Metal Gear Solid V is exactly what open world games should strive to be. Whether it is the dynamic open-world that provides a myriad of strategic options, the depth of content, with its deluge of base building mechanics and development systems, or the pitch perfect shooting and stealth gameplay, The Phantom Pain is a masterclass in game design. Leave it to Hideo Kojima, the mind behind the Metal Gear series all these years, to send fans off on what is easily the best playing game in the series.
Metal Gear Solid V has been hailed as the last Metal Gear game, take that as you will, but it is definitely the last game for Kojima Productions. With Hideo’s lengthy and widely reported battle with Konami and his ensuing departure, to the huge development costs, there has been a cloud of anticipation bordering on hysterics surrounding this game. Suffice to say, The Phantom Pain more than delivers on a gameplay front, but when it comes to the delivery of the bewildering, borderline nonsensical story that Metal Gear fans know and love, Metal Gear Solid V raises as many questions as it answers.
Leaving longtime series fans to fill in the gaps, The Phantom Pains story is the weakest element but not nearly the death knell that many believe it to be. In fact, The Phantom Pain contains some incredibly powerful moments in the late game, and contains a sense of tension, as if something truly awful was about to occur for the latter half of the game, permeating your actions with emotion and leading to a epic climax. The first major issue is how much time it takes to see the “true ending” and the work involved, forcing many to believe they had finished the game, missing the most important story moments. The second, is relegating much of the story to codec recordings of conversations between Snake and the supporting cast, making players spend much of their time listening to audio logs and sitting still, hoping not to miss a single word.
David Hayter’s classic Snake has been replaced with Kiefer Sutherland which ultimately fits the tone of The Phantom Pain, painting the darkest and most violent Metal Gear story yet, but it would be wrong to say that Hayter is not missed. Sutherland does a fine job as Snake, but one wishes he had more to say, with most of his recorded work held in the codec conversations. He makes for a great Big Boss but he is underutilized and, ultimately the change feels unnecessary. Keeping Hayter would have been the easier and safer option, making the final decision all the more confusing. The other major change is Troy Baker taking over as Ocelot, where he does what sounds like Troy Baker doing a poor Patric Zimmerman impersonation. This is another change that makes little sense, possibly trying to account for the change in tone, feeling that Hayter and Zimmerman may have been too over-the-top for the subject matter. Ultimately both voice actors have shown they are more than capable to hand dark subject matter with some subtlety, making the final choice all the more bewildering.
The story follows Big Boss and his new mercenary army, The Diamond Dogs, rebuilding Mother Base and hunting down Skull Face and his soldiers after the events of Ground Zeroes. To jump into The Phantom Pain without playing that prologue would be a major mistake, with it serving as a good primer for the gameplay and story within Metal Gear Solid V in hindsight. Gone are the hour and a half cutscenes and absurdly long codec talks, in their place are the pre-recorded audio logs and much more succinct mission custscenes The Phantom Pain feels like a direct response by Kojima to the criticisms of Metal Gear Solid 4. Gameplay is the focus, and while the story is substantial and will provide plenty for fans to speculate over, it misses many key pieces that the Metal Gear faithful may have been looking for. This is not The Revenge Of The Sith to Star Wars’ A New Hope, there is no direct connection up to the very moment the original Metal Gear starts, but it lays enough of the groundwork and contains its own massive twist that only could be in a Kojima game. Ultimately there are some missing elements but The Phantom Pain provides an interesting story that caries a sense of looming dread into the final hours that I have not seen in a game since Red Dead Redemption.
Where The Phantom Pain shines is in the moment to moment gameplay, where it is absolutely one of the greatest stealth games ever made. The shooting is satisfying and precise, the guns feel wonderful and the options available are staggering. Buddies mix up gameplay depending on how you want to approach a situation, from stealth with DDog to riding in on the back of DHorse, situations can be tackled any way you see fit. So diverse are the tools and problems presented, that The Phantom Pain may be the first true sandbox. Content is dynamically presented in the open world, and an alert status can be avoided by literally driving kilometers away from the enemy base or a horse can be commanded to poop on the head of a knocked out enemy. Non lethal or extremely lethal, every option is open and has consequences.
The other major feature is your base, fultoned soldiers helps increase the size and capability of Mother Base and as it grows it shows in game, with the ability to visit your base frequently to watch it progress. Animals can be captured and placed in a personal conservatory on-base, which fills more and more with each new species taken in. With better soldiers comes better research, intel, support and other factors, each one changing gameplay. Better intel leads to on-the-fly reports on enemy locations in the field, while your combat unit can be sent on missions to accrue supplies and new soldiers.The research division allows access to insane end game items, new weapons and armor and a myriad of other toys for players to use. Every action has a purpose and a direct impact on how you play, and with the amount of options provided and the idea of having the missions play out in the open world, The Phantom Pain allows for some of the most hilarious, fun and dynamic moments in games.
Side content and main missions take place in the world, and unlike most open-world games, can be ran into on accident, tackled from any angle or downright avoided. The mission design almost always allows for total control over your strategy, making each one a giant puzzle to tackle or battlefield to assault. The design of the environments lend so well to the mission and gameplay design, with content always taking place in interesting and varied areas, causing players to change tactics and gear based on the situation. The world is gorgeous, the animations are full of that Metal Gear personality and the game, despite the story, feels so polished and hand crafted, it is hard to play another stealth game after the fact. Listening to classic 80’s tracks on your cassette while infiltrating an enemy base is one of the best moments in gaming and it is not something scripted or designed to be forced on the player. It is something you can find for yourself. That is The Phantom Pains philosophy, while so many other games actively deter players from having fun the way they want, by funneling them down corridors or making them play as a specific character, Metal Gear Solid V just lets you have fun.
In a year filled with great games, none provides that pure sense of joy like Metal Gear Solid V does. Tranquilizing a group of guards and tossing them all in a jeep, only to fulton them all at once is a blast every time, and The Phantom Pain is chock full of player driven moments that make each experience with it one of a kind. It is the best playing Metal Gear ever, and despite the story issues, it provides a thrill that is unseen in most games today. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is not just one of the best games of the year, it is one of the best stealth games ever made.
+Tight shooting and gameplay
+Incredible array of options
+Total player choice
+Player driven narrative moments throughout
+Powerful story moments
-Limited story content compared to the length of the game
-Voice acting changes