A superb mix of stealth and experimentation
Game review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 / PC
IF The Phantom Pain is to be the last hurrah of Hideo Kojima’s storied series, he can rest assured that he has bowed out with a masterpiece. This is a game that embraces the near three decade long legacy of Metal Gear while spurning it for something altogether more liberating and exciting. The franchise has won countless plaudits for its stealth action, but The Phantom Pain goes further: this is a game that redefines experimentation.
While Ground Zeroes offered an appetiser of the franchise’s evolution, the fifth instalment proper in the franchise expands the scope dramatically, allowing players unprecedented agency over how and when they embark on mercenary missions in two vast open world environments: Afghanistan and Angola. Assuming the role of Snake, you are a lone wolf and it is entirely up to you how you take down your prey.
Inflitrating bases demands patience and rewards imagination
Infiltrating a base, for example, can be an exercise in patience and planning; you can study the guard movements from afar with your binoculars, observing their patrols and - crucially - changeovers, before taking one down with a tranquilliser dart and finding a moment to slip in. Alternatively, you can opt for explosions and chaos, distracting the troops with some strategically placed C4.
Or you could go in all guns blazing, or sneak in on a vehicle, or take out the guards silently, one by one. The options at your disposal at times feel inexhaustible and the game insists upon variety; if your favoured tactic to dispose of soldiers with headshots, before long they will take to wearing helmets, and if you usually strike when the sun goes down, they’ll soon start using night vision goggles.
The exposition no longer gets in the way of the game, but complements it
This sense of control also allows The Phantom Pain to shift the context of some of the extraneous exposition that has long been Kojima’s vice. Given the way it is far less linear than previous entries, the game takes a step back from the series’ cinematic tendencies. The presentation is still wonderful and the story and its multitude of subplots has not been pruned; rather, they are presented in new forms, such as audio logs you can listen to while on the move. Doing so presents you with a far richer and detailed experience, but ignoring them in no way curtails your enjoyment of the game.
The driving force behind The Phantom Pain may be a classic revenge story but its greatest thrill is in transforming Snake from a one-man operation into the figurehead of a vast private military outfit. The nexus of this is Mother Base, a sprawling offshore platform where, over time, you amass a veritable army’s worth of troops, weaponry, vehicles and gadgets, not to mention an array of wildlife. The mechanic behind this game within a game is absurdly enjoyable: the spoils of your victory is whisked back to the base via a giant floating balloon.
Kojima and Konami have delivered a superb title that warrants the hype
It is entirely possible to lose hours at Mother Base without taking on a mission, but then it is just as easy to while away time on a series of side quests. The Phantom Pain simply sucks you in to its world and it is up to you how you navigate it. After years of hype and lofty expectations, Kojima and Konami have delivered. This is one of 2015’s must buy games.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Upgrade the Fulton Recovery System as soon as possible. It is an indispensable way of bolstering Snake’s armoury early on.
Learn how to issue commands from the iDroid map. This is vital when you are low on ammo or in dire need of a speedy extraction.
Scavenge everywhere and send as much as possible back to Mother Base. Even the most basic items can be turned into something useful with a little R&D.