Looking back over my initial reactions from wayyyy back when, I can’t say I disagree with much of anything present. My opinion still holds Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain as the best 2015 had to offer with the most successful implementation of the open world concept to date. I’ve come to terms that nothing will really approach this level again from Konami in an official sense, and as it appears to have been his last, Kojima could not have nailed it more with what he had to work with.
To the game itself I’ve flocked back multiple times to take on Metal Gear Online as well as the single-player bounty a time or two. Online remains the weakest portion because of long wait times and not much to do besides shoot the water jug at your little base as you wait. I also wish they’d gone a little more bombastic with some modes (uh, Metal Gear fights anyone?) to better showcase how over-the-top the series has gone to great acclaim.
Still, anytime I boot the game up, I can feel that I’m looking at the best I’ll get this generation from a few standpoints. It’s simply one of the best I’ve played when you throw all the colloquium aside.
And yes, I’m one of those dicks with a nuke.
Originally appeared on The Gamer Square September 6, 2015.
Since Metal Gear Solid 4 came out almost ten years ago, most of the gaming industry has turned to open world games as their favorite genre. Just about all of the major companies have one, if not multiple, open world projects in the works with the fans clamoring for that level of content in triple-A games. So Hideo Kojima and his team went to the drawing board, creating the Fox Engine to handle the ideas that he wanted to bring to life in what might be his last Metal Gear title. The result feels like an absolute masterpiece that hefts the entire gaming industry onto its shoulders and sprints towards freedom.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, thanks to that Fox Engine, is a game that can be played in nearly any way possible. Your options extend beyond lethal and non-lethal approaches, beyond attacking from the ground or air, and beyond even your available inventory. Just about every mission begins with a debriefing that hands you the end goal and why you should care. What follows is almost entirely up to you.
Once in mission, you are handed options but never answers; you can gain intel, go for blueprints, take out smaller posts before going ballistic on the main target, analyze everyone, and so forth to your play style’s delight. Going through these bases is a little bit like level creation of your own in that you are handed pieces to place as you see fit. Seeing a pack of hungry wolves might inspire you to bring them into a nearby guard post for lunch, or a sandstorm may give you a more CQC-oriented idea.
There was one mission where my usual stealthy approach was no longer working. After banging against the wall for an hour, it was a nearby tank that gave some inspiration on another, more dodgy approach, and it completely worked. The Phantom Pain inspires you through this almost complete freedom that other games have only barely touched, making any set pieces, victory or defeat feel organic, worthwhile, and personal.
Your personality is allowed to shine through in gameplay because of the carefully crafted, wide tackle box of controls at your disposal. There are so few seams in Snake’s movements that it makes other open world games feel slow and cumbersome in comparison. A segment that only lasts a moment can be filled with an amazing number of player-controlled actions, making it feel like a living, breathing set piece. As a tank shell is roaring towards Snake in a sandstorm, he dives off a small cliff in the middle of reloading his rocket launcher, barely dodging the shell while rolling up, switching weapons to a loaded grenade launcher and firing a return volley: that was all done with me in control. What used to be a quick time event can now be done thanks to the fluidity and simplicity of the controls, and its made to feel intense thanks to the speed of combat and you having further options should your original plan break down.
Mother Base serves as Snake’s main means of grabbing gear and fighting back against an unseen enemy. Fultoning, managing and assigning personnel and resources adds another layer to The Phantom Pain that keeps your desire to go back into the field on high alert. Instead of Peace Walker’s static screens, the level of immersion and customization to be had makes you feel attached to this hunk of metal with your emblem plastered all over. Your base can expand to massive sizes with your upgrades, and can even become a nuclear threat should you feel so inclined. Don’t let the size daunt you from exploring though as you never know what could be on the next platform over.
In the field, your main ally is your handheld. Most of The Phantom Pain’s management happens through this god-send of a device that is simple and intuitive despite the huge load of data to be found within. All your cassettes, mission management, Mother Base data, and maps can be accessed with the tap of a few buttons, but make sure you’re in a safe place as the action does not stop outside the maps and menus. Your other buddies – D-Horse, D-Walker, D-Dog and Quiet – all certainly have their highlights with advantages such as traversal, protection and an extra combatant.
The story in The Phantom Pain, like other parts of the game, relies on both grand and subtle moments to be delivered effectively. The word “subtle” isn’t often associated with Metal Gear games but there is a tank load to find here. Facial capture allows the actors to actually act, conveying without words the intended complexity of the scene. A lot of visual metaphors litter scenes as well with many being relied upon to tell with one image what would take other entries in the series piles of Codec talk to convey. No worries though as there are still plenty of melodramatic speeches and urgency about saving the world in this episodically structured story.
While some lulls are to be expected in a 50+ hour main story, where the threads and tales end up is unlike any other Metal Gear story to date in the best of ways. This isn’t a story about saving the world, even though that thread is certainly present. This is a tale about revenge in its most mesmerizing form with characters like Kaz, Huey and Quiet stealing your attention in any of their scenes, ultimately all ending their plots at various emotional bulls-eyes. One plot thread remains conspicuously open when you look at The Phantom Pain as a singularity, but it still fits into the overall series well enough. Without spoilers, this story has the capability of haunting you with perfect moments and themes that will have you question the rest of the series, if you have experience there.
FOB is not reliably working – still – but is a fairly entertaining experience when it does. Being totally isolated against another well-equipped super soldier is an interesting, challenging hunt that should be made even better when the servers work properly. Microtransactions are present but a non-issue as you are never once reminded that they exist unless you go looking for them. The MB coins, and purchasable extra FOBs, are not necessary to reach higher tiers of gear or development items. Simply put, if you don’t want to see or use microtransactions, then you do not have to.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom pain is packed with so many details – adapting A.I., day/night differences, countless smaller additions – that so many other worlds and games just gloss over. They focus on the large set pieces and huge, bombastic missions, forgetting that the little footprints or the sound of shell casings hitting rock are what immerse you. The Phantom Pain does both large and small perfectly while still retaining a player-controlled approach, giving you the keys to making large battles feel large and small details feel important and personalized. The open world bar has been raised with boundless freedom feeling like a possibility for the first time, and with a story that connects into a lore chain almost 30 years long. There simply is no better gaming experience so far in 2015 and no better game in this console generation.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Score: