Even though they’ve generally been great, there have been so many Metal Gear Solid games over the years that it can be hard to get excited for each new release. But with Metal Gear Solid V, which is likely the last MGS game creator Hideo Kojima will be involved with, Konami has outdone itself with a game that is both true to its predecessors, and astoundingly revolutionary. That’s an especially impressive feat for a series in its fifth iteration.
The previous Metal Gear Solid games consistently tried out new gameplay mechanics, and they were better for it. But as the games became more complex, so did the controls, to the detriment of casual fans of the series. The games also liked to present themselves as open-ended experiences, but in reality it just meant if you screwed up going the stealth route in a mission, you wouldn’t instantly die, and you could probably power through the rest of the level if you still tried play stealthy.
The Phantom Pain throws out everything that was holding back the series previously, like the complicated controls, and the overly-scripted missions. Those features are replaced with with mechanics that fully embrace emergent gameplay. If you’ve played a third-person shooter before, you’ll be able to pick up and play Metal Gear Solid V without any trouble. And if you want to play it like a traditional shooter, you’re welcome to. Going in guns-blazing doesn’t feel like the “wrong” way to beat a mission anymore. In MGS V, you have the discretion to complete an objective like a soldier of fortune.
Better yet, there’s more than just one stealth option and one action option to complete each goal. If you want to sneak around and snap the necks of soldiers, you can do that. If you want to knock them out and whisk them back to Mother Base via balloon (which is an awesome and hilarious new feature) so that they’ll join your cause, that’s a completely legitimate option as well. Maybe you want to blow them all up. You can choose to start the mission with explosives rather than guns. Or maybe you just want sic your new canine buddy D-Dog on the opposition. Then, there’s the multitude of new abilities you gain for your cybernetic arm later in the game. Have you ever thought about taking someone out from 30 feet away with a rocket-propelled fist? You will. A lot of games might claim to be open-ended, but the ways you can beat each mission in MGS V really are limitless.
And as previously hinted at, these missions also serve the purpose of helping you make money and collect resources to build your Mother Base, where you convert allies and develop new weapons. Adding to Mother Base is itself an addictive and rewarding mini-game. If you get into it, you’ll start taking missions and searching out the exact type of resources you need to build your newest additions. You can also attack other player’s bases and defend your own in an innovative multiplayer mode.
The one downside to MGS V is the story. It’s not bad, but if you aren’t familiar with all the other Metal Gear Solid games (and prequel demo Ground Zeroes in particular), you’re going to be lost. Beyond that, it’s the typical MGS story of bizarre paranormal bosses and lengthy monologues against the military-industrial complex and the nature of war. Some people will love it. Most will ignore it, and frankly the gameplay is so good that it almost makes the story irrelevant. Oh, but good job Kojima for making a game that doesn’t include hour-long cutscenes for once.
Metal Gear Solid V is a very, very pretty game. The rocky terrain of Afghanistan comes alive with a dynamic day and night cycle (and you can of course see in the dark with nightvision). Wild animals scurry about and can be captured or killed. Everything from the texture of the firearms you use to the scraps of paper found in military outposts has been crafted with the fine attention to detail that has long been present in Kojima games. But the team finally had the horsepower to go all-out with the details thanks to the power of the Xbox One. MGS V feels like a living world.
That being said, the character models are slightly lacking. They’re not bad looking at all, but they do appear a little too shiny and almost cartoonish compared to character models in other big-budget Xbox One games like Halo 5: Guardians and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. That could also be chalked up to art-style or the inclusion of some unrealistic enemies. It’s not overly-distracting though, just more of a minor nitpick.
As you might expect from any game starring Kiefer Sutherland, the voice-acting is outstanding. Sutherland doesn’t speak as often as previous Snake actor David Hayter, but when he does, he speaks in the gruff and worn tone of an experienced soldier. This is one of the premiere voice over performances in all of gaming. And while the other actors may not be quite on Sutherland’s level, they’re no slouches either. Kojima has once again made a game that channels the best parts of cinema.
Surprisingly, Metal Gear Solid V features quite a few licensed songs. It seems like an odd fit given the orchestral nature of previous MGS soundtracks (and those tracks are still present too), but it actually works. The game begins with an especially memorable scene of Snake waking up in the hospital from a coma as Midge Ure’s haunting cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” plays in the background. And since the game is set in the ’80s, you occasionally pick up cassette tapes of some of the biggest songs of the era like a-ha’s “Take on Me” and Spandau Ballet’s “True.” Sometimes troops are listening to these songs on the radio as you’re sneaking around. It sounds kinda weird, but it works really well in context, and again adds to the feel of being in a living, breathing world.
In addition to the Mother Base multiplayer game, The Phantom Pain features more traditional versus multiplayer options. Really, these multiplayer options are fine. No doubt many gamers will find them engrossing, but for most gamers they’re probably just minor distractions. The real meat of the game is the freedom you have in the single-player campaign. There’s just so much to do and so many ways to do it that MGS V almost feels more like a Bethesda RPG than a traditional action game. It’s the type of game that a lot of other games could learn from, and it’s so good that most games will probably be copying it for a long time to come.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg