthily or loud, from the north or the south. In addition to the main story missions, there are 157 side missions to help gather manpower and resources for the second major aspect of the game.
Similar to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for the PSP, you are building a Mother Base which is basically a military of diverse individuals not working under any nation or ideological notions stationed on an offshore oil rig in the Seychelles. As you are out on missions, you can extract soldiers who will be taken back to your base and be placed on one of several teams including Combat, Medical and Research and Development to name a few. These help in several ways. For example the more people you have in your R&D team helps unlock new weapons and items for you to research and eventually deploy in the field. Members of your combat unit can be sent out on missions which can yield money, volunteers or resources to expand Mother Base which can eventually become so massive, you will want to ride a jeep to each strut as walking will take far too long. Unfortunately there is not much to actually do on Mother Base, but there are some Easter Eggs that you can search for as the story progresses.
Story and Modes:
The game is set in 1984, nine years after the conclusion of last year’s prequel, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Big Boss awakens after being in a coma only to be immediately hunted down. After eventually escaping, he meets up with Ocelot to recreate Mother Base and track down the antagonist of the prequel, XOF and Skull Face. This is from the mind of Hideo Kojima so you can expect some twists that may divide fans of the series, especially the further you dive into it.
The story in this game is odd in more than just the normal Metal Gear way. It doesn’t hit you over the head with cutscenes instead delegating much of the story to cassette tapes you can listen to as you are running around the open world or running around Mother Base. While this is a decent substitute for the talking heads of traditional Codec conversations, it would have been nice to see more cutscenes especially since this is the longest game in the franchise by far. And the main story missions themselves oftentimes don’t feel like they contribute to the overall narrative . . . even though they kind of do. Seemingly minor objectives may help toward improving Mother Base, but there are definitely some main story missions that feel like they could have been side missions. Not to mention that this game pulls an Arkham Knight where there is more than one ending. After completing the first, the game will introduce repeats of earlier story missions with different and more difficult variants such as all weapons found on site or no support characters or supply drops. Initially it is irritating to see these considered as main story missions but fear not. To unlock the rest of the new story missions, you can do side ops if you don’t feel like tackling the repeats and the new missions will eventually open up.
The final mode is called Forward Operating Base where you can build another Mother Base that will gain more resources faster but can be invaded by other players and vice versa. You can upgrade your Security Team on your main base to handle it as well as defend the base yourself if you are connected to the server when an invasion occurs. This mode feels tacked on and unnecessary, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the game.
Visuals and Sound:
This game is gorgeous. From the way Snake’s scarf blows in the wind to the fluid and believable animations, not just for Snake, but every character model as well, the game is great to look at. While the environments may become repetitive to some as you will return to them over and over for different missions, the way they look give off a realistically modeled world to be immersed in. There is some occasional texture pop in the distance, but the frame rate stayed at a silky smooth 60 FPS during my time with it.
From an audio perspective, Kiefer Southerland was the controversial replacement for long-standing series voice actor, David Hayter, and he does a great job . . . when he speaks. He rarely talks throughout the game to an almost silent protagonist level. It can be awkward in cutscenes when there is a pause in the conversation and you expect for Big Boss to jump in only for the other person to continue talking. Much more of his dialogue can be found in the cassette tapes. All of the other voice performances are stellar as well with Robin Atkin Downes as Kazuhira Miller and the ever-present Troy Baker as Revolver Ocelot being the standouts.
In addition to the great voice work is a fantastic list of ‘80s pop songs that you can find strewn across different bases to listen to as you’re running around and can even have your helicopter play when it picks you up and drops you off. From Rebel Yell, to Take on Me, to my personal favorite, Maneater, there are a bunch to find and it helps to define the time the game takes place. There are also two original songs that have jumped into my pantheon of favorite game music of all-time as well in Sins of the Father and Quiet’s Theme.
For a Metal Gear Solid game, this is incredibly original. The open world environment in addition to the “accomplish the mission how you would like” structure is refreshing and something that I did not think I would enjoy as a fan of the series. But it works, is addictive and is incredibly satisfying. Usually open world games can be tough to get right with either a ton of meaningless side missions or not enough to keep the player entertained. In MGS V, there is always something to do and the fact that it all contributes to your Mother Base and improving your gear makes every side mission feel meaningful.
The Big Question:
Is Kojima’s swan song the event that everyone expected it to be? Absolutely. This is an absolutely massive game with so much to do. People were talking about being able to put a couple hundred hours into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and the same could be said for this game. Between getting an S rank on all of the story missions, to the optional objectives within them, to the side ops and collecting animals for an animal preservation, it is almost overwhelming. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a worthy entry into one of the industry’s most legendary series.
Here are my stats after I finished the story:
47% overall completion
80% main mission completion
37% side ops completion
Yeah, like I said this is a huge game. While the main story doesn’t feel like it kicks off until around mission 20 or so, the gameplay is so fun that you may not care. Part of this is due to the open world nature of the game hurting the traditional linear storytelling and pacing of the series. That isn’t to say that the story is bad whatsoever. One of the later missions is one of the darkest and haunting that I have ever experienced in a video game and will stay with me for the rest of my life. In the past this mission would have been a cutscene, but now Kojima makes you take control for what you are doing.
There are some minor annoyances in regards to traversal across the environments mostly due to Big Boss’ inability to climb small ledges at times. But this and the lack of urgency the story takes for the first 20ish missions are the only complaints with what is a magnificent game that is not only one of the best this year but one of the best in years.