Note: There are spoilers for the end of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes in this review.
Metal Gear Solid has become one of the most iconic franchises in video gaming since Solid Snake infiltrated Shadow Moses Island on the PS1 in 1999. However, like all good things the franchise has seemingly reached its conclusion. Over the past few months fans have been treated to news of series creator Hideo Kojima having issues with Konami, and saw his name slowly being removed from any marketing related to the game, even the game's case. Rightfully so, this had many fans worried about how well Metal Gear Solid V would turn out. As with most things Kojima has done, the wait for his theoretical swan song has been trying, but it was sure worth the wait. This is quite possibly the final time we'll see Big Boss outside of a pachinko machine.
It's funny, because the Metal Gear franchise has often been derided for having more instances of the player watching as opposed to playing. In both the Phantom Pain and its prologue Ground Zeroes there are very few cutscenes. They're made up almost entirely of gameplay. On top of the new found focus on gameplay the controls have been updated. Previous games in the franchise were perhaps too ambitious, which often lead to buttons doing too many things depending on the context, which often felt clunky. The Phantom Pain actually plays and controls like a modern video game, which took me by surprise. No longer did I find myself fighting against the controls to complete a task. It helps that its all fairly simple. All you really need to do is aim, shoot, reload, sneak, and switch weapons. The controls are set up similar to how they used to be where circle is on reload, but you can change the controls to essentially be the same as modern first person shooters if you prefer that style.
|I got a whole lot of use out of this assault rifle.|
It's made even better by the fact that you can actually use many different weapon types and not really be chastised for it. In previous Metal Gear Solid games your rank during a mission was based almost entirely on stealth and the time it took you to complete the mission. Now you can kill literally everyone, and as long as you do it well and fast enough you can still achieve an S rank. This means that I experimented with weapon types I would normally never use. I went into tons of scenarios armed with a rocked launcher and a shotgun and actually did quite well. No longer are enemies with guns super strong. As long as you don't stand directly in the line of fire you can make it out of most situations. Big Boss has regenerating health in this game, so gone are the days of scavenging for rations and taking a knee in battle to use them in order to heal. It makes Big Boss feel like much more of a badass than he previously did, which fits his persona in the story,
The Phantom Pain takes place immediately following the ending of its prequel, Ground Zeroes. Big Boss returned to Mother Base to find it swarmed with enemy soldiers. Before he could set down and defend his home his helicopter transport was blown out of the sky. The Phantom Pain begins with our protagonist in a hospital bed waking up from a nine year coma. The doctor explains that he's in rough shape. He's missing an arm, and has a piece of shrapnel stuck in his forehead that won't ever be able to come out. Since Metal Gear is all about the story I don't want to give away too much. I'll say that you get out of the hospital, and start building a brand new Mother Base in order to get revenge on the organization, Cipher, that destroyed everything Big Boss had been working towards.
|Miller wants revenge for what happened in Ground Zeroes.|
The rebuilding of Mother Base is actually a large component of the game, which is very similar to the building of Mother Base in the PSP game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. On missions every soldier you encounter has a set of stats and you can recruit them to your cause. All you have to do is put them to sleep, or beat them down with your fists, and you can Fulton them out of the area. Once the soldiers make their balloon exit they will be assigned to an area of Mother Base based on what their highest stat is. The better the units you have in each area the more you can develop for Big Boss to use in combat. Development starts off with no wait time and very low requirements, but the game quickly ramps up so that you need to scrounge for units constantly and then have to wait anywhere between 18 minutes and 5 hours for your research to finish. This sounds tedious, but there's something very satisfying about strapping a balloon to every soldier, animal, and vehicle you see. Development time becomes a non-issue as well, or at least it did for me, because I was so engrossed in playing the actual game that I would completely lose track of time. The main problem ends up being resources, because eventually you need insane amounts of them and the world doesn't necessarily always provide them.
This is where the online mode comes into play.You build an FOB (Forward Operating Base), which is essentially another Mother Base. You can then invade other player's FOBs and steal their resources. I only did this a few times, because I kept getting wrecked. You can deck out your FOB with all kinds of security measures like drones, traps, and security cameras. If you're online when someone tries to infiltrate your FOB you will be notified and you can get into the fray and take them out. It's a cool mechanic, but I often found myself being invaded by people who were much better equipped than I was, so there was no way for me to stop them. If I ever did get good enough, then I could retaliate and take back everything I lost, but I was never able to successfully do that. It helps that once you get invaded you can not be invaded again for another 6 hours, so my resources were not constantly being stolen. People were coming at me with things I didn't even know existed and were using tactics I had never seen before, which made me realize that the game will let you do just about everything you can think of and pull it off.
|Expect to be looking at this menu a lot. Upgrading Mother Base is very important.|
I'm not kidding, almost everything you can think of to do the game will probably let you do. Want to have your horse poop in the road so a jeep spins out on it? You can do that. Do you want to put C4 onto a jeep, Fulton it away, then blow it up right next to a helicopter? You can do that. Have you always wanted to hide in a Porta Potty and play poop sounds from your phone to make guards suspect you less? You can do that too. When I say the options are limitless, I'm being mostly serious. There are so many things the game will let you do that are very surprising. There is detail in things that there shouldn't really be any detail in. On top of the open world lives and breathes in a way that I never would have expected. Enemies contact other bases, and are aware of things that are happening outside their general field of view.
With the release of The Phantom Pain, Metal Gear as a franchise did a 180 degree turn from how it used to be. Gone are the forty minute cutscenes filled with anime craziness. They've been replaced by shorter scenes that are still crazy, but they're much fewer and far between. All of that craziness has been transplanted into the gameplay. You're much more likely to see something nuts while running around the world than you are in a story sequence. I never would have expected that the series could evolve so much, but I'm glad that it did. Initially it feels like a lot of the Metal Gear charm is gone, but it just takes some getting used to. It's still a Hideo Kojima game, so you know you're in for a wild ride.
|Big Boss and his clones have become iconic characters in the world of video games.|
I'm willing to make the bold claim that The Phantom Pain is one of the best action games ever produced. It has a scope that's unparalleled in video games, and everything in the game comes together to make a cohesive package. Sure, there are some things I could nitpick, but none of them stand out enough to tarnish this otherwise great entry into the Metal Gear franchise. Sure it doesn't tie up the story of the whole franchise with a pretty bow, but I didn't really expect it to. That's what I like about Kojima is that he likes to keep the fans guessing. I think it's great that the final entry in such an iconic franchise is fresh and fun as opposed to being buried under the weight of its predecessors design and mechanics. If you have a platform that you can play The Phantom Pain on, then I highly recommend you do so. You will not regret it.