Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – The Man Who Sold the World – Review

Gare – Thursday, October 1, 2015 6:20 PM
Share on

If The Witcher 3 was the big, highly-anticipated AAA release of 2015’s first half, then Metal Gear Solid 5 would no doubt be the title filling the same role for the year’s latter half – that’s right, lovably insane mastermind Hideo Kojima is back with quite possibly the final installment in his long-running series of kooky stealth espionage action. Are we dealing with the perfect swan song, a flawed diamond or a complete flop, though? Let’s find out.

Kept you waiting, huh?

The game takes us back to the 1980s and acts as a sequel to the origin story that started in Metal Gear Solid 3 and was later continued in Peace Walker – at the beginning of The Phantom Pain, Big Boss wakes up from a nine year coma and begins to build up his army of mercenaries called the Diamond Dogs. The obvious question right off the bat is: do you need to be familiar with the Metal Gear franchise in order to understand what’s going on? Well… sort of, yes. You don’t necessarily have to know the entire script of the whole franchise by heart, but some level of familiarity with key events and characters of Metal Gear Solid 3, Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes (which is essentially this game’s separately sold prologue) will drastically decrease the number of times you’ll scratch your head in confusion throughout Phantom Pain’s story events.

Played like a fiddle

With that said, my answer to “can you still enjoy Metal Gear Solid 5 without having any clue as to what’s going on in its story” is a resounding yes. This may sound odd to people familiar with the series’ traditionally gargantuan cutscenes, but The Phantom Pain actually takes a different approach and prioritizes thrilling, gameplay-focused infiltration missions over drawn out narrative segments. In fact, the majority of The Phantom Pain’s storyline is conveyed through cassette tapes (audio logs, basically) acquired after each mission, and the game doesn’t even force you to listen to all of them – now, whether or not this is a good thing is, of course, something each player might interpret differently depending on their expectations, but I personally would’ve liked to a see a less “sit down and listen to a recording for 10 minutes” type of approach to storytelling. The bigger problem is the fact that Metal Gear Solid 5’s storyline in general feels tremendously lacking. As in, it’s barely present. The plot is mostly a series of missions loosely connected by a handful few short cutscenes, with Snake acting the role of the silent protagonist during most of the events that play out around him while none of the major characters receive much development, even with the cassette tapes. Things get significantly worse during the last 10-15 missions of the game: here, the stream of new content stops for the most part and the game runs out of ideas as you’re basically forced to play through older missions on harder difficulties (either that, or you keep grinding side missions, which isn’t particularly riveting, either) in order to occasionally unlock a couple new story missions, making the latter half of the game – aside from being generally a chore to play – feel genuinely unfinished.

Remember, this is a sneaking mission

Thankfully, there’s one big part of Metal Gear Solid 5 that helps alleviate its glaring narrative shortcomings. And that, in a word, is the gameplay. As I mentioned above, the game is indeed a series of missions thrown at you in batches. But MGS5 does things a bit differently compared to previous installments, the most notable change being that it now takes place in a massive open world sandbox – or rather, two sandboxes: one for Afghanistan, another for Africa. You’re dropped into the world via chopper with a mission objective and relative freedom over how to complete it. And that’s the beauty of it: there are tons of options to play around with and plenty of different ways to approach a mission, both in terms of what route to take and what playstyle you utilize. You could ghost through an area, staying out of sight, which is perfectly fine. Or you may prefer to make use of decoys to confuse enemy soldiers, potentially alerting their base to your presence but also disorganizing their ranks, allowing you to slip away in the midst of the ensuing chaos. If an enemy compound is too heavily fortified, make use of the game’s real time weather system and approach your objective after nightfall to find several enemy soldiers asleep in their beds, creating the perfect opportunity to sneak past them. Use the weather to your advantage: the sound of rainfall dampens the sound of your footsteps, while a thick sandstorm temporarily reduces visibility to the point where you can sneak past problematic areas or launch a surprise attack. And while the game offers plenty of options for those prioritizing the “things go boom” approach,

The Phantom Pain is at its best when you succeed at infiltrating a base undetected – the thrill of slipping past enemy lines without anyone being aware of your presence is quite worth the extra effort. Still, if you’d prefer to go loud, calling in an airstrike is a viable option, and so is relying on a support helicopter to aid you in battle – provided you don’t forget to disable the enemy base’s anti-air defenses. And hey, why not have your helicopter blast Take On Me by A-ha through its loudspeakers as it rains down missiles upon the enemy base? Because of course you can do that, too. The same goes for making use of your so-called Fulton Device, a portable balloon you can use to, well… effectively steal anything and everything during a mission and have it sent back to your base, be it incapacitated soldiers, zebras, cargo containers or even tanks. Remember, you’re playing a Hideo Kojima game.

Enemy soldiers aren’t just there to be killed, either: if you catch them by surprise, you may interrogate them to acquire precious information – the location of a hostage, for instance – that can make a mission that much easier. The game also features a so-called “Buddy” system to diversify play styles even further: depending on which partner accompanies you during a mission, you gain access to a variety of different commands. The loyal wolf-dog, D-Dog can, for example, distract and sniff out nearby enemies, drawing attention away from you, the female sniper Quiet can swiftly assassinate any soldier about to discover you, while the so-called D-Walker (a small bipedal mech) is… well, let’s just say you can equip it with a rocket launcher and a flamethrower, so I doubt it needs to be explained how this little mech will come in handy in certain situations. Supply drops can also be called in while on the field with the click of a button, allowing you to request a different set of weapons, outfits, vehicles and so on during your travels. As such, the game never particularly forces you to use just one style of play – you’re free to be flexible and adapt to the situation at hand. However, one notable shortcoming of the game’s numerous missions is the painful lack of memorable boss fights – there are a few encounters that could be classified as such, but this aspect of The Phantom Pain still left much to be desired.

We’re Diamond Dogs

A decent portion of Metal Gear Solid 5’s campaign is devoted to building and managing your own base of operations, generally referred to as Mother Base. Being able to fully explore your colossal HQ as you mingle among your own men sounds great on paper, but The Phantom Pain unfortunately falls short in terms of execution. I’ll get to the point: there’s basically nothing to do on Mother Base, and the place will soon become a glorified shower room you grudgingly force yourself to return to just so you can wash the blood off your uniform after a heated firefight out on the field. The entire place is one big empty space with your own soldiers strolling about (who only offer a few comments and a salute from time to time as you pass by them), with nothing but a handful of repetitive sharpshooting side missions to help break the silence. Capturing enemy soldiers on the field (via the previously mentioned Fulton Device) and enlisting them in your own ranks is how you initially build up your own army, the members of which can be assigned various tasks to help develop new weapons and equipment for Snake to use on missions – it costs in-game money, resources and… time. Yes. For many of the gear you can develop, you’ll have to wait anywhere between 15 to 30+ in-game minutes, almost like you were playing the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper all of a sudden – in short, this merely felt like an arbitrary way of extending game time for no good reason.

Furthermore, the game boasts of a decently large open world, but there’s little to no incentive to actually explore much of it. Aside from the endless stream of repetitive side missions (which generally boil down to “go here and kill/extract this thing”), there’s sadly not much to discover in either Africa or Afghanistan beyond its empty, sand-covered wastes and dozens of enemy bases with nothing interesting inside. In fact, before you unlock a way to fast travel, trekking across the game’s massive sandbox can become somewhat tiresome.

The game also includes an online invasion-based multiplayer mode: here, you stealthily infiltrate the bases of other players in order to steal resources and personnel from them. In such situations, you are faced not only with the AI controlled soldiers, but – if they decide to intervene – the owner of the base as well, controlled by another player. While this is a refreshing take on the single player campaign’s infiltration scenarios and even makes use of elements not present in the main game (security drones, laser tripwires), invasions can get stale after a while, considering they all take place on identical-looking Mother Bases, and it’s not even guaranteed you’ll actually face off against another player. Still, this game mode provides a decent enough way to kill some time in case you need a change of scenery between single player missions.

From the man who sold the world

So at the end of the day, what do I think of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain? True, I did find plenty of things to criticize – still, none of that can change the fact that I still had one hell of a time with Kojima’s big finish to the saga. It’s a flawed, unfinished game, this much is certain, one that could’ve been so much more, yet under a blanket of redundant elements, a lackluster narrative and somewhat repetitive side missions, there’s a genuinely fun action/stealth game to be found here. You sort of just have to make sure not to get too caught up in the bad, and you’ll definitely come to appreciate all the good it still has to offer.

If you liked this article, follow us on our channels below and/or register!