Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the latest installment in Hideo Kojima’s decade-spanning Metal Gear series. The first Metal Gear came out in 1987, almost three decades ago! Unfortunately, this will be our last Metal Gear game spearheaded by the mastermind behind the series, Hideo Kojima. Kojima has officially parted ways with Konami, and while this does not spell the end of the Metal Gear franchise, it does mean Kojima will no longer be a part of the process, which is one in the same as far as I’m concerned.
What a way to go out on the franchise, though–Hideo Kojima and his development team have outdone themselves with this new iteration. Going in a new open-world direction for the series, MGS 5 brings out new and innovative ideas into the open-world format. It’s very difficult for me to say this, but I think I may even prefer it over The Witcher 3, which is a high compliment because Witcher 3 is one of the best games this year!
While The Phantom Pain isn’t going to knock a graphical snob’s socks off, it holds its own with this year’s titles. The animations are solid and very satisfying, especially when you use your CQC to down an enemy. However, where the graphics really shine (pun intended), is in the lighting department! The dynamic lighting combined with the fluid day and night cycles really creates an immersive experience. The PC version of the game is well-optimized, too, so it definitely gets some points there! (I’m looking at you, Arkham Knight, that just became playable on PC recently…)
|Slamming enemies into the dust is so satisfying.|
While the graphics aren’t the most impressive thing I’ve seen, the most enjoyable facet in MGS V for me, has been the gameplay. You can tell that Kojima and the team behind him really focused on making sure the gameplay felt solid. Infiltrating enemy compounds and subduing enemies, and interrogating them for intel has never felt better. The best part, though, is that the game and its missions will adapt to your gameplay, allowing you to play the way you want to!
The MGS series has always emphasized espionage: sneaking, not setting off alarms, etc… In previous iterations when the enemy discovered you and put the compound on high alert, you almost always had to reload your last checkpoint. Head-on combat almost never went your way in the series. You were supposed to be sneaky sneaky, and that’s how they wanted you to play the game.
In The Phantom Pain, you can be sneaky, and the game rewards you if you are. However, by no means do you have to play that way if you don’t want to. For what seems to be the first time, you can go in, guns blazing, and the game gives you the tools to do so! Not only that, but missions will even adapt to your actions. Let’s say the Op wants you to go in sneaky, but you get discovered. No big deal–the mission objective will adapt itself to what’s happening and give you another option to complete the mission!
Mixed into the gameplay is an enjoyable base-building mechanic where you will be building up your own mercenary army called Diamond Dogs. While the premise and details regarding your ‘recruitment’ of your mercenary army can seem ridiculous, this is just one of those times when you don’t need to think about it very much and simply enjoy the game! I say this because you essentially build your organization by kidnapping the soldiers in the field you defeat. The process in which they are recruited to your organization is holding them in the brig until they join your cause (Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?).
|The game touches on some critical issues, such as child soldiers.|
While this premise seems ridiculous, it actually creates a highly entertaining and engaging mechanic. This feature forces you to think about whether you want to go into missions with lethal weapons, or merely ones that render your opposition unconscious or asleep so that you may extract them. I opted for the latter, and almost always went into a mission non-lethal via a tranquilizer sniper rifle and an assault rifle that fired rubber bullets. Approaching missions this way allowed me to extract almost all of my opposition and thus make my own organization stronger. This mechanic is why I find myself amusingly referring to this game as a ‘kidnapping simulator’ at times (all in good fun, of course!).
With your organization stronger and larger, you are able to research new weapons, tools, armor, and other items that can assist you in missions. You can also upgrade your extraction chopper, and later in the game, send your troops out to do missions to earn you currency and the resources needed to upgrade your base and research better equipment. I found myself thoroughly enjoying how closely the action in the game world went along with the base-building mechanic.
As you progress through the game, you’ll even earn the ability to customize your weapons to your liking. You want to slap a grenade launcher on that assault rifle? Go for it! Just make sure you’ve done the research on it first. Want a silenced tranquilizer rifle so you can knock your enemies out from afar? Sure! Just modify that sniper rifle to shoot tranquilizer bullets instead of real ones. While the weapon customization isn’t crazy in-depth, it is nice that the option is there.
If all of this weren’t enough, there is also a ‘buddy’ system that has been implemented in this iteration. The buddy system allows you to bring along a ‘buddy’ that assists you in your operations. To start out, you will only have your trusty horse that can quickly and stealthily transport you to your destinations that are further apart. Eventually, you’ll find other characters that you can take as your buddy when you deploy into the field. You can even increase your bond with each buddy, giving you and that buddy access to additional abilities and commands. There are some fun buddies you’ll get a chance to take out with you that compliment the pacing of the gameplay quite well.
If you’re still with me, you may be asking yourself, ‘How many features did they cram into this game!?’ The answer is, a whole dang lot. In addition to all the gameplay features described above, there are so many little details that just add icing to the proverbial gaming cake. The helicopter that deploys you on missions and ex-filtrates you can be equipped with a loud speaker that can play any music tape you can find in the game. And, if that weren’t enough, on PC, you can drop in whatever music you want. I opted for Rage Against the Machine’s Sleep Now in the Fire. The attention to detail in this game is staggering!
|While I wasn’t that impressed with the story, it is not without its moments.|
There’s even an online element that allows you to invade other players’ bases to steal their resources! If you happen to be online when this is happening you can even defend your base from their attack. This system seems very reminisce to the ‘Souls’ franchise’s online player-versus-player system. I engaged in it a little bit, and enjoyed what little I did take part in. I never ran into an actual player though, but I definitely stole a whole lot of resources!
While I’m not going to deal in spoilers, this latest installment follows the classic Metal Gear solid tradition of presenting a virtually impenetrable storyline, full of false trails, duplicity, and political drama. The story is complete with ‘optional’ recorded cassette tapes that will allow you to delve deeper into the story, if you so choose. While the story takes a backseat to the amazing gameplay, it’s still about what you’d expect from a Metal Gear game. The open-world elements do slow down the pacing of the story, but, to be honest, I was glad for it– I was having too much fun with the gameplay anyways to care too much about the story!
This year has been a fantastic year for video games. There have been some excellent games, and I’m finding it hard to recommend even The Witcher 3 (which I loved) over Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The gameplay is just that good! That said, I’m very interested how Fallout 4, another large open-world game, will compare to Metal Gear Solid V. I will most definitely be comparing them a month from now!