It has been 7 long years since the last numbered Metal Gear Solid game and 5 years since Peace Walker but the wait is over; finally, “V has come to”.
As the name suggests, Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain is the 5th numbered installment in the Metal Gear Solid franchise and therefore, is steeped in lore from the series’ nearly 3 decades of existence.
The game follows Big Boss, now called Venom Snake, in the 1980s as he seeks revenge on those that wronged him and rebuild what he has lost in the last decade.
The undercurrent theme of Phantom Pain follows the darker tone set by Ground Zeroes and features overt emphasis on heavier themes than what has been tackled in the previous games.
Unlike a single flowing narrative of the past Metal Gear games, the campaign missions in Phantom Pain are presented like an episodic TV series, complete with starting and ending credits.
This change in the formula is not just limited to the game’s narrative but extends to how it is played as well.
Phantom Pain’s gameplay is a mix of Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and classic Hitman games.
The game’s structure is mission based progression; like Peace Walker, with Ground Zeroes’ control scheme and ability to plan out your mission and choose the weapons, strategy and route to take, ala the Hitman series.
The thing that separates Phantom Pain from previous Metal Gear games is enormous size of its maps and the resulting non-linear gameplay it encourages.
While the maps in Phantom Pain don’t come close to the levels of games like Skyrim or Just Cause 2, they are still quite impressive in their size and just like any Elder Scrolls game, Phantom Pain offers an intimidating amount of freedom, abilities and opportunities right off the bat.
In addition to its open world maps, Phantom Pain includes exploration of Snake’s headquarters; the Mother Base.
Mother Base’s gameplay similar to the mechanic introduced in Portable Ops and utilized in Peace Walker, where players can recruit NPCs and items during their missions to expand their Mother Base which in turn rewards players with better weapon variety, intel and other perks that can be utilized to improve performance in missions.
Unlike Peace Walker however, this time Mother Base is a living breathing level that players can explore and watch grow as they invest in it.
Phantom Pain keeps Ground Zeroes control scheme which is essentially an updated version of how Snake controlled in Peace Walker.
Snake can walk slow and fast in upright and crouched stances as well as deploy close quarters tactics all while retaining the ability to aim.
Reflex mode returns from Ground Zeroes where upon initial alert Snake goes into ‘bullet time’ for a few seconds to prevent enemies from going into alert phase. This mechanic is not overpowered as it complements the dynamic nature of Phantom Pain’s open world where enemies adapt to players’ actions and necessitate constant improvisation.
The large open maps of Phantom Pain also require the player to utilize the practice of keeping track of enemies by marking them, tagging waypoints through binoculars and using iDroid to survey area map in real-time to plan out the course of action for successful infiltration.
Even though all of the above gameplay elements return from Ground Zeroes, one significant factor to the Phantom Pain gameplay, which was not present in Ground Zeroes, is the addition of the Buddies.
Buddies are a select few NPCs that can accompany Snake in missions and aid him in various unique ways. Use of a buddy not only provides a tactical benefit but also provides some companionship in the long stretches in between enemy bases, while their frequent use leads to stronger bond and better perks.
In keeping with series’ tradition, Phantom Pain looks spectacular as it portrays huge open world maps that are a living breathing world with dynamic weather and time, patrolling NPCs as well as native flora and fauna.
The overall look of the game is reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption with its depiction of sparsely populated open landscapes.
While the Fox Engine works well portraying the massive fields, it stumbles in certain details like unimpressive hair and janky dynamically moving shadows of large structures.
The music and sound design of Phantom Pain is nothing short of amazing. Phantom Pain not only features stellar voice acting but also its use of sounds and music beautifully contextualizes the gameplay experience and establishes the distinct 80’s vibe.
In addition to all this Phantom Pain also features a player versus player multiplayer competent which includes construction of Forward Operating Base (FOB)s where players can take over each others’ FOBs and stealing resources to benefit the income of Mother Base.
While some considered Ground Zeroes to be a barebones offering that was not worth its asking price, Phantom Pain is the exact opposite.
With a litany of campaign missions, side ops and story related tape collectibles offered by the immensely large, open maps to the meta-game of collecting resources for Mother Base, Phantom Pain includes enough content to satiate months’ worth of play.
This vast amount of content and extremely high production values makes Phantom Pain a gaming masterpiece and a must play experience for any fan of the stealth action genre.
Metal Gear Purist Perspective:
It is important to note that Phantom Pain offers a gaming experience that is significantly different than previous Metal Gear Solid games. There is less emphasis on mandatory exposition, Snake is not voiced by David Hayter and the gameplay is fairly open ended.
The game offers a considerably less focused experience as the ones provided by the previous games where the progression structure was fairly linear and each sequence was crafted, managed and directed by the game creators.
This is even more evident in the pacing of game’s narrative which is uneven when compared to the previous games in the series, though these type of issues are inherent to open-world non-linear style games and should be taken as less of an oversight and more of a design choice by game developers.
While Phantom Pain’s design choices make it a noticeably different experience than previous games of the series that does not make the game any less ambitious or fun than the previous MGS titles.
Even with all its changes, Phantom Pain is still mission based, it is still stealth focused, it is still has the distinct eccentricities of Kojima Productions and it is still befitting of the name; Metal Gear Solid.