Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Kojima Productions / Konami
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
When I first played Metal Gear Solid, it changed my life as a gamer. It intertwined story and gameplay in a way I’d never seen before. Sure, there were games in the stealth genre that incorporated a story and great gameplay mechanics, but none of them intertwined so many different facets of lure, character backgrounds, espionage, plot twists, giant set pieces, edge-of-your-seat moments, etc. Hideo Kojima incorporated things that video games had never done before. The most notable—I’m sure this resonates with many of you — is when Psycho Mantis checks your save history on your memory card, pokes fun at the games you’ve played, then disables your controller port. This and many other reasons is why that game has stuck with me to this day. While the franchise has existed since 1987 with the release of Metal Gear on the MSX, the franchise didn’t become what it is until the release of Metal Gear Solid. Since then, the franchise has not only endured for this long, but it has innovated and pushed the genre forward with every new entry. Hideo Kojima has been involved with everything Metal Gear—either as a producer, writer, designer or director, for 28 years. Before development started on Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Kojima wanted to hand the reins off to someone else, but due to “death threats,” he reinstated himself as co-director and has since made not one, not two, but three more entries into the Metal Gear Solid saga.
The Phantom Pain
At the end of the hour-long prologue episode, Ground Zeroes, Snake (Big Boss) has rescued both Chico and Paz—integral colleagues of his from the Peace Walker incident—from their captivity at Camp Omega, an American Black Site in Cuba. En Route to Mother Base for debriefing, they learn that Paz is in immense pain and discover an explosive device inside her stomach. After narrowly escaping the war zone at Mother Base and extracting esteemed colleague and friend, Kazuriha Miller, Snake watches as their headquarters sink into the ocean. After Miller discovers that the Cipher Organization is responsible for the attack on Militaires Sans Frontieres (MSF), Paz comes too, telling everyone onboard that there’s a second bomb inside her. To save them, she jumps out of the helicopter and explodes seconds later, sending the helicopter crashing into the ocean. Nine years after the attack, Snake wakes up from a coma and discovers that he’s lost an arm. Some of the shrapnel from the crash was removed, while some had to be left in place to prevent hemorrhaging. Shortly thereafter, a Cipher assassin shows up to kill him, but was halted by the heavily bandaged Ishmael. With his assistance, Snake escapes the hospital and gets picked up by Revolver Ocelot, who takes him back to his new militia’s headquarters. After catching him up on what has happened in the years of his long slumber—and fashioning him a new arm—he convinces Snake that the only way to stop Cipher is to rebuild Mother Base under the new moniker Diamond Dogs and defeat Cipher once and for all. The story isn’t presented the same way as the Metal Gears before it—its presented episodically; meaning credits roll at the beginning and end of every story-related mission, followed by a debriefing to move the story along. One thing that felt odd throughout the campaign was that Snake’s voice is almost absent. In all the previous games, Snake always had something to say. It’s strange to see that the poster child of the franchise has suddenly become such an introvert, but maybe that has something to do with him being in a coma for nine years.
Hideo Kojima and his team, Kojima Productions have taken everything they’ve built, learned, perfected and innovated upon since Metal Gear Solid (1998), Sons of Liberty (2001), Snake Eater (2004), Guns of the Patriots (2008) and Peace Walker (2010) to create the open world sand box of The Phantom Pain. They’ve taken the mechanics of both Metal Gear Solid 4 and Peace Walker as the two pillars to build their foundation, and have created the most ambitious, fluid and fun entry in the franchise. They’ve given Snake a massive sandbox to play in, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Unlike every other open-world construct, I was never running errands for one specific character, I never felt like I was liberating an outpost because I had to; and I never had to do anything specific in order to achieve any goal or mission parameter—outside of keeping a valuable target or prisoner alive. There’s so many different ways to go about completing a mission that going back through any of them is encouraged instead of frustrating. Snake has never been this responsive or agile—his movements have more weight, whether I chose to sprint or go from a standing walk into a crouching walk, or down into the prone position to crawl. They’ve also opted to go with a contextual cover system instead of button prompts to enter or leave cover. A much-welcome addition is the ability to dive in any direction to cover more ground, conceal myself in foliage, get behind cover quickly, or avoid detection—making this the most visceral, intense and fun way to play as Snake. The inventory and weapon selection has been mapped to the directional buttons and doesn’t pause the action like it has in the past. By tapping the up and down buttons, you can select your secondary and primary weapons quickly. The same can be done with the left or right directional buttons, but holding them down will bring up the selection wheel, allowing me to make my selection with the right stick.
The Buddy System
In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I’m trying to build a private army—so killing anything that moves can make it quite difficult to expand if everyone’s dead around me. Buddies accompany me on any number of missions, be it D-Horse, the pooping traversal quadruped; Quiet, the overly sexualized but extremely deadly sniper; D-Dog, spotter extraordinaire; or D-Walker, the walking weapon of destruction. If things don’t go according to plan, there’s always a way out of any situation. In an earlier mission, before I could use any Buddy besides D-Horse, I remained silent and undetected through the first five minutes until a single unaccounted-for enemy fucked everything up. The mission was to extract a prisoner from a small outpost. I set up C4 on a transport vehicle to create a distraction. After blowing up the vehicle, I silently took down the enemies that were occupying the two sniper towers as the others scrambled to hunker down. After everything had calmed down, I made my way toward the outpost. I took out three guards posted outside the main gate after taking them down silently; I made my way to the main doors. After I arrived at the guard I wanted to extract, a guard just inside the doors saw me. Reflex Time activated to give me time to take him out, but I couldn’t get a clear shot on him. He opened fire and all hell broke loose. Realizing that I was outnumbered and out gunned, I ran for safety in the hills, threw down a flare grenade and let my helicopter do the dirty work for me. After the smoke had cleared, I was able to walk in, grab the prisoner and extract on the very same helicopter. This is just one example of how everything can change in an instant but be resolved in so many ways in the open-ended, open world of The Phantom Pain.
Ambitious Gear Solid
To help immerse the player and raise the tension, the Soliton Radar—which has been a mainstay since Metal Gear Solid—has been stripped away entirely, forcing me to check my map on my iDroid, be more aware of my surroundings and plan my attacks, rather than staying outside of an enemy’s cone of vision. The alert phases are more organic as well—instead of a countdown timer to tell me when I can come out of hiding and continue with my mission, there were a lot of instances where, as long as I could stay hidden after the enemies had marked my last know position, I could wait until they’d completed their search and found nothing, or continue my attacks from different positions. Snake’s been given revamped tools that have been carried over from Peace Walker. His binoculars can analyze enemies to determine what strengths they possess in the following fields: Combat, R&D, Base Development, Support, Intel, and Medicine—some of which come with specific skills or personality traits that can be detrimental or beneficial to my ever-expanding army. By utilizing the new-and-improved (and upgradeable) Fulton Recovery System, all of the soldiers whom I analyze can be extracted and added to the Brig back at Mother Base where they cooperate and join the cause immediately, or spend time locked up until they break. In Peace Walker, only foot soldiers could be extracted, but in The Phantom Pain, the Fulton can be used to steal everything from supply containers, 4X4s, tanks, transport vehicles and mounted machine guns, mortars, various anti-air cannons, etc. While extracting everything in sight is fun, they need to be managed remotely via Snakes iDroid. I can send my various Combat units on ancillary missions for various materials, vehicles and staff recruitment. I need to constantly give my R&D team projects to put their talents to good use to make weapons, equipment, tools, and upgrades, it also helps keep my Base Development specialists happy by expanding Mother Base to accommodate for the increasing population of my forces. I also send my talented Support teams in to provide security and lend a helping hand and find more Intel specialists to increase my probability of success on the battlefield, and provide my Medical team with the necessary plants to better care for the injured or sick. Once my R&D team has reached a certain level and I’ve found a weapons specialist, I can customize my weapons—something that was introduced in Metal Gear Solid 4, expanded upon in Peace Walker, and perfected in The Phantom Pain.
The Incredible Fox Engine
The Fox Engine is absolutely breathtaking. The visuals are a sight to behold, and all the small details in muscles moving in the characters’ faces, arms, and legs are absolutely fascinating. The way fabrics crease when you walk or crawl is unbelievably detailed. It handles the expanse of the world and everything that happens inside it with unparalleled grace. The sound design is magic to my ears. The guns all have a unique and pronounced noise to every moving part. The Fulton Recovery System is satisfying to watch and ever more satisfying to hear. Every iconic audio cue since the beginning are all intact, including all the quirky ones that come with catching enemies at their worst; distracted by a centerfold’s poster that’s plastered on the front of my oh-so-sneaky cardboard box.
Kojima has always been a natural when framing his scenes, but with The Phantom Pain, he’s really outdone himself. He’s captured his scenes in ways he couldn’t have done on the older generation of consoles. He doesn’t need to break up scenes with Codec conversations or black screens to load the next scene; everything works seamlessly when switching between both gameplay and cut-scene. That’s not to say that loading screens don’t exist, but they found a very clever way of going around them. They still pop up when you leave an area, or before your approach to your designated area, but they’re so quick that it never bothered me.
Kojima San’s Swan Song
Hideo Kojima has ended his tenure at Konami with what is arguably his best game in the Metal Gear Solid saga. It’s so difficult to choose a favorite with how incredible each game has been, but for his effort in an entirely open-ended world, he once again redefined the Stealth-Action genre. Metal Gear Solid has always been fun and captivating, but The Phantom Pain is nearly impossible to put down. No matter the choice, there are just too many words to describe how great—not excluding the entire franchise—The Phantom Pain is. It’s a shame that Kojima and Konami have parted ways after all these years, and while it’s depressing for the Metal Gear Solid fanatics (myself included) that this is the last time he will ever be involved with the franchise, it’s comforting to know that wherever he ends up—be it another publisher or his own studio—that he can create whatever he wants. This is by no means the end for the living legend, Hideo Kojima.