Please note: We had the opportunity to spend 39 hours with the game and unfortunately it could not be completed in that time, even though the focus was placed on the main missions. We also had no opportunity to test any of the online modes or the companion app. The above score reflects what we were able to play in that allocated time. Also note that the below review will contain no plot spoilers at all.
Hideo Kojima games have a very unique style that’s adored by many gamers around the world. If it’s his take on Policenauts, Zone of the Enders or Boktai, there’s always something that incorporates the trademark Hideo Kojima seal of quality. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is his poster child, where he’s introduced the fourth wall in spectacular fashion in the past, combined with unequalled storytelling. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain continues this trend as it is quite simply another Hideo Kojima masterpiece.
War has changed
Forget everything you know when it comes to the Metal Gear Solid series. Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain (MGSV:PP) is not your typical Metal Gear Solid game. If previous Metal Gear Solid games were some sort of movies, in terms of its cinematic flair, then this new entry is a TV series made up of chapters, episodes and various missions. In fact, if you’ve played Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker you’ll have a rather good idea of what to expect. It’s a Metal Gear Solid game for cinematic lovers, stealth addicts, action junkies, easter egg hunters and, most importantly, those who are willing to experiment. Think of MGSV:PP as a sandbox with all the toys you could dream of and you’re ‘the toddler with a wild imagination to do as you please’. The good news is that it embodies Hideo Kojima elements in every aspect of this open-world.
MGSV:PP kicks off in typical Hideo Kojima fashion with an unforgettable prologue set piece that’ll leave you with more questions (than you already have) than answers. After close to two hours of set piece progression you’ll finally be set on your way to take on the first Metal Gear Solid open-world mission. The world is enormous. Not quite as large as something you would have witnessed in The Witcher 3, but it’s roughly the size of GTA V’s world. Perhaps even a little bigger. Therefore it’s a good thing to get an understanding of your iDroid right away. Press the bottom right corner of the touch pad and your map pops up. On it you’ll see various landmarks, which can be added as a marker to help with direction. Unlike most other games the entire map can be accessed right from the very beginning, which helps quite a bit when it comes to your mission approach.
Once approaching any mission you’ll hunt for a high vantage point to mark off all enemies via your binoculars, as you would have done in Ground Zeroes. Press the L1 button, while holding in the R1 button (that brings up your binoculars), while aiming at something in specific (like a soldier, vehicle, building, etc) and you’ll receive some valuable intel. In essence it has replaced your codec, and I have to say that the charm of the codec is missing, but if I was interrupted mid-mission via some random codec call it would completely break my concentration. MGSV:PP is all about patience and timing. Every mission requires that you analyze each and every nook and cranny before entering the hot zone. That’s not to say you can’t go in all guns blazing. It would be a sin not to test out the many, many weapons and items on offer, but without a stealthy approach you’ll never acquire any of those weapons. Every person will enter a mission from a different perspective. This brings me to one of the coolest revised items in a game ever – the cardboard box.
Leading up to this point Hideo Kojima and his team made much fuss of the beloved cardboard box. Believe me when I tell you that the cardboard box has indeed become an integral part of your mission. As before you’ll utilise it to hide from any curious guards, but you’ll also be able to pull off all sorts of Kojima-injected humour trickery. Stick a ‘pretty model’ poster on it to have the guards fall in love with the cardboard box (while you crawl out unnoticed), or stick a poster of a general saluting his guards, while standing upright, for them to salute ‘the fake general’. The fun does not end there. Press the square button, without having a cardboard box equipped and Snake will dive to cover. Press the dive button with the cardboard box equipped while sprinting on a sand dune and you’ll go sliding down a sand dune at record speed. (I literally played with this feature for about 15 minutes while in the middle of an important mission). If there’s something you THINK might work, it likely will if you just tried. Oh wait, I’m having far too much fun with this cardboard box paragraph, let’s not digress and get back to the weapons!
Big Boss will bring the Pain
There is a plethora of weapons on offer. If you want something to go BOOM then there’s always a weapon to get the job done. SMG’s, Shotguns, Rocket Launchers, Mines, Grenades, C4 and so, so much more will help you throughout a mission. Big Boss’s Bionic Arm has its own set of upgrades that at first embodies small features such as a sonar to detect movement within a certain radius. Later on it gets quite advanced to such an extent that you’ll be depended on it. It’s a action hero’s paradise. The resemblance to the Rambo series is more present than it’s ever been. However, to get all these weapons you’ll have to work for it while out on missions.
Sneak up to some unsuspecting guard and press the R2 trigger to force him into a choke hold. Here you can interrogate the guard and then either kill him or knock him unconscious. If you’d like to get him knocked out at record speed a quick direction along with the R2 trigger will see you pulling of one of Big Boss’s trademark CQC (Close Quarters Combat) moves that’ll put a quick end to any resistance. Either hide him, by picking him up using the circle button or recruit him. Press and hold the triangle button and the unfortunate guard will be airlifted via the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system… to Mother Base. It’s here that you’ll be spending much of your time.
[pullquote_left]The levelling up system will determine how much you can upgrade per unit, which means it’s crucial to not kill all the soldiers while out in the field. A lesson I learned the hard way.[/pullquote_left]Every time you save some poor sod from ultimate death, be that a guard, prisoner of war, vehicles (even Tanks) or… a goat, you’ll gain GMP. A currency to buy weapons and various other items and gear. Oh, but wait, it’s not that simple. You’re tasked in drafting a team of soldiers, named Diamond Dogs to performs tasks in specific teams. The units consists of Combat Unit, R&D Team, Security Team, Base Development Unit, Support Unit, Intel Team and a Medical Team. It’s up to the R&D Team to help you build new weapons. The Support team will assist you in the field via helicopter support (may that be a supply drop or fire support from above). The Base Development Unit is of the utmost importance as that specific crew will help you build your modest little base to something that’s so big that you literally have to use a vehicle to travel between the different units on the base, should you wish to visit it (though it’s not compulsory). The levelling up system will determine how much you can upgrade per unit, which means it’s crucial to not kill all the soldiers while out in the field. A lesson I learned the hard way. I was hell-bent on seeing the credits rolling before writing this review and ended up with low levels on my base as I killed and blew up everything that moved. It was spectacular and thrilling mind you. To increase those levels you need numbers, and the best way to get it is while out in the field.
You’re also not just after any random soldier either. Use your binoculars to scan a soldier and you’ll see a breakdown of the various stats that reflects the various units on your base. Those that excel in specific sectors are the ones you’ll be after, which means you can still blow up the remainder, if you’re not too worried about that super stealthy ‘S’ ranking at the end of each mission. It’s here where the new Buddy Support system comes in to save the day.
It’s all Buddy Buddy
In my playtime I made an effort to avoid as many side missions (named Side Ops in MGSV:PP) where most of the Support Buddy’s can be found. You’ll automatically start off with the horse and later you’ll find D-Dog, Quiet and other Buddy options that I’ll refrain from mentioning for you to discover. Each Buddy comes with his/her/its unique abilities that can aid you uniquely in various missions. The Horse will get you from point A to B faster than any other buddy. Quiet can scout the area, helping you mark off guards, and will eliminate any threat, should you be spotted and D-Dog will also sniff and mark enemies in your surrounding area, though the diameter is not as expansive as Quiet’s. He can also distract guards to help you slip by unnoticed. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each buddy can be upgraded in various ways to perform new moves and wear new gear. Keep in mind, the gear is not always about aesthetics. We’re talking about Hideo Kojima here. Nothing has to be too realistic. It’s important that you spend time with the various buddies to create a bond. The higher the bond level, the more you unlock to buy via GMP. There is a small oversight though.
You’re limited to one Buddy at your side on the battlefield at any given time. You can still request a Buddy Drop, that arrives via a parachute (seeing the horse gliding towards you via a parachute never gets old), but it takes about two minutes for the exchange to take place. When things turn south and you find yourself surrounded by soldiers deep inside enemy territory, and you don’t have the horse as a buddy to flee from the scene, it’s complete chaos. It’s highly likely that you’ll die before requesting the Buddy Drop on the fly with bullets whistling past your head. And here’s the big deal – you start the mission from the very beginning should you kick the bucket. Some of the larger missions do have checkpoints, but don’t be surprised if you played for 30 minutes on a specific mission only to replay it all again if you fail. At least the soldiers that you’ve marked will have glowing orange arrows above their heads when restarting, so it’s not all doom and gloom when restarting a tough mission. Once completing a tough mission it’ll remind of those ‘PHEW’ oldschool moments, along with a smug face of satisfaction and reward. Die enough times and you’ll be offered a Chicken Hat. No enemy will see you, but you’ll continue the mission in shame. Once you’re done with your mission you either leave the hot zone on foot or call in a helicopter to pick you up.
Throughout the vast world of MGSV:PP you’ll discover many items including the above-mentioned cardboard box posters, 80’s music tapes (which you can steal and listen to at your own leisure on your very cool ‘Sony Walkman’ whenever you hear it blaring in a nearby room), plants (to create all forms of weird and wonderful pills, like pentazine to steady your hands when sniping), Blueprints (for new weapon models) and materials (that include Fuel Resources, Biological Meterial, Common Metal, Minor Metal and Precious Metal) for building weapons that requires certain materials other than GMP. You can lose yourself in this world. How about going out and catching animals in cages? You’ll gain GMP for doing so. Or you can activate decoys you placed and laugh at the soldiers “attacking Big Boss”, or shoot a water pistol for the hell of it… or is there a reason that you can develop it?
[pullquote_right]I advise that you play Metal Gear Solid 3, Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes before tackling MGSV:PP[/pullquote_right]If, like me, you’re after the classic Hideo Kojima cinematic experience you’ll be glad to hear that it’s there, but it’s nowhere near as long as past sequences used to be. It also took me well past 20 hours to see the story come to life. Do not be impatient. Each and every mission has a unique list of credits showing up before and after each mission. It details the writers, producers, directors and the cast that will appear in a particular mission. As if you’re watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Whenever you see Hideo Kojima’s name popping up as the ‘Writer’ you should know that you’re in for a special moment in cinematic perfection. As you’d expect there will be many surprises and I advise that you play Metal Gear Solid 3, Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes before tackling MGSV:PP as it’ll be one confusing mess without understanding the various cross references. It’s just so much more rewarding. MGSV:PP is also no slouch when it comes to the graphics.
A name means nothing on the battlefield
Before you deploy on any mission you’ll be asked what time you’d like to arrive, whereby you can select ‘ASAP’, morning or evening. Everything takes place in real-time and it’ll seamlessly move from day to night and back to day again while going about your business. The transition takes about one hour in real-time. Big Boss can pull out a cigar at any point and drag on the big fat one to speed time up to a time that suits you better. The lighting in the game is absolutely astonishing. I wouldn’t say it’s the best textures I’ve ever seen in my life, but it’s arguably the best lighting I’ve ever seen in a game. There’s a certain boss battle where I purposely died numerous times just to see the lighting working it’s magic. It’s unbelievable to see it in motion. It’s complimented by the stunning soundtrack, which once again has Harry Gregson-Williams in charge (who’s been there since MGS2), but after 39 hours I can confirm that I’m not a fan of Kiefer Sutherland. It’s a personal love for David Hayter’s work over the years, so don’t let that detract from an experience and emotional ride that’s unsurpassed by anything else in gaming right now.
There are many facets I’ve left untouched such as the Combat Deployment, having to defend Mother Base, the upgrading of base facilities, staff management, capturing outposts, customization options, that your health regenerates (no more rations), how easy it is to select your weapons using the D-Pad, that you can request a supply drop of weapons, ammunition or items at any point when you run out and so much more. It’s not quite the Metal Gear Solid game you grew up with, but then 2015 is not quite 1998.
It’ll likely be the last time that Hideo Kojima will have a hand in what happens in the Metal Gear Solid franchise and after all these years, since the early 80’s, he’s focussed on tying it all together to become one of the most endearing stories and moments of gameplay the gaming world has to offer and ‘This is good, isn’t it?’