Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain
Directed by Hideo Kojima; Produced by Hideo Kojima; Conceptually Created by Hideo Kojima; Review by J. King
There aren’t any games I know of that during an intense battle against a squad of teleporting sharpshooting bikini-clad super sub-human soldier sniper women, you can open up a cassette player and fight them off while Rebel Yell, Maneater (Hall and Oates), or The Final Countdown plays as your soundtrack.
It’s not that the game suggests you make your own soundtrack as you go, but it’s one of those nice touches you discover is available as you play through the game.
Hideo Kojima, the brainchild of the Metal Gear series, has created a Tarantino-esque mystique surrounding his pinnacle series. I say Tarantino because Tarantino is the first director that comes to mind when you think about a director who will create scenes and characters and interactions that are bold. Tarantino and Kojima have moments only they can get away with, and we accept it because we chalk it up to their accentuate directing style.
Other major video game franchises can’t do what Kojima does with Metal Gear. Imagine if Call of Duty or Battlefield had a character that breathes through her skin, wears only a swimsuit and fishnet leggings, teleports and brutally murders people, AND the camera will have no quarry taking some slow panning shots of her ass and breasts. Call of Duty and Battlefield have had their shock value moments, but they exist within the confines of Clancy-esque fantasy warfare. Kojima has went built its own embedded history while adding supernatural elements.
It’s important to have game designers who can express their freedom of creativity, whether the result is good, bad, or average.
For context’s sake, the only Metal Gear I’ve played prior to The Phantom Pain was Guns of the Patriots which I beat. I found Guns of the Patriots to be a laborious experience from a story perspective with gameplay that was good for a stealth-action shooter. To be fair to MGS4, I played it many years post its 2008 release date. The game was universally praised for its gameplay. Ultimately, MGS4 wasn’t a memorable experience and I rather see it as a blur with preposterous 20-minute cutscenes.
MGS5 delivered on my desire for shorter cutscenes and more action. I also felt more plugged into the core story. The gameplay was optimized for stealth but was diversified with numerous options. There’s a steady progression through the campaign as missions and enemies become more challenging.
The Phantom Pain is most enjoyable when missions are focused on infiltration, which most missions are. There are the typical boss fight missions with one that was particularly frustrating.
On gameplay alone, MGS5 is a game worth your money if you enjoy stealth infiltration. As a fan of games such as Hitman and Deus Ex, MGS5 is on par from a gameplay perspective. Each series brings its own set of rules and challenges to the table, but they’re ultimately all quality stealth series.
MGS5 has a vast array of weapons, gadgets, vehicles, and boxes. I preferred a silenced pistol and a silenced sniper rifle as my two weapons of choice. I’ll unhappily admit the silenced sniper rifle wasn’t all too silent. Nor was the sniper rifle all that great when all the guards started wearing helmets or armor.
The buddy system was one of the better gameplay features that allowed you a virtual friend to assist you in your missions. Your first buddy is a horse, then you get a dog, the silent sniper assassin Quiet, and a weaponized mechanical machine called “Walker Gear”.
There’s a lot of support elements the game allows you to use like requesting gear supply drops. You can change buddies during missions. You can call in air strikes, change the weather to make it rain if you have money to waste. You can call in a support attack chopper. A vast array of options much to the chagrin of a stealth purist. Many of the support options warn you that your mission grade can only be as high as an A if you use them. S rank being the apex. I should not have let that be a deterrent as I only received a few S ranks anyway. There was one mission where I had to take out a high ranking officer while he was in a meeting so I found the building and bombarded his ass. In conclusion, I should’ve made more use of the airstrikes. Why do I need an end mission score and grade anyway? This isn’t middle school.
The weak point of the gameplay is the base management feature. Within the game, you can extract enemy soldiers back to your base. The actual collecting of the soldiers is wildly entertaining. You scan a soldier to see their grades in specific areas, you neutralize them, and then you attach a parachute device that magically whooshes them to the sky and assumedly right to your base. From there on they are either brainwashed or tortured into becoming your loyal and faithful personal army. That’s all fine and dandy, but actually managing the base doesn’t offer much. You add more people, the better staff you have the more upgrades you can equip. I would simply auto-assign my staff into where they fit best. I wouldn’t say base management is a huge detraction from the gameplay, but I didn’t get too much out of it. Anytime I was made to return to my base in the middle of the ocean I would throw some sleeping gas grenades at unsuspecting staff walking around. Staff members will allow you to knock them out, wake them up, from whereon they will thank you for the pleasant experience of being knocked unconscious by the Big Boss.
The TL;DR of the gameplay in MGS5 is that there are minor annoyances and frustrations, but overall a high-quality stealth-action experience you would come to expect out of Kojima’s (assumedly) final Metal Gear game.
The Phantom Pain opens with a prologue, and the cutscene takes a year and a half to finish before you’re slowly crawling along the ground. Once you get through the prologue you’re pretty much done with egregiously long cutscenes. The prologue is jarring and does set up for important events later if you’re someone who wants to get neck deep into the Metal Gear lore. Atmospherically, Kojima flexes his horror muscles as we encounter a floating boy in the gas mask, a literal man-demon on fire, and a hospital full of soldiers mass murdering people. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s terrifying, but it’s definitely a tense beginning for those who are easily spooked such as myself.
I don’t have the proper credentials to discuss a Metal Gear plot accurately, but I’m going to provide my interpretations. This is my disclaimer for the gaming purists that study all the finer details and read through the wikis. I’ve thumbed through the wikis, mostly for names and a few details, but no extensive research on my end.
I do find the accessibility of Metal Gear’s far-reaching plot with as many threads it contains a hampering on the game. There are names and events constantly referenced that leave me feeling like I’m out of the loop. Each Metal Gear game occupies a different year on a chronological timeline. Guns of the Patriots occurs in 2014 whereas The Phantom Pain occurs in 1984. The Phantom Pain is a pre-cursor to the events of MGS1 through 4.
In my best Starbomb fashion to give you a simple plot of The Phantom Pain, you play as Big Boss, a super soldier and war hero who has visionary plans to create his own military force. It’s like a pseudo-Illuminati or secret militaristic Switzerland. As Big Boss builds his force, flanked by his buddies Ocelot and Miller, the trio work to get to the bottom of a murderous plot for linguistic cleansing.
Behind this plan is the enigmatic Skull Face. Skull Face is like a Bond villain that took a few too many philosophy classes but also idolized Hitler. As you meet Skull Face, face to skull face, he gives you a long detailed explanation of his plan for world-destruction. Most of it didn’t make any sense.
The later stages of the game focus on Skull Face’s tests and plan to unleash a parasite that kills anyone that speaks a language other than English. But as Skull Face explained it, he spoke about control over nuclear weapons and nations and language, and on and on and on and on. As I’ve made clear, I’m too simple-minded for all the mumbo jumbo.
The Phantom Pain is a long game. There’s 31 main game missions or episodes as they’re called. There are 50 missions in total. After mission 31, the game decides to repeat some missions but with an added challenge which I find unnecessary and pointless. There’s over a 100 side missions. Jesus. There are enough side missions and collectibles in this game to make Ubisoft break a sweat.
Remember how I said Hideo Kojima is bold and will do things you just don’t see in other games and typically he can get away with it because he’s Hideo Kojima, rockstar developer of the video game industry. Not letting Kojima completely off the hook for this asinine decision.
Every episode ends begins and ends with credits.
Let me repeat that for those that didn’t hear me in the back.
EVERY EPISODE begins and ends with CREDITS. Not like the full Marvel Avengers credits where the entire continent of North America worked on the film, but just a reminder of the story writers, the producer, and the director. By the way, the producer and director of the game is Hideo Kojima. If you didn’t know this, be prepared to be reminded literally 100 times. It’s ludicrous. Imagine if at the end of every scene in the movie the film threw up the names or cut to a black screen giving you the credits of the 6 to 7 principle people responsible for writing, directing, and producing that scene. You’d be incensed! I’d be incensed! It’d be nonsense. The use of credits in every mission of MGS5 is nonsense!
It’s hard to say where I would place The Phantom Pain in my critical archive of video games. To justify its successes I played it for 95 hours and enjoyed most of its gameplay. But to say it’s the definitive experience I want from a tactical stealth action shooter game would not be accurate.
The story elements of a Metal Gear game are what they are and either you’re delving into it or forgiving/ignoring its complexity. I will say Phantom Pain tells a base story that comes across but the game is very laissez-faire about what it wants to explain and what you have to go searching for answers for. Psycho Mantis, the floating kid in the gas mask, is given little to no explanation to the player. Why does he exist, why is he floating, he has telekinesis? What is his deal? I also had to look up who Zero was to understand why he was so integral to the plot. Don’t make me get into a rant about all the different Snake’s and Bosses and Liquid this or Ocelot that. The Phantom Pain offers all sorts of lore through its use of cassette tapes where characters have conversations about goings-on within the world. There are over a hundred tapes including a soldier going to the bathroom and a conversation about hamburgers. Luckily for the voice actors, all the characters have gruffy dull monotone voices that requires no change of vocal inflection.
The more you accept The Phantom Pain for what it is then divulging into its endless depth, the easier it is to breathe freely and enjoy the experience.