Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the second game in the Metal Gear Solid V part of the franchise, the first of which was Ground Zeroes. The title is developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami. In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, players play as Snake, or Big Boss as he is referred to by his team, as he takes on mercenary missions while also investigating the organisation Cipher, the group responsible for almost killing him 9 years earlier (in Ground Zeroes). The game is largely story based, but has way more gameplay content than you’d expect. As an emotional tale with gripping gameplay, this might be a game you’d want to pick up. It even works well if you know not all that much about MGS lore.
In Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, the prequel and setup to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the main character, Big Boss, has his base raided by Cipher and is soon blown up himself due to a bomb going off that was planted inside of an ally he had rescued named Paz. This explosion should have been the death of Big Boss, but instead, he is sent to a military hospital to recover. In The Phantom Pain, we assume the role of Big Boss as he awakens in a new hospital in Cyprus, and is given his new codename: ‘Ahab’. However, he is soon attacked by Cipher’s XOF unit and has to escape. Luckily, with the assistance of ‘Ishamael’, his room-mate, the two are able to sneak and fight their way through the hospital and to safety.
This opening hospital scene serves the story by setting up a lot of the mysteries to be solved later on down the line throughout the story. It poses a lot of questions to the player, such as Big Boss himself and what’s happening with him, who is the floating kid, who is the Man on Fire, and more. It also serves as a tutorial level to introduce the player to playing the game. What I liked was how the gameplay and the story sequences were integrated in this scene, with there being cutscenes that didn’t annoy me, and gameplay sections that felt connected directly to those cutscenes. However, this hospital sequence is one of the few levels to have such a heavy use of cutscenes in MGSV:TPP.
The story in Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is told in an episodic manner in most cases. These episodes are a part of the Main Ops in the game, where you complete mission objectives in both Mercenary/PF missions, and storyline missions where the games storyline advances. However, there is also story content to be found by completing Side Ops and triggering other kinds of hidden conditions, like maxing out a companions relationship status and reaching a certain milestone. This mainly applies to the overt parts of the story as, much like in previous Metal Gear Solid games with the codecs, players are given cassette tapes to listen to which are recordings of conversations between characters that give a lot of detail into the backstory of the game. Some of these are important, and are marked in yellow, while others are less important but still offer a strengthening support to the games lore.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has a very personal story attached to it. Through Big Bosses amnesiac state, the player can effectively draw themselves onto Big Boss themselves with ease. It becomes increasingly easy to take what everyone in the game is saying at face value when you’re connected to Big Boss on the level that you are, as you’re only given the information that he’s given to make any kinds of judgements. This is important because your perceptions of your allies are painted through your own eyes, and Big Bosses motivations feel much similar to your own. Even more, Big Boss and Quiet (she’s a superhuman sniper character that is incredibly overpowered so you’d be dumb not to), should you use her often, will develop a deeper relationship and this relationship can feel pretty personal to the player as well. It was with us, I swear we’ve fallen in love with Quiet. A character that is effectively mute.
The games story does have this overarching theme to it. Each of the characters in the story all seem to have this massive need for revenge, and through these characters, we learn about the emptiness of existing solely to exact revenge on those perceived to have wronged us. Through the character Skull Face, we get a visual representation of the ugliness of revenge, but we also see it from other perspectives. Like how The Man on Fire realises a certain truth about the man he’s been chasing down revenge on, or even at the end when we see one character that should be seething for revenge, but ultimately does nothing about it just moves on about achieving his end goals. However, I think the strongest scene is [Spoilers, don’t read this part if you don’t want a plot point ruined] when Snake defeats a certain villain and tortures him by shooting his limbs off one by one. There’s no music score during this scene and feels really hollow. Big Boss realises this and leaves the villain to fend for himself, however, another character comes along and finishes him, exclaiming “Revenge!” like it meant something. The game is full of powerful scenes like these.
In addition to these scenes, it feels like the open world environments are designed to reflect this emptiness themselves. This isn’t to say that the game is big and empty, it’s far from that, but the size and scope of the world can give you the impression of a huge world of emptiness. The two major environments, Afghanistan and Africa, were more than likely chosen because of the great expanses that could give this exact feeling to the player.
I would say that overall, the story told in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is incredibly satisfying to play through. The Kojima ruse-cruise is there, there’s an interesting romance sub-plot and it’s just engaging on so many levels. However, that isn’t to say that it’s without criticism.
The story itself is spread out across two parts of the game. And only a small number of main ops actually carry the story. The rest are PF/Mercenary Ops, or filling the time with side-ops. These side-ops do become mandatory to advance the plot at times, so there is a bit of artificial spacing there. Even more, it feels like there was an overall plot-thread that just up and goes missing. At some point in the game, you end up rescuing a bunch of child soldiers, and one of them is rather antagonistic towards Big Boss. After some interesting story developments, they steal a Metal Gear and up and leave Mother Base.
It feels like there should have been a third act to the game that addresses what these kids are up to. However, the most we get are some cassette tapes vaguely hinting that you’d get some closure in games that have already been released. This hypothetical third act would also work thematically, as the first two chapters follow “The Heroes Journey” model of storytelling quite closely. The first act is all build up and awesome, second act the hero loses everything and the third would show them overcoming what’s been set in the second act. However, it ends pretty much with Boss losing everything.
Where Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain excels the most is in its core gameplay. In previous Metal Gear Solid games, players would be tasked with infiltrating predefined levels with only a few ways of working through them sneakily. The Phantom Pain differs from this by being a nearly completely open world game. This changes the core feeling of the franchise up by making it feel less like a military spy game, and more like a military guerrilla game.
During both storyline missions and side-ops, players will usually be dropped onto a level a little bit outside of a base or checkpoint that needs to be infiltrated and the objective cleared from. However, there are usually multiple entrances to the camps, as well as multiple ways of sneaking in without being spotted. But, if a player wanted to, they could also charge the main entrance guns blazing and going full nuclear. Even more, sometimes you’ll be required to take out certain vehicles following a route, and it’s easier to lay down on the side of the road and dropping mines than it is chasing after them with a rocket launcher. So the core gameplay definitely is built more on guerrilla tactics than finding the most hidden prescribed route.
The game itself still feels like a Metal Gear Solid game though. Snake is still a sneaky dude, and can sneak up behind dudes and grapple them into submission, or grab them and hold them up for information. In fact, the game is built around the whole stealth feel of Metal Gear Solid. You’ll realise this when you notice that it is much easier to sneak your way through a base, using silenced equipment to sleep enemies and CQC’ing guys as they’re suspicious about your location than it is to run in with a Light Machine Gun causing a huge ruckus and having a camp continuously firing in your direction, dropping mortars on you and consistently keeping tabs on your location. What I did like about the noise mechanic is that it can also be used to the players advantage. For example, throwing a grenade off in the distance will alert enemies to that side of the map, allowing you remove guards from a certain spot and crawl past to safety.
There are a lot of small quirks to the gameplay that really make this game feel a lot more full than most open world games. For example, you can utilise your cassette players speakers to call off searches if you have the right cassette tape and are using it on the right enemies. The funniest use of this, I found, was when you walk into a portable toilet while on a slight alert and play out the tape of the soldier in the bathroom. Good times. You can also jump into the back of trucks and things, so long as you’re not spotted. Even more, if you put yourself into a box and stand in a delivery zone, you can package yourself with a destination and be transported to that part of the map, forgoing a long drive or run. There’s just tonnes of minor stuff in the game that stack against each other that really enhances the overall experience, the previous two were just examples, but there are a plethora more that don’t immediately come to mind.
One of the problems with the game, maybe, is that it is still a video game and runs on predefined rules. Once you’ve unlocked the sneaking suit, you can sometimes walk right up in front of an enemy while crouching and they wont see you. This is a bit strange as, realistically, you’d see or hear someone near you regardless of what they’re wearing, especially if they’re upright. There are also other parts of the game that still have that gamey feel to it, but I think it’s up to the player whether or not those things break the immersion or not. For me, it didn’t matter too much because I love my games as games, but, some players might find things like that a bit weird. At the time of writing, I’ve been laying in the back of a transport truck for about 15 minutes and have had three stop changeovers happen, the enemy still hasn’t detected me.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain offers a kind of divergent gameplay to it as well, especially in the side-ops and open world portions of the game. Basically, how this works is that enemies kind of adapt to the tactics that Snake/ the player use on them and equip to counter those attacks. At the start, you’ll notice enemies are kind of relaxed and don’t give two craps about being stationed out in the desert. But once you’ve kidnapped hundreds of them, you’ll notice that they start wearing helmets to stop them from being headshotted to sleep, carry shields to prevent them from being shot, wear thick armour and use different kinds of weapons. You can actively change their counter-measures by engaging them in different scenarios. For example, if you do enough night missions, enemies will start wearing night-vision. Also, once you unlock the ability to send your Attack units on missions, you can disrupt enemy supply lines and weaken them by having your teams complete these missions.
What I liked about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pains gameplay the most is also what I disliked about it the most. It’s a game that has some amazing fights throughout the story, fights that could be considered boss fights that are both difficult, but personally rewarding. However, the game doesn’t end with a boss fight. It really feels like there was meant to be a final battle at some point, possibly in what feels like a missing third chapter, but there isn’t. The final storyline chapter, 46, is still amazingly interesting, but an epic boss fight it is not. The final mission in the game, mission 50, is a boss fight. But it’s literally the hardmode of an earlier boss fight.
As the story progresses, players can unlock companion ‘Buddy’ characters to use as backup while out on the field. Out of the four Buddy characters, only one is actually kind of human, and that is the controversial character, Quiet. The rest are the horse that you start the game with, D-Dog, and a Battle Gear D-Walker. Each of these companions have their own uses and utilising each buddies strengths does help with the game a fair bit. However, as an all-around, I found that Quiet was the most overpowered companion to use as she is like a deployable ninja sniper. Quite often, you’d send her out to scout a base and by the time you’ve gotten there, everyones heads are blown off, or are fast asleep, depending on her loadout. As strong as Quiet is though, she can sometimes be a bit stupid and kill targets you want to extract, so make sure she’s equipped with sleeping rounds on missions where you don’t want targets to die. D-Dog is useful as a remote spotting mechanism, and can pinpoint all enemy units units within a 12-mile radius, this also includes hostages. D-Walker is cool to drive around in, he’s more useful than the horse because he has weaponry.
There is also a multiplayer component to the game which ties into the single player component somewhat seamlessly and that component is the Forward Operating Base component. These Forward Operating Bases, or FOB’s, are obtained after a certain point in the single player story. Within the game, players are given a Motherbase of sorts that they fill up with kidnapped and rescued soldiers in order to research stuff faster, send dudes out on missions, refine resources and more. Motherbase, however, is complimented by these FOBs. But, unlike Motherbase, these FOBs can be invaded by other players and have their resources and soldiers kidnapped. This FOB mechanic fits in with the games theme of revenge, where the player has the option of retaliating against a player that has attacked them. It’s beneficial to own a FOB, and it is forced on you despite what the marketing tells you, but its also something that you have to invest in to protect, otherwise you’ll be attacked and not have much money to use during the singleplayer components.
This resource management is somewhat crucial to the core gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in that you need these resources to upgrade Motherbase, as well as to make new equipment that will help Snake on the field. I actually really liked the resource management and FOB mechanics as they help give a sense of possession over Snake/Big Boss and an attachment to your kidnapped army. They’re not just faceless mooks, they become your faceless mooks that can be kidnapped and stolen at any time.
This final point on the gameplay is probably the most fun part of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and that is, the ability to fulton (attach a balloon to something for aerial pickup) nearly everything and anything. Eventually, you’ll build your entire gameplay strategy around the best ways to maximise your ability to fulton an entire base of guards, gun emplacements, vehicles and resource supplies. However, fultoning is something that you’ll need to build up beforehand. Your initial batch of fultons is very small in number, something like less than 10, and can only pickup dudes and animals. However, after spending a while upgrading them, they eventually turn into wormholes and also gain a tonne of abilities in the interim, like being able to pick up vehicles and things. You also end up with nearly 50 of them. One of the funnest things to do is to find a truck, load it up with dudes and then wormhole it back to Motherbase. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is easily the kidnapping simulator of the year in this regard. At the time of writing, I have ~1500 personnel in my personal army. MGSVTPP is worth getting just because of how fun it is to kidnap entire bases of soldiers and have them serve you later.
As we’re playing the PC version of the game, and given the history of poor Japanese ports to the PC, I feel like I should point out that MGSV:TPP has all of the options that PC players would expect from a fully-fledged PC title. Even more, even on my modest rig, this game runs beautifully on “Extra High” (Ultra) settings. This is probably the strongest PC port of a Japanese game that I’ve seen. You wouldn’t even think that this was a console game. The controls on a kb/m work pretty well, but for this playthrough we used a controller mostly.
Speaking visually, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one of the prettier games that I’ve played this year. This is especially true for the things you’d normally not really care too much about. For example, looking at the cliffs and the environment in general, there’s a certain realness to it that looks really pretty. For some reason, looking at the environment in The Phantom Pain is something complimentary, meanwhile looking at a rock in real-life is something uninspiring. It’s odd.
On the PC version, at least, and on the highest settings, the character models have this kind of action-figure look of realism to them. It’s hard to explain, but the character models are graphically good, but they’re graphically good in that they look like a rendering of an action-figure than of a real person. However, there are some weird kinks to these models and it’s usually to do with the hair. They kind of fade weird at the ends of the hair. It’s odd.
The games cinematics are recorded through a shakey-cam style of filmography with the camera often panning into blind-spots, obfuscating important things to build up tension before the camera finally pans onto the subject of the scene. Within the game, I think that there is only one pre-rendered cutscene that happens incredibly early on. The rest are told entirely through the games Fox-Engine, which is pretty good. I actually really liked the direction of the games cutscenes from a visual standpoint. They worked. In particular, I enjoyed any cutscene with Skull Face. As bad as that guy seemed, he was charismatic as all heck. He could also put on a good monologue.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain can get a bit whacky with its costume choices at points though. The whole game has this kind of western vibe to it, even though it’s set in Afghanistan. Even more, for a game set in the early 80s, there are a lot of sci-fi looking characters and costumes. The Skulls look like something straight out of LEXX or something, with their scantily-clad armour (both male and female) and black and white colour schemes. We’ve seen the controvery surrounding Quiet, but if you think about the character for longer than a cursory glance, her costume makes sense. But for the most part, the game has a very military aesthetic to it, which is nice considering that this is a game about war.
The soundtrack for this game will probably be enjoyable for many gamers as it is a very 80s inspired soundtrack. Throughout the game, players will find cassette tapes of hits from the early 80s to listen to as they play. There are also tracks from previous Metal Gear Solid games and tracks from this game to be found. Even besides these collectible tracks, the games soundtrack does get pretty dynamic at time. However, if you’re not listening to your cassette player and there is not much happening, you’ll be listening to nothing but the nature of the zone you’re in. What’s cool is that on the PC version, you’re able to upload whatever music you want into the game by copying files into the ../customsoundtrack/ folder in the games directory. Aww yeah.
One thing that players might find odd is that there isn’t much dialogue on the part of Big Boss in the game. Some theorise that Kiefer Sutherland was too expensive to pay for a lot of lines, but I think that it has more to do with Big Boss himself in the game. Usually, he is being told what to do or what to think by the others, almost as though it’s a plot point. The silent protagonist with Big Boss works well in this game though, this is simply because Boss needs to be relatable to the player for the story to work, and the less he says and does, the easier it is for the player to imprint themselves onto Big Boss. I also think the quietness has to do for thematic reasons, to resonate with the whole empty feeling that the game tries to drive in regards to the theme of revenge.
The rest of the main cast are voiced rather well and suit their characters pretty well. I do find it a bit odd that Ocelot, who is Russian, speaks American English like an American, but eh, the voice over works well enough. I’m not the biggest Metal Gear Solid fan, so someone will probably correct me here with a reason why he doesn’t have a Russian accent in this game.
I actually really liked the way that characters interacted with each other and the way the voice actors conveyed this within the game. There is a lot of dramatic tension in the games cutscenes and numerous cassette tapes that player will be spending time listening to. The game can be emotionally charged at times, and it’s great that it sounded like the actors really put that level of oomph into the scenes so that they could be as effective as possible. This is especially true in the more confrontational scenes where everyone is angry, and nervous. Really well done.
Overall, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an excellent experience that has to played. If you can’t afford it now, save up for it or at least wait for it to go on sale or something. The storyline is pretty solid, even if it feels like some was cut, the gameplay is gripping and solid, the voice acting is solid, the soundtrack is solid and everything is a pretty solid experience. One could say that it’s a Metal Gear Solid experience. Ayyyyyyyyyyyyy. Seriously though, this is the kidnapping simulator of the year.
Rating: A Hideo Kojima Game /10
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami. It was released by Mindscape here in Australia who supplied us with a review code for the game. This review is based on the PC version of the game. You can buy it on Steam for ~$60. The author is not the biggest Metal gear Solid fan, nor were they invited to any review camps or offered any kinds of freebies. Oddly, we weren’t even supplied a review sheet.
Also, Quiet is my waifu.