I’ve been playing games for over 13 years now, and I’ve seen countless games come and go that have earned the title of “masterpiece.” These games create such a huge impact that their significance echoes even to this day. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Half-Life 2 are among these giants, and I am pleased to say that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is undoubtedly going to join this hall of fame. Now, if you’re a Metal Gear Solid fan, you’ve probably already bought this game and sunk in as many hours as I have so far (27 and counting.), so I’m going to be approaching this review with the common folk in mind.
The Phantom Pain is a direct sequel to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, a criminally short demo that serves to set up Phantom Pain’s mechanics and story. If you’re interested in playing Phantom Pain, I would personally recommend grabbing Ground Zeroes, as it comes with a full summary of the preceding game in the series, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Phantom Pain itself does a somewhat adequate job in explaining what’s going on through optional tape recordings, but some may find things a tiny bit confusing at first. The story itself is a far cry from previous Metal Gear games, being much darker and more subtle in its approach, with the tale revolving around the legendary mercenary Big Boss swearing revenge against the elusive group Cipher when the latter destroys the former’s home base. Gone are the overly long radio conversations and cutscenes of the previous games in the series, being replaced with the aforementioned tape recordings and small post-mission scenes. Metal Gear vets might find this change a tad jarring, as many of us have gotten used to the game lecturing the player for 20+ minutes, but it definitely helps the pacing of the game and ensures you’re never just sitting still watching something for too long.
Another departure from the series is the inclusion of an open world. While previous games funneled you through meticulously crafted corridors and bases, Phantom Pain dumps you in a sprawling world filled with outposts, camps and towns and tells you to go nuts. What blossoms from this change is some of the best stealth action I’ve ever experienced in any game. Most missions take place in a small sectioned portion of the map, and you have free reign to approach your objective in any way you see fit. Want to get close on horseback, then sneak into a base on foot? Go for it. Want to drive a truck through the front door, running over an assassination target? Yep, you can do that too. Want to simply sit back and call in artillery fire on an outpost? Violent, but doable. The sheer amount of options Phantom Pain presents the player is ridiculous, almost overwhelming. Granted, the game does rate you at the end of every mission, taking into account how many times you were spotted or how many enemy soldiers you’ve killed, so you are encouraged to stay stealthy and non-lethal. Knocking out guards has the added benefit of allowing you to capture them via the Fulton recovery device, a large balloon that zips them skyward for a helicopter to pick up, which brings me to another huge part of the game: base management.
After completing a prologue chapter, you’re handed the reigns of Diamond Dogs, a private military company based on an offshore rig. Captured enemy soldiers are recruited into Diamond Dogs and are assigned to different teams, such as the R&D team or combat squad. Each soldier has their own strengths and weaknesses, so you’re encouraged to scout out strong soldiers on the field and kidnap them. Not only that, but you can even Fulton animals, and the game flat out builds a zoo for them, urging you to catch ‘em all. Developing your own base while handpicking the staff is one of the game’s strongest aspects, and it pays off with Diamond Dogs providing additional field support, intel or developing new weapons and gear. You can freely explore your base too, and visiting your soldiers will increase their morale. (They also salute you and welcome you home, which is a nice touch.)
I’ve been playing Phantom Pain for over 20 hours, and the game says I’m 17% done with everything. That’s an insane amount of content for a game like this. Add in the fact that there’s a full competitive online suite coming in the form of Metal Gear Online, and you have a game that is worth every dollar, and then some. My only issue with the game is that its online components aren’t working as of right now, but even that’ll get fixed eventually. That, and a lesser focus on the story. With gameplay this outstanding, however, I can forgive just about any misstep this game takes. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will no doubt go down in history as a true next step of a long-running series, and I eagerly hope to keep playing for a long, long time. Buy this game, put on some animal-print camouflage then abduct some goats.