Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review: Absolute Perfection

Posted in Kulturecade by - October 01, 2015

I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with an appropriate opening statement about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for a good long time, but I’m struggling to find just the right words to introduce this game. ‘Amazing’, ‘addictive’, ‘Incredibly fun’ seem to be coming up a lot, so let’s just go with that. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is amazing, addictive and incredibly fun.

The main bullet point for The Phantom Pain is that it is the first truly ‘open world’ Metal Gear Solid game. Imagine Far Cry-flavored Metal Gear, and you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect from TPP. On paper it sounds amazing, but in execution it has some significant positive and negative aspects.

First of all, the open world format does wonders for the Metal Gear gameplay. What was once a very linear experience with strict pacing and mechanics is now so much more open and full of possibility. The interaction between the various gameplay mechanics has always been a standout for the Metal Gear series, and now that the game is no longer confined to regimented, controlled gameplay sequences, there is a huge potential for unique situations and gameplay possibilities. This is one of those games friends will discuss endlessly about how they completed certain missions, as there are so many different ways to go about achieving the same goal.

The standard gameplay revolves around completing a list of missions with various objectives and rules within huge open world zones. Mission objectives are varied and could involve rescuing hostages trapped in a militia base, or destroying trucks on a trade route. Some conditions may mean that you aren’t allowed to kill any guards, or maybe you will have a certain time limit to complete all the mission objectives. A lot of the tasks are tropes of the open world format, but the huge array of crazy Metal Gear mechanics and gameplay elements leads to very unique gameplay situations and experiences.

For example, one mission may require you to rescue a hostage being held within a militia compound. You start the mission by getting dropped off via helicopter near the compound, then make your way to a vantage point to scope out the area to get a sense of what you might come up against. Once you mark all your enemies and note any ancillary details such as fuel tanks, communication bays or hiding spots, you are ready to infiltrate the base. One way of completing the objective would be to steal the tank parked out the front, drive through the front gate, mow down all the enemies in your way, search the base for the hostage, grab them and get out. Another would be to wait until nightfall, interrogate a guard to find out where the location of the hostage is, sneak into the base via sewerage drain, take out any guards you come across silently and then extract the hostage without raising an alarm. Or you could call back the helicopter that dropped you off, tell it to attack the base, then amidst the chaos, sneak in, grab the hostage, put him in the back of a truck and drive away. There are so many options at your disposal and the choice is yours to go about things the way you want to.

One of the factors that makes the gameplay so great is the control scheme. The series has been infamous in the past for it’s clunky, often unintuitive controls – an issue that has been thoroughly addressed in The Phantom Pain. The game controls superbly and after a short warming-up period, feels very natural, intuitive and most importantly – modern. The controls feel like classic Metal Gear Solid movement, blended with modern FPS controls (left trigger aim down sights, right trigger to shoot etc.) that work well to give you precise control of the action at all times.

Completing missions rewards you with GMP (money) and resources to put towards the advancement of your own personal Mother Base. You are given control over managing the progression and development of Mother Base which adds a light meta-progression/management-sim gameplay element to the mix – and it is awesome. Acquiring resources, capturing enemies alive and rescuing hostages whilst out in the field increases the level of your various divisions on Mother Base which in turn unlocks new features, weapons and equipment for you to use on future missions. The best thing about the Mother Base development is that it is an actual hub-world for you to visit and explore in between missions. Staff members that you acquire will roam around the base, upgrades to features can be seen and explored – you end up developing an attachment to your Mother Base that really makes it feel like your character’s home.

Metal Gear Solid has always been beloved for it’s huge, ridiculous, convoluted, overarching story. Phantom Pain takes place in the 1980’s where our protagonist Big Boss has woken from a nine-year coma after his buddies were killed and his home was destroyed. Newcomers to the series will have absolutely no clue what’s going on and I highly recommend extensive background research and wiki reading before diving in, as the story is one of the key elements that makes up the core of the Metal Gear series.

The story elements in TPP are great for fans, filling in a number of missing details in the Metal Gear lore and fleshing out major characters, yet the nature of the open-world format of The Phantom Pain is at odds with the delivery of the story. Meaningful exposition is often limited to end-of-mission debriefings and occasional cut scenes, which leads to a very slow story progression. Couple this with the numerous open-world filler missions that are frequently used to pad out the game’s length, the result is a half-baked story delivered at a snail’s pace – a cardinal sin for Metal Gear Solid.

When the cut scenes do occasionally show up, they are always welcome. Kojima’s signature over-the-top cinematography shines brighter than ever, creating action-packed, stunningly rendered cut scenes unlike anything else in videogames. The game frequently switches seamlessly from gameplay to cut scene and is downright astounding every time it does.

It isn’t just the cut scenes that look great; the game overall looks pretty darn spiffy. The camera works superbly to constantly frame the gameplay in the most cinematic, action-focused manner possible. The numerous environments are filled with details and flourishes that make each area feel like a living, breathing world and the characters and models used throughout the game are rendered with astounding quality.

Overall, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a fantastic game with a few glaring flaws. The gameplay is the best of any game in the series and has no doubt raised the bar for future open-world games. However, the severely lacking story and sporadic pacing are incredibly frustrating. It’s the classic gaming catch-22; the flaws are only so disheartening because the rest of the game is so polished and so amazing. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an easy recommendation for both newcomers to the series and long-time fans. Just be prepared for a frustrating narrative experience if you know what a ‘Big Boss’ is.

Final Say: Play It

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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