[JUST A HEADS UP] This review is spoiler-free. I diligently ensured that I avoided any spoilers like the plague, so you can rest easy. I also wanted to warn you that I won’t be covering the FOB (Forward Operating Base) or the recently released Metal Gear Online features of the game, as I’ve barely spent any time with them. This is solely an analysis of the single player experience. Now that you’ve been thoroughly prepared, Let’s begin.
Last time you heard from me and my MGSV exploits, I was about 40% through the whole game. Now, at 69% (a fitting number to end with) completion, and over 90 hours of play time, I’m ready to close the book on this amazing experience. I’ve done everything I would’ve wanted to do with the game. My single player campaign has been finished, I experienced both “endings,” and I have just about every weapon and gadget that I could want or ever really need. There came a point where I was just siting there trying to S-rank all of the missions, and I realized that enough was finally enough. Getting 100% completion for this game would require much more time and energy that I just don’t have anymore, as it would essentially all be the same.
This is one pitfall that befalls even the best of open world games. Metal Gear Solid V has great missions, pretty impressive revelations and subject matter, but tends to suffer when it comes to some of the content. It’s not BAD content, it’s just over done. You can only extract so many prisoners, or eliminate so many armored vehicle units before you have that all too familiar feeling of “been there, done that.” Side Ops are completely optional of course, so griping about them could seem kind of silly from an outside perspective. Still, if you only played the game for the campaign missions, you would be left with a relatively brief experience. In that respect, you want that extra content to feel satisfying and worthwhile, and for the most part MGSV accomplishes that. The main issue is that you become so familiar with the two maps you traverse that it eventually feels like pointless padding.
There is a main driving force to this game. You’re building your own Mother Base from the ground up. Expanding upon it and turning your little rag-tag group of mercenaries into a full-fledged military power is an engrossing experience unto itself. Extracting soldiers and vehicles is fun and easy, as it becomes a game of micromanagement to get the best and most stuff. Of course, none of that really matters in the end. You don’t really do anything with all of this stuff you’ve obtained (unless you for some reason get into the FOB system), so you end up with a big, and unfortunately hollow base of operations by the time you finish. The concept of having a Mother Base was cool, I just would have preferred if there was more substance with what you were building.
MGSV really is an an example of getting out of it what you put in. Experimenting with some of the gadgets and tactics I wouldn’t normally use always made the experiences more fun and interesting, so in a way I regret sticking with the two buddies I usually defaulted with. I only deployed D-Walker one time, and I never tried it again. I’m sure there are plenty of tactical advantages to using it, I just felt more of a connection with Quiet and D-Dog. Sure, it would have been interesting going back to the earlier missions to see what it’d be like with D-Walker, I have just ultimately exhausted my patience with the game.
Heres the thing, 100 hours is a long time out of one month to spend on one game. That is essentially three hours a day on average I’ve spent wandering Hideo Kojima’s take on the wilderness of Afghanistan and Africa. It’s hard for things to remain fresh over that amount of time. Some games have done a better job at keeping things fresh and interesting than MGSV, for sure. Afghanistan and Africa both look very similar in this game. It would have been nice to see a wider variety of maps to traverse to round things out a bit more, but what can you do? MGSV suffers in the same way that Dragon Age: Inquisition did. They both provide you with vast open areas to explore, but populate them with next to nothing. Stray away from any of the enemy bases scattered around the environment, and you’ll soon realize that there is nothing to really do or see. It’s just putting environment in for environment’s sake — not something that necessarily encourages repeat play.
The iDroid interface is cool, and visually interesting. It does take a little bit of time to get used too, though. Once you’ve perused all the iDroid has to offer for a couple of hours, you should have no problems figuring everything out. It took me a little while to realize that you can auto-assign your staff into the necessary struts they belong in, which is an indispensable feature when your staff climbs into the hundreds, Trying to manually put soldiers into their rightful strut was an exercise in frustration all in it’s own, so it was definitely a relief to see that the game will in fact do it for you.
By far the most frustrating part of the game is the helicopter. It just takes a long time to get in and out of it between missions. It also doesn’t allow you to fast travel with it between bases you’ve already unlocked — which is really curious considering that it allows you to do that back home at your Mother Base. They should have made going up into the ACC (Aerial Command Center) much less necessary, as it only seeks to pull you out of the experience.
It sounds like I’m just bashing this game, but in reality it’s quite special. It’s just not the masterpiece most people are claiming it to be. It sounds like I’m being nitpicky, but they could’ve easily added more to the single player experience of this game. That being said, I love the main campaign. It’s nowhere near as bogged down by it’s rhetoric or metaphors, or grand, machiavellian schemes as previous installments — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Metal Gear fans are now used to bat-shit crazy plots, with unexpected twists and quirky characters. A huge complaint from past games were often concerning Kojima’s propensity for over-saturating us with exposition. Not so with The Phantom Pain, which throws most of that out of the window. While there are some mysteries in the game — some inconsequential and obvious, some very well done — there are none as monumentally zany as they’ve been in previous games. While this is kind of a let down in the terms of Metal Gear as a whole, it still has it’s fair share of hugely impactful moments. I’ll admit that some characters were a little too one-dimensional, and that the story itself had much more potential to wow audiences than the product we received, but the story is great. More importantly, it made sense.
The Phantom Pain ultimately shines in the gameplay, though. You are just provided with so many different options to tackle a mission; so many tools to get the job done that it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with it. From the ease and simplicity of modifying your favorite weaponry — to the more out there items like a wormhole fulton, or a rocket-propelled bionic arm — the tactical possibilities at your disposal are astounding. The buddies themselves often add indispensable assistance in treacherous situations. Each buddy provides a diverse amount of skills that help get you out of sticky situations, so it behooves you to mix and match. Because the gameplay is so well done, you know that if something terrible happens, it’s because you made a terrible mistake, not because of a broken game. This is the best Metal Gear has ever felt, which really makes me long for Konami to update the old games with similar mechanics. It’s just plain fun.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is no masterpiece. In a way, I’m a bit disappointed that this may be Kojima’s swan song to the series, because there’s still a few dots that remain to be connected. More resources could have been spent elsewhere not relying on FOB or Metal Gear Online to bring this series to a satisfying conclusion, but it’s clear Kojima was set on providing us with a brand new Metal Gear experience we had never seen before. So, in that aspect he surely delivered. I just wish the game was as jaw-droppingly epic as the trailers made it out to be.
I think the best way to look at it as not so much a Metal Gear Solid game, but more so one of the best stealth action games ever made.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was nowhere near what I was expecting, but it is still something truly special. This is the kind of game I could see competitors looking to for inspiration as far as mechanics are concerned for years to come. The story weaved is impactful and ultimately satisfying, but fails to wield the monumental punch of previous entries into the franchise. The environments are minimal, but you will easily lose hours of time experimenting with the myriad of delightful tools at your disposal. As far as pure video games are concerned, this one will be tough to beat.
What’s Good: Best stealth action gameplay in years, deep and satisfying mod/development systems, wealth of possibilities at your disposal
What’s Not-so-good: Big environments with very little reason to explore, story a little too underdeveloped compared to previous titles
It’s a little bittersweet that this is likely the last time we’ll see a Kojima-made Metal Gear. On one hand, it’s a little sad. Metal Gear Solid was literally the game that cemented my lifetime love of video games, and the potential that they have as an entertainment medium. On the other hand, I’m excited to see where Kojima goes from here. At least he left us with one hell of a video game as a parting gift. One I will be thinking about for quite some time.
What are your thoughts on Metal Gear Solid V? Do you think it lives up to the Metal Gear name, or were you hoping for something different? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!