If the first Metal Gear Solid games felt like a fresh beginning for stealth-action games, then The Phantom Pain has a sense of finality to it. It refines the gameplay mechanics in dynamic fashion, it has a large open world for you to explore, and it perfectly completes the story that has long been established back in 1987. For all intents and purposes, this is arguably the best stealth-action game of all time, as well as being one of the best open-world games ever made. It is an incredibly strong ‘Game of the Year’ contender in an already pretty strong year for games. Continuing from the events of the MGSV prologue Ground Zeroes, Mother Base has been destroyed and it’s up to Punished “Venom” Snake AKA Big Boss to rebuild what has been lost whilst also seeking revenge against Cipher and its new taskforce XOF lead by new big bad Skull Face.
A fantastic setup at the beginning lets you know what kind of world you’re dealing with and what you are going to continue to see later on in the game’s story. From there on in, a gameplay plethora is unleashed at your disposal and it is masterfully crafted. You can approach any situation using a variety of techniques and tactics that are fun and unique in their own way, like going in all guns blazing or instead going for the classic stealth approach, and you have countless weapons and gadgets to choose from on top of that. Even if you’re not a fan of Metal Gear Solid or stealth games in general, this will change your mind.
Also, even though you have the option of going in alone, you can have Big Boss team up with any buddy you want, with particular favourites being the loyal D-Dog and the silent-yet-deadly and beautiful assassin Quiet (a beautifully nuanced performance by Stefanie Joosten), who is particularly handy during the toughest of missions. You get to manage and customise your own private military corporation, the Diamond Dogs, which involves staff recruitment, base management and much more, almost playing out like a Meta game within a game.
Whilst the story may not be the most exciting aspect, it definitely tackles weighty and powerful themes, covering real-world atrocities like genocide, racism, biological warfare, PTSD from war, and the idea of children being sent into war. This game can really surprise you as it goes from serious and gritty tones before jumping into the fantastical and almost supernatural; it’s an impossible yet impressive feat and is something that Kojima is a master at creating. There are 50 main story missions, as well as 157 side ops, amounting to 60+ hours of gameplay, which is an insane amount of value for your money that is well spent here.
Admittedly there are minor niggles, which do pale in comparison to the high quality set within The Phantom Pain. Skull Face was a bit of a disappointing villain after the massive hype and build-up, and the boss battles are relatively easy and not that much challenging. The biggest of issues, though, lie within Chapter 2, which felt rushed, grinding and very repetitious as it has you replaying enhanced and harder versions of previous missions. The fact that you have to play these missions so that you can have the full satisfying ending makes it all the more extraneous, and that’s essentially what YouTube is there for nowadays anyway. It’s clear that the apparent behind-the-scenes feud between Kojima and Konami affected Kojima’s original vision of the game at around this section, and it has been confirmed that major chunks of the original narrative were taken out and sold exclusively to Special/Collector’s Edition buyers. Seriously!?
Despite those small niggles, this is better than most games out there currently on the market. If this is indeed Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear Solid game, then he’ll have left the series on a high note. It is the biggest game in the franchise to date, not just in its map size, but in the wide range of gameplay, fascinating selection of characters and its incredibly polished attention to detail (the Fox Engine at its finest). Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an outstanding game on almost every level.
METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN / DEVELOPER: KOJIMA PRODUCTIONS / PUBLISHER: KONAMI / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 3, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW