Offers gameplay excellence and variety rarely found in other games.
After years of anticipation, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has finally been released. The many publicised disputes between Kojima productions and Konami have certainly made this Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear game, but it is also definitely one of his best. This latest entry attempts to bridge the gap between the story of Big Boss/Naked Snake and that of Solid Snake, which began almost 30 years ago in 1987’s Metal Gear. The game enhances and expands the gameplay model of base building, weapon development and soldier recruitment established by Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and throws in two open world locations for the player to explore and tackle missions however they see fit.
Many game series like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed promise freedom of gameplay, when in truth they only have two paths, either total stealth or total action. There is usually no in-between. The Phantom Pain is the first action game that fully allows you the freedom of choosing your own path. Missions usually have an objective that can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, if the mission is an assassination, you could straight up shoot the target, or you could tranquilise him and bring him back to your base. If you wanted to be more creative, you could stealthily strap a C4 bomb onto the back of one of his soldiers and wait until they meet, before blowing them both up. This freedom doesn’t merely extend to how you complete your objectives, but also to how you reach them. You can play the game using total stealth, not being seen or interacting with anyone. Or you can go through the missions knocking out guards while mixing it up with some silent kills. Even if you take the more gun-hoe approach, enemies won’t immediately know your location, usually a trope in most action games, and Kojima has refined the ranking system to accommodate the new styles of play. In past Metal Gear Solid games you usually couldn’t achieve the coveted ‘S’ rank on a mission if you killed someone, but now, killing without being detected barely hampers your progress and at one time, I actually achieved an ‘S’ rank through quickly assaulting an enemy base with a heavy machine gun.
Accommodating so many different styles of play is possible due to this being the first open world Metal Gear Solid. You are given two huge areas in Cold war era Afghanistan and Angola in which to explore, complete side missions, and collect resources, soldiers and vehicles. The open world allows you to tackle heavily guarded areas from any direction and at any time of day, giving the game tremendous replay value. The challenge remains in that checkpoints are not frequent, making one wrong move fatal, possibly losing you 40 minute of progress. This may seem like a negative, but it makes the game extremely tense and really forces you to evaluate every option before you decide on a course of action.
The Mother Base mechanic makes a return from Peace Walker and it is up to Snake to once again build up his fortress. All enemy Soldiers on the battlefield can be extracted and sent to your base and depending on what skill they excel in, they will be assigned to teams such as research and development, or the Intel team. Leveling up these groups will provide Snake with perks such as new weapons and gear, enemy intelligence and extra support on mission. A completely new system implemented for The Phantom Pain is the buddy system, with which you can bring one of four buddies along on a mission. The different options accommodate the different styles of play, for example ‘D-Dog’ can spot most enemies and silently kill them if you order him too. On the other side of the spectrum is Quiet, a female Sniper who can kill enemies from a distance and provide covering fire if they attack you. None of them are overpowered and complement each style of play, making them great additions to the series. Another new feature is the option to drive vehicles, including everything between Jeeps and heavy tanks. The Phantom Pain offers a staggering amount of variety in the gameplay department.
Probably for the first time ever in a Metal Gear title, gameplay trumps the story. Kojima has described previous Metal Gear’s as epics, similar to films, but he compared The Phantom Pain more to a HBO series. This is an adequate comparison: gone are the long cut scenes which created a more focused story. It has clearly been streamlined to accommodate new players to the series, but still does contain many great and completely insane moments prominent throughout the Metal Gear saga. It even goes to some previously unexplored areas that include heavy topics, such as African child soldiers and rape. Both are handled with the respect that these subjects deserve, highlighting how much the gaming medium has developed over the years. If you want the classic heavy exposition you can find it in optional cassette tapes, which are Kojima’s reward to fans who have stuck with the series long term. However relegating a lot of the lore to the background partly ruins the immersion, as the game tries too hard to appeal to new players.
The film world has many Auteur directors, but the world of gaming is limited to only a few, and The Phantom Pain is a clear example of the vision of one man. Anyone who has played a previous Metal Gear will see Kojima’s influence everywhere in terms of cut scenes, gameplay, and humour. In terms of gameplay, The Phantom Pain is a masterpiece, giving the player limitless options to tackle its open ended missions. In every other department, sound, graphics and physics, it also excels. The only negative is that fans of the previous Metal Gears may be left disappointed in how the story is now structured, but no doubt newcomers to the series will appreciate this change. Nevertheless Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one of the best new releases in years and a high note for creator Hideo Kojima to leave the series on.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is available now on PlayStation 3,PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.