Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the quirky action-packed espionage adventure fans know and love, albeit with an overhaul to gameplay.
Gameplay has shifted from a primarily linear, story-driven experience to a sandbox in which players complete missions when they want, how they want. Nearly everything you do as Snake serves Mother Base (your primary base of operations) in some way. Using the new Fulton system introduced in Ground Zeroes, you can abduct everything from raw materials to expand your base and develop new gear, to enemy soldiers to convert to your cause. So, whether you’re completing story missions, one of over a hundred Side Ops, or just infiltrating outposts for fun, you’re always making some form of progress. While certain objectives can become repetitive, the gameplay is always rewarding and fun, if sometimes a little frustrating.
The mission areas are impressively vast, but the scope can be an annoyance when your next task on the field is thousands of meters away. I often found myself torn between choosing from minutes of travel with the risk of death, or minutes of load times. For example, do I find and steal a vehicle and risk alerting and drawing fire from the many compounds and guard posts between me and my objective, or do I summon the chopper and load back to the Aerial Command Center, only to load once more back into the same area to be dropped off closer to my next objective? The inability to board the chopper without having to leave the mission area entirely seems like an unnecessary hurdle to completing missions fluidly.
Also new to the franchise is the Buddy System. Buddies deploy to mission areas with you and greatly assist in ways I won’t spoil here. I became attached to my Buddies and actually felt bad when they got hurt enough to be extracted back to the medical platform on Mother Base.
The narrative is as wacky as ever, and brings the greater Metal Gear plot full circle. Chronologically, MGS5 fits between Peace Walker and the original Metal Gear from 1987. It’s simply amazing how Kojima has crafted a relatively sound story that has spanned 28 years of releases which are themselves out of chronological order. But while the story in MGS5 is great, it isn’t always presented sensibly.
Unfortunately you will miss most of the finer details by skipping the Side Ops missions and not listening to audio tapes obtained throughout the game. The audio tapes (ranging from about 30 seconds to upwards of 15 minutes in length) divulge the information you would have gotten from a lengthy cutscene in past Metal Gear Solid installments. You can play these tapes while you’re completing mission tasks, but I found I’d often miss dialogue while focusing on avoiding detection or surviving a firefight, so I’d always set the controller down and listen from a safe place.
Additionally, there is a “Chapter 2” that wraps up various important plot threads left unresolved in the core story missions. The chapter contains some original missions, though the majority are simply past missions with heightened difficulty or special completion requirements. Resolving important story elements by redoing out-of-context missions causes a disconnect and undermines the sense of immersion felt in the base experience. It feels like the developers were approaching a deadline and just sloppily threw the rest of the story in and called it Chapter 2. That said, at least it was included with the game instead of being sold as separate DLC.
The game looks and sounds amazing. I love looking down on the sunlit hills of Afghanistan, and the spotlit platforms of Mother Base at night while the chopper pilot flies me to my deployment destination. Hearing enemy soldiers scream in terror or rescued prisoners cheer with glee as the Fulton balloon carries them off never gets old. I also love how Snake gets muddier and bloodier the longer you’re in the field. All the crawling and sprinting over harsh terrain, enemy interrogating and throat slicing, head shots and explosions can take a mental toll on Snake. This affects total health and reaction time when spotted until you return to Mother Base to shower it all away.
The voice acting is also top-notch. You’ll quickly get used to hearing Troy Baker as Ocelot, but even in the audio tapes Snake doesn’t say very much, so it’s odd to have gotten an A-list film actor like Kiefer Sutherland to supply what lines (more often grunts) he does have. That said, his voice did grow on me and sounded natural as Snake (even though I do miss David Hayter).
The gameplay is excellent, but probably not enough to incentivize the average gamer through to the end if they are a newcomer to the Metal Gear Solid franchise. The real driving force is the narrative. If I wasn’t the Metal Gear fan I’ve been for over 10 years, I certainly would not have cared to complete the aforementioned Chapter 2. While the game can probably be purchased at an online retailer cheaper than full price, it still may be worth renting or borrowing first if you’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game or don’t want to spend an hour reading about the franchise beforehand to understand half of what’s going on.
If you’re an established Metal Gear fan, The Phantom Pain is absolutely worth your time. If you have never played a Metal Gear title but have a hankering for excellent third-person stealth and shooter gameplay, you’ll likely find the game is still incredibly fun, and that earning a score and rank after completing missions is very rewarding. However, certain tasks can become repetitive, so gameplay alone may not drive a newcomer through 40–60 hours of story missions.
Gameplay: 4.5/5 Narrative: 4/5 Aesthetics: 5/5 Accessibility: 3.5/5 Worth: 4.5/5
Metal Gear Solid V is a worthy addition to the franchise. It overhauls gameplay while maintaining the serious, yet sometimes silly tone fans know and love. Maintaining and expanding Mother Base feels like an addictive metagame while doubling as a progressive reward system for Snake. Additionally, you really appreciate having a Buddy in the field after you attempt the late-game challenge missions that require you to go solo. However, If you’re new to Metal Gear Solid, you may not understand, nor appreciate certain plot elements without a wiki guide. Newcomers and veterans alike may find the core narrative in The Phantom Pain confusing without listening to the potentially lengthy audio tapes you earn as you progress. Nonetheless, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a solid (tee hee) and fun third-person stealth–action experience.
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