Like any form of media, over time great games gradually become part of the public consciousness. Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario, Solid Snake: they’re all synonymous with video games and permeate popular culture. The difference with Snake and Metal Gear in particular is the relative niche it has always occupied despite the renown. While it may be a big part of why it’s so niche, I’ve always viewed the narrative as a particular strength of the series, elevating it above any other stealth game. Love it or hate it, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain does away with most of the long-form expositional cutscenes and instead focuses on finely tuned gameplay and systems.

Things certainly start off with a bang though. The intro sequence is fantastic and the first chapter overall has a succinct and impactful narrative drip with just enough direction; real impetus to drive the action. The game revolves around Big Boss rebuilding and getting back what was taken from him nine years ago. We’re meeting and greeting, we’re torturing. We’re being shown these things in tight cutscenes that are well choreographed and acted. Unfortunately this doesn’t last and the story gets real sparse in Chapter 2. I know Kojima went a little nuts with Metal Gear Solid 4, but I genuinely feel like the slimness of the story is a huge regression, even if it does lower the barrier for people new to series. The focus here is squarely on almost boundless tactical espionage agency for the player in two (2) open world sandboxes.

Does Big Boss vape because he's evil or is he evil because he vapes?

Does Big Boss vape because he’s evil or is he evil because he vapes?

While I find the step back from storytelling slightly disenfranchising, the gameplay is undeniably superb. This is without a doubt the most playable Metal Gear Solid has ever been, barring Ground Zeros, which was essentially just a taste of the genuine article. This is fortunate because there’s plenty to do in The Phantom Pain. Before each mission a load-out can be tweaked: guns and gadgets, cardboard boxes and robot arms, buddies and vehicles. Even a different soldier than Big Boss to run the mission as. It’s when you upgrade the gear through the unlocks on the tech tree that things open up even more.

All the toys (read: super serious espionage equipment) are great fun to use and can be employed in many different ways. My biggest problem stems from the disappointing realization that the open world spaces don’t have much in the way of worthwhile places within them and the rest are copy pasted guard posts. It’s easy to see the jump to an open world was unkind to Metal Gear Solid. It’s like a Stretch Armstrong doll once all the corn syrup is dried out and it’s stretched too far. It’s kind of fun to watch it flail about for a bit, but it no longer has the qualities you actually found fun about it. Getting around can be a chore, despite the many ways to do it, up to and including shipping yourself in a box which acts as a sort of fast travel. Two of the four buddies aid in travel, various vehicles can eventually be called in and enemy trucks can always be climbed into the back of for a ride. The worst part about the open world is the gosh darn helicopter.

I may have fantasized about stabbing that helicopter. I have spent an inordinate amount of time staring at the back of Big Boss. I have shot my mini gun indiscriminately into the same scenery. Metal Gear Solid has always immersed me and felt like a cohesive experience, but these moments are grueling, immersion breaking and in no short supply. At least you can make it blare Run To The Hills or Kids In America and feel like you’re in Apocalypse Now for a moment before you start to hate yourself.

Only two of the four optional companions have to endure the helicopter rides with Big Boss. The allure of the lone soldier against the world felt at odds with a buddy along at first. Fortunately their roles are all primarily support oriented and it works well. They offers scouting abilities, limited offensive capability or faster sets of legs. Each buddy has upgradeable gear and none of them are left without some kind of super cool ability near the top of the tech tree like a Fulton gun or a knife for your dog. While I quickly gelled with one particular buddy, they each varied my approach to the long list of missions.

Unconditional love on the battlefield.

Unconditional love on the battlefield.

And what a list it is. The Phantom Pain follows in the footsteps of Peace Walker which had a smartly constructed mission structure for the portable space. It was non linear and could be tackled at any pace. While I might not be the biggest fan of it for a mainline title, the tools give each mission umpteen ways to approach, set up and execute a plan. Boiling it down to lethal or non-lethal would be too reductionary. The sheer wealth of equipment at your disposal means you’ll never have to take a go at an outpost the same way twice, employing a mixture of options each time. Being able to call in supply drops at the press of a few buttons makes messing up almost a non issue: helpful goodies are never far because of your friends at Mother Base.

It’s all for one and one for all for Mother Base, and plenty can be done to help it grow. Everything collected in the open world is sent hurtling back to Mother Base via the Fulton system. Everything Big Boss can get his prosthetic little hand on. Enemy artillery and vehicles? For Mother Base! Enemy specialists? For Mother Base! Goats? For the betterment of Mother Base! Worse things happen at sea, ya know? As you recruit more people and Mother Base expands, they can be allocated to one of a few different platforms, like Intel or Medical or Combat. These different teams all directly affect how Mother Base functions and what it lets you develop. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you did all the side ops in Ground Zeros (or at least one in particular) and transferred the save data there will be a mostly pleasant surprise waiting at Mother Base. That said, I really lost my drive to continue building up Mother Base and even less desire to search the innumerable nooks and crannies of that sprawling behemoth.

There’s also an online only aspect to the base building portion: Forward Operating Bases. The FOBs operate as extensions of, but mostly the same way as your main base. This adds to the speed at which resources are processed and allows more agents to be sent on combat engagements in the field and the like. The caveat is that it requires the internet to function and because of this they are always at risk of being assaulted by other players. When someone infiltrates your F.O.B they have the opportunity to steal not just the stuff, but the staff as well. From there two options exist: Does Big Boss rush to defend his base or let the AI security take care of it. I haven’t had a chance to try this out, but it sounds neat, almost like a Dark Souls invasion. It’s not exactly the sort of thing I’ve turned to Metal Gear Solid for in the past, but I’m eager to give it a go nonetheless.

Mother Base - complete with zoo and day care facilities!

Mother Base – complete with zoo and day care facilities!

Some might view Metal Gear Solid V as sacrosanct and feel that I am ruining their fantasy with the intrusion of a little reality, I suppose it is unkind of me, but the issues with it must be brought to light. Rather than tell a cohesive narrative, the second chapter and to an extent the entire game, kind of just feels like being shown snippets of Snake’s life more than an actual story. This is made worse by the fact that the actual gameplay is rock solid, the focus on emergent gameplay through interconnected systems is head and shoulders above other games. The cutscenes that do exist are mostly great, with the actors delivering wonderful performances (I really enjoyed an intimate reunion with a particular robotics expert), and I think some of the plot points even work well. I actually like the twist, but don’t think it was handled properly. For the game that was supposed to be Kojima’s swan song to Metal Gear Solid, it’s kind of crumby it just ends in a seemingly arbitrary place. It’s almost like if Metal Gear Solid 4 had cut just as you stepped into the Microwave corridor. Story gripes aside, it’s incredibly enjoyable to play, runs beautifully on everything and that’s going to be enough for some people.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review
While Metal Gear Solid V definitely handles better than any other entry in the series and offers more player agency, I'm not sure the trade off was worth it. This game's got problems. The Mother Base stuff is supposed to feel important, but is mostly just a means to an end and the story flops hard in chapter two. It's great to be able to approach situations from so many different ways, and the emergent gameplay therein is superb, but it got repetitive for me. The environment just isn't robust enough to facilitate it. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an astounding game for a lot of reasons, but probably my least favourite entry in the series. To that end, fans of stealth games with little or no attachment to Metal Gear will eat this up.
Solid Snake
  • Wealth of tactical options allow for incredibly emergent gameplay
  • Looks and sounds fantastic
  • I love 80s music so god damn much
Liquid Ocelot
  • Big open world/ sandbox levels are a lot of wasted space
  • Chapter 2 is disjointed and lacklustre
  • Massive personal gripes with the story. This won't matter at all to some people so make up your own mind on that front.
7.7Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
10.0

About The Author

Evan T
Editorial/Reviews Writer

Evan is a super serious, real life production assistant, video editor, and current review and editorial writer for Gamer Assault Weekly. A failed knife salesman and former member of a prestigious World of Warcraft guild, renowned for his voice and childlike enthusiasm for video games. Has never broken a bone. Hates possums. Mumble-sings.