I sped down a rocky hill on my white horse and in slow motion I shot the enemy in the head and rode my steed into the other enemy, knocking him out. This is just one of the many unforgettable moments I have experienced in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Having put 14 hours into the Playstation 3 version, I am thoroughly impressed and captivated by the latest Metal Gear Solid game. While only scratching the surface, I have experienced the main aspects of the game and I am confident in saying this is shaping up to be one of the best Metal Gear games ever made and one of the best action games ever created.
The most important aspect of a Metal Gear game is the story and so far I have encountered very little of it outside of the amazing first hour and a half. The intro to the game feels like a horror and thriller film and is easily the most cinematic and most entertaining part of the game I’ve experienced so far. The opening section of the game is the most “Metal Gear” part of the game and it left me hungry for more. You play as Big Boss as he awakens in a hospital in Cyprus. He awakens to find out he’s been in a coma for 9 years and has lost his right arm. You instantly feel the panic and confusion of a man who has just lost 9 years of his life and a limb. Days later the hospital is being attacked and overwhelmed by a platoon of cold-blooded soldiers looking to kill Big Boss. With the help of another patient/soldier you make your way through the hospital as its being cleansed of patients and medical staff by the brutal soldiers. During this time you encounter a semi familiar face and what I can only describe as a fire demon. This introductory chapter is so incredibly tense, dark, explosive, and flat out insane, it sets the dark tone of the game. It is the best intro to a Metal Gear Solid game since Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and I can’t wait to see more. Sadly after this amazing intro to the game, there is not much in terms of cutscenes or story development. Soon after you find yourself in Afghanistan fighting Soviet soldiers in their war against the Afghanistan militias, also known as the Soviet–Afghan War of the 1980s. So far all I’ve done story wise is rescue Kazuhira Miller from Afghanistan and come across a few small cutscenes and codec sequences. Compared to previous Metal Gear Solid games the amount of long cutscenes and story development this far into the fame is staggeringly low. Being someone who loves the the complex story of Metal Gear, I am very disappointed so far with the lack of focus on such an integral part of the Metal Gear story. I hope to see much more focus on the story as I continue playing and I expect it to since I have only completed 10% of this gigantic game.
As for the voice over work, Kiefer Sutherland does a solid job as Big Boss but, replacing Davide Hayter was a poor and unnecessary decision and it has not enriched the game in any way. Surprisingly Big Boss does not speak much, which is odd when a professional actor was hired and one who admires the famous Big Boss character. The rest of the voice work is brilliant and the sound design in general is amazing including the awesome music added into the game. Being someone who absolutely loved Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the 80s music added into the game in the form of cassette tapes is a great touch and classic Hideo Kojima. Battles sound great, each weapon has a distinct sound and the nature sounds are accurate along with the dynamic weather effects. Codec sequences return in the same way they did in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes which is a shame. You will find yourself listening to cassettes on your Walkman, with intel on them and conversations between the main characters and Big Boss that further develop the story. It is sad that there is no codec feature anymore where you communicate to multiple people through frequencies and see their faces, instead you use your iDroid. It works like a normal radio losing that iconic Metal Gear charm. There are no funny and pointless conversations I have come across and one thing that particularly irritates me is getting calls when you’re listening to your Walkman. There is no way to cancel the iDroid call so, you end up having two streams of audio until you open your iDroid to pause the tape on your Walkman. The iDroid is essentially a very advanced smart phone since you do everything with it. Choose missions, call for a helicopter to pick you up, manage mother base development, staff management, ammo drops and more.
Visually this game is pushing the Playstation 3 to the limit. It was definitely created with next gen consoles like the Playstation 4 in mind but don’t let that stop you from playing this version. The game looks gorgeous but, inconsistent like the PS3 version of Ground Zeroes. Big Boss looks amazing and super detailed and so does the environment, vehicles, enemies etc. However there are considerable pop-in issues when looking through binoculars across long distances and when focusing on small objects like posters there are very blurry textures. It definitely reminds me of the blurry textures in Metal Gear Solid 2 when you would focuson background objects like magazines. Still the game looks outstanding and probably could of looked even better if it was developed with a focus on the PS3. The dynamic weather system is an amazing feature and looks great when sand storms roll in and the sunrises and sunsets are very pretty. Cutscenes still look amazing and make me proud to be playing this on my PS3. They are colorful, vivid, incredibly detailed and define what a cinematic cutscene should be just like the previous games of the series. While the visual inconsistencies probably don’t exist in next gen consoles, this version is still a contender for one of the best looking PS3 games ever made.
If there is one thing differentiating Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain from its predecessors is the scale. The amount of content in this game is staggering. I am reminded of Fallout 3 when it comes to the amount of content, missions and places to explore in the game. There is SO much to do. If you played Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker then MGSV will feel very familiar with the numerous missions to complete, weapons to develop and things to collect. Metal Gear Solid V takes the core elements of Peace Walker, the endless list of missions, Mother Base development, soldier recruitment, weapon development and adds so much more to it, plus a huge and impressive open world element. Peace Walker was easily the most ambitious Metal Gear game but, MGSV has surpassed it by a mile. Just like in Peace Walker players will have story missions to complete and side op missions that are not essential to the story but do add supplemental information and resources. These missions offer a mix of objectives like assassinating high value targets, extracting prisoners and intel retrieval just to name a few. Outside of the missions you can freely explore the gigantic Afghanistan landscape, the game’s main setting. There is a second area, an Angola-Zaire region that I have yet to reach and explore.
Players can complete missions and choose to either fly back to Mother Base in between each mission or explore Afghanistan. Unlike Peace Walker where you completed each individual mission and had to go back to Mother Base AKA the menu screen and select a new mission. This new way of playing adds the fluidity of previous Metal Gear Solid games while giving you the option to freely explore the map. While exploring the big, and I mean big Afghanistan setting you will be sneaking into outposts, extracting soldiers, equipment and or animals, yes animals, with the Fulton Recovery System and gathering resources.
Just like Peace Walker there is a huge focus on gathering resources, soldiers and intel to build Mother Base AKA Outer Heaven, that is essentially the game’s story, the origin of entire Metal Gear Saga. The really cool thing about Mother Base though is that it is a location you can visit and explore. Just like in Peace Walker it’s essentially an oil rig but, this time you can explore it. You can run to around on it, better yet drive a jeep on it once it gets big enough and perform CQC on your soldiers. You can listen to your soldiers tell stories of the legendary Big Boss, complete target practice missions and tons of other stuff I still have not done. Mother Base is your headquarters and it is a great place to visit in between missions to manage soldiers, develop more divisions, listen to music and take a shower, yes you can do that. It has a similar vibe and look to the Big Shell in Metal Gear Solid 2, which is awesome. Everything you do in the game directly impacts Mother Base, it is your job to make it the legendary Outer Heaven. When on missions you will come across precious metals, fuel and other resources that are used to build and upgrade sections of Mother Base as well as develop new weapons and items. There is a lot of collecting, resource gathering and state management similar to a RPG and it works very well.
While Mother Base is your safe haven and a place to conduct research and development on the battlefield is where you really see what Hideo Kojima has crafted. The gameplay is a truly a masterpiece. I have never experienced a better action and stealth in one game before. Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions truly exceeded expectations with the gameplay. First the iconic cardboard box is back and you can do quite a bit with it. You can approach situations with a variety of methods, stealth, pure fire power or a mix and it is always super fun. Players can call in support strikes from mother base, if your support team has been developed thoroughly, call in a chopper for support fire or take down the enemies’ power grid and communications among other things. Every time I started a mission I never knew what to expect, a typical infiltration and extraction mission led to a giant fire fight with armored vehicles and me trying to disable their power generator so I could move around without being seen in the night. An opportunity I used to put on night vision goggles and kill enemy soldiers. These encounters showed me how realistic the enemies operate.
Enemies will focus fire at your last known location. There were countless times where I would be behind cover as bullets flew over my head and I would throw a few smoke grenades a few feet north of my position to obstruct the enemies’ view. I then would crawl to another area and watch the enemy slowly move in towards my old position, while I continued to my target area. Listening to the Soviet soldiers panic and call in for back up in Russian on the their radios and hear HQ deny them support is awesome. Soldiers walk around and patrol areas with film like detail and when they see something out of the ordinary from a distance, they ponder on what it could be then wander over to get a better look. Unlike previous Metal Gear Solid games where they would instantly see one of Snake’s body parts and instantly go into alert mode. This attention to detail always kept me on my toes and makes stealth much harder and realistic but, much more satisfying in the end. All the focus on realism and the improvement of the shooting mechanics, movement and CQC creates an incredibly fun and unpredictable experience every time you play. The only thing lacking is there is no ability to somersault which I feared after playing Ground Zeroes. You can dive but, removing the somersault ability which is so ingrained in the Metal gear Solid series is depressing.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a behemoth of a game with it’s visuals, gameplay, open world to explore and endless list of fun things to do. The crazy thing is the online multiplayer still has yet to be released and it will undoubtedly be great based on the gameplay in the single player. As it stands I see this being a Game of the Year contender and one of the best and most innovative games of the last 5 years. Metal Gear Solid 4 was a defining reason to buy a PS3, Metal Gear Solid 5 also seems to be reason enough get a PS4. For me though I look forward to putting many more hours into this version and awaiting the online multiplayer until I get a PS4 and buy this game again.