Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

By Lexley Ford, 1 year ago
Since the first game, Metal Gear, was released in 1987 for the MSX2, Hideo Kojima has continued to push his series to greater heights with each subsequent release, adding new features and pushing the story to often mind-numbing lengths. The biggest change introduced in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is its open world, but is this change a gamble that was worth taking?

Take aimTake aim

The Phantom Pain opens in true Kojima fashion, following the conclusion to last year's prologue Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Big Boss (Naked Snake, Venom Snake, or whichever of his many monikers you want to call him by) wakes from a coma to be told he's been out of action for nine years and suffered injuries that would have killed any normal person. After a protracted introduction that presents more questions than answers, we finally get to take control of our protagonist through a highly scripted escape sequence that is full of intense moments and explosions which helps to cement the basic gameplay mechanics in your mind as well as establishing an overall mood for the rest of the game. From here, Big Boss' tale of rebuilding everything he has lost and taking his revenge on those that took everything from him begins. This opening hour or so is truly spectacular though, unfortunately, the story from this point on isn't delivered in such a bombastic way.

Whereas previous games in the series would bombard the player with long, drawn out cut-scenes and unavoidable codec calls, The Phantom Pain takes a more hands-off approach to storytelling. Cut-scenes are at a much more manageable length and no longer require you to have a bladder made of steel, and codec calls are replaced by cassette recordings that can be listened to whenever you feel ready, or, while not recommended if you actually want to know what’s going on, avoided completely. This helps to not break up the pace too much and keeps the player's attention squarely focused on where The Phantom Pain truly shines spectacularly, the gameplay.

D-Horse makes the traversing the terrain a less daunting task D-Horse makes the traversing the terrain a less daunting task

Once you are set free to explore the Afghan wilds you realise exactly how much freedom you have been given. ­ Essentially you're given free reign to explore the area, searching places of interest for hidden resources or staff members. The game is split between main missions and side-ops. As you would expect, main missions are what progress the story. Side-ops on the other hand are optional missions that can be completed while free-roaming the open world, or during missions as long as they both take place in the mission's hot zone. Side-ops vary greatly from locating and extracting highly skilled soldiers, rescuing prisoners, and clearing minefields to less military styled objectives like extracting endangered wildlife from the area. The Phantom Pain doesn't tell you how to approach any of the tasks at hand, but points you in the right direction and lets you work it out for yourself, you choose which weapons to take along, what time of day to go in, where to approach from. It's this flexibility that sets the game apart from its predominantly linear predecessors.

The idea of the One-man sneaking mission that Metal Gear Solid is known for isn’t really applicable to The Phantom Pain either. Big Boss can now be accompanied on his missions by various Buddies (although none of them are men, so I guess they are still one-man missions) that each have their own set of unique skills. The first Buddy, D-Horse, is available from the first mission in Afghanistan and those familiar with Red Dead Redemption will fell right at home with him/her. Whistling will call D-Horse straight to your location, no matter where you dismounted and will help to traverse the imposing terrain with ease. Other Buddies become available as the story progresses and offer a vast array of different skills and deciding which you one to take with you will affect how you approach the task at hand.

Plenty of grass to crawl throughPlenty of grass to crawl through

Metal Gear’s familiar stealthy gameplay of crawling through long grass, staying out of sight behind walls, hiding in well placed lockers (or toilets in this case), strategically luring in guards with careful taps and finally taking careful aim to make sure your tranquilizer darts hit their mark are all present. As with Ground Zeroes, if an enemy does spots you, slow motion Reflex Time kicks in which gives you a few seconds to take out the threat quietly and prevents the base from going into full alert status. This gives you the freedom to take more risks without needing to worry that a single misstep may unravel your carefully planned stealth incursion.

With no manual saving function, players have to rely on the game’s checkpoint system which saves at specific points during missions. While this may seem like it would be frustrating in circumstances where, for instance, there may be a long wait for an objective to reach a specific location, Big Boss’s Phantom Cigar can be used to speed up the passage of time. The sparse nature of the checkpoints also has the added benefit of not allowing the player to become stuck in a situation that can't be overcome and gives ample time to formulate and execute a different strategy if the need arises.

Sneaking still plays a major roleSneaking still plays a major role

Stealth isn’t the only way to accomplish your goals. In fact, as long as you have spent enough time expanding Mother Base (more on that later) Big Boss has his own personal armoury filled with a plethora of toys that gives the player more options than any previous game in the series. Supply drops can be called it at any time if you start running low on supplies or if you want to switch your tactics to deal with unforeseen circumstances. A gunship can be called in for air support, communications systems can be destroyed to stop the enemy from calling in reinforcements, sleeping gas bombs can be dropped over a wide area to neutralise multiple targets. Going in loud never seems wrong either, and feels like an equally legitimate way to deal with missions despite the series' stealth pedigree. It also doesn't overly affect your final mission rating which helps to reinforce the games highly flexible nature, even so every soldier killed and every vehicle destroyed is a missed opportunity.

Possibly The Phantom Pain's most important feature is Mother Base, Big Boss's home away from the battlefield. As in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD, once recruited, soldiers can be assigned to one of a number of research teams, either providing you with intel on the field, helping to develop new weapons and items, or to be sent out on dispatch missions to bring in additional funds. It is this system that is at the core of The Phantom Pain. While these optional side quests and base expansion tasks may seem like a waste of time at first, or just padding to make the game longer, everything has a point, with main missions, side- ops and the expansion of your home base all having an effect on what you can do out in the field. Neglecting Mother Base can leave you lacking in various tools, while avoiding the many side-ops missions may mean that you miss recruiting staff members with useful skills.

Returning to Mother BaseReturning to Mother Base

On top of everything, the game looks positively gorgeous. The game has been developed with the FOX engine, like Ground Zeroes before it. The engine is put to the test especially with the game's a wide range weather conditions, such as sandstorms, rainstorms and heavy mist each looking as glorious as the next, yet there is hardly any noticeable frame-rate drops. Of course these weather systems aren't just for show, as rain covers the sound of your footsteps, while sandstorms and fog restrict both yours and your enemies field of view.

The massive game is equally massive when it comes to its achievements. At the time of writing the game sits at over 27k TA score and while that number is sure to go down the longer the game is in the available, it will likely retain a high ratio. With an achievement for beating every mission in the game with an S rank which currently has a ratio sitting at a hefty 88.55 on the Xbox One version, as well as ones for developing 300 items and constructing all of the available platforms for Mother Base, both sitting at ratios above 40, completionists will need to put in a ridiculous amount of time in order to 100% the title.

Summary

The Phantom Pain is the kind of game that actually feels as if every seemingly insignificant gameplay detail actually has a real purpose. Every mission, side-op and minute spent assigning staff back at Mother Base makes a real difference to what can or cannot be achieved out on the field. At its core, it is still a stealth-action game, but it never ties you down to just being stealthy. Every mission can be approached in a multitude of different ways and it's left up to the player how to progress. The more manageable approach to storytelling may not seem true to the Metal Gear Solid series to date, but it fits in well with the game's more flexible approach, which lets people attack the game head on or play in smaller bites without needing to worry that at any moment they may have to set aside an hour purely to watch a surprise cut-scene.
5 / 5
Positives
  • Amazing opening sequence
  • Huge amount of flexibility
  • Hundreds of weapons and tools
  • Hours upon hours of gameplay
Negatives
  • Slow story development
  • Long grind for completionists
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 50 hours riding through the Afghan and African wilds, recruiting staff, assaulting mountain camps, crawling through the mud and Doing as much of everything as he possibly could. He unlocked 19 out of the game's 44 achievements. A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Lexley Ford
Written by Lexley Ford
Lex has been gaming for nearly three decades and has been a Newshound for TrueAchievements since 2011. When he’s not writing news he can normally be found immersing himself in a good story, both written and in-game, or just blowing stuff up (only in games).