“We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when. Although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend. Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes, ‘I thought you died alone, a long long time ago.’ ‘Oh no, not me! I never lost control. You’re face to face with The Man Who Sold The World.’”
These words are from David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”, which you hear being covered by Midge Ure over the radio as you lie in a hospital bed.
All you can remember before the coma is that your base and private army was under siege but as you were escaping via helicopter, there was a bomb surgically placed inside one of your fellow passengers.
The blur that is your vision slowly comes in and out of focus as you continuously lose and regain your consciousness. Weeks pass by until you regain a sense of stability only for the doctor to tell you that it’s been nine years since you first went into a coma.
After this bombshell, the doctor reveals that you’ve lost your arm and there is still shrapnel inside of you, one prominently protruding from your skull.
This is who you are now. You are Big Boss. After your helicopter exploded mid flight, you’re lucky to be alive. Before you have a chance to process the explosion, the fall of your base, the coma, and your current state, the hospital comes under attack by a small army.
With the help of a man who introduces himself as Ishmael, he thwarts your assassination and leads your narrow escape out of the hospital.
Nothing makes sense but it doesn’t matter. Immediately after escaping the hospital, you get on a boat and sail to Afghanistan to save Kazuhira Miller, your right hand man and second in command.
This begins your journey to rebuild what you’ve lost and your journey to exact revenge on those responsible for the destruction of your base.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was released on September 1st, 2015 worldwide on Windows PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The third person stealth action adventure game was developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami Digital Entertainment.
The game serves as the fifth installment and as a bridge between Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and the very first game in the series, Metal Gear.
Just as this was being released, Konami announced they were restructuring their company and its divisions which in essence, resulted in the dismantling of Kojima Productions.
The director and producer Hideo Kojima was revealed to have his contract end with Konami at the end of the 2015. This effectively made Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain the final Metal Gear game developed by series creator Kojima.
Not unlike the rest of the series, The Phantom Pain’s storyline is a complicated one at its core but at the same time, a fairly simple one on the surface.
Generally speaking, it is about Venom Snake AKA Big Boss rebuilding his private army and his base that he lost in the prequel, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
Specifically however, throughout the game, you deal with a man on fire, a man without a face, a virus triggered by languages, nuclear disarmament, and finding out how your base in the prequel was compromised.
Most games are linear with the player undergoing a mission, then a cutscene, then a mission, then a cutscene, and through that, developing a sense of where things are going.
The Phantom Pain takes a different route with most missions being simple mercenary contracts that sometimes lead to a cutscene related to the overall story.
For example, you may go through three main missions where you need to save a prisoner. Out of those three main missions, only one will have a cutscene afterwards that adds to the plot.
Most of the exposition lies in the cassette tapes that you acquire as the game progresses.
These tapes give explanations behind the setting (like why Afghanistan is filled with Russians), characters (like who Skull Face is), and plot points (like what the significance is of that yellowcake you took from an enemy convoy in that one mission).
This is an interesting way to tell a story because it gives players the freedom to listen to those tapes whenever they feel like it whether it be while you’re sat in the helicopter between missions or while you’re scouting an enemy camp.
This method of delivering a story is completely different from last installments like in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, where cutscenes sometimes ran longer than an episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog.
That being said, these tapes may only be 2 minutes at the most, but with everything going on, you may find them piling up and knowing Metal Gear’s attention to minute details, it feels impossible to listen to them while you’re doing missions. In the end of my first run, I found myself sat in the helicopter for half an hour at a time just listening to the tapes to grasp every little detail.
Rather than explain and hold your hand, cutscenes in The Phantom Pain serve to connect you to the next big plot moment rather than transition between levels/missions.
Consider it like this: A meets B. A marries B. A and B have children. A and B die. Those would be the cutscenes. How did A meet B? What led to their marriage? Who are they? Those would be the cassette tapes.
However, using this method allows series newcomers to easily transition into the world of Metal Gear Solid because these missions tend to help you build your base rather than delivering a story which means you can jump in and out of missions whenever you feel like it.
The story is fairly simple in that the game is mostly just about rebuilding your base and private army.
The story gets complicated when you take into account everything going on around building your base such as finding who is responsible, what his real plans are, and foiling them.
The story deals with some harsh themes like revenge, language, nuclear deterrence, child soldiers and torture.
All of this discussed seriously, naturally and should be applauded for not being exploitative.
However, it seems as if for every time there is a grim moment in The Phantom Pain there is a ridiculous scene that quickly rips you out of the immersion. Seeing child soldiers offer you diamonds for their lives is emotionally gripping but then you see a child fly off into the sunset and the protagonists basically shrug it off and you can’t help but just laugh incredulously.
While to newcomers, it may be off putting; to most Metal Gear fans, this is the charm and they consider it the norm. In a way, it’s like how most people feel about 80s movies. Nobody is expecting an Academy Award winning movie and by almost all standards, it’s over the top bad but that’s the charm and that’s why they love them.
This game has its own story in the sense that you don’t really need to play the previous Metal Gear installments but because this also takes place between two other installments there are a few components that feel forced because it has to connect a series together. Those “components” are all mostly characters.
An example of this, is much like the Star Wars series. Episode 4,5, and 6 were made first and then the creator George Lucas decided to make prequels.
With episode 1 and 2, he had free room and a somewhat blank slate but with episode 3, he had to lead into Episode 4 and had no choice but to not only make it its own movie but jam pack it so the prequels connected to the original trilogy.
Looking past the quality of either the Metal Gear series or the Star Wars series, both have components that feel forced and have no real conclusion because both put their hopes into the next installment.
Eli, who is supposed to be Liquid Snake, the antagonist of Metal Gear Solid, literally runs off into the sunset with a giant bipedal weapon. Eli is 12 years old in the events of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The next time we see him, he’s 33 years old in the events of Metal Gear Solid.
The inclusion of Liquid Snake in this game could have easily been removed. Liquid Snake is a clone of Big Boss and serves as the antagonist in Metal Gear Solid. In The Phantom Pain, he’s an angry child that then literally rides off into the sunset without any conclusion.
On the plus side, it’s a nice cameo for fans of the series and adds gameplay along with some emotional tension.
On the con side, he’s a child here and an adult in Metal Gear Solid 1. It’s not really a bridge if there’s about 20-30 years unaccounted for.
It would be as if Anakin Skywalker’s last scene in the prequel trilogy was his first encounter with Qui-Gon Jinn and then we jumped to Darth Vader in Episode 4. It’s great to see a beloved character in a different and younger stage in his life but if you’re not going to give a proper reason for why this kid became this way, then it is just going to feel forced.
Sometimes less is more.
Being an angry little shit at 12 years old doesn’t explain why he would threaten the world with a nuclear weapon twenty years later.
If he somehow ran away on his own, it could easily be written off. But he ran away with a giant bipedal mecha that isn’t later explained. This is not something to leave as is.
The same can be said for Kazuhira Miller, your right hand man. Surprisingly, for his last major game role, he has no conclusion. In this game, he simply serves as a manager for Big Boss. He gets you the contracts, he takes care of your base while you’re gone, and he gives you information while you’re on the battlefield.
Although his character development is definitely there, his conclusion is awfully lazy. For a man who supports Big Boss throughout a traumatic series of events, for him to simply pledge support elsewhere at the end just for his character to make sense in Metal Gear is just lazy.
Revolver Ocelot who is a major character in the Metal Gear Solid series suffers the same fate. For a complicated double/triple agent who plays both sides in his last appearance, in this one, he’s merely in the background training your soldiers on base and gives you tips and tricks.
Like Miller, to connect him to his next appearance, he merely pledges his support for a certain character and that’s it.
Why did Miller support this character in the Metal Gear games? Because of the one line he says at the end of this game. Why did Revolver Ocelot support this character in Metal Gear Solid 1? Because of the one line he says at the end of this game.
Quiet, who happens to be the coolest character in the game, is not only undercut by her lack of clothing and her obvious sex symbol status, but also has almost no character development whatsoever.
She is a supernatural sniper that serves as a mirror to the idea of Big Boss after Metal Gear Solid 3 as a wandering hero with no home and because she doesn’t exist in any of the games after this, she also literally wanders off into the sunset with no conclusion for her character.
Skull face, one of the game’s antagonists, has some decent character development in his tragedies that include Germany taking over his country during WW2, the Soviet Union taking over his country during the Cold War, and the Allied forces bombing a factory where his parents and him were working and then subsequently got trampled during the bombing leading to his face being disfigured.
The Man on Fire is another antagonist that has no backstory besides him being fueled by revenge. Believe it or not, that is not the problem. The problem is that it forces you to go back and look back to Metal Gear Solid 3 to truly understand who the Man on Fire really is and why exactly he is so angry. Luckily, he's the only character that forces a quick look back into the series.
Surprisingly in where these characters lack development, their motivations are clear. Revenge is a running theme in The Phantom Pain and many of these characters embody that theme.
The Man on Fire literally embodies revenge; only being alive because of that.
Skull Face uses language as a means to infect the world as a way of revenge for his childhood and as a way to get back at those who wronged him.
Kazuhira Miller, your right hand man, wants revenge for the destruction of Mother Base and for the death of so many of his soldiers.
The reasons for why all these characters act the way they do is clear although sometimes it is too clear and by that I mean characters like Skull Face will take on a retro James Bond villain mold and deliver monologues of what their plan is or why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Big Boss / Venom Snake is another who lacks any sort of development in this game. He gets one emotional scene where he has no choice but to turn on some of his soldiers to prevent any danger to the rest of his army but that is about it.
His development is all in the previous installments and there’s nothing that explains why he’s the person he is in the next installment. It also doesn’t help that Kiefer Sutherland was criminally underused in the game and keeps silent most of the time.
Had I no prior knowledge of anything Metal Gear, I’d think Big Boss / Venom Snake was bored and indifferent to the world around him.
There’s literally a point in the game where you ride with the antagonist through Afghanistan and while he delivers his villain monologue about the world and his plans, you say just about nothing.
The game takes place in the 80s in Afghanistan and Africa. The time period was decided for creator Hideo Kojima. If the last game took place between the 70s and the next game takes place in the 90s, your time period is chosen and forced upon you.
However, this time period makes less sense when there is technology that is beyond comprehension even for a Metal Gear game.
Sahelanthropus itself doesn’t make for a believable 1980s but that isn’t the problem. You’re supposed to suspend belief for video games. What bothers me is that this machine is more versatile than it’s future counterparts with its humanoid design.
More specifically, some of Snake’s equipment pushes the limits even in it’s own timeline.
Added for gameplay but nothing else, the invisible camouflage device. I get that it says it’s a prototype but how is that tech even available here?
Something that can make you invisible even for a short while and it’s not even mentioned once by you or your partners?
And it’s just totally forgotten until Metal Gear Solid 4’s events in 2012?
The same goes for the iDroid. This advanced piece of technology plays tapes, has a map that pops up as a hologram, tells you where enemies are, has a radio, and if connected to your helicopter, it becomes a command center in the palm of your hand.
This is a great gameplay feature but you’re telling me that after this, this technology is just forgotten about?
Those things were added to enhance the experience of The Phantom Pain and it does it well but for an installment in a series that is so detail oriented, it’s mind boggling.
Of all the technology in The Phantom Pain and in the Metal Gear series alone, I’m also surprised Quiet doesn’t have a suit that allows her to breathe.
The same feeling extends to the game as a whole. The gameplay is damn near flawless while the story element is unfinished and unpolished.
Moving away from the story for a bit and focusing on the gameplay alone though, The Phantom Pain is an absolute diamond.
Kojima has been widely known for pushing the limits of the system he’s working on, the engine, and his team.
That determination is shown right off the bat in The Phantom Pain.
The visuals are beautiful and ahead of their time. They will remain beautiful for years to come whereas there are already games on the PS4 that are showing their age.
Every thing was meticulously designed, from the weapons to the villages. For all the games that boast an open world and freedom, this one actually gives you the possibilities to complete a mission however you want.
The assets may seem copy and paste but these are villages in Afghanistan, so housing would be simple and repetitive.
It is actually the location of these assets or structures that is worth noting.
To achieve the level of freedom that this game offers, these assets, structures, mountains, bushes, fences, all of these were specifically placed by the developers.
You could not achieve what The Phantom Pain did by simply and randomly putting things wherever you felt like or wherever you felt was aesthetically pleasing.
Everything that has been placed into this world has a potential use.
The level design of The Phantom Pain is nothing short of brilliance.
Another aspect of the freedom to completing a mission however you want is your equipment.
What you bring on a mission is completely up to you, whether you go completely unarmed, or as a fully equipped one man army.
Through an RPG element, you can pick and choose what weapons to develop and what to take with you on missions.
Don’t want weapons? Focus development on boxes, camps, and decoys.
Not a killer? Focus development on tranquilizers and stun weapons.
Are you an anarchist? Focus development on C4, grenades, rocket launchers and more power attachments for your helicopter.
However because there is no difficulty setting, this freedom is tested in numerous ways. Perhaps you choose the stealth route and scout from afar.
In doing so, you might not be seen from the camp or base you’re scouting but a random animal may randomly attack you, an enemy truck may drive by or a sandstorm may make the effort pointless.
Regardless of your approach, enemies will also adapt to your techniques.
If you normally go for headshots, expect helmets.
If you normally blast your way through, expect more body armor and a bigger enemy arsenal.
So you are free to play the game in one way but enemies will adapt to you.
Although you have that freedom, the game challenges you to try different things. Fortunately, the game never feels extremely difficult.
It always feels just right. And in the end, with such adaptations and challenges and ongoing developments, it doesn’t just feel like an achievement when you complete a mission. It feels like a proper victory.
All this however would not be possible without the most crucial element of any video game: the controls. The rest of the game can be back and forth and argued as either a good thing or a bad thing but the controls are undoubtedly the highest point of the The Phantom Pain being universally critically acclaimed and one could even argue that they are the best in the industry or genre to date.
They are tight. They are responsive. They allow the freedom the developers intended. It is impressive how much you can do on a PS4 controller. In different situations, buttons to different things.
Every time, these actions are relevant to the situation as well.
For example, when you’re lost, L1 will give you an update on the situation.
When you’re scouting an area and focused on an object, L1 will have someone give you intel related to that object.
When you perform a CQC hold on an enemy, L1 will give you a series of interrogative questions.
That’s one button.
Put that into perspective.
One button gives you three options in a game that is constantly evolving in some shape or form.
The possibilities are endless.
I once completed a mission in total stealth and as I was running towards my extraction helicopter, wolves attacked me out of nowhere.
I once ran out of ammo and so I created a distraction by blowing something up on one side of a power plant and snuck my way through the posts that the guards abandoned.
There was a compound filled with enemies and rather than scout the compound where numerous enemies were going inside and out, I used my sniper rifle to draw them all out of hiding and then called in an aerial assault to clean up as much of the area as I could.
That’s the gameplay. There is nothing else quite like it and it is in a class of it’s own.
In addition to the gameplay, the game also has an RPG side to it, where you can run Mother Base.
The main basis of The Phantom Pain is rebuilding what you lost and I’m glad the game allows you to take part in that.
Most of this is done through your iDroid in between missions in your helicopter.
Mother base is divided into several divisions: Combat Unit, Support Unit, Medic Unit, Basic Unit and the Research and Development Unit.
As you extract people from the battlefield or as volunteers come in to fight for you, you can let the game automatically sort them into these units or you can do it yourself.
Each unit has its perks.
Research and development unit develops your equipment.
The support unit translates enemy dialogue in real time and can give you enemy predicted field of movements.
Your combat unit can be sent out on missions that earn your revenue or disrupt shipment of enemy materials like helmets which have have an effect on your gameplay.
These divisions are not merely for show and you are rewarded for helping build and organize your Mother Base.
As you expand your base, it’ll show when you visit.
You can run around the one platform at the beginning of the game; but sooner or later, you’ll find yourself driving miles between platforms.
It’s not merely cosmetic either.
By visiting your base, you can trigger cutscenes, improve morale which gives a temporary stat boost to your men or take a shower to wipe the blood off and refresh yourself physically and psychologically.
In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, there is a multiplayer component. To be fair to the game and it’s developers, I only played one match of Metal Gear Online and I did not enjoy it. The mechanics were the same and watching online it seemed like they were put to use but I simply did not like it.
It felt disconnected to the main story and for me, I had enough to do in the Main Campaign.
There is also an online RPG element to the single player where you create FOBs, which are like smaller Mother Bases.
The first FOB you build is free but after that it costs you MB (Mother Base) coins AKA micro transactions AKA real money.
I realize Konami is a business and businesses need to make money but this was unnecessary. Whereas in Call of Duty, a micro transaction is merely a dollar for a skin, this game makes you pay for a base to expand your army. Expanding your army is what The Phantom Pain is all about and now you have to pay your real hard earned money for it.
It’s not subtle whatsoever. Had they gone the Rockstar Games route where you pay some real money for some in game money that’s already accessible, then it would be more appropriate.
Instead, there are two in game currencies, the GMP that you earn for doing missions in game and then MB Coins which you have to pay for.
On the plus side, by logging into The Phantom Pain every day, you get daily rewards and sometimes those rewards consist of a tiny amount of Mother Base coins. Since I don’t use them, they add up but they should not be in the game full stop.
Alright. That’s it. Now onto the usual conclusion and recommendation.
Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain will go down in history as one of the greatest games of all time and rightly so.
As of 2016, the visuals are remarkable and in my two play throughs, I had no issues with it: no frame rate issues, screen tearing, or loading issues.
The voice acting by Kiefer Sutherland is criminally underused but everyone else delivers on Hollywood level; expressing disappointment, shock, and anger genuinely.
The dark parts of the game are done in good taste and never feel exploitative.
The story feels true to the Metal Gear series but it is undeniable that it is unfinished with characters literally walking away without explanation.
Above all, the gameplay soars.
As of writing on November 16 2016, I have not yet played a game that has felt more accurate, more tight and more responsive than The Phantom Pain.
Considering its universal acclaim, if you fancy playing video games, then The Phantom Pain should be on your list.
This is not a game to watch a play through of.
This s a game you need to experience yourself.
Even if you’re not a fan of the series, the game stands well on it’s own.