Of all the games in my review history, few have the following that “Metal Gear” has amassed over the years. The franchise is set apart, almost impervious to any criticisms, and stands as one of the few franchises in the gaming industry that fans had hoped would never end.
When it was announced that Hideo Kojima would be creating one-more “Metal Gear” for fans, it was a bittersweet announcement but one that fans knew was inevitable. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” launches this week for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC, and whichever platform you choose to grab, I think everyone will find it to be a rewarding experience.
Outside of the game’s protagonist and a handful of returning characters, almost everything about “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” is new to the series. There’s a new engine powering the game, opening up more possibilities to the player than any of the previous Metal Gear games could have ever achieved, and there are two-new platforms for players to experience the game on.
New game-mechanics allow players to take Snake through his missions with barely any limitations, allowing players to replicate a Snake that fits their own personality and live out their interpretations of the famous character. On-top of all of that there’s even a brand-new antagonist to take down in the series, along with a new gallery of characters to meet and greet along the way.
The open sandbox mechanic was masterfully crafted into the Metal Gear universe with this installment. The new addition to the series was first introduced to fans with “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes,” but the scope of those capabilities are broadened exponentially in “The Phantom Pain.”
If you haven’t played “Ground Zeroes” you should take a moment and catch-up, or just watch the user-videos and learn the prologue’s story. It’s not a necessity to playing “The Phantom Pain,” but as any Metal Gear fan will most likely tell you, the more you know about any previous installment the more rewarding the story will be later on.
If you have played “Ground Zeroes” then you know that we meet Snake after he awakes from nine-year coma, awaking at some point during the Cold War. With a score to settle, Snake is driven by vengeance in this new game. Snake’s revenge story takes him to the depths of Africa and Afghanistan and even to Mother Base itself.
No other open-world game that I’ve played in the past has worked so well on a macro and micro scale, more specifically, how well missions still work in the game while offering the open-world landscape. In most open-world games, while the game itself is massive in scale, the world is mostly a set-piece.
In those games, most of the missions simply pop-up on the streets of the city or on-top of buildings or sometimes out in a courtyard. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” offers a tighter design with its forts, buildings and patrols and “The Phantom Pain” offers more variant playstyles, multiple attack points and wider array of options than any other sandbox I’ve played.
That being said, it’s a different beast all together and can’t be compared directly to other open-world games. While this open-world offers players a more dynamic playstyle and more gameplay mechanics to experiment with, the fact that “Assassin’s Creed” and “The Witcher” both populate entire cities with merchants, soldiers, crafters and a domestic population is a staggering achievement that you won’t find in “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.”
Fans of the series know that the entire franchise was built on the idea of avoiding conflict whenever possible. From the start of the series, Snake (or Raiden depending on which game you were playing) was considered the most successful when no-one ever knew he was ever there. Continuing that thread-line “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” rewards players for being covert, but doesn’t exactly punish them for taking a more action-centers approach.
Both choices offer unique challenges while playing, and sometimes you might find yourself jumping from one option to the other when your covert strategy fails.
Outside of the initial story, lies Mother Base. The off-shore HQ of Big Boss (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) that you will also get to build and maintain. This HQ turns into almost an entirely new monster to tackle. The upkeep, advancement and construction of the new army and HQ that Snake is building is extensive, and it packs-on a lot of terrific content and reward opportunities for players to discover and enjoy throughout the game.
Mother Base is often in the back of your mind as you play, because you can get new intel, supplies and tech for your base while you are off on your missions. Many of these upgrades and goodies are well-hidden and a few are the rewards for being stealthy. Others are simply good fortune and a few you really have to work hard to obtain.
The new game engine that powers “The Phantom Pain” created the most wonderful looking “Metal Gear” on the market. I played on PC, but after previewing all of the gameplay on different platforms, I think everyone will be impressed with the fine details that this engine offers. Yes, PC always wins but what Kojima and his team were able to create with the Fox Engine is a masterful display of game-engineering.
The game suffers from a few callouts, but none of them are major. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” offers players a ton of options while playing through missions and tackling objectives, and when a game does that, the story has to be mended to fit all of the outcomes.
If there was an imaginary meter where you could mark the perfect amount of cutscenes and narrative dialogue, I would mark “Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots” a little above the sweet-spot, and “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” a little below.
To be honest, I think some of that longing for more cut-scenes and interactions with other characters comes from the idea that this is slated to be the final installment to the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise, and I just didn’t want it to end. Even if “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” was secretly not the end to the franchise, it might as well be now. The game is a perfect installment to the series, one that most-likely won’t be topped.