The fifth main title in Hideo Kojima’s acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, is finally upon us. Fans have been salivating over what could be the last Metal Gear Solid game for years now. But has it been worth the wait?
The drama surrounding the development of Metal Gear Solid V has almost been a convoluted as Kojima’s sometimes barking mad in-game story-lines.
First we had the, frankly bizarre, release of the prologue/premium demo Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. A nice tease for MGSV proper, but to be released a year before the actual game was a bit odd.
Then there was Metal Gear’s creator, Hideo Kojima’s apparent falling out with publisher Konami. This includes the removal of the usual “A Hideo Kijima Game” vanity credit prefixing the game title and the Kojima Productions logo.
No matter how the management of Konami and Kojima get on personally, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is going to make both parties very rich. You would think big business was beyond such childish antics.
But, on to the game.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain continues the story of Naked Snake, AKA Big Boss. It’s a saga started in the 1960’s set Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and continuing into the 1970s with the PlayStation Portable sequels Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
It’s 1984, nine years since the explosive finale to the Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes prologue. Snake awakes from a coma in a British hospital in Cyprus. Still riddled with shrapnel and sans left hand, the first hour or so of the game has Snake escaping from the hospital in one of the weirdest game openings I’ve ever experienced. Just to be on the safe side I played through the first 100 minutes of the game on PC, Xbox One and PS4, and I’ve still no idea what was going on.
As with previous games, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain casts players as Snake, an infiltration expert with a knack of finding huge mechanoid weapons called Metal Gears. Played from a third-person perspective, the intention is to carry out missions as stealthy as possible, avoiding or incapacitating the enemy without being detected. In order to do this Snake is equipped with a silenced stun dart gun as his primary weapon. But he has a whole arsenal of very loud weaponry at his disposal for when thing get messy.
For the first time in the Metal Gear Solid series, The Phantom Pain gives players an open-world environment in which to carry out missions. This is a completely different approach to the previous games- which have been quite linear, scripted affairs.
In giving players the freedom to tackle the game as they please, along with the exquisite combat and sneaking mechanics employed in previous games, The Phantom Pain breaks new ground in emergent gameplay. The player has a free-run in huge fully-realised environment populated by AI that react to events and players’ action rather than follow scripts. The experience will be unique for every player, depending on how they decide to complete a mission.
Players are given a series of missions and it’s up to them how they accomplish them. Rescuing a hostage could be achieved by spending hours sneaking in, collecting all the resources on the way, or by a frantic and terribly risky run-and-gun exercise.
The game does encourage stealth gameplay, as once the guards are alerted, backup isn’t far behind. But I found that in swapping the comparatively tight combat zones from previous entries for the open-world environments in The Phantom Pain meant that the game was a lot more forgiving when things went south. There were many times when, with a legion of Soviet soldiers on my tail, I had no choice but to run for the hills. In previous game, including the Ground Zeroes prequel, there was nowhere to run.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game that has been years in the making. By taking elements of past Metal Gear Solid games, going all the way back to 1998’s inaugural 3D entry on the PSX, the series director Hideo Kojima has refined his gameplay to give us a delicious amalgam of the six previous series entries.
In the field, Snake can collect resources, be in plants, materials, equipment or personnel for use in improving his base of operations, Mother Base. Similar to the mechanic in the portable game, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, enemy personnel can be lifted from the battlefield using Fulton extraction balloons and recruited into Snake’s personal army, the Diamond Dogs.
Mother Base starts off as a simple offshore plant situated off the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. As resources are gathered, construction can begin on other specialist platforms. Soon the original command platform is joined by number of specialist platforms such as the combat unit platform and R&D platform. Each platform employs a number of personnel, with its operational success depending on the skills of those personnel. Staff can be manually assigned or automatically slotted into place according to their skill stats.
The development of Mother Base allows player to improve their equipment and the support available during missions. The games upgrade paths are closer to those that you’d find in an RPG than a shooter like Call of Duty. With an R&D team in place, weapons and equipment can be developed and upgraded. With a combat unit in place, mercenary missions, similar to those in recent Assassin’s Creed games, can be untaken for monetary, personnel and resource-based rewards.
In previous installments Snake has operated as a lone soldier, but this time he’s got a buddy. For Snakes first operations in Afghanistan, Snake is accompanied by a horse, imaginatively named Diamond Horse. On horseback Snake can cover huge distances quickly and away from the patrolled roads. Later in the game, an injured wolf cub can be rescued and, when grown up, taken on missions as, you guessed it, Diamond Dog.
Call me a sexist pig if you must, but I’ve fallen for Snake’s co-star and final buddy, the deadly sniper Quiet. Quiet provides invaluable sniper support in the field, taking out enemies as directed by Snake. She’s scantily-clad with an iffy in-game narrative excuse for the lack of clothes.
Hideo Kojima has honestly explained that Quiet’s look is for the intention of selling more action figures and encouraging cosplayers. Expect conventions to be littered with gals (and the odd guy) dressed in nothing but a PVC bikini and solitary opera glove, torn tights and a BFG. Kojima, you are a dirty old man, but I love you for it.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an astounding accomplishment. Beautifully-looking and a joy to play, the game gives the player the freedom to proceed as he or she feels fit. There’s no invisible walls, it’s all about open gameplay. If you should be able to do it, you usually can. As with previous games the dialogue is a bit odd and the story a bit on the bizarre side, but this is to be expected from a Metal Gear game.
Open world stealth action, resource collection, base management, snipers in swimsuits, rocket launchers, bloody great robots and donkeys tied to balloons; this is a game that has something for everyone.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.