Metal Gear Solid is one of those weird and wonderful series’ that’s been around for nearly as long as I’ve been gaming. It took me a long time to get into the series, as I never had a PlayStation, but when the time came to finally get a PlayStation 3, one of the first games I bought was Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Not really knowing anything about the characters or how they fit together, I found the story to be quite confusing, but the game was great. After that, I decided to pick up the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection to get some more background. I played a few titles from the collection and was still confused about the story, so I came to the conclusion that I would never understand the lore in the Metal Gear Solid universe and got on with my life. Luckily for newcomers to the series, Metal Gear Solid V:The Phantom Pain provides a quick rundown on Big Boss’s history through some well-paced cutscenes, and if that’s not enough, there’s even more backstory available through cassette tapes that you can earn or find within the world.
The Phantom Pain follows Big Boss as he rebuilds his private army while seeking revenge on Cypher, the organisation that destroyed his old army and left him for dead 9 years prior. After short prelude mission, you’re thrown straight into the open world in Afghanistan to rescue some old friends and gather Intel on Cypher. The first few missions slowly introduce you to some new mechanics to the series, primarily Mother Base, which is your key to developing the private army you want. Mother Base is split into 8 different platforms, which are unlocked during the course of the game. Each platform serves a different purpose – building more R&D platforms, for example, allows you to staff more people in the R&D department, which in turn allows you to develop more equipment; while building up your Intel team provides you with more accurate updates of enemy movement.
I found the whole base development aspect really engaging. The equipment development aspect allows you to tailor your gear to your play style. From big ass LMG’s and powerful sniper rifles for the run-and-gun players, to silenced assault rifles that shoot rubber bullets for those that want to stay silent and not kill anyone. This all depends on which research paths you take, and the range of equipment available is quite large, allowing for all sorts of loadout mixes. It’s a good idea to develop a few different strategies with your equipment, however. After you’ve done a few missions, you will notice that the enemy gear changes to adapt to your playstyle. In my game, I found most guards wearing helmets to stop me getting headshots with the tranq pistol, night vision goggles being worn by the lookouts as I was infiltrating at night mostly, and claymores being placed around the edges of most outposts, as I was always trying to sneak around the sides. This mechanic forced me to change my loadout and tactics several times during my playthrough, and is a nice mechanic that helps you to feel like you’re a part of a living world where the enemies have some intelligence. Aside from equipment development, the rest of the base looks after itself. You might want to occasionally check where staff have been put, but the automatic sorting of staff does a really good job of putting the right staff on the right platforms.
Once you’ve gotten past the initial tutorial missions, you’re free to roam the open world, which is filled with wildlife to capture, new employees to hire (and by hire I mean knock out and fulton out of there), and lots of vehicles and resource containers to capture. It may seem like this game is about stealing and fultoning anything that’s not tied down, but there is more too it. In order to get a lot of the resources you need in game, you need to take them from the field. Because of this, I found myself planning my infiltrations around which staff members I wanted to take for my own, and which ones I could dispose of. There’s a strange feeling of “gotta catch ‘em all” and I found myself not being able to pass by skilled enemies. Aside from capturing resources, the world is also full of Side Ops, which act as a nice diversion from the main missions. They range from rescuing prisoners to eliminating armoured enemy units. While these Side Ops are totally optional, I would advise doing them for a few reasons. One is to amass GMP (the game’s currency of sorts), another is that there are a few Side Ops that open up new events if you follow them through. I’m not going to say what they are, but I found at least one to be game changing for me.
The main story is paced quite well, letting you take on main missions as you please, and the story isn’t delivered through hour-long cutscenes as in some previous titles in the series (here’s looking at you Guns of the Patriots). Instead, dialogue is delivered in down times during missions, such as when you’re running to an outpost/base. That doesn’t mean that cutscenes are absent from the game, as there are still some beautifully delivered scenes, but it’s good to see that you don’t have to settle in for a movie anytime you want to get through some of the story. For those that want a deeper understanding of what’s going on, or a look into some of the characters on Mother Base, you can listen to the cassette tapes that are unlocked throughout the game.
While Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is an absolute pleasure to play, it’s not without its drawbacks. One thing that really frustrated me was the inability to climb up knee-high rocks to get a better vantage point. All throughout the world, it’s really difficult to tell what you can and can’t climb, as there are several situations that contradict each other. While this is a minor quibble, it’s still annoying. Another issue I ran into was with my favourite buddy, DD (the dog). While I loved using DD on most my missions, I found the AI to be pretty dumb on several occasions. For example, many of the times when I would go prone to snipe an enemy, DD thought this would be the perfect time come lay in front of my barrel. Also, when sneaking behind enemies, he would occasionally knock into them, causing them to turn around and spot me. Aside from these few technical issues, my main problem isn’t a technical one. My main issue is with Quiet and her ‘uniform’. While there is an explanation in game for her costume, it feels like the story was written around her outfit and not the other way around. Pair this with the provocative animations she has in the chopper, and some of the cutscenes she’s in, I was really disappointed with the way she is portrayed. They had a chance to build a strong female character in the game, and instead they oversexualised her. They also seemed to rush the ending. The story is broken up into 2 acts, and the second act is full of missions from the first act with modifiers on them, which makes it feel like they rushed the last portion of the game. I also felt like the ending didn’t tie up the story threads well enough. Several plot points were left open, and as this is the last Metal Gear Solid game, it seems odd to leave things unfinished.
I can honestly say that this is one of the best open-world titles I have played. I’ve put 100 hours into The Phantom Pain and I still want to go back for more. It does a good job of sticking to its roots, while also encouraging newcomers to the series. With great equipment customisation and the ability to truly tackle missions how you want, Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is a true diamond of 2015.