An Anti-Metal Gear?! | Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain Review
The Metal Gear series has spanned several decades and locations throughout the years. And has been thoroughly lauded as one of the most recognizable franchises in the gaming industry. The series is known for it’s collection of memorable characters and fantastic stealth gameplay, but with Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain, the series changes how it has normally done things before by jumping into an open world environment. The Phantom Pain continues on from last year’s Ground Zeroes which follows the story of Big Boss and his decent into the evil mastermind in Metal Gear 1. But how does it compare in the grand scheme of things?
While I won’t spoil the end of the game outright, I will make allusions as it is presented within the story. That said, I will spoil some of the game’s mechanics.
The Phantom Pain is completely different to the games that came before it, yet strangely similar. Gone are the hallways and large rooms, in its stead is a large open world. Well technically, there are two areas, but in it’s barest essence it is an open world game. When it was revealed that Snake would no longer be infiltrating in a contained location, I was hesitant. One of the key aspects I loved about the Metal Gear series was the almost “Metroidvania-esque” type of environment, going back and forth between sections of Shadow Moses with new weapons or a new key to allow access to a previously locked door, on top of the stealth gameplay. Now, I do love open world games, but I wasn’t sure how the mixture of stealth and open world gameplay would work. Let me tell you, it works almost flawlessly. Scattered throughout Afghanistan and Africa are small outposts, medium sized villages, and large bases to explore. While most outposts won’t have much to them, generally a few soldiers, some resources, and turrets; they are good practice for the larger areas. I would test out techniques on a small outpost to see what would work and apply it when breaking into another installation. Sneaking was a very viable thing to do in this game, and was how I got around through most of the game. Despite this, going pure on action hero works too.
As I said, stealth is still very much easy to accomplish in the game; a silenced tranquilizer pistol coupled with a tranquilizer sniper rifle made quick work of most soldiers. But Snake is able to have several different weapons and equipment made to suit the playstyle of the person playing. If you like to go in guns blazing, it’s equally viable. It’s all contingent on what you bring into missions. One new addition to the Metal Gear franchise is the inclusion of Reflex Mode. When spotted by an enemy, time slows down allowing Snake to shutdown any enemy aggressors before they call in reinforcements. Reflex mode is completely optional however, and you can turn it off in the menu if you feel like it makes it too easy. I certainly abused the hell out of it, sometimes intentionally triggering it to make an enemy soldier fall asleep to extract him.
Outside of the weapons Snake starts with in the game, everything else is either developed through the R&D team at Mother Base or picked up from soldiers on the field. To make new, or just more powerful weapons, they need to be developed through the R&D Team. You can’t just jump to the most powerful weapon without jumping through a few hoops first. There are several levels of most weapons each with increased stats. However, some upgrades might need something more. Upgrades need specialists, which are obtainable through missions as side objectives and are entirely missable. Thankfully, the game will tell you what specialists are available to get on the mission select screen. On my (mostly) no-kill playthrough, I haven’t had to wait very long to get the proper specialist for the next upgrade. Usually only waiting for my teams to be the proper level.
Resources are absolutely vital to the game. You need resources to develop weapons, gear, or even just being able to deploy for missions. Which sounds terribley annoying, but doesn’t halt progress unless you go out of your way to NOT pickup anything. Resources are broken up into GMP, which is currency, processed materials, unprocessed materials, and personnel. GMP is obtained through missions, Side Ops, or through finding diamonds in the game world. There are a few different types of materials that are available, fuel, biological, common metals, minor metals, and rare metals. All of these come in processed and unprocessed variants, both of which are found in the environment in varying quantities. Processed materials are what is actually used for development or deployment. Unprocessed materials are made into processed through the Base Building platform on Mother Base. For the most part, resources aren’t entirely rare. As long as you explore a little and extract what you find, you can keep a good amount available. What The Phantom Pain does well is keep you from hoarding a ton of resources by the end of the game. I’ve found a lot of game don’t pace out the amount of money you get and by the end of the game, I find myself sitting on a pile of cash that I can’t really use. MGSV keeps using resources at a rate that works for the player. Outside of the inane fuel shortage and the fact that most of the Mother Base platforms need it to develop further, I had enough of most things. Usually it was GMP that I would get low on, but doing a story mission or Side Op would relieve that need.
The other important resource in the game is people. No, it’s not like a Soylent Green situation. Snake needs people for his army, which you eject from the battlefield using the fulton device. The Fulton surface-to-air system is a balloon attached to a person, a vehicle, a container, or an animal which is then picked up by the Support team. Fultons can fail based on outside conditions, but there’s a percentage that shows success rate before you fulton something. You use this method to get soldiers back to Mother Base. Each soldier has a rank in several categories Combat, R&D, Base Building, Support, Intel, and Medical with ranks starting at E and going up to S++. Once the soldier is removed, they are put in either the department with the best stat they have, the medbay if they received damage, or are sent to the brig. Soldiers that are in the medbay or the brig, have a cooldown before they are moved to the appropriate department. Having to scour the battlefield for soldiers for your army incentivizes non-lethal playthroughs. However that shouldn’t stop you if you want to use a silenced assault rifle to clear away the chaff from the wheat when looking for recruits.
Engravings Give You No Tactical Advantage Whatsoever
Weapon development will be where most of your weapons come from, and for the most part, you’ll need to keep on top of it. Upgrading the weapons you use as soon as you can is the best thing you can do. That said, you should still develop weapons you don’t normally use. I used a particular non-lethal sniper rifle for a majority of the game, because I thought it was the only one available. I developed another lethal sniper rifle, and it unlocked a branch that was non-lethal and considerably better than what I had equipped. Another reason to develop weapons you might not use if for parts. Unfortunately, you cannot develop weapon parts. So if you need a better silencer, you need to develop a weapon that has an improved silencer. You can, however, retrofit certain pieces of weapons on to others after the weapons customization is unlocked.
Weapons customization is hidden behind a line of Side Ops that can be completely missed, but it’s incredibly useful. The tranquilizer sniper rilfe I used for the majority of the game didn’t come with a silencer until it was fully developed, but the non-lethal pistol I had did. I was able to put the silencer on that sniper rifle and used it amazingly. I also made it bright yellow, because it’s funny. Weapons customization is a great addition, but my only problem with it was that it’s practically hidden away. It would have been a little less disappointing if certain weapon parts were able to be developed, because having to call in a supply drop just to replace the silencer was annoying.
When you’re not running around trying to take out Skull Face and various private forces, you can come back to Mother Base to relax. Well, somewhat. Mother Base is absolutely massive. Which normally would be a good thing, but MB is sparse, boring, and frustrating to navigate. Each department of your army has it’s own struts. So the Medical team has it’s own set of struts. Each “wing” is separated by a very, very long road. Which is almost unfeasible to travel across them yourself. There are a few alternate methods to quickly travel to each strut. You can call the helicopter and land on one of the various other struts. This method, however, takes too damn long with the helicopter taking a seemingly scenic route when being picked up, or dropped off. Often making a few passes before landing. The quicker method is the box method. On each main strut there is a delivery point. I didn’t know what it was for the majority of the game, it wasn’t until much later, I realized that it a quick travel method. You stand on the orange panel in a box and you select a destination and in a few seconds you’re there. Be that as it may, there is hardly a reason to go to the other struts. Mother Base is frustratingly empty.
Outside of some target practice on the individual struts and some random sections to visit certain characters, there isn’t much to do. You can’t avoid MB altogether though, as you do need to visit sporadically. One such way to do it is to mentally and physically refresh Snake with a shower. Which, dumb as it sounds, is needed to lengthen reflex time and increases chances of successfully using the fulton system. It really feels like there was more to do at Mother Base, originally, but it was cut. As it is, there isn’t any need to make your way throughout MB unless you are looking for diamonds for GMP.
Missions, Side Ops, and Bosses
The meat of the game is broken up into missions and Side Ops. The missions will progress the story while Side Ops are extra missions, often providing personnel with higher stats or equipment. That said, the Side Ops aren’t exactly varied. Which is fine for the most part, but some of the fun objectives aren’t done as often as some of the more frustrating ones. A good portion of the Side Ops felt like they were fighting against Heavy Infantry. Which was fun at first trying to see what you could get away with, but by the 16th one, I just wanted to get it done quickly. As for the missions themselves, there are some really fun missions thrown in along with some painfully frustrating ones.
The disparity between mission difficulty is quite jarring. Some missions feel very short and easy and are followed by ones that are pure misery to get through. There are, however, very memorable missions that I feel encapsulate the best the game has to offer. The first mission in Africa that leads to the oil refinery was a fun trek in a, up to that point, completely new area of the game.
For every story mission, there are supplementary objectives to complete. Usually, they are extra prisoners to get, or perhaps letting certain things unfold that the player normally stops. On the first time through a mission, these objectives are hidden. It is possible to complete them on accident, but not always necessary to complete the mission. The objectives won’t necessarily give you any extras for finishing them, but they do lead to 100% completion. Luckily, all of the story missions are available to be replayed. So if you felt like you didn’t have the correct gear going into a particular mission, you can attempt it when you are sufficiently geared up. I liked the ability to replay missions, so often open world games have “one-and-done” story missions that are really fun and worth it to attempt again.
The Metal Gear Solid series is known for it’s memorable boss fights. Psycho Mantis from MGS1 is often cited as one of the boss fights everyone remembers from that era. The Boss from MGS3, Metal Gear Rex from MGS1, even Fatman for his absurdity from MGS2 are all indelible. Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of the franchise in that regard, though. There are arguably five boss fights throughout the game. I say arguably because a few can be completely skipped. None of them are of note, despite being fun. One mission has Snake going up against four snipers at the same time, and while I had a fun time with it, it’s not a fight that I will likely remember when I think back on this game. It’s a shame because if they had used the same ideology as the open world, being able to accomplish a task any way the player likes, bosses would have been really interesting. In fact, they played with this idea with The End sniper fight in Metal Gear Solid 3 given that the player could actually kill him in several ways even one way before starting the fight.
The story is the weakest part of the whole game, and the place where it’s easy to see that the game was just pushed out unfinished. It’s such a shame because, there are flashes of brilliance thrown in. From the prologue, I was already thrown into this world. Seeing Snake escape the hospital that’s under attack by XOF all the while trying to regain his strength as he follows the mysterious “Ishmael” out. The beginning is very slow, and plodding, but it gets more intensive as the prologue goes on. Unfortunately, this is the last solid chunk of story for a long while. Most of the narrative is told through cassette tapes that are unlocked after completion of specific story events. It just left me wanting. I’m not normally a fan of important plot being hidden behind menus, the story being told needs to be as complete as possible while supplemental material should be available elsewhere within the game. However, the cassette tapes are very well done, and can be listened to while out in the field. So my complaints are lessened somewhat.
The acting, I found, to be fantastic, but not without some reservations here and there. Troy Baker’s Ocelot wasn’t what I would expect from what has been seen of the character up till now. He wasn’t the cocky kid that was in MGS3 nor was he the calculating mastermind of the later games. A popular form of comedy involved two comedians, one in a sort of wacky role and the other as the “straight man.” The person the wacky guy plays off of. Ocelot was the straight man to Master Miller’s untrustworthy nature. Robin Atkins Downes’ Master Miller was, again, fantastically acted, but felt nothing more than a two dimensional character. At least in cutscenes, he had considerable more range in the cassette tapes. And was in one series of tapes that I absolutely loved that started to appear towards the end of the game. And for the big three, we round it out with Kiefer Sutherland as Snake. I love David Hayter as Snake in previous entries a lot. To me, he is the quintessential voice for Snake. That said, Snake in The Phantom Pain feels more like a silent protagonist; reacting to the world, hardly influencing it. Which is not a fault of Sutherland in the slightest. When he is actually given the opportunity, he shines. He’s just not given much of one. There are several other voice actors that did a spectacular job, but in the interest of not spoiling things I won’t mention specifics. I will say that one character’s fall from grace was fantastic.
MGSV The Phantom Pain was a solid game despite a few issues that marred what would have been a perfect game. The gameplay is the game’s strong suit, with a seamless transition from very linear corridors to a giant open world. Even going so far as to offer a completely varied gameplay experience for different playstyles. Which makes this a great game to talk about different experiences with friends. However, there are issues with fast travel. Calling the helicopter or using the game’s box travel aren’t as quick as they could be, and make the game a lot slower than it needs to be. I often wonder how much of the 100 hours I put into the game was spent in the helicopter trying to land.
The game’s story is its greatest shortcoming, with an undercooked narrative, characters without much to them and an ending that leaves much to be desired. Most people who play The Phantom Pain can easily see that the game was pushed out the door without the final touches on the story. A lot of things are explained through cassette tapes that would have had a lot more impact were they properly shown off. Characters themselves in the end weren’t as memorable or interesting as previous entries which is a shame despite the quality of the acting in the game. The game just ends. The finale hardly ties up what happened in the game. It just stops.
So, overall? I had an absolute blast playing the game. I was worried going into the game initially because I thought the gameplay wouldn’t work as well with an open world, but in fact did so in spades. I had so much fun trying taking over an enemy outpost with silenced tranq sniper rile in hand while Quiet covered me from a distance. The story is where I mostly had an issue. The first part of the game was incredibly engaging, but the forced repeat missions towards the end of the game and the sudden ending just put a black mark on the game for me. Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain really is the Anti-Metal Gear. It carried none of the series’ tropes and had a very neutered story that didn’t meaningfully expand the series’ lore, but despite how incomplete it feels still delivered a fun experience.