I’m a Metal Gear Solid fanboy through and through. I’m not ashamed to admit it, in fact I’m proud of it. The series is certainly not for everyone given the fact that most of the games have just as many cutscenes as they have moments of gameplay, but I’m a sucker for great stories and characters. And that’s something the Metal Gear Solid series has in spades. The Metal Gear Solid games have also always been rather linear, though they’ve also consistently provided players with a certain level of freedom as they progress through the stories. Even so, they were still ultimately rather linear. In perhaps a very appropriate move, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, likely the last game of the series, is also the first and only game in the series to move to the realm of open-world gaming, which gives gamers more options with how to approach different situations. It also greatly lessens the number of overly long cutscenes, making it more accessible to a wider audience of gamers. I had a lot of fun with this game, and I’m sure lots of fans and newcomers alike will have plenty of fun with it as well. However, the game does have flaws that, as a huge fan of the series, I simply cannot ignore.
Taking place right after the prologue game Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, The Phantom Pain begins with the legendary Big Boss recovering from a 9 year coma and waking up in a fancy shmancy hospital somewhere in Europe, after which he begins to come to terms with his new disabilities. Of course, it’s not long before hell starts raining down on poor Big Boss and you end up guiding him through what I could only describe as a playable nightmare: A black ops team and a couple of supernatural or possibly imaginary freaks start killing their way through all the other patients in the hospital for the sole purpose of getting to Big Boss. Due to all the slaughter and outrageously over-the-top supernatural elements in the game’s intro, I wasn’t even sure what was real or what was an hallucination.
While I’m accustomed to being in the dark and not knowing what’s going on right off the bat in a Metal Gear Solid game, I was beyond confused and freaked out by the intro, making it all the more enthralling. But soon enough, Big Boss meets up with his soon to be BFF Ocelot and takes up shop in a brand new offshore base in his first step to form a new mercenary group, Diamond Dogs, in order to gain enough military strength to take the fight directly to the enemies who put him in his coma and destroyed his previous mercenary group.
“I was rocking this sneaking suit long before my son made it popular.”
Just like in Peace Walker, managing the Diamond Dogs Mother Base in The Phantom Pain requires extracting enemies you encounter during missions and having them join your staff. As you put more skilled soldiers in each department (combat unit, R&D, medical team, etc.) you are given more access to weapons and items, as well as special back-up actions that can make missions easier like airstrikes, supply drops, and intel on enemy positions. Unfortunately, by the time you get enough skilled soldiers and GMP (experience points) to gain access to the better and more useful weapons and actions, you’ll likely be done or close to done with the game, even if you do a high number of side-ops (side-missions) to grind up enough points. In fact, gaining access to resources that let you use certain pieces of equipment requires replaying missions, which this game seriously did not need since it’s enough of a grind already.
The same goes for expanding Mother Base to make room for more personnel. The amount of GMP and resources (like fuel and metal) required to get your base to full size and strength is outrageously high, not to mention the amount of time you have to wait for new base platforms to be built: I was waiting up to two and a half hours for my last few base platforms to be built…in real time. Even though I always had missions to occupy my time while I waited for my new platforms to be built, the amount of time I had to wait was just way too long. Still, managing the base and its personnel so that it functions well can be enjoyable in its own way.
“That’s it, I’m firing my contractor, these bridges are way too f@%#ing long!”
Thankfully, the different missions you can undertake are a real blast, for the most part. Big Boss will be rescuing prisoners, tailing and assassinating targets, infiltrating bases and strongholds, destroying or stealing enemy resources (weapons and vehicles), and even removing wild animals from the battlefield to his own private zoo platform. This isn’t even including special main missions that have you taking on super soldiers and giant robots, which is always fun (though sometimes frustrating). While some of the missions can only be completed in specific fashions and in a certain amount of time, most can be completed however you wish.
If you’re on a mission to assassinate a target who is surrounded by his bodyguards, you can slowly take out (or extract) all the bodyguards one by one until you reach your target, you can go in guns blazing and destroy everyone in sight with your own weapons or with the enemy’s weapons like mounted machine guns and tanks, or you can just wait for your target to get out in the open and snipe him from a distance and leave before anyone’s the wiser. This freedom in gameplay can make for some incredibly fun and satisfying moments. Just the same, a lot of the missions, mainly the side-ops, are basically the same things over and over again, which can lead to an inevitable feeling of “here we go again.”
Another feature that can make missions fun is going in with special buddies or vehicles. Buddies are basically companions that provide specialized assistance to Big Boss during missions and can be partially controlled by the player. D-Horse is a useful early game buddy that provides the player with a versatile mode of transportation, which is quite necessary early on when vehicles aren’t readily accessible. D-Dog can kill or incapacitate enemies on command and instantly mark any enemies and objectives that may be nearby, even unseen enemies who could be lurking in buildings. D-Walker is a special mini-Metal Gear that can also provide less discreet transportation along with much needed fire support and protection from enemy gunfire. And Quiet can scout enemy strongholds before you even get there to mark enemies and objectives, as well as provide some useful sniper support. Each buddy has their own advantages and disadvantages and I greatly enjoyed using all of them in different missions. More games should include features like this.
If you don’t feel like sneaking around, then blowing stuff up is another option
The use of vehicles was well done too; personally, it took me a while to get used to how they operate, but they still served their purposes. However, there is an irritating issue involving the use of APCs and tanks. If you begin a mission with one of your own APCs or tanks that you extracted from previous missions, a pesky bug may occur that has you start off with absolutely no ammo in your APC’s or tank’s weapons. This actually happened way more often than it should have, to the point where I almost completely stopped bringing these vehicles with me on missions, and since these vehicles aren’t normally available to hijack from enemies in many missions, I felt like I was really missing out on some good old fashioned tank mayhem in missions that would have been more fun if I could have used them.
Now we come to The Phantom Pain’s online component, FOBs (Forward Operating Bases). If you choose to build an FOB, which is separate from the main Mother Base, it can be invaded by other players who can steal your resources and even your soldiers. You can also do the same to other players in return. Thing is, other players can jack your shit even when you’re not actually playing the game. If you’re at work, hanging out with friends, or even getting that oh-so necessary 7 to 8 hour nap most of us take at the end of the day, some dude could be invading your base and taking your hard-earned resources. And unless your security team or ideally another ally player can stop them…there’s nothing you can do about it. Oh, and it costs actual, real life money to buy an FOB.
I can see some real online gaming aficionados getting into this whole FOB feature, and objectively speaking I can see a certain appeal to it. But personally I say “No thanks” to this nonsense. The fact the servers for The Phantom Pain’s online feature are iffy at best doesn’t help either. It would have been fine if there was an offline alternative to this FOB stuff, but except for the one tutorial mission you play when Mother Base is invaded by AI enemies, the FOB stuff is strictly an online affair. This is Metal Gear Solid, a series that has always excelled in the singleplayer department, so I didn’t see the need for this online feature to be added in at all. On a more positive note, the game looks fantastic. Pretty much all the Metal Gear Solid games pushed their respective gaming platforms to their limits when it came to visuals, and The Phantom Pain has some outstanding visuals: the armored vehicles, Mother Base, enemy strongholds, the deserts of Afghanistan and grassy fields of Africa, and of course the character designs (especially those of certain female characters) are superbly done.
Chicks dig guys with state of the art military bases
So what about The Phantom Pain’s story? How does it stack up to the high standards of the previous games? It actually holds up pretty damn well. In fact, there were a couple of very powerful moments in the game’s narrative that gave me pause and even had me feeling quite sad, more so than most of the dramatic moments in all the other MGS games combined (I never thought I could fall in love with a video game character until now). Like always, The Phantom Pain weaves an incredible yarn that combines military action with science fiction in the best way possible, making for an appropriately over-the-top experience that still manages to take itself seriously and deals with some real issues involving the nature of war and all its horrible baggage. Though even I had to suspend more of my disbelief than usual when Big Boss had to fight against these vaguely undead super soldiers that could turn invisible, encase themselves in rock-hard armor, and make weapons materialize out of thin air…all in the year 1984. And don’t get me started on the Man on Fire.
As for the big twist in the end…I’m still not sure how to react to it. The part of me that is a huge fan of the series feels somewhat betrayed. The other part of me that appreciates a twist that can engender such strong reactions from so many players feels like the story has done its job in providing a truly surprising and memorable ending. Seriously, it’s the kind of twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud…though in reality he’s probably envious of Kojima’s genius. But much like the rest of this review, we come to the negative side of the current topic, which is the game’s cut content. I won’t get into any specifics, but suffice it to say that a very important plot point receives absolutely no resolution and is kind of left up in the air before the final end credits roll, and the cut content basically would have provided an actual resolution to this plot point had it been included in the game.
Since this is most likely the last game in the MGS series and the cut content was released as a special video in the collector’s edition for The Phantom Pain (and thankfully posted on Youtube), it’s unlikely it will be added as DLC later on. And even if it was, it’s unlikely to be free, so having to buy it would be a true crime since it should have been included in the final game to begin with. The twist ending and the cut content obviously wouldn’t matter much to someone who has never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, but for a superfan such as myself, I can’t help but feel that the ending could have been better had the cut content been included since now the game’s finale feels like a missed opportunity. Furthermore, the game’s finale also lacks that oh-so-important factor that all the previous MGS games had: A climactic final boss battle.
While this review may read like I have a lot of negative stuff to say about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the truth is that it’s a great game. Really, it is. This game is fun, addicting, and has an enthralling story, all qualities inherent in a Metal Gear Solid game. It’s just not the perfect specimen of a video game that so many other reviewers are making it out to be. It doesn’t have any major flaws, just a number of smaller ones that add up, the biggest ones being its grinding nature and the cut content leaving the game’s story with a somewhat disappointing and abrupt ending. If fellow Gaming Respawn writer Michael had not already boycotted Konami due to the company’s other recent crappy business decisions, I’m sure this transgression would have pushed him over the edge. At the very least, this game provides fans of the series with some fitting foreshadowing and new background info on the events we know are to occur in the other games that take place years after The Phantom Pain, bringing everything full-circle, finally. One final note: Finding out Liquid Snake’s real name at long last was an extra nice little treat for me.