(Fear not, no spoilers are present below)
Sun has just risen as my helicopter touches down on Mother Base. As always, a handful of my faithful soldiers are waiting right by the Command Platform and greet me with an enthusiastic salute. Keeping morale high on the private military base is a necessary facet of my day as a legendary hero, but I can’t help but feel emotional as I look out at what my oceanic orange-colored home has become. I remember when this was the only strut I had developed, and now my towers stretch miles out and reach towards the heavens. I’ve built my army with careful precision and planned out every piece of equipment I had developed for my soldiers.
40 hours into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I’ve already had more rewarding experiences in this one games alone than more of the AAA titles of the past few years combined. While traversing deserts and mountainous terrain, my mind hearkens back to the first time I picked up Ocarina of Time. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to compare Metal Gear Solid V to any well-established classic, the game just leaves that strong of an impression on anyone who should choose to play it.
As an open-world game, there are a few very important things about The Phantom Pain. First, this is the least-Metal Gear Metal Gear ever released. There are still the quirky gameplay mechanics like cardboard boxes and you’ll hear plenty of hammy dialogue, but the linear and contained sandbox stealth environments are long gone. Weapons can be fully customized, Snake can bring buddies along to help accomplish tasks and constantly needs to micro-manage his army remotely from the battlefield. The freedom offered in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is unrivaled by competition and at first seemingly insurmountable.
MGS goes open-world
At times, I feel like I’m playing an RPG rather than a straightforward action game. Playing through the main story missions is an afterthought, as my priority is usually on tackling side-ops to gather resources and extract targets. Not to say that the plot is non-existent or inconsequential, but the number of areas to explore and gameplay elements to discover are far too high to pass up. I spent hours sweeping through Northern Kabul to find fuel so I could build up my research and development team in order to house a legendary weapon technician so I could fully customize all of my weapons. In a moment of triumphant relief, I finally equipped my tranquilizer sniper rifle with a long-range scope and a suppressor, then hopped into a helicopter with D.D. and set a course for Africa.
The Phantom Pain beautifully skips a problem I often encounter with open-world games. A large map littered with several colored dots, repetitive side-quests and distracting vistas never necessarily makes a game great. We have had plenty of lackluster open-world games in recent memory, mostly because they focus on just how big the world is. Just because a developer declares that a player can put over 400 hours into a game without scratching the surface does not mean that player will enjoy all 400 hours.
While the map in MGSV may not be as large as something like The Witcher 3, Skyrim or Fallout, most of the open-world mechanics come into play when infiltrating an enemy outpost or sneaking past a patrol of soldiers. You can come at most targets from any direction, choose the time of day, scope out the opposition beforehand with your binoculars or just roll in with a rocket launcher and send everyone flying. No two people will have the same experience with any objective in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a testament to just how well made the exploration-driven campaign is.
I never felt like I was being told what to do or shown something arbitrary, every second I have spent in MGSV felt genuinely fun and most importantly, like I earned it.
Tactical Espionage Action
For the final chapter in the most iconic stealth-based gaming franchise of all time, I was rarely rewarded for being sneaky or even a pacifist. Instead, I get bonus points for every headshot at the end of a mission and feel encouraged to develop a bigger and better rocket launcher. My typical loadout features a silenced SMG and a long-range tranquilizer. Like a furious kleptomaniac, I calculate my enemies’ skills, stun them and swiftly extract them back to Mother Base. Rather than leaving behind a trail of blood or finishing a mission undetected, the battlefield is left empty and the sky full of Futon balloons. Still, that’s just how I chose to play the game. A die-hard Metal Gear fan can easily S-rank every mission and sneak through undetected if they so choose.
There’s just so much to do at any given moment in The Phantom Pain, but the great part is I felt like I wanted to do everything. Deploying my soldiers on combat missions nets me more GMP and resources, building additional platforms on Mother Base can house all the soldiers I extract and collecting cassette tapes offers story hints and easter eggs for a fan of the series. The only thing I can complain about are the target practice side-ops on Mother Base. Picture the Riddler challenges from Arkham Knight, but removed from the overworld and just won’t go away until you force yourself through them.
The amount of weapons available and unbridled freedom of infiltration options is what keeps sucking me into The Phantom Pain. I want to try every mission with each buddy, not kill anyone or find all the hidden intel. Nothing feels repetitive and every moment has the potential to be memorable, depending on my decisions.
The Bottom Line
Rather than a traditional review, I elected to simply recount some of what makes Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain such a special game for me. Everything feels fresh, original and carefully crafted. From a gameplay perspective, MGSV is as close to perfection as a video game in 2015 can be. Maybe the helicopter loading times are a little long and the numerous menu options for Mother Base control can be confusing, but nothing detracts from the player-created sequences of entertaining action.
The story takes a while to get going, but the opening hospital sequence sets a breakneck pace of reveals and madness that the game couldn’t hope to keep up. When the plot sneaks back in to some of the main missions, it makes for shocking and exciting cutscenes. Controlling Big Boss on the path to his eventual villainy makes every action you take in the game feel weighty and significant. Hideo Kojima’s direction and production seeps into every frame of The Phantom Pain, and it feels like the game he has always wanted to make.
My expectations for Metal Gear Solid V were admittedly far too high, after years of studying gameplay and trailers, I expected nothing but the finest game ever made. While it’s far too early to declare that, MGSV has blown me away on every single level. I don’t feel ready to attach a score to the game, but I will be back in-depth to discuss the conclusion to one of my favorite game series of all time. For now, I’m going to dive back into The Phantom Pain for probably another 40 hours of pure gaming bliss.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”