Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is the greatest action-stealth game I’ve ever played. Every aspect of the gameplay in Hideo Kojima’s farewell to the series he’s been heading up for over 25 years is tight, responsive and open to wild degrees of experimentation. So often in Metal Gear Solid 5 you’ll think up some crazy way to test the game’s systems and more often than not it will work. Extract yourself out of a hot zone by holding on to a fulton balloon on top of a shipping container? Want to use the tape of someone pooping to stop soldiers from investigating the outhouse you’re hiding in? Go for it.
The beauty of Metal Gear Solid 5’s gameplay is that nearly everyone will have a different story to tell about how they engaged with a certain mission or took down a base. This is the best feeling Metal Gear game to play by a large margin. Gone are the archaic controls and the contorted claw shapes you would have to twist your hand into to do something simple like aiming down a weapon’s sights. When you are in the open world of Afghanistan or central Africa, you really feel like you can make the legend of Big Boss come to life.
Metal Gear Solid 5 is structured differently from Metal Gears games of the past. Instead of playing through several linear missions, you’re free to roam around your base or one of the two areas of operations and take main missions and Side Ops at your leisure. Side Ops are seriously addicting and I found myself spending several hours in between actual missions clearing minefields or securing rare animals. If it wasn’t such a pain to get around the world map, I probably would have completed every single Side Op by now (MGS 5 does have a fast travel system of sorts, but it’s limited to the various larger bases around the map. It’s easier just to return to your chopper via the pause menu and redeploy).
Every mission in MGS 5 is presented in a similar manner to an episode of a TV series, complete with opening and closing credits showing you who wrote and designed the mission as well as which enemies you’ll be facing. While some of the credits do give away the surprise of what will show up in a given operation, seeing “Guest Starring: The SKULLS Parasite Unit” is a sure recipe for some serious dread, wondering when those super-soldiers will be popping up to give you hell.
A new addition to the series in Phantom Pain is the buddy system. You start the game with D-Horse who is good for getting across the map quickly and for blocking the road when you need to create an impromptu obstacle for enemy vehicles. There is also Quiet, the mute sniper who can scout bases and take out enemies. She can become quite over-powered with the right amount of research. My favorite of the bunch is DDog who can sniff out enemies and tag them for you automatically, very handy for those who prefer a stealth approach. Later on he can kill or stun people or even fulton them! Plus he wears an eyepatch so his adorable quotient is off the charts.
Where Metal Gear Solid 5 falters is after you complete Mission 31 you start running into repeats of earlier missions with different modifiers thrown in. Cutscenes and story progression also drops off hard after a certain point, with very few beats to move the plot along. Some new developments do occur, but the way the game ends leaves a few glaring threads dangling. If you’ve come to love Metal Gear for the crazy story that’s been built around it, you might come away from The Phantom Pain wanting a bit more.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a quick beat to talk about Quiet, who became the source of much pre-release derision due to her character design. While Kojima promised that her appearance would be justified in the narrative, the actual explanation is pretty poor. Quiet has a lot of interesting stuff going on with her, but unfortunately it’s all buried underneath her blatant use as an object of sexual gratification. While this may not bother some, I really could have done without Quiet shoving her ass and breasts in my face whenever I was trying to manage my upgrades or select a mission in the chopper.
Even though Snake’s final (?) adventure might not give you the closure you might want, the act of playing MGS 5 is a sheer joy. Whether you’re sneaking into a base with DDog at your side or just randomly taking over outposts while listening to one of the many exposition-laden audio tapes, this game is a massive achievement in open world stealth design. The actual game part of this game does so many things right it’s easy to forgive the missteps it has narrative-wise.
Has anyone else played Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain? What did you think of it?