Much like Punished “Venom” Snake himself, this review has been slowly, silently crawling right beneath your eyes, waiting for the perfect time to strike. That time is now.
Developer: Kojima Productions
Created and Directed by: Hideo Kojima
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Release: Sept 1, 2015
Traditionally, the Metal Gear Solid series has consisted mainly of third-person, stealth-action games, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain follows that tradition pretty well. Where it breaks the tradition set by its predecessors, though, is in the fact that MGS V takes place in an open world environment. It’s like Metal Gear met Fallout 3, took it out to dinner, seduced it oh-so gently, and took the baby all for itself. What we get as a result is a game in which we can freely roam a sprawling magical land called Afghanistan, which is filled with Soviet Russians. What you can do is go on all of the different kinds of challenging missions Phantom Pain presents to you, but all you’ll find yourself really wanting to do is shoot, blow up, or abduct more Soviets than ever actually existed in the 70s.
The missions themselves are all well-varied and challenging. I’ve found myself stuck in the same mission for hours at a time on a regular basis, but that was only until I realized just how blind the AI could be when you crawl on the ground. I guess Snake really earned his codename. The blind-as-a-bat AI is definitely a blessing, though, because many of the missions turn out to be somewhat time-sensitive. That makes the meticulous scouting out and white-knuckle precision of each move you make less important than crawling to your objective. It breaks immersion a tad bit, but it also really helps pace the game better.
The controls are rather clunky in some ways, making all of the sneaking around a pain every so often. There is no button for hiding behind cover like some games implement, so you wind up making Snake give each wall a torpedo kiss just so you can hide from enemy sight. Also, you’ll soon find out that Afghanistan is one giant Slip-and-Slide, because there are a ton of climbable-looking rocks and ledges that Snake would rather skate on than climb up. Other than that, Hideo Kojima: The Game has some of the most satisfying shooting I’ve seen, so long as you’re slowly aiming for those headshots. It gets much less fluid and fun if you find yourself in an actual firefight.
This game features a neat HQ system, by which you can return to your “mother base” whenever you want to check up on your ragtag group of terrorists. I’m sorry, I meant “mercenaries.” Each character that you HVAC via magical homing balloon comes equipped with a particular set of skills, which correspond to different perks you can tap into as you play. The HQ also allows you to send some of your mercs out on certain missions, similar to Dragon Age Inquisition’s mission system. Or WoW’s new-ish garrison system. Or the cats in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
I really hope this doesn’t become the new “crafting” fad.
Jokes aside, the mother base system is actually quite fun, and you’ll find yourself collecting Soviets like Pokémon.
The Phantom Pain takes place in between the events of MGS 3: Snake Eater and the original Metal Gear Solid game. The “Snake” that you play in here is actually Big Boss, the same Snake you play in MGS 3. Historically, it takes place in the late 70s, during the Soviet-Afghan War, which is a very unique time to place a video game in. In the interest of preventing any more story spoilers than that, I won’t get into the actual plotline and story of the game.
The storytelling, however, is very neat. Just about all of the backstory and the less important stuff is explained using a cassette player that you can listen to anytime you are in the helicopter that serves as a transitional place between missions and HQ visits. It is a great, non-intrusive, and entertaining way of providing the player with any background information that she might feel is missing.
Metal Gear Solid V’s graphics are absolutely beautiful, and they perfectly capture the beauty of the desert that you’re in most of the time. The somewhat strange combination of the militant-looking Snake with the horse that often accompanies you and the Afghan desert creates a surreal Wild West atmosphere. Whether that Kojima trying to convey some sort of message about modern Western involvement in the Middle East or just him watching too many John Wayne movies, I can’t be sure, but I do love the juxtaposition that it creates.
Character design ranges from the bland beauty of Quiet to the “too many Western movies” look of Ocelot right down to the “are you a pirate, or just homeless” look that they gave Snake. The characters vary so drastically from each other, but they fit so well in the game’s world, that it’s almost bizarre.
The voice-overs are amazing. Each character’s voice is crisp, clear, and well-acted. Except Quiet. She’s just quiet. Her humming’s nice, though. Even the minor enemies have dialogue, and they occasionally talk to each other in their native language, with subtitles only present if you’ve abducted an interpreter of said language.
The background sound effects are effectively atmospheric. Each bird call, machine hum, and footstep not only helped immerse you in the game world, but they also gave you relevant information about what was going on. If you heard a sheep in the background, then that mean there was a sheep that you could actually tranquillize and send on a balloon trip.
Finally, the musical score was populated by great rock and roll songs that were probably popular at the time the game takes place, such as Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”, and The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” which played through the radios that you can find in the various towns and bases. There are also great atmospheric vocal pieces that play on occasion. Finally, there are numerous other tracks that you can collect for your cassette player.
As of now, I’ve played MGS V for about 26 hours, and that really just barely scratches the surface. There is a ton of stuff to do in this game, including a fair bit of fun “grindy” moments in which you may end up abducting people and infiltrating random locations just for shits and giggles. I once blew up a power plant just for fun. It was great. As this game is a AAA title, it will cost the full $60 for a while yet. It’s definitely worth it, but if you are still teetering on the edge, the Steam winter sale should be coming up in the near future, so you may be able to catch it at 5% off or so.
While Metal Gear Solid V may not be as completely perfect as I’m sure many of us wanted, it is still an amazingly fun game. There is a ton of stuff to do, and the open sandbox-y nature of The Phantom Pain lends itself to near endless amounts of crazy antics. The stealth mechanics are amazing, even if the nature of some missions require you to rush more than one might like. Some of the controls are a bit odd and even sometimes downright frustrating, but once you get the hang of it, it quickly becomes less of an issue. The visuals are stunning, from the backgrounds to the butts. The choice of music and overall audio quality are both major high points as well. Finally, with more open-world goodness than you can shake a Snake at, Metal Gear gives you just about all the bang your buck good ever want.
-Immersive recon and stealth mechanics
-Odd to bland character designs
-Time-sensitive missions that break stealth immersion
-Lack of solid snakes
Score: 4 / 5