There’s something rather satisfying about jumping out of a helicopter into a war zone, lifting your assault rifle to comb the area for enemies, and watching as the brush around you waves side-by-side as your gunship departs. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain has so much to offer, like everything we love from the series is mixed into a nice tasty stew, one which looks to be Hideo Kojima’s last supper.
As always, those new to the series might have a hard time understanding the back story of Metal Gear Solid, it’s overly complex plot involving, politics, war, hypocrisy, and cleavage, leaving some scratching their heads. The Phantom Pain has an ample supply of all that, but toned back following criticism from the community on its particularly heavy delivery. Instead there’s a more balanced mix that hangs on the edge of being serious and comically outrageous. You see this throughout, from inflatable soldiers used as decoys, horses pooping on command, to a more satisfying use of the good ol’ cardboard box, the fun is there but doesn’t trample over the dark serious nature of the game.
You take on the role of Big Boss, an elite solider who awakened from his slumber in 1984 following the events of bit-sized sequel Metal Gear: Ground Zeroes. The opening to the game is frantic, and particularly gory, as elite mercenaries attempt to finish the job they started 9 years ago. What makes the sequence so refreshing is the speed in which it’s delivered. You get the occasional cut-scene here and there, but the mixture of cinematic and gameplay relief is well-balanced.
While Big Boss slept the Soviets took upon themselves to invade Afghanistan, and very quickly after you awake you’re thrown into the warzone. This is the starting point, firstly tasked with finding and rescuing your old pal Kazuhira Miller, a basic tutorial that disguises itself well as an important mission.
Unlike previous installments in the series that felt linear is some form, The Phantom Pain focuses on an open-world setting that gives you the freedom to traverse a wide area consisting of small villages, towns, and outposts, thriving with enemies and opportunities. It’s pretty big and Kojima makes getting around much easier with a selection of vehicles unlocked as you progress. These range from your trusted D-Horse, to the well-armed personal gunship. The main story will see you travel in and around Afghanistan and an African plain, with locations scattered around the maps becoming the stage for a mission at some point.
Side missions – or Side Ops – give you the chance to make some extra money, gain experienced soldiers – more on that later – and find resources. There’s plenty of variety within them to avoid becoming stale, sometimes feeling just as important as the main story itself. Rescuing prisoners, taking down armored units, and saving wandering soldiers all have an effect on the region and how fast you build your private army. The only down side is repetitiveness, not with the missions themselves but the locations in which they take place, but with 150 side missions available, it was inevitable to end up in the same place twice.
How you perform in the field is important and Big Boss is no slouch. The further you progress through the game Snake will unlock an ample supply of weaponry, tools, and other items to fuel his effort. Each weapon and item works on an upgrade system that progresses as you grow your Mother Base, signified by a star and number. A perfect example is the prosthetic arm that can be configured to knock people out, send a shockwave into the ground to mark enemies, or stunning enemies with a voltage-powered punch. A higher level of customization does present itself later on in the game which allows you to add various attachments to a weapon and add specific camos.
Mother Base is the heart of your operations and the starting block for mostly everything you use when in the field. The more money you decide to pump into it the faster it grows, making more room for captured solider and the resources you obtain. Mother Base consists of different research divisions, all of which offer different perks. Each division is given a level which grows the more soldiers you add, the more experienced the solider the faster the level will grow, so who you capture in the field is important. After some time the strut itself will become packed and expansion is necessary. With the right amount of resources and GMP(in-game money) you can add an extra strut to that division’s platform, with a total of four available for each. Each platform is connected through a set of bridges, which can be crossed using vehicles or by foot. Apart from gun training exercises and increasing staff morale by being in view, there isn’t much need to travel between platforms.
Building your Mother Base won’t be the limit of your responsibility, the structure itself works as a community, with the soldiers present letting their feelings known. Like a real life combat unit, you’ll have your troublemakers, unsanitary, and the diplomatic-minded, these effects your staff’s morale and their general health, so housekeeping is a must.
So how do you get all this cool stuff? With the newest addition to The Phantom Pain, the ‘Fulton Device’, a gadget that allows Big Boss to lift items out of an area of operations. The cargo you’ll Fulton more than most will be enemy soldiers, preferably alive, as dead soldiers don’t make for good employees. Other supplies such as containers full of raw materials that help expand your base and making weapons and items become essential in the back end of the game. Vehicles can also be airlifted, from a simple four-wheel drive jeep to a full-sized armored tank. However, vehicles cannot be produced at Mother Base, so once you airlift one out take care of it, or be prepared to obtain another if destroyed.
As you near the end of The Phantom Pain you begin to really grasp how Big Boss came to be, a chapter in the series that’s really never been touched by Kojima. We know what happened before and after, but for the middle a question mark hovered. Getting to this point does takes some time and everything that comes before feels like a setup for this shorter period of stellar storytelling. From a narrative standpoint it can feel a bit disconnected, but slips your attention when playing those addictive smaller missions that don’t weigh heavy on the story itself.
The Phantom Pain is no doubt the most in-depth game from the series, not because of how it presents its story, but the gameplay that gives nearly everything around you a sole purpose. The need to plan, adapt, and execute are around every corner, giving you every opportunity to do it a certain way, how you want. The story isn’t as appealing as you’d expect, and will surely ruffle the feathers of the more hardcore Metal Gear fans out there, but The Phantom Pain is still leagues above its predecessors and for me the best for the series.
Note: Metal Gear Solid 5 : The Phantom Pain was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is available now for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC. We’ll be covering the FOB portion of The Phantom Pain in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
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