by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
It's been 28 years since the release of the original Metal Gear for the MSX. PC and console gaming both has gone through rigorous evolution since. Along the way, many old series have died off, and many new ones have sprung up; but the Metal Gear series has carved its way from a niche following, to a household name.
We've gone from controlling a mostly-human looking sprite on screen in a setting with zero narrative, to a series more increasingly cinematic with stories as entertaining as they are convoluted. Some could argue that the cinematic tone of the story was a detriment to gameplay, and if you cite Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots as that reasoning then you'd be right. But overall, the Metal Gear series has only improved with time, and this final installment from series creator Hideo Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions is no exception. In fact, the series goes out with a bang.
"V has come to."
The Phantom Pain opens to the hospital scene that fans will be acquainted with – it has Big Boss awakening in a hospital bed after a 9 year coma due to the events at the end of the 2014 prologue chapter Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. While the hospital scene has been teased several times before, it's a whole different experience seeing it in action. While almost literally an on-rails tutorial, the content encompasses both a feeling of trying to survive a siege and the threat of the supernatural. After an hour or so, you're finally set loose into Phantom Pain’s open world.
Massive Gear Solid
It was pretty evident that building an open world for the franchise was going to produce a very different beast than what we are used to, not in the least due to a tremendous increase in the game's content. There are 50 main missions, 39 of them being unique while the remainder are harder versions of others, and 157 side missions. It's taken the series much further in terms of content, offering well over 50 hours of game time if you plan on doing most of the game's content. 63 hours in, I’m still going and there's no telling when I'll actually be willing to put the game down and have a break.
A Aerial Command Center (or ACC) serves as your hub for most of what the game has to offer. From the back of one of the choppers supplied by Big Boss's organization, Diamond Dogs, it is here that you will most often decide where you're going to go. This gives you a reprieve from the game to consult your iDroid for things that you might neglect while out in the field, such as developing new technologies, expanding your home base, and weeding out recruits who aren't exactly fit for the ranks of Diamond Dogs.
Eventually you can work your way up to a rather hefty gun customization system that far exceeds what I was expecting. Many had speculated that the lack of licensed fire arms was due to trying to cut costs on some front. While that may be true to some extent, it seems the bulk of the reasoning may be due to the ability to mix and match so many different gun parts to effectively make your own weapons. So even in this reprieve from the battlefield, there's always something to do and I found myself on more than one occasion sinking half an hour or so into customizing my weapons all while listening to one of the several 1980's songs I collected out in the world.
Play It Your Way
But it's not just a massive scope that has evolved in The Phantom Pain, the gameplay has also been improved substantially. With an open world to play in, both sneaking and combat are more fluid than ever and if you can dream up an idea, you can more than likely do it. So many memorable moments are made because of this freedom of gameplay, no two players are likely to have the same experiences.
One of the best moments actually came from a side mission, I was tasked with infiltrating an airfield to retrieve a set of research blueprints. On the surface, it sounded simple enough. My plan was to go in under cover of night and secure the objective without the enemy ever realizing I had been there. I picked my loadout and decided to drop in ASAP rather than at dawn or at dusk. It was about 0300 hours, I had what I thought would be plenty of time to complete my objective. The chopper dropped me at a far enough landing zone to avoid drawing suspicion and then went in on foot, lockpicking a fence on the perimeter before sneaking inside.
Quietly creeping around from building to building, I found no sign of the blueprints. I found plenty of resources, but no blueprints. Sun was starting to creep up on the horizon, I had to act quickly. Finding the nearest guard I held him at gunpoint after getting the drop on him, and managed to coax the information out of him. He essentially revealed that the blueprints were in fact in the terminal area of the compound, the most heavily guarded and traversed section of the base. I needed a distraction, so I found the nearest destructible fuel tank (distinguished from the non-destructible ones by a 'Flammable' sticker on the side) and rigged it with C4. I waited.
I set off the explosion just after sunrise and right before the guard shifts changed. As my enemies went to see what the ruckus was all about, I slipped back inside to snag the blueprints. I managed to escape without having to battle it out with anyone. It was glorious, and only one of many amazing experiences I've had with the game.
Gameplay Vs. Story
While the story is still there, the gameplay takes center stage this time and the blanks between the story moments are filled with the stories of your own experiences. There are only a few hours’ worth of cutscenes and a few more added on through intel tapes. But what is there still rings true with the Metal Gear Solid feel, with stellar performances from the entire voice acting cast, major and minor characters alike. This shift in the narrative may split the fanbase up a bit, but personally I found there to still be plenty of cutscenes and story content to be had.
That being said, there are two things about the story that I should mention. One specific mission was cut from the game from which partially finished cutscenes can be found on the web. I believe it would have tied up a rather huge loose end, and without a reasonable explanation from Kojima why it is missing I am more than a little disappointed it is.
Also, Phantom Pain’s ending is either an instance of loving it or hating it. I really cannot say much about it without spoiling it but it will likely be the most dividing controversy in the gaming community since the ending of Mass Effect 3.
It brings everything full circle but in an unexpected way which is, somewhat understandably, proving to be leaving a sour taste in many mouths. For me, I was not only satisfied; I was surprised. It throws everything we thought we knew about the franchise and carves a place for itself in the lore of the series.
The Game That Sold The World
Brilliant on nearly every level, I can almost overlook my story issue with the game. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the game that fans have been waiting for since Hideo Kojima teased that he wanted Metal Gear Solid 3 to be massive, but was limited by hardware at the time. Kojima and his team saved the best for last, bringing the long running story of Big Boss to a close with a bang in gameplay, though a slightly stumbling run in the story. Despite that, the Phantom Pain a must play.
Massive world, nearly endless variety of memorable moments, more content
Cut story mission leaves a rather glaring loose end, ending certain to cause controversy