If there is one word I would associate with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain it would be this one: choice.
Here’s a true story. One of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s missions tasks you with extracting a VIP from a prison convoy because reasons. I had D-Horse, one of the four buddies in the game, along with me for the mission. I had used him so often he had certain skills I could use to my advantage. I show up to the marked area on my map to extract my prisoner under the veil of night, lights in the distance illuminating a crumbling castle like structure, the glare of search lights surveying the area, and in the distance I spot multiple vehicles. Through the lens of my Int-Scope, I spot the VIP in a jeep, surrounded by soldiers waiting to take him to another base (most likely to be executed). I also spot an armed, armored vehicle alongside the jeep.
I take another look at my iDroid to see the road the convoy would be taking. Marking an area ahead of the convoy, I rush to the marker, making up a plan on the spot with my quick wit. I let my horse defecate on the dirt road ahead of the convoy (wait it gets better), I also plant C4 on the road for the armored vehicle, taking a more concealed position awaiting the caravan. The convoy finally shows up, the jeep being the first in line with the armored vehicle behind it.
Then magic happens before my eyes. The jeep slides out of control because of the poop I had D-Horse lay in preparation, leaving the soldiers and the prisoner dazed and confused, the armored vehicle driving over my planted C4 erupts into a fiery explosion from the detonation at the press of my button. I then spring into a sprint running towards the jeep, I grab the prisoner while the soldiers are still dazed, running off to the dark distance calling the horse to my aid. With my trusty steed sprinting by my side, I throw the prisoner on his back while mounting my steed in a full sprint, I then call my chopper to pick us up, arriving to my chopper’s coordinates. I throw the prisoner in the chopper with me climbing inside as well, exfiltrating the mission area and completing the mission.
That cost me probably over 2000 GMP, the game’s currency, and over five minutes total to complete the mission. Making the soldiers look like idiots, blowing up some heavy artillery, and taking the VIP right under their noses however before anyone knew what was even going on–priceless.
Moments like these are what make open world games filled with choices so unique, and is probably why out of all of them, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the most unique out of the whole series. Little dynamic moments like exfiltrating a hot zone with mortars being fired upon your position, desperately trying to get to the chopper only to be attacked by a wild bear you weren’t expecting, and nearly avoiding a grizzly death (another thing that actually happened in my playthrough), are moments that can only be had in a game that allows such freedom of choice. For that emergent gameplay to be any good, it requires lots of design choices, great AI, and, overall, tons of polish and thought put into the game, giving you tales of adventures to tell to your friends about how fun this game can be. Thankfully, it delivers in spades.
Once the controls are finally in your hand, you can immediately tell how different they are in comparison to the rest of the series, most of the games the controls were very unconventional, doing things most games wouldn’t do either to the chagrin or the praise of critics, but ultimately one thing was for sure, the controls in previous games weren’t for everyone. The controls in this game are much more streamlined however favoring a more third person shooter control scheme without sacrificing the actual stealth in the game. However unlike most third person shooters, the game is a stealth game after all, having buttons mapped to allow you to crouch/go prone, a dive button which comes in very handy to avoid detection on a moment’s notice, a sprint button, and so on.
While the controls do mimic those of modern third person shooters and it does streamline the controls of the previous game to be more simpler to execute and understand, that’s not to say that these ruin the stealth aspect of the game that the series is known for, but rather it improves it. The controls in this game feel natural, and unlike previous entries, you don’t feel like you have to get accustomed to the controls, while some people may feel that changing the controls too drastically may feel like Kojima Productions is trying to keep up to date on the current fads in gaming, honestly I’m glad they did, because going from this game back to entries like Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and even Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, I kinda have a hard time to going back to those more clunky control schemes, and let’s be honest, by modern standards they are clunky, so for Kojima Productions to take these older controls and concepts introduced and previous games, and streamline them for more accessible and proficient control over the action was a smart move on their part.
After the intro hospital massacre mission, which acts as a tutorial that thankfully doesn’t interrupt the flow of the gameplay or treat you like an imbecile, it’s from here on out that the real game finally starts, putting you in Afghanistan on a mission to rescue Kazuhira “Kaz” Miller in Da Ghwandai Khar teaching you the more advanced mechanics on using your iDroid, Int-Scope, tagging, fulton (which I’ll touch on a little more) and so on, before finally letting you go on your merry way to complete the mission how you see fit. Whether it be going full Sam Fisher and stealthily make your way through, or going full on Rambo and blowing crap up left and right, the game gives you full reign on how to tackle your adjectives which is a great change of pace and really breaks up the repetitive and more linear nature of previous games.
The game also employs a new system that was added to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain that wasn’t in previous games: the reflex and tagging system. A lot of people have complained on how it seems these give you too much of an edge in the game, but just because it gives you more of an edge, doesn’t mean it makes the game feel like you are playing on easy mode. Instead of being a crutch that helps bad players play better, they feel more like tools that assists in your stealth endeavors. While it does feel a bit cheap at first, you soon realize how important these mechanics become, as the more open nature of the game does make keeping track of enemy positions, and their location to you a lot more difficult, considering you don’t have a radar any more, so paying attention to where enemies you’ve spotted through recon, and being given a few second window to quickly avoid detection in a pinch becomes almost essential. But for those more hardcore and fancy themselves true stealth professionals, you can turn them off at any time, and the game even rewards players for not using them, so either way, both options are legitimate and up to your decision whether to use them or not.
The game also employs a new dynamic difficulty system. Instead of choosing a difficulty option from the start, the game over time will take note of your play style. Going in full McClain, killing everything that moves? Well don’t be surprised when enemies start employing soldiers with heavy armor and heavy machine guns. Shoot people in the head more often than not? Welp, those soldiers will start employing helmets to counter that. Do you often infiltrate enemy territory under the veil of night? Hey let’s employ soldiers with night vision goggles to see you better in the dark, and so on, and so on.
Managing Mother Base makes you feel like the boss of your private military.
While it may sound that there is no way to counteract these counter moves by the enemy, just keep in mind there is a way to counter even these tactics. Like for instance just because soldiers end up wearing helmets to avoid being shot in the head, doesn’t mean there isn’t an exposed spot, you can do something like use an assault or sniper rifle to take the helmet off, or even shoot directly at the open space underneath the helmet to get a headshot, or even if you have issues dealing with them, you can end up employing your Diamond Dog troops on a combat mission to destroy a surplus of helmets, so the next time you enter a mission, enemies will not be using helmets as often, even details like not showering at mother-base often, and going on missions for days at a time will affect Snake’s hygiene which affects your performance by affecting your aim, the amount of time you are given in reflex mode, and even little things like the enemy being able to smell you from your unhealthy stench. so for those worrying about the game giving you an easy or unfair challenge, don’t, the challenge is a healthy one.
Like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker as well, you can also extract enemy soldiers from the field to recruit for your Mother Base, to help Big Boss on his quest for revenge whether it be fighting in Combat Dispatch missions to earn GMP and materials for Item development, or to help in R&D or any of the other units at Diamond Dogs disposal. Depending on who you fulton from the field as well you will notice certain soldiers have certain rankings and specialized skills, like a cybernetics specialist that allows for you to upgrade your Bionic arm to do more advanced things like turning your arm into a sonar which detects other enemies and living creatures alike, or even an interpreter who speaks Russian allowing you to understand Russian soldiers who speak the native tongue. Oh yeah by the way, unlike games like Metal Gear Solid 3, where Snake speaking Russian or the enemies for that matter was just was just interpreted into us hearing the actors speak English, we now hear the local foreigners speaking their native tongue, which is actually a recurring theme in the game, the importance of language, so it would make sense for the game to employ such a thing, and normally it wouldn’t be important, but with the themes of revenge and the importance of language and considering the high budget of this game, it does lend itself to the immersiveness of the game’s world, and the choices you make.
The meta game that is managing Mother Base is a really interesting and engaging one. Not only is Mother Base a physical location now with actual soldiers you recruit from the field, but Mother Base definitely plays a more important role and is more fleshed out than it was in Peace Walker. Like Peace Walker, your Mother Base is your gateway to what you items, whether it be certain guns, items, or even specialized outfits that Big Boss and other soldiers can use, will be acquired as instead of finding them on the field, you have to develop them with the soldiers you fulton from the field. Do I want to develop some heavy artillery to take on heavy armored vehicles and soldiers more easily, or should I invest in developing a sneaking suit to make my infiltrations into enemy territory more proficient? These are choices that are totally your own and may affect how you decide to play.
Your soldiers also have a morale system as well, which gives more of a credence and importance to your management of motherbase. The game stresses that you keep an eye on your soldiers or they will either start to fight within the ranks and possibly injure other members of the team, or worse just outright leave which can have negative impacts on what you can and can’t develop. It’s also important to note that the more soldiers you recruit, the less space you have at the base, which is why you need to build additional platforms to ensure you are able to recruit more soldiers.
Managing Mother Base, instead of feeling like a hindrance, lends to the immersiveness of the game and really makes you feel like the boss of your private military, making you feel more involved in how much Diamond Dogs will grow and whether it will succeed, or fail, adding an extra layer of strategy that wasn’t there before.
The game also features an online mode that coincides with the campaign called Fob Missions. In this mode you are instructed to create a separate base from Mother Base, and this base will help earn GMP and materials to help you develop items, however unlike the main campaign, your Forward Operating Base can be attacked by other players, and in this mode, resources, gun emplacements, and even soldiers you employ to the fob, can be stolen. However you can defend against this by building your base up and tightening security, or even dealing with the threat as it occurs when you are notified of their presence, and because this mode ties in pretty well with the campaign, it makes the world feel that much bigger knowing that you aren’t alone.
Although if I do have something negative to say, one thing that kinda bothers me is how little you can interact with your men. While showing up and meeting with all your soldiers is nice and makes Mother Base feel more alive, it feels kinda awkward when the only interaction I can have with my men is just punching them in the face, or straight up brutalizing them, only to be thanked once you are done. It would’ve been nice if you could actually salute, handshake, or even high five your men, or even say something to them, would have brought more life to the game.
Another thing I wish I could see at Mother Base is the interiors of the base itself. While there are certain areas you can visit like Quiet’s quarters in the medical strut, or Huey’s lab on the R&D strut which is fine, it would have been great to see things like the mess hall, or where your soldiers go to sleep, or even seeing you staff interact with each other some more with more varying dialogue than the somewhat repetitive banter that you hear your staff go on about. Also I wish there was just more to do at Mother Base as well. While you can definitely drive around your base, listen to tapes (which you can do anywhere), find hidden diamonds on the base, and even target practices on each strut, it would have felt way more engaging if Big Boss could “Fancy a game of Gwent” or something, play a game of horse shoes, something. But regardless, it is a step in the right direction. It’s serviceable.
Another thing that ultimately bugs me about the plot is also how little there really is of it in game.
Tonally the game is also strange and at times feels quite distracting. While it is funny to walk around with a cardboard box with the picture of a half nude woman while infiltrating a base, or using humorous inflatable dummies to trick and distract soldiers, stuff like this tonally doesn’t mesh too well with the very serious tone of the plot, things like torture, brutal massacres, child soldiers, and so on, doesn’t really work with the campy nature of Giant Robots designed to threaten to engulf the world in nuclear war and a giant WHALE MADE OF FIRE!
This is what is known in media as a Tonal Shift. While it’s not impossible to use tonal shifts properly and to great effect, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain just plays it’s serious moments too straight to be taken seriously when in contrast to it’s campiness of the gameplay and certain story bits which I won’t spoil, especially when in contrast with Whales Made of Fire, people with literal supernatural abilities, and giant robots, the series is just not classy enough to be taken to the serious extreme that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain does.
A good example of what I’m talking about for example would be one scene where Snake does some very brutal and gory things that definitely is meant to shock the player and show how much his quest for revenge has warped his morality and sense of compassion toward his enemy, Only for Huey to tonally undermine the moment by getting his “REVENGE!” which is obviously played for laughs, and was meant to lighten the mood, but it just felt WAY too inappropriate for the scene, and just felt too forced and awkward.
Another thing that ultimately bugs me about the plot is also how little there really is of it in game. Unlike the rest of the series the game cuts down on most of the plot to focus on the game elements of the game itself, and while that is welcome, it felt really distracting when certain dialogue doesn’t follow the ‘show don’t tell’ rule of storytelling, instead just telling you about interesting things that happened off screen instead of showing you in a cutscene.
Another major thing that people have expressed discontent with, is the total lack of dialogue from Snake himself, and I do agree with that criticism. In previous games Snake was chatty, opinionated, and had a lot of things to say, which made him a likable and more relatable character. In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain though he is borderline a silent protagonist. While he does have speaking lines which are delivered very well by Kiefer Sutherland who does pull off a pretty good and unique interpretation of Big Boss pulling off some pretty good lines that I couldn’t imagine David Hayter pulling off with equal grace, even managing to give subtle moments in Snake’s facial movements through his facial capture making Big Boss feel more relatable, it’s really disappointing that you hear very little of his dialogue in the game. Sure you do hear a little more often in the tapes, but most of his dialogue there mostly is comprised of short responses or short questions.
This is very apparent when in the late game when you have a conversation during a car ride with an important character providing exposition, (in which this would have been a great time to have Snake provide dialogue, really showcasing his opinions on the whole matter) instead only to end the conversation with Sins of a Father blaring up in the background…for no reason feeling very out of place and just awkward.
Don’t get me wrong though, while I do feel the plot is flawed, there are some great moments, especially if you are a fan there are definitely some moments that are great to see. But ultimately, the plot left me wanting a little more, and in Hideo Kojima’s effort to tell the story through people’s actions rather than words, made the story feel incomplete, and while the “true” ending will satisfy some, it will just annoy others.
While I would like to touch on Metal Gear Online, unfortunately at the time of this review, the mode will not be released until October 6th this year for consoles and for PC during January of 2016, unfortunately. But since the mode is considered it’s own thing, we will most likely review it separate from the main game when it releases.
In the end as a video game, it is definitely an excellent game worth playing, and will provide countless hours of fun to be had. But as a story, it feels incomplete and a disjointed mess littered with plot-holes which makes this “finale” a measure less than expected.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not, and I wouldn’t dare ever call this a “perfect” or “flawless” game like some people out there like to throw out so casually, but it is a damn fine game, and like a diamond in the rough, it may look a little dirty and scratched, but in the right light, it shines beautifully and ever so bright
And that’s just fine.
A PlayStation 3 copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was purchased by the reviewer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.