- Developer/Publisher: Kojima Productions/Konami
- Platforms: PC (Steam $/€ 59.99), PS4 ($/€ 59.99), PS3 ($/€ 49.99), Xbox One ($/€ 59.99), Xbox 360 ($/€ 49.99)
- PC version tested. Review code provided by publisher.
It would be impossible to talk about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain without mentioning the whole Kojima-gate. A few months ago, rumors started to circulate about Kojima parting ways with Konami after the release of MGSV. These were eventually confirmed and the publisher even went as far as removing Kojima's name from all marketing material, which angered some long time fans of the series.
However, rest assured that Kojima's statement during the whole affair about being determined to make this the greatest game he has directed to date was not a charade. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one of the best games to be released this year and a worthy conclusion to Kojima's work on the series; no gamer should miss this, especially since there is no telling when we'll get another Metal Gear title with similar quality.
For those who've played Metal Gear games before, it will be hard not to be a little surprised by how much the game seems different at first. This is, after all, its open world debut and it takes a while to adjust; however, once that phase was over I've discovered that the gameplay was all still there, and it was actually enhanced by the open world formula.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes place nine years after the events of Ground Zeroes, with Big Boss waking from his coma. Once you've escaped the hospital, the real game begins with Revolver Ocelot dropping you in Afghanistan; only at that point the true breadth of the game is unveiled. Afghanistan, just like Africa (the second region unlocked at a later moment), is a huge place to explore freely and without restraints.
There are enemy patrols roaming between the outposts and plenty of wildlife to encounter. What to do with them, as with everything else in the game, is completely up to the player; for example, wildlife can be captured in one of two ways, either by developing cages for humane extraction of animals or by using the tranquilizer gun and then extracting them via the Fulton recovery system. There are even a few side missions dedicated to the capture of specific "legendary" animals, such as a particularly large bear.
Don't expect to find civilians, though. There are none of them (save for the prisoners you might have to extract in some missions) and while that may initially be a disappointment, after thinking about it I realized that it would have been just a hindrance to the core game. This is not a roleplaying game - it's a stealth action title.
What you can find is plenty of resources and blueprints hidden in buildings, while plants can be gathered wherever there's a little vegetation. Moreover, the open world setting allows you to properly recon an outpost in advance, which can be handy for your next mission; the dynamic day/night cycle also means that security is generally lower at night, as is visibility for both Big Boss and his enemies.
Many of the game's missions can be tackled in an impressively diverse amount of ways. This includes choosing the buddy for the next mission; that's right, you're not alone anymore in the field. Big Boss can now choose one out of four companions: the sniper Quiet, D-Dog, D-Horse and D-Walker.
Each one of them offers unique abilities. D-Dog is able to smell the location of enemies and prisoners, and he can also kill an enemy with a sneak attack or stun him. Quiet can scout an outpost and kill any target in sight with her sniper rifle; D-Horse is great for covering large distances and D-Walker is very useful against vehicles and special enemies such as the Skulls.
Big Boss can increase his bond with D-Dog, Quiet and D-Horse, which unlocks more available commands. The companions are not invulnerable anyway, and they will be extracted automatically once severely injured in combat; at that point you can request the deployment of another companion, just like the deployment of a certain weapon or ammunition (fun fact - if you manage to hit an enemy with the deployed box, he will be knocked out, and this happens to Big Boss as well).
While there are rewards for going full stealth as the series' tradition demands, The Phantom Pain won't punish you for choosing another way, which is definitely something that crosses a player's mind after being spotted for the third time while close to completing the mission. NPC AI is quite good, both at spotting Big Boss and at engaging him during combat; that includes flanking, shooting flares to highlight his latest known position and more.
Combat is very responsive and satisfying to accomplish (including boss fights, which are quite memorable). Personally, I also enjoyed the Reflex Mode, which originally sparked a heated discussion in the community after its announcement. This allowed me to score some last second headshots with the tranquilizer gun, thus preventing the enemy from raising the alert; it felt really good, and if you don't like the idea you can always disable it in the options. It's never harmful to have choice.
Once you do get discovered, though, you might be tempted to go full Rambo, but be prepared to deal with heavy resistance in this case as the enemies will call in reinforcements from other outposts - unless you have destroyed their communication systems first.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Pantom Pain ranks very highly when it comes to price/content ratio
There's also the chance to call in aerial support or strike through the helicopter, but this restricts the mission's score to a maximum of A. I don't recommend doing it: after all, why would you want to kill everyone when you can actually recruit those soldiers to fight for the Diamond Dogs (Big Boss' private army)?
That's right, this can be done quite easily. After knocking out or tranquilizing an enemy, you can use the Fulton recovery system and the soldier will be extracted to Mother Base (more on that later); however, there are a few things to note. First of all, this doesn't come free - each time you extract anything, you have to pay some GMP, the game's currency; you also need to be aware of any nearby enemies, as they might spot the balloon, shoot it and even alert the base of enemy presence in the area. That's not everything, as weather also factors in the probability of a successful extraction: if you're in a sandstorm, it's best to wait until the weather clears up before sending the poor soldier towards a certain death.
Not all soldiers are equal. In fact, they have skills and ratings that will make some of them particularly interesting to extract; once you have upgraded the binocular, the system will show which soldiers are truly worth recruiting.
After upgrading the Fulton recovery device, you will also be able to extract mortars, machine guns, containers and other vehicles; all of these will be brought back to Mother Base, which is where the Diamond Dogs thrive.
This part of the game has been expanded since the days of Peace Walker. Everything can be managed, from the staff (soldiers are automatically assigned to certain divisions according to their skills, but sometimes you might want to change that manually) to the expansion of the base itself. Coming back to Mother Base is recommended from time to time for a number of reasons, such as opportunities to raise staff morale (which includes teaching them a few fighting lessons) and refreshment for Big Boss, who can shower to get benefits such as increased maximum health and longer reflex time.
There's also an entire mini-game centered around Forward Operating Bases. Basically, players can build additional bases in certain locations; the most interesting fact is that you can then infiltrate bases of enemy players and, conversely, your bases may be infiltrated by them. When that happens, you'll get an alert and at that point you might decide to go defend it yourself; now you can also pay for FOB insurance with either real-world money or virtual money earned in the game, but there's also the option of simply going offline.
Anyway, this is just an optional part of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain which does not influence the single player story at all.
Speaking of the story, it's immediately noticeable that Kojima took to heart the long-standing feedback regarding the massive cutscenes he used to deliver the plot in previous Metal Gear games. There is no such thing in this case: with the transition to open world gameplay, there's also a shift towards episodic storytelling; Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is more like a TV series, if you will, whereas the previous games were distinctly movie-like.
As for the story itself, it contains all the true markings of a Kojima game. Its presentation and voice acting is top notch, but there are plot holes and the overall consistency is questionable.
That's not where the biggest disappointment with the game lies, however. The true misstep is clearly the decision to lock the last few story missions in Chapter 2 behind some extremely difficult missions that players already did earlier and now, for some reason, have to repeat with limitations such as no possibility to call support or buddies, no weapons etc.
This seems an obvious attempt to dilute the game after Chapter 3's notorious cut. The irony is, it wasn't even necessary, since no one could seriously say that this game is light on content. The campaign itself lasts anywhere from 40 to 50 hours (not counting the fact that you can repeat missions to obtain higher scores or try different tactics), then there's the whole Forward Operating Base stuff and Metal Gear Online, which started its service a few days ago on consoles (PC gamers have to wait January, sadly). One thing is certain, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ranks very highly when it comes to price/content ratio.
Finally, let me take a moment to talk about the graphics. Konami's FOX Engine is not the most advanced engine out there, with the likes of Unreal Engine 4, CRYENGINE and Frostbite powering games with incredible visuals these days; however, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is still one of the most beautiful open world games you could buy right now, especially if you can get the PC version which sports an increased number of lights, improved shadows, ambient occlusion (NVIDIA users can disable the in-game setting and enable HBAO+ via their Control Panel to get even better results) and geometry.
Everything is rendered with great attention to detail and realism - you'll really feel in the fields of Africa and Afghanistan. The usual Metal Gear art style and effects, such as lens flare, can be found here and everything comes together to create a stunning package as a whole.
What's even more impressive is how Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain runs. We've been burnt by games with unacceptable performance as of late, so it's impossible not to commend Konami for their work in this case. My configuration (i7 3770, 980Ti) was able to handle the game running at 1440P and maxed settings with an average frame rate very close to 60FPS; subjectively, the experience was very smooth and I can barely remember a hitch or two.
Moreover, even PCs with lesser CPU/GPUs can handle the game with medium settings, which means that no one is left out.