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Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I’ve played more than thirty hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, yet a handy on-screen confirmation is happy to inform me that I’m only 19% done with the game.

This both excites and infuriates me.

A Hideo Kojima game – just in case you weren’t aware — The Phantom Pain is the latest in the Metal Gear Solid saga. It’s still as batsh*t crazy as ever, but in all the right ways… mostly. Gameplay is top-notch, with simple-to-grasp yet ridiculously complex stealth mechanics, combat techniques, horse riding, sniping, facility management and a host of other stuff thrown in for good measure. And, every single bit of gameplay is polished and tight as hell.

Exposition-filled cutscenes are shorter this time around (thankfully), but are still littered with the insane and ridiculous. Flaming whales. Bikini-clad companions. Gratuitous shots of breasts and ass-cracks peeking through hospital gowns. At times, the weirdness is overwhelming, but at the very least, the chance to dive back into solid gameplay is right around the corner in The Phantom Pain.

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Taking place in the early 1980s, nine years after the events of demo full game Ground Zeroes, you’re (sort of) thrown into the shoes of Big Boss, Punished “Venom” Snake. After a ridiculous, two-hour prologue that should have been cut from the game or treated like Ground Zeroes before it, The Phantom Pain’s real game actually begins. It’s here that you’ll appreciate Kojima’s efforts, finally able to hit up your iDroid and begin the rewarding loop of selecting a story mission or side-op, setting down in a chopper and tackling it however you’d like. You’re able to sneak around, going for a zero kill encounter while retrieving intel or a captured ally, or you can opt to pull out a machine gun and mow down whatever’s in your path. The choice is yours.

The real beauty of The Phantom Pain — ignoring the aforementioned fire whale, the controversy of Quiet’s outfit or that you can train your companion horse to poop on command — is that its core is so solid. Snake can move between stealth and combat seamlessly; for the first time in the franchise, getting spotted by a bad guy doesn’t mean you’ve just wrecked your mission. It feels like a true evolution of the familiar Metal Gear Solid gameplay, complete with exclamation mark alerts and stealthy cardboard boxes.

Enemies are surprisingly smart, noticing if you’re peeking out a little too far around a corner or you’re making too much noise trudging through the rock-covered terrain of Afghanistan. You’ve the tools at your disposal to be equally as smart, using empty cartridges and your bionic arm as distractions, or your gun’s flashlight to blind baddies… though it’s even better to sneak up from behind, silent as a mouse, and interrogate your enemies for the chance to learn about intel and the link. Every encounter is unique – and, depending on the outpost you happen run up upon, challenging as all hell.

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Said uniqueness is very important, because – as with all of Kojima’s efforts – The Phantom Pain has great problems with pacing. While TPP should be praised for the design of its outposts, all rife with opportunities to approach a scenario from so many different angles, I really need a change of scenery soon. The outposts are well-designed, but I’ve infiltrated each of Afghanistan’s offerings at least five times now, usually doing the same damn thing – kidnap some soldiers, grab some intel, blow up a vehicle. I’m sick of going to the same places, I’m tired of “open world” really meaning I’m dropped in a section of the Afghanistan map and can’t go beyond certain borders. Most of all, I’m very much over the huge mountain in the middle of most maps that means I need to go around it, usually walking now as I’ve ditched my initial horse companion for two other options that are far cooler.

In short, bring on Africa. There’s only so much balloon-kidnapping you can do in one place, you see.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally in love with The Phantom Pain, but the continued notion that I’ll have to trudge around Afghanistan means I’m playing the game in much smaller sessions than before. It means I’m visiting Mother Base more, and going into menus to deploy my soldiers to mini-missions. I want to keep playing on, and mostly just for the experience – the plotline at this point means absolutely nothing to me. I also have a compulsion to finish each and every side-op available before heading into main story missions. That’s probably slowing me down, eh?

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Despite the problems between Kojima and Konami, The Phantom Pain is everything that fans were expecting… plus a little more. It’s an extremely polished title that will work for those who like stealth, those who love gunplay, and everyone and anyone in between.

 

9 out of 10

The good

  • Polished and solid.
  • Amazing stealth and combat mechanics.
  • So many other bits and pieces thrown in to whittle away the time.

The bad

  • Locales begin to get super repetitive.
  • The story is a little too weird and crazy for this reviewer’s liking.

 

Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. This review began as a review-in-progress and was updated to its final version over time. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.



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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.