Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

metal-gear-solid-v-the-phantom-pain

Introduction

Peace Walker breathed new life into Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series of stealth-action titles. In an ironic twist, it ended up with a greater level of adoration than its direct predecessor, Metal Gear Solid 4, despite having significantly less hype surrounding its release and a downgrade in visuals owing to the PlayStation Portable’s inferior hardware. The game reached an even larger audience once it became a cross-platform title packaged with Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 on the HD Collection. Feeling rejuvenated from the ill will he bore towards the development process of Metal Gear Solid 4, Mr. Kojima expressed interest in releasing the next installment, titled Ground Zeroes, as an immediate follow-up to Peace Walker on either the PlayStation Portable or the PlayStation 3. However, due to a combination of numerous delays surround Metal Gear Rising, a spinoff sequel to Metal Gear Solid 4, and AAA gaming being a few years away from starting a new console generation, it was decided that Ground Zeroes would bridge the gap.

In March of 2012, Mr. Kojima spoke at a Q&A to mark the inclusion of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2 in the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit. He stated that he and his staff were working on a project he believed would become the shining moment for both his career and the Metal Gear series. This new game was to deal with taboo issues while still being fun to play. In August of the same year, a new Metal Gear installment dubbed Ground Zeroes made an appearance at an event that celebrated the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Mr. Kojima referred to Ground Zeroes as a prologue to a bigger title, and that it would involve open-world gameplay. In December, a new trailer for a game titled The Phantom Pain surfaced at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards. This game was apparently being developed by a Swedish company named Moby Dick Studio, but astute fans took notes of various hints and deduced that Kojima Productions made the trailer. Although Mr. Kojima equivocated when asked about this, he eventually confirmed the theory in March of 2013 when he revealed the full name of the project: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. This led to a fair bit of confusion, as many people thought that Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain had been combined into a single game before Mr. Kojima stated that they were still intended to be separate experiences. The reason behind this was to gain feedback about the quality of the game’s engine.

After a lengthy development cycle, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was released in 2014 to a mixed reception. Although many critics praised the gameplay, fans weren’t thrilled about the prospect of paying forty dollars for what was essentially a tech demo whose main campaign could be completed in less than two hours. Mr. Kojima assured the public that The Phantom Pain would be two-hundred times larger than Ground Zeroes, and that the best was yet to come. One year after the release of Ground Zeroes, Konami announced that they were undergoing a corporate restructuring. As a majority of their income came from their line of pachinko machines, their game development divisions became less lucrative for them as the 2010s progressed. This infamously resulted in Silent Hills, the ninth installment of their famous survival horror franchise, being abruptly canceled and them parting ways with Mr. Kojima and his personal studio. Despite all of this turmoil, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain saw the light of day in September of 2015. Just like its two predecessors, it managed to amass universal critical acclaim from countless gaming publications such as Famitsu, GameSpot, and IGN. Was it truly able to escape Konami’s tumultuous atmosphere unscathed and shine as one of the decade’s highlights?

Playing the Game

metal-gear-solid-v-gameplay

Metal Gear Solid V is an action game with a heavy emphasis on avoiding conflict whenever possible. This means that it’s entirely possible to play it as a typical third-person shooter and accomplish your mission through brute force or as a stealth game without alerting any enemy soldiers at all. One of the most readily apparent changes to the series’ formula is that the health and psyche gauges have been eschewed. When the character you’re controlling takes damage, spots appear on the screen and the colors begin to fade. If you remain under enemy fire in this state for too long, your character will die. It’s also possible for him to sustain a serious injury in a fight. Should this happen, his movement and combat performance will be drastically hampered until he applies first aid to himself, which is accomplished with a single button press.

metal-gear-solid-v-d-horse

Up until this installment, the Metal Gear games were known for their linear design with occasional backtracking when the situation necessitated it. In the development phase, Mr. Kojima stated that he players to create their own unique experiences with his game, and thus made Metal Gear Solid V an open-world experience. Missions take place on gigantic battlefields featuring outposts and other fortifications. Once all of the guards are incapacitated, the outpost will be captured, though the positions will eventually be restaffed when you’ve left the area.

This game gives you more of an incentive to scope out compounds than previous entries. Once you’ve found a vantage point, you can use binoculars to locate enemy soldiers. When you find one, they are tagged, meaning that you can track their movements through walls and other obstacles. You can also use the binoculars to pinpoint important enemy equipment such as anti-air radars, decoys, and radio antennas. You can also press a button to contact your radio staff to receive further information when observing soldiers or certain objects.

When an enemy soldier catches a glimpse of you, white, crescent-shaped static will appear on the screen, becoming more opaque should they decide to investigate. If your position is discovered, the game slows down, giving you a few seconds to incapacitate the enemy. This element is known as reflex mode, and using it effectively can get you out of many tricky situations. Should it end with the soldier still conscious, they will sound the alarm, and the entire base will be closing in on you. They will also call in reinforcements from nearby outposts unless you had the foresight to destroy their radio equipment beforehand. When you’ve lost the enemy, they will scout out your last known location. Even after they have called off the search, the base will be on high alert for quite some time, so if you have any further business there, it would be wise to exercise caution.

The army-building mechanic first introduced in Peace Walker returns, and is one of the defining features of this game. Once again, the protagonist is in charge of a PMC, but this time, they’re divided into seven different teams. Members of the combat unit provide the company with income, and can be deployed into various hotspots around the world, offering military aid for a price. Their odds of succeeding in these missions depend on the competency of the members along with the difficulty of the task itself.  Soldiers from this unit can also be sent on missions where they’re controlled directly by the player.

metal-gear-solid-v-weapons-development

It simply wouldn’t do if members of this PMC were forced to procure weapons on-site, so they manufacture their own equipment. The revenue provided by the combat unit is labeled as GMP (gross military product), which can be used to help fund the R&D team’s next project. Which projects can be started depends on several factors such as finances, the competence of the team, and what items they’re capable of manufacturing to begin with. For example, as the above screenshot shows, a Grade 3 SVG-76 cannot be developed before the Grade 2 variant. The higher the grade of the weapon, the better its performance becomes. Some weapons once developed will branch off into multiple models which all have different attributes. You can potentially create a tranquilizer pistol capable of shooting through glass or a non-lethal shotgun.

Next is the base development unit. Their purpose is to expand the base whenever ordered by their leader. A larger base allows for more people to be staffed on each team. They can also periodically mine for resources that permit the company to operate on a day-to-day basis such as fuel, metals, and biological material.

Without strategic information, a PMC would fall very quickly. This is where the intel team comes in. Their job is to scout the mission areas under the guise of travelers or residents, informing you of facts such as weather changes and the location of secret documents. However, because they cannot carry weapons other than knives, they are unable to directly aid you; that job would belong to the aptly named support unit. During missions, you can their assistance to, among other things, perform air strikes, drop supply boxes, and disrupt the enemy surveillance equipment through chaff dispersal. As a vast majority of soldiers you encounter do not speak English as a native language, the support team can also act as interpreters. All you need to do is find a specialist, and their translated dialogue will appear as subtitles on the bottom of the screen.

A soldier’s job is a perilous one, and as such, they are prone to any number of afflictions. It’s important for any PMC to have a skilled team of surgeons, physicians, and counselors on standby to help their comrades when things take a turn for the worse. This role is fulfilled by the medical team. Finally, as a group that isn’t officially recognized by any government, a PMC must remain vigilant lest they incur the wrath of a powerful force. Soldiers placed on the security team station themselves on FOBs (forward operating bases) to protect themselves. Metal Gear Solid V features a far more extensive online component than any of its predecessors. Once the security team has been established and you’ve built your first FOB, you can infiltrate another player’s game. A successful invasion will result in the winner abducting soldiers from the defeated player. In the single-player campaign, FOBs further increase the maximum number of soldiers you can have per unit and allow the base development team to achieve different yields when mining for resources.

Your primary method of recruitment is identical to that of Peace Walker. When undergoing a mission, if you incapacitate enemy soldiers through non-lethal means, you attach a self-inflating balloon to them whereupon they’ll be whisked away to be picked up by the support team flying a recovery plane. This system is known as Fulton extraction. Unlike in Peace Walker, you cannot perform extractions indoors. Moreover, you must keep in mind that inclement weather might interfere with the process. The competence of the support team could mitigate such conditions, but it’s usually better to wait it out if possible. Once the soldiers have been recovered, they will join your cause, although some may prove hostile. Unruly cases will be thrown in the brig until they are fully convinced to switch sides.

By examining soldiers with the scope, you can gauge their skills so you can determine for yourself whether or not they’re worth the resources to extract. Each one has six different parameters that tell you how proficient they would be on a given team. Some may not be fit for the battlefield, yet would make excellent scouts. Others could be indispensable members of the R&D team while bringing little to the cause when asked to mine for resources.

Getting to build an army was one of my favorite things about Peace Walker, and it’s great seeing this mechanic make a return. For the most part, I enjoyed the bits of micromanaging one must do in order to achieve optimal productivity. As before, there are some soldiers with personal skills which could make them a greater asset to your cause than their peers who possess more raw talent, but this time around, not all of these traits are beneficial. Occasionally, you might find troublemakers in your ranks whether it’s because of their poor hygiene, propensity to harass their comrades, or violent nature. If left unchecked, you could find your soldiers in the infirmary without them even having left the base. Diplomats can be assigned to teams with these troublemakers to lessen their negative impact, and this is a nice little touch I enjoy. It throws the player into surprisingly realistic situations where they ponder whether it’s worth keeping a troublemaker if their talents make up for their rotten behavior or better to kick them out as soon as possible so you don’t have to deal with them at all.

I would also have to say that the open-world gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V complements the idea more effectively than Peace Walker. You don’t have to repeat missions in order to recruit new talent; instead, you can elect to roam around enemy encampments while accomplishing other goals. Once you have the proper upgrades, you can use the Fulton system to steal armament such as tanks, heavy machine guns, and mortars. You can even pilfer shipping containers full of raw materials that will be processed by the base development team.

One small touch I appreciated was that the soldiers play a more active role in the plot. In Peace Walker, there were side operations which were played from the perspective of your combat team members, but other than that, their exploits were almost always behind the scenes. In Metal Gear Solid V, there are a number of missions which involve rescuing, or otherwise connecting with, soldiers under your command. You can also periodically return to the mother base to observe what your soldiers are up to. Although you could conceivably complete the game without making any unnecessary side trips to Mother Base, I enjoy that you can witness how your company is expanding firsthand.

My favorite aspect of Metal Gear Solid V is the sheer amount of customization offered to the player. When the game begins, you create a character who serves as an online avatar. You determine his name, birth date, and physical appearance. In addition to this, you can create a personal emblem that shows up in Mother Base and on your uniforms, and it even makes an appearance during certain cutscenes. When setting up the security team, you can order them to use lethal or non-lethal weapons to subdue intruders. It’s an interesting method of allowing the player’s will to subtly influence the story’s direction, and it’s a good way to get them invested in the plot on a personal level.

Weapons customization in particular serves a practical purpose as well, for there is a much larger array of non-lethal firearms available to the player. In the older entries, I often used the tranquilizer pistol exclusively, only switching to heavy weapons when facing mechanical bosses. Don’t get me wrong, when playing an action series that regularly offers deep levels of introspection, it’s fun to roleplay by minimizing casualties. Resorting to killing when it’s not strictly necessary almost feels like cheating. The only downside to this was that I never got to experience using the other weapons other than for target practice. Metal Gear Solid V solved this problem completely; if you meet the requirements, among other things, you can create grenade launchers that dispense sleeping gas, shotguns capable of knocking soldiers out cold, and assault rifles which fire rubber bullets. The tranquilizer pistol is still arguably the best due to its durable suppressor and the long duration of its effectiveness, but the other weapons are usually better in prolonged gunfights against multiple enemies who are firing at you in unison.

metal-gear-solid-v-map

With its plethora of new features, radical change in design, and allowance for the player to add personal touches, Metal Gear Solid V could be the strongest game in the series when strictly analyzing its mechanics. Does it truly offer a superior experience to its predecessors? It’s difficult to say; for one, the open-world gameplay makes it difficult to compare the Metal Gear chapters that came before. I would say if nothing else, the greatest triumph of Metal Gear Solid V was how Mr. Kojima and his staff were able to adopt a completely different style in gameplay without betraying the original appeal of the series. Although it’s the most actionized installment in the series, it still rewards players more for completing missions without being spotted than by going in guns blazing each time.

Having said that, there is one field in which Metal Gear Solid V falls tremendously short of its predecessors: the boss battles. When playing the series from start to finish, it was interesting watching the boss fights evolve from the simplistic, shot-trading affairs of the original game to the ones which require progressively more complex strategies. This culminated in Metal Gear Solid 3, which had some of the most memorable battles in the medium’s history. Although I was a little disappointed that the boss fights in Peace Walker were solely against mechanical foes, they were still a breath of fresh air compared to the Uncharted approach of swarming the player with hordes of enemies time and time again.

Unfortunately, Metal Gear Solid V is several steps back from even Peace Walker because even though there do exist a few boss fights, which to be fair, is a few more than its contemporaries in the third-person shooter genre, gone are times you must wait for opportunities to strike and in their stead are largely underwhelming encounters wherein you alternate between shooting and running for cover if you get hit until your health is restored. The removal of life bars unintentionally makes these scenarios less exciting than they were before. In those titles, you had an incentive to be careful, as you could only carry so many rations at a time, but here, all you have to do is find a safe place and wait.

Another problem I have with this game concerns the list of optional objectives that comes with each main mission. In a way, they’re nice, as they add a degree of replay value, but they’re not revealed until you’ve completed the mission once. Granted, this could be because some of the earlier missions feature objectives that wouldn’t be possible to fulfill until you’ve received upgrades from later stages of the game, but hiding them from the player serves no purpose whatsoever – it’s not as though you’re forbidden from undertaking them the first time around.

The most irritating variety of these objectives involves eavesdropping on enemy conversations. The aforementioned scope also acts as a directional microphone, which would, in theory, prevent the protagonist from being spotted. In practice, there are a few factors that make the task incredibly frustrating. You cannot speed up the process in any way, the soldiers’ scripting could fail to load properly, and missing out on any part of the event will prevent you from finishing the objective. If any of this happens, you must restart the mission from the beginning, causing you to waste time. The only saving grace is that you can obviously skip these objectives entirely, but it seems like it would have been a better choice if the developers made them Easter eggs rather than basing entire sidequests around them.

During my first playthrough, I meticulously tried to complete every objective so I wouldn’t have to repeat anything. I later learned that I shouldn’t have bothered. It’s a much better idea to play the game normally at first and revisit the missions when you’ve obtained better equipment such as the silenced tranquilizer sniper rifle and the pistol outfitted with an unbreakable suppressor. There was even story event around the halfway point that forced me to examine my list of soldiers for nearly twenty minutes. In my attempts to complete the sidequests, I amassed an army with capabilities far beyond what was expected at most given points. Had I not played the game the way I did, this task wouldn’t have been so drawn out, but I couldn’t escape the feeling I was being punished for being too explorative. I realize I could have avoided this had I played the game the way it was intended, but this trait seems to be completely at odds with the basic ethos of the open-world experience. Indeed, I started having more fun with the game when I stopped doggedly pursuing the optional objectives, but I can’t help but feel this is a bad sign. What kind of game becomes more fun the less you play of it?

Analyzing the Story

WARNING: The following section will contain unmarked spoilers for the entire Metal Gear saga.

In 1974, Big Boss narrowly prevented a deadly nuclear war by destroying Peace Walker, an unmanned bipedal machine capable of launching a retaliatory strike at an appropriate target without human input. Shortly after the platform’s destruction, Big Boss learned that the the person who hired him and his PMC, Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF), to investigate Peace Walker in Costa Rica, Ramón Gálvez Mena was actually a KGB spy by the name of Vladimir Aleksandrovich Zadornov. He secretly aided the CIA operative responsible for Peace Walker’s creation, but betrayed him at the last minute by changing the machine’s target to Cuba. A launch from a United States at one of the Soviet’s biggest allies would cause an anti-American sentiment to spread, causing the U.S.S.R. to win the Cold War.

Zadornov was thrown in the MSF’s brig only for him to make multiple attempts to escape. After confronting him for the last time, Big Boss discovered that his disappearances served as a distraction as someone secretly made modifications to MSF’s ultimate weapon: a bipedal tank armed with a nuclear warhead named Metal Gear ZEKE. The mastermind behind the machine’s hijacking was none other than Paz. After destroying ZEKE, Big Boss was informed by his right-hand man Kazuhira Miller (Kaz) that he knew of Paz’s true allegiance. Paz had been ordered to infiltrate MSF by Cipher, an alias of Major Zero, Big Boss’s commanding officer during Operation Snake Eater ten years prior. The two of them lamented the loss of the legendary World War II hero Big Boss was forced to terminate and wanted to carry on her will. The friendship ended with a bitter disagreement concerning how her legacy was to be remembered. While Zero sought to unify the entire human race under a single order while Big Boss wished to create a world where soldiers were always needed instead of being cast aside during times of peace.

Although Big Boss was angry at Kaz for withholding this information, he allowed him to remain with his cause. The two of them realized that certain forces would try to eradicate them, necessitating them to continue operating outside of society and serve any cause regardless of nations or ideologies. In doing so, they were to build their own nation upon the foundation of Big Boss’s will: Outer Heaven.

A few months later, Kaz received word that the UN was to inspect Mother Base upon learning MSF may be in possession of a nuclear weapon. He also divulges that Paz, having survived her battle with Big Boss was being held for interrogation at Camp Omega in Cuba. Although Big Boss made a suggestion to assassinate her, Kaz disagreed, reasoning that the intel team members who were infiltrating Cipher suspected she was a double agent. They eventually agreed that, being their only link to Zero, the wisest course of action was to rescue Paz and determine what information she gave up to her captors.

Once Paz was extracted, a medic discovered that she had been surgically implanted with a bomb, forcing them to remove it by hand in the helicopter. Unfortunately, they returned to Mother Base only to find it ablaze from an enemy’s bombardment. A Special Forces unit known as XOF led by the mysterious Skull Face had used the nuclear inspection as a cover story to ambush MSF. As they were escaping the fleet, Paz regained consciousness, warning her rescuers that a second bomb had been placed inside her body. She leapt out the door, but the resulting explosion caused the aircraft to spiral out of control and collide with a pursuing XOF helicopter. As a result of the trauma, Big Boss fell into a coma and was rushed to an undisclosed location to keep him safe from those who wanted him dead.

metal-gear-solid-v-a-rude-awakening

It is now the year 1984, and Big Boss awakens from his long slumber in a hospital in Cyprus. A few weeks later, the building is ambushed by a group of soldiers dead-set on killing all of the hospital’s tenants. He receives help from an unknown man and an enigmatic double agent he met during Operation Snake Eater: Ocelot. He informs him that Kaz is being held captive in Afghanistan. Knowing that he would be traversing an active warzone, the former agent ventures forth, vowing revenge on the people who took everything away from him by building a new army from the ground up: the Diamond Dogs.

metal-gear-solid-v-diamond-dogs

Almost as though Mr. Kojima wished to prove that the gameplay and story ratio in Peace Walker leaning heavily towards the former wasn’t simply a consequence of having been released on a handheld system, Metal Gear Solid V continues the trend by featuring succinct cutscenes. In fact, Mr. Kojima has been on record stating that the reason for this drastically different design choice was because he felt long cutscenes have become outdated. Considering that Metal Gear Solid V came out in the mid-2010s when turning games into cinematic experiences was a common practice, it’s refreshing playing a big-budget title primarily concerned about being fun.

As something of a trade-off, the story is a bit minimalistic compared to its predecessors. While even Peace Walker featured a complex story despite its episodic presentation, the narrative of Metal Gear Solid V is a bit more fragmented because of that. Many of the characters the protagonist interacts with don’t even have names, and they disappear in the background once their purpose is fulfilled. This has the unintended effect of making the story a little less memorable than previous entries whose more colorful casts ensured that the player would be unlikely to forget them.

metal-gear-solid-v-phantom-pain-incident

That’s not to say the story is without its upsides, though. As with the case with Peace Walker, I like the moral ambiguity that runs throughout the game. The narrative makes it clear that the people you’re playing as could easily be villains in different scenarios with their propensity to operate outside of the law’s confines and willingness to abduct soldiers to increase their ranks. Indeed, they could be considered only slightly better than ruthless modern pirates. Despite this, they don’t come across as wholly unsympathetic because it’s made obvious that the people you’re fighting against, especially Skull Face, are far more monstrous. The game even allows you to perform optional acts of heroism such as extracting wild animals from the warzones or freeing hostages facing certain death. While previous Metal Gear games told stories through cutscenes, Metal Gear Solid V spurs the player into creating their own.

Similar to the two canonical entries that took place before this one, Metal Gear Solid V is set during the Cold War. The Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan meant that political tensions were at an all-time high. One wrong move likely would have plunged the world in chaos – a fate that was narrowly averted in 1983 when a Soviet targeting system detected a nonexistent nuclear attack coming from the United States. Thankfully the man in charge, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, thought it was unlikely that the Americans would instigate a war with only five missiles rather than everything they had, thus preventing a retaliatory strike, and he chose not to report it. This decision was a reason World War III never happened.

Because you actually explore Afghanistan during the Soviets’ invasion, it creates an interesting situation where you encounter them, yet you never get the feeling that it’s anything personal. You just happen to clash with them because they’re opposing your goals, yet it’s usually not for malicious reasons. Half the time when they’re not actively hunting you, they’re just talking with each other about random, mundane subjects – not unlike that of your own soldiers. It goes a long way in humanizing everyone on each side of the conflict.

metal-gear-solid-v-the-man-who-sold-the-world

I also enjoy that, more than any of its predecessors, Metal Gear Solid V captures the spirit of the decade in which it’s set. It not only accomplishes this with the depiction of real-life events, but also the cassette tapes one can find on their journey which contain popular rock songs from that era. Sure, it doesn’t make much sense that you would find a copy of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division in a random military base, but it adds to the atmosphere and the quirky charm the series had built up in older installments.

Don’t think that these silly elements make the game a lighthearted romp, though – Metal Gear Solid V boasts the darkest story in the series by a significant margin. Multiple people lose limbs, many child soldiers are depicted, the villain plans to eradicate English speakers off the face of the Earth, and a hitherto amiable person turns out to be an irredeemable monster who makes Skull Face look like the lesser of two evils. This is where the sudden change in style works to the narrative’s favor. In previous games, these horrific scenes would have had entire paragraphs dedicated to explaining why they’re bad while Metal Gear Solid V simply lets them speak for themselves. In comparison to some of its popular contemporaries wherein subtlety is treated like an anathema, I welcomed this development with open arms.

Even though there are many good things to be said about the story of Metal Gear Solid V, it managed to generate a lot of controversy both before and after its release. To begin with, the Ground Zeroes prologue allows you to recover an audio tape of one of Paz’s interrogation sessions at the hands of XOF, and listening to it reveals that she was raped among other things. Sexual assault is something even the most talented writers hesitate to include in their stories because it’s a difficult subject to tackle without looking foolish. There are varying reasons for this, but the general consensus among most people is that it’s invariably a lazy attempt to appear mature. A relatively younger medium was not yet ready to tackle such a taboo subject; it didn’t work when The Last of Us attempted it, and with a writer as hit-or-miss as Mr. Kojima, it was even less likely to succeed. To be fair, this was not entirely unprecedented for this series, as a major character in Metal Gear Solid 2 confessed that he was a victim of statutory rape. While there are debates as to whether it worked or not, I would say it was better handled then because it didn’t exist for easy shock value.

Metal Gear Solid V also introduced a character whose very existence proved to be the source of much ire: Quiet. She is a sniper with superhuman abilities wearing only the bare minimum of clothing, and true to her codename, never speaks. As an added bonus, she is this game’s only major female character in a series that was historically a little bit more balanced when it came to gender ratio. The narrative itself has an elaborate explanation for why she barely wears anything at all, but it’s painstakingly obvious that this was meant to appeal to teenagers. That she is a selectable companion alongside a horse and a dog also creates an unfortunate juxtaposition. Even if I was able to look past that and enjoy the game regardless, I realize it’s undeniably a product of its time.

One of the disadvantages prequels have is that no matter how much new information is revealed, none of it will reflect in the series’ chronological final installment. Metal Gear Solid V attempts to avoid this dilemma by retconning a lot of older revelations. I found them to be welcome changes, as one of the biggest weaknesses of Metal Gear Solid 4 was that it had entirely too many plot threads to resolve. Mr. Kojima only succeeded by the skin of his teeth, and the experience was bogged down with interminable periods of time with no player input required at all.

What this game accomplished was providing more context and backstory for the series as a whole. It turns out that the Diamond Dogs were the mercenary group responsible for ridding the world of nuclear weapons by the time the events of Metal Gear 2 came to pass, making Zanzibar Land the only nation to possess them. At the end of the game, you are rewarded with audio tapes that show what happened to Zero before Big Boss fell into a coma. The events of Operation: Snake Eater allowed his influence to spread throughout the world, yet he had to live in a windowless safe house for his own protection. Paradoxically, while he could claim to be the most powerful man in the world, a completely ordinary person would have far more personal freedom. It also turns out Zero had second thoughts about the project that would result in the Patriots’ creation, but he before he could go back on his plan, Skull Face had infected him with biologically engineered parasites, eventually placing him into a persistent vegetative state. These are some of the series’ most fascinating revelations, as dramatic irony makes for compelling stories.

However, not all of these retcons were well-received, and the biggest point of contention would be the ending. The Big Boss you were playing as isn’t the genuine article, but rather a MSF soldier who had undergone extensive plastic surgery to resemble his former leader. By the end of the game, the real Big Boss praises your skill, saying that you’re just as worthy of his title. After the credits roll, a timeline of the entire series shows that your character would go on to perish in battle against Solid Snake in the Outer Heaven Uprising eleven years later, closing the series’ loop by tying it to the original Metal Gear. I have mixed feelings about this twist. On one hand, I liked it because it’s foreshadowed brilliantly, and I suspected something was afoot when the game prompted me to input my name and birthday. On the other hand, one of the best parts about the prequel games was witnessing Big Boss’s transformation from an idealistic newcomer to the main villain of the MSX installments who would betray his own unit to accomplish his goals. All this did was cut short his arc, making for an anticlimactic conclusion.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Excellent open-world gameplay
  • Good level design
  • Army-building mechanic makes a return
  • Many layers of customization
  • Good cast of characters
  • Superb voice acting
  • Cutscenes remain succinct
  • Interesting story
  • Varied soundtrack
Cons:

  • Simplistic boss fights
  • Rushed ending
  • Writing makes quite a few ill-advised moves
  • Very long – requires a lot of commitment
  • Completing side objectives can get annoying

The 2010s proved to be a surreal decade for gaming hobbyists. Much like the filming of Apocalypse Now, the AAA industry had access to too much money and little by little, fans witnessed once-respected creators go insane. Now, contrary to the belief held by many art enthusiasts, I ultimately believe producers and executives play an important role in a work’s success. Sure, they often don’t possess the creative spark required to bring these visions into reality, but there’s a reason the job exists: oftentimes they’re right. There are many provable instances in which artists, free from their editors, created works that alienate anyone who doesn’t share their exact viewpoint. However, it’s difficult to dispel the popular notion that executives ruin everything when confronted with a game like Metal Gear Solid V. A large reason the ending feels rushed is because Konami, apparently completely tired of the goodwill they had built up in the three decades that came before, saw fit to hinder the development of Mr. Kojima’s final game with them, causing an entire third act to be excised from the final product and his name to be removed from the covers.

Consequently, playing Metal Gear Solid V carries with it a bittersweet sentiment because the game is decent, yet I can’t help but feel it could have been even better had the executives let Mr. Kojima and his staff do their job. In spite of every disadvantage it was saddled with, self-imposed or otherwise, I marvel that a game which doesn’t feel complete manages to outshine other AAA efforts from the 2010s. Then again, I fully admit the only thing keeping me from being harsher on this game when I’ve been such a stickler for endings in the past is the foreknowledge that this is not the series’ conclusion. We know that any lingering plot threads this game leaves open will be resolved – we just don’t know how. This makes it easier to accept than when a work ends on a sour note that has little to no chance of being salvaged.

With all of this out of the way, you may be wondering if I actually recommend this game, warts and all. That’s honestly a tough question to answer, and I find myself in a similar situation as when it came time to take a stance on Metal Gear Solid 4, albeit for different reasons. Even hardcore fans of the series were left in disappointment when the credits rolled, and I completely understand their point of view. Failing to reward the player for investing more than sixty hours in a game with a proper resolution is one of the worst insults a fan can receive. At the same time, I think with its scathing attack on the countless military shooters flooding the market throughout the 2010s, it shows a degree of self-awareness lacking in most open-world titles, and I think that makes it worth experiencing. Metal Gear Solid V is a diamond in the rough, and whether or not you decide to accept it for what it is or reject it for that exact reason is up to you. Either way, watching the Metal Gear series evolve with the times was one of the most rewarding experiences the medium had to offer.

Final Score: 6/10

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

  1. Perhaps it would have been better had Konami not decided to self destruct with that restructure. Some of those cons could have been addressed with more development time. Hmmm, I wonder what other cheesy music tracks are stored in military bases. Justin Bieber CDs in Guantanamo maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the eavesdropping sidequests sound like something that would have been considered in the development phase only to get dropped in the final product after it was rightly dubbed annoying by playtesters, and it definitely feels like a longer development time could have allowed the story to end in a more satisfying manner. As it stands, Metal Gear Solid V doesn’t really end, it just sort of stops.

      Huh, that’s strange, I thought for sure they’d be the Katy Perry types.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I skipped over some of it because I just started playing this game, but you make some interesting points about the overall feel and design of the game. I’m about six hours in, and I do find it interesting to play as Big Boss, the man who for most of the series was considered the “bad guy,” especially now that he’s kidnapping people and forcing them to follow him… I had to skip the part of your review where you talked about the ending, but I saw in the final paragraph that fans were disappointed with the ending, so now I’m interested/worried to see what happens.

    One thing I don’t really appreciate about the game is the cover system: I wish I was able to pop in and out of cover to fire when needed (like in MGS2), rather than standing up like a Big-Boss-sized target. The enemies already have great vision, and I don’t need to help them any more!!

    But I had a great time listening to “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde while studying patrol routes… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, it’s interesting because in the original Metal Gear, although it was a pretty good plot twist that Big Boss was the leader of Outer Heaven, he was still at the end of the day, a one-dimensional bad guy. In the very next game, Metal Gear 2, and later when the series became 3D, it’s amazing how much more depth he received – not only as a posthumous character, but also when you finally play as him in Metal Gear Solid 3.

      I would say the issues I had with the game are about as close one can get to being deal breakers without actually being them. So while I still ultimately enjoyed the game, I couldn’t fault anyone if they were unable to get over them.

      I bet it’s quite jarring playing a game where the enemies have somewhat realistic fields of vision, and they actually suspect something’s up if one the security cameras are destroyed. There are ways to fool the guards in this game, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely! It’s been interesting following the progression of Big Boss through the years. I also think it’s a fun juxtaposition of perspectives regarding choices in the game, because as the playable character, we automatically assume he’s the “good guy,” but he’s doing things that we would rail against if he was the antagonist, like you mentioned in your review. I love the shades of grey that the MGS series presents.

    You’re right. The first real mission of the game I was sitting there wondering how I was being spotted in the position I was in, because the only guard around was a good distance away, but I’m actually quite enjoying the challenge of realistic fields of vision. Like you said, there are ways to fool them! I always thought it was a bit strange that the guards had such a shortened field of vision in previous games.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s one of those games that I know for certain is in my future, but I haven’t quite picked up yet. Glad to know that its highs do reach up there, even if the game may be a bit hot and cold.

    We’ve been seeing a number of Japanese developer pick up design keys from the western world in recent years, and that’s had me worried at times. That was one of the things that made FF XIII so painful, that they didn’t understand the design elements they were picking up and didn’t seem to realize how poorly they worked with the rest of the game they were trying to put together. Which is understandable, to some extent. As games have gotten more and more expensive to make, you need more of an audience to make them profitable, and the western world just spends more money on games. However, Japan and the west enjoy some different things in video games, so you probably want to through in some elements to appeal to the west to boost your sales in that market. But if that’s something you don’t enjoy yourself, and you haven’t had the chance to immerse yourself in it, you’re not going to know what makes that element good, you’re not going to be able to tell when you’ve done it well, and you’re not going to know much about how to implement it.

    That said, Kojima’s western-immersed enough, and he’s got enough creative control over his projects, that he’d be one of the developers I’d trust more than anyone else to be leading the wave of open-world games coming out of Japan. Hopefully more will be following his lead there, because I imagine he’d understand what makes an open world game a lot better than plenty of other developers experimenting it for the first time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that is an unfortunate result of one demographic spending more money on art than any other. It just encourages companies to cater to them – it’s especially true in a medium like this where it’s so difficult to take risks and the teams are so large that the project can’t afford to be a flop, lest they all find themselves out of a job. I don’t think this is necessarily going to lead to disaster because times change as does taste in general, and if nothing else, the lesser-known games are always going to be there to fill the niches AAA gaming doesn’t. I’d say one tiring aspect of this trend as of now is that open-world gameplay doesn’t seem to set itself up for engaging plots as well as linear experiences. Indeed, all of my favorite story-heavy games were linear experiences. Planescape: Torment skirts the line, but there’s still an objectively real progression even if your decisions ensure it’s not a static plot.

      What you described with Final Fantasy XIII and other similar games reminds me of the problem walking simulators are facing now where the people who create them don’t realize they’re hitting all the wrong notes until the disparaging reviews prove otherwise.

      Having said all that, I can at least say that there have been some good works that resulted from this; Dark Souls was amazing because it plays like a Western RPG, yet it has excellent boss fights – something typically endemic to Eastern games. Historically, the Western RPG scene is the reason we even have JRPGs in the first place; after all, Wizardry and Ultima inspired Yuji Horii to create Dragon Quest. True, it wasn’t really until the third installment that the series (and by extension, the entire genre) began hitting its stride, but that’s to be expected when experimenting.

      Story issues aside, I’d say Mr. Kojima definitely executed the open-world experience well – possibly more so than Ubisoft. In fact, I heard somewhere that he really enjoys the Assassin’s Creed series, so at the very least, it’s likely he was able to fully comprehend what goes into a quality work in that genre before this project began.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s