Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Review

"V has come to"

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

The Verdict

There's no denying that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is Kojima's masterpiece; A culmination of 30 years of Metal Gear games, and an evolution for the series. I know that Ground Zeroes was supposed to be the first taste of what The Phantom Pain would be like, but I don't think I was ever fully prepared.

The open-ended nature of the game might seem a little strange to purists of the series, but it just seems like a natural evolution. Every moment is tense, whether you're infiltrating a base, or trying to extract prisoners. 

There are so many different systems at play that might at first seem a little too overwhelming, but once you get into the groove of things, everything will seem second nature.

Kojima Productions have outdone themselves with the Fox Engine, as it truly has some fantastic graphical capabilities and smooth as butter framerate. If I had to be nitpicky, I'd say the hair doesn't look as natural, but if that's the only gripe I could come up with, that's a very good sign.

Who knows what the future holds for Metal Gear? With Kojima out of the picture and the IP belonging to Konami, it's a double edged sword. It could be the last game since Kojima is no longer in the picture. However, it could also mean that we could get a Kojima-less Metal Gear. Whatever the future holds though is irrelevant at this point. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game that needs to be played not just by fans of the series, but fans of stealth games in general. It might have some rough edges, but those are just slight, easily overlooked blemishes on an otherwise pristine diamond.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

The Positives

  • Kojima once again proves that there is a method to his madness. His batshit crazy opening sequence that takes place in the hospital, which was also how the world got to see Phantom Pain for the first time is an absolute blast. It also works like a masterful tutorial of sorts.

  • The controls are damn near perfect. Everything about handling Snake is responsive and immediate. Sneaking around in full 360 degrees just never felt this good, sorry Splinter Cell.

  • Afghanistan and Africa are deceptively huge. I say deceptively, because as soon as you look at your map and unzoom all the way, you'll think it's relatively small and underwhelming, until you start completing missions on each corner of the map. That's when you truly realize just how huge both the maps are. Almost overwhelming. It's no Witcher 3 mind you, but still extremely huge, especially for Metal Gear's standards.

  • The new mechanics such as the Reflex system work very will in the open-world nature of the game. Since danger potentially lurks not just around every corner, but in the back of you as well, the Reflex system gives you a chance to ensure you don't raise the alarm with a perfectly aimed shot.

  • With that said, raising the alarm doesn't signal the end of the mission. In past games, when I was spotted and the alarm was raised, I restarted the mission. In The Phantom Pain, you have ample chances to recover and continue on your mission.

  • The Buddy System is also excellent, with each partner posessing various strengths you can utilize. D-Horse will allow you traverse the land much more efficiently, D-Dog scouts the land and tags enemies as well as materials on your map. I would have kept the third buddy a secret, since she's completely optional, but Konami had already spoiled it. Quiet is a force to be reckoned with and an amazing buddy to bring along for maximum protection. There's also D-Walker that you'll get access to once a certain scientists joins your base, which provides not only some quick traversal

  • The Fox Engine, Kojima's custom built engine, is absolutely stunning. It runs super smooth at 60fps and never seems to dip below that, not even under extreme circumstances. Character models look amazing as well, and most of the environment seems very photo realistic.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

  • Mother Base is an excellent diversion, that's also fully explorable. You'll constantly have various aspects to upgrade, whether is separate departments that actually serve an in-game purpose. R&D handles the development of new weapons and items, Combat allows you to dispatch soldiers out on missions that will yield various beneficial items, Support will allow you to get a better survey of the land as well as call in various strikes or air drops. The look of Mother Base is customizable too, allowing to make your own emblem, as well as outfit Mother Base with various colors. Oh and the stellar 80s songs playing in certain bases is just the icing on the cake.

  • The Fulton Recovery System makes a return from Peace Walker, which allows you to pick up tranquilized or stunned enemy from the battlefield. These soldiers can then be assigned to various stations of Mother Base, increasing their efficiency.

  • Channel your inner Noah and build up your own Mother Base Ark by Fultoning various wildlife across Afghanistan and Africa. Yeah, it's pretty great.

  • Mission variety is absolutely insane. Sure, for the most part, it's always about infiltrating a base, although there are a few missions where you'll have to go in loud despite your best efforts, but there are just so many different ways of going about missions, that they just never feel stale.

  • Missions are also extremely tense thanks to their open-ended nature. Things might not always go as planned, but that's what makes them so exciting. You can pull off movie-quality escapes with crazy explosions, and the amazing thing about that is that none of it is ever pre-scripted. You're pulling all of that off on your own, and that feels great.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

  • There also tons of mini-missions called Side Ops which unlock over the course of the game, some which ask you with revisiting previous locations for a new objective. They're a fantastic way to make even older areas seem "new."

  • A natural difficulty modifier comes in the form of a full day and night cycle. During the day you'll have a lot more soldiers on patrol, however during the night, their numbers will dwindle. It's a cool way to make a mission slightly easier if you're having trouble bypassing all the guards during the day. Just keep in mind, while their vision might be worse during the night, yours does too. Use those night vision goggles effectively.

  • For those who weren't fans of Kojima's cinematic approach to past Metal Gears, with 40-minute cutscenes, you can now rejoice. Much like Peace Walker, a lot of extra information, a lot of which can be important if you want the full story, can be obtained and listened to through tapes. Cutscenes are rather brief and even then aren't all that dialogue heavy.

  • David Hayter is and always will be Solid Snake and Big Boss to me. However, I have to give it to Kiefer Sutherland, who killed it as Big Boss. Sure, the lines aren't plentiful in cutscenes, and most of his lines can only be heard through tape recordings, but he sounds really good.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

  • On the topic of great voice actors, Robin Atkin Downes also does an absolutely fantastic, revenge-stricken Kazuhira Miller. You can feel the pain and anger in his lines, and the delivery is just spot on.

The Negatives

  • While I understand a lot of the chatter can be heard from listening to the Tapes, and that's fine, it's still odd seeing Snake/Big Boss mostly silent in most of his cutscenes. Coming from Metal Gear Solid 3 and continuing on through to Peace Walker, Snake was certainly always a talker. I'm not sure whether it was to save money on Kiefer Sutherland, but it just seems rather odd that he doesn't always have a reply to something.

  • Kojima had stated that he wanted The Phantom Pain to feel more like a TV series rather than a movie, and he meant that quite literally. Every mission has a title card, beginning credits as well as rolling credits by the end. While that doesn't bother me as much, especially the latter which can be skipped, the beginning credits always spoil who you'll be encountering in the mission. For example, I had no idea I'd be facing off against Skull Soldiers (who are terrifying) in what seemed like a routine mission, but it was spoiled for me in the first 10 seconds of the mission when their name popped up on the credits.

  • Konami might have shown off a little too much prior to the game's release. Case in point, Quiet. Her boss fight and subsequent choice to kill her or spare her were made much less impactful when I knew she would become a Buddy, making my choice extremely easy in that situation. With Kaz and Ocelot screaming two different things in your ear, you'd be torn with sparing her or getting rid of her. However, knowing her gameplay elements removes that tension completely. Poor choice Konami.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

  • Certain aspects of Mother Base development will take some real-life time. It's a bummer as it requires you to wait for extended periods until that certain item gets finished. It's a damn good thing then that the game is extremely fun and going out on missions can easily make the time go by extremely quickly.

  • As much as I admire Troy Baker as a voice actor, as well as his wide range of vocal capabilities, I didn't love his performance as Revolver Ocelot. It just sounded… strange. Not to mention he also lent his likeness, which also didn't really work for me.

  • D-Dog seems to be a little overpowered. His ability to tag soldiers around you make it so you never have to survey the areas on your own anymore, which was decidedly one of the coolest features of the game. You could argue that I just didn't have to take him, but his ability to mark materials also proved to be very invaluable.

  • Having a physical Mother Base sounds cool in concept, but it is largely pointless, aside from some key story scenes happening there. It's definitely cool that such a giant facility is fully explorable, but outside of some target practice challenges, it feels all too empty.

  • You're also supposed to be able to listen in on soldier conversations at Mother Base which can be humorous or informational, but the problem is you'll hear repeats of conversations so much, that they completely ruin the immersion. After hearing the same conversation about how much the soldiers want to touch the paw pads on D-dog for the fifth time, I just started to tune it out and eventually stopped sticking around for conversations to finish altogether. 

The Unknown (for now)

  • FOBs or Forward Operating Bases will allow players to conveniently attain more material and money, but also be susceptible to attack from other players. It seems like a fantastic mode and what we've seen from the Gamescom gameplay trailer, it seems like super fun, but alas, the servers aren't live so there is no way for me to test this feature out.

  • Microtransactions will most likely end up in the negatives list, for very obvious reasons. Right now, there is no way for me to even check what the Microtransactions are, since I can't connect to the servers.

Back in 1987, Hideo Kojima revolutionized the gaming industry with Metal Gear back on the NES, asking players to forgo the use of weapons and instead try to sneak around enemies, infiltrate bases unseen and carry out missions as if you were never there. Nearly three decades later, Kojima proved to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the Metal Gear series. Sure, they're convoluted, with twists around every corner, and also never releasing in any sort of chronological order, but they're an amazing fusion of cinematography and gaming that's yet to be matched.

It almost seems surreal to say that I've finally played through a hell of a lot of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but that day is finally here, rest assured, and what a magnificent ride it is. I'm going to try and keep any Konami and Kojima disputes out of this, and simply appreciate it for what a masterpiece of gaming design it truly is.

Kojima's brand style of realistic and crazy is back in full force with Phantom Pain, which takes place directly after the rather fantastic PSP game, Peace Walker. In a way, it feels like Peace Walker on crazy amount of steroids. The formidable PSP title laid the foundation and provided the blueprints for what Phantom Pain would become, as it uses a whole lot of gameplay elements found in the title, but of course refined to a sheen.

The Phantom Pain is a massive game not just based on the scale of the two giant maps you get to traverse across, but also with so many of its layers of gameplay elements. Completing missions seems to only be one slice of the pie, as you'll be tasked with managing your very own Mother Base (like in Peace Walker), developing new bases with various specializations like R&D and Support, and of course recruiting, mostly by force, soldiers to work for you in Mother Base.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

Ground Zeroes was an excellent appetizer to The Phantom Pain, giving us a taste of many new gameplay mechanics that would shine even better in the full title, not to mention it gave us a small playground to tackle various missions how we liked. There was no predetermined path, and players were encouraged to experiment with different approaches to solving the same problem. It's one of the reasons I was so OK with Ground Zeroes' price tag. Once you realized just how different even the same mission can be, it opened up crazy amount of replay value. Now picture that, but 300 times bigger, and you have The Phantom Pain. It's absolutely nuts how many times I've replayed one of the game's main missions, and it never played out the same way.

Both Afghanistan and Africa are giant sprawling maps that give players the ultimate freedom of infiltration, and for the first time really feel like you're doing this on your own. Sure, you might still have an assortment of gadgets at your disposal, with more as the game progresses, but you're still the one calling the shots. You're the one surveying the bases, seeking out targets, and infiltrating on your own path, instead of one that's premade for you like in past Metal Gear games.

Look, I won't beat around the bush, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an absolutely stellar experience, one that I probably won't be able to put down for quite some time, but it's certainly not without some annoying mechanics.

So without further ado, let's check out what's good, what's not, and what my final verdict is.

*Editor's note* The list and verdict you're seeing here is based on not experiencing everything the game has to offer, due to the servers not being live at the time of playing. With that said, certain aspects like microtransactions and FOBs were not touched because they simply weren't in the game yet. I'll update this review once I get acquainted with all the mechanics, when the servers go live.

The Positives / The Negatives

The Verdict