Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - It's really good

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - It's really good

Hideo Kojima's latest - and possibly last - instalment in the Metal Gear franchise is one of the best games I've ever played. It's not without fault, but Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a triumph for the open world genre, and redefines what a stealth game can be.

Metal Gear is a series traditionally defined by stealth mechanics, futuristic technology (read: giant robots), solid storytelling, a movie or two worth of dialogue, and plot twists galore. While The Phantom Pain delivers on most of these aspects, it falls a little short on others. Regardless, it’s a game that is definitely worth your attention.

Set in an alternate reality quasi-futuristic mid 1980's, The Phantom Pain continues the story of Big Boss (also known as Snake) the leader of a paramilitary group known as Diamond Dogs. After waking up from a nine-year-long coma, fleeing a burning man, and being rescued by the cowboy-esque Revolver Ocelot, Big Boss is sent on clandestine operations against a rival military group known as XOF and its proxies.

An offshore installation, Mother Base, is set up in the Seychelles to provide research of new weapons and other types of support to Big Boss. Mother Base serves as a kind of hub area that can be explored and expanded as you wish. The staff of Mother Base grows as enemy soldiers are extracted and converted to Big Boss' cause and through volunteers.

The Phantom Pain is a stealth game at heart, but you don’t need to play it like one. While you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings at the end missions if you avoid detection and unnecessary homicide, there’s nothing stopping you from going on a rampage with a rocket launcher instead. Even though your objectives often suggest a stealth based approach - eliminating a high-ranking soldier, or stealing equipment from an enemy - you can complete the game either way, and you’re always able to replay missions if you want to try a different approach. You’ve got an incredible amount of tools at your disposal, ranging from a tranquiliser pistol to air strikes.

Amazingly, even a small change in tactics can cause a mission to unfold in a completely different way.  Enemy guards are no slouches though, and will adapt to your play style. If you have a tendency to go for headshots from long range, they may begin equipping themselves with helmets and draft more snipers to guard posts.

Thankfully, Big Boss doesn't have to go it alone on missions. Starting from the first chapter, Big Boss will make some friends along the way who can deploy with him. The first two are creatively named animal companions: D-Horse, and D-Dog. D-Horse can be ridden around the map, D-Dog will help you spot enemies and distract or kill them. Later on a sniper named Quiet joins you to provide long-range support. Your companion’s equipment can be researched and customised just like Big Boss', and their loadout will determine what capabilities they have. Taking a buddy on a mission will raise your relationship with them, and may also unlock new abilities.

The missions themselves take place across two open world environments, Afghanistan and the Angola/Zaire border in particular, but most are confined to a smaller segment of the map. A horse, vehicles, and a helicopter are all available to help you traverse larger areas.

Graphically, The Phantom Pain is an absolute superstar, it’s easily one of the best looking titles to come out of this generation. Environments are highly detailed, characters look amazing (without delving into the depths of uncanny valley) and objects such as grass, fur and cloth all look surprisingly realistic. It's clear that a great deal of effort has gone into making the game look fantastic. Best of all, the high graphical fidelity doesn't come at the cost of performance - the game runs at a stable 60 frames per second on my modestly-specced PC.

For me, Phantom Pain’s storytelling is its biggest let down. While the game features a larger than average amount of cutscenes, not enough exposition comes through them. Instead, optional audio recordings are relied on to flesh the story out. I'd be okay with this if the audio was simply used to add a little extra information, but you’ll miss out on a lot of important information if you don’t listen to them. While the story is enjoyable, hiding away key points in audio recordings isn’t a great way to tell it.

I was also a bit disappointed that Big Boss barely talks. Disregarding the cassette recordings (which are frankly pretty sparse too), Kiefer Sutherland is underutilised in his role as Big Boss.  Given the infamously long dialogue exchanges in previous titles, I had expected a significant amount of speech from Big Boss, but aside from the occasional quip, all of the talking comes from other characters.

Lastly, Phantom Pain’s story cuts off abruptly, and I never got a full sense of closure from the game. In the final hours I spent with it, the mission list presented me with carbon copy replays of old missions, but with gimmicks such as "Total Stealth" which gives you a game over as soon as you're spotted, or "Subsistence" where you enter a mission without guns and have to pick them up on the way. While you can finish the game without playing these missions, you need to complete a number of "repeats" to get Phantom Pain’s true ending. This came across as a bit of a cop out, and brought the impact of the ending down to the narrative equivalent of being hit by a feather pillow.

While it has its shortfalls, I can't help but love The Phantom Pain. Playing it is an absolute blast - the mechanics are deep and interesting, gameplay feels great, base management is a nice distraction, and there's enough collect-them-all elements to bring me back.

I fell in love with the game right from the start, and despite its ups and downs, I felt rewarded at every moment I played. Phantom Pain may be inconsistent when it comes to storytelling, but it makes up for it in spades thanks to its innovative gameplay. Plenty of open world titles promise of a game where you’re able to play however you want, but The Phantom Pain is one of the few that truly feels like it delivers on that promise.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is easily one of the best open world games the industry has ever offered. For me, it’s a modern classic.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was reviewd on PC. It is also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3.

Cybershack Score - rating backgroundrating 5

5
LikeDislike
Fantastic gameplayMajor plot points hidden in audio
Lots of fun, creative mechanicsRepeated missions feel like a cop out
Stunning graphicsSparse voice acting in main story

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