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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review: Snake’s Ladder

/ Oct 7th, 2015 No Comments

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It is impossible not to acknowledge the behind the scene issues surrounding the finale to the Metal Gear Solid series. The public fallout between Konami and Hideo Kojima left many wondering where the breakup would leave Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. How would the removal of Kojima from the game’s branding change the final product? Was it a signal of the game being unfamiliar from what is expected of a Metal Gear Solid game or less involvement from Kojima in shaping the final product?

The final product is every bit a Metal Gear Solid game. Big Boss’ swan song is an unforgettable performance, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain leaves nothing to chance. The game redefines the gameplay by utilizing new elements that make stealth infiltration feel smoother and more dynamic. Restructuring the gameplay episodically does wonders to the game, giving the narrative the action film feel the series has consistently tried to imitate. Playing a Metal Gear Solid game has never felt as fun.

V Has Come To

Nine years is a lot of time to lose. After the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Big Boss falls into a coma. For his protection, he is spirited away to a hospital in Cyprus. There is hope that he can recuperate as the world forgets about his legend. However, Cipher discovers the location of the hospital as Big Boss wakes up from his nine-year coma. Following a hazy, dream-like escape full of destruction, massacre and flaming men on horses, Big Boss reunites with Miller and Ocelot to form a new Mother Base.
 

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

When Silent Snake speaks, it is usually with a purpose.

Revenge is the modus operandi for the newly formed Diamond Dogs. Snake, along with his growing private army, is slowly learning information about the mysterious figure, Skull Face, who laid them low nine years before. Every mission brings them one step closer to foiling the plans of Skull Face and Cipher. But it turns out Skull Face is working with known traitor, Huey Emmerich, the man who set off the chain of events that culminated in Snake’s coma and the destruction of Mother Base. The situation is complicated as things tend to be when an Emmerich is involved. If Big Boss wants his revenge on Skull Face, he’ll have to foil a complicated nuclear conspiracy and topple a giant bipedal weapon.

One noticeable change to the tone in the game comes from the replacement of David Hayter as the voice of Big Boss/Snake. Keifer Sutherland delivers a low-key, subdued performance as Big Boss, which informs the writing choices in the game. No longer does Snake respond with wordy answers or give long, philosophical monologues during the heat of battle; instead he utilizes an economy of words. While jarring at first, it makes more sense once you realize what Big Boss has been through and where he is as a character in the game. He’s gone through the wringer; the time for pretty words is over. Silent Snake also results in an added impact to any word or sentence he grunts out. Overall, the change results in stronger writing as a whole.
 

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Skull Face is not a nice person.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain deals with the weight of its continuity and history deftly. Despite being the “finale” to a long-running series, it never gets bogged down by its past. This results in a story that can be enjoyed on its surface by people new to the series, while retaining additional depth for those familiar with the complicated, often convoluted saga of Naked Snake and Solid Snake. Unlike previous entries in the series, the ability to split story beats into missions allows for a much smoother pace. There are no stretches of the game where it is simply a series of overwrought cutscenes. Gameplay and story are intertwined in such a fluid manner that you never feel out of the action for more than a moment. It allows the longer narrative sections to have the impact they rightly should rather than being obtrusive.

Global Theater of War

In his quest for vengeance, Big Boss makes effective use of the two schools of thought that have been present throughout the Metal Gear Solid series. The Phantom Pain is an effortless blending of tactical espionage action and operations gameplay. There is a seamlessness to being able to wander around Afghanistan or Africa either being completely stealthy or riding in like John Rambo, and strategically figuring out how best to bolster the ranks of Mother Base and utilize the resources afforded by the centralized command center.

The game is broken up into individual missions, but every main story op can be tackled with the same difficult and deliberate stealth gameplay the series is known for. Snake has a wide range of options to choose from when tackling any given mission. From points of entry to the specific weapons and support he can use, there is plenty of space to complete objectives to your personal liking and play style. Whether you want to infiltrate silently using non-lethal options or ride in on horseback firing off rockets and lobbing grenades, the ability to do so is available.
 

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Despite being open world, there are still some wildly goofy moments.

The beauty of the new open world approach to the series is that it allows for far more creativity than before. Say a player wants to go through the game favoring a stealth and non-lethal method, but a situation arises where force is the only reasonable way forward; players now have more flexibility to switch styles on the fly. The melding of action and operations allows for this new level of creativity within missions through supply drops.

Supply drops can be called in pretty much at any time (for a price), outfitting you with additional ammo or affording you the ability to call in a new weapon. If a sniper rifle simply isn’t going to cut it when taking on heavily armored tanks, you can simply call down a rocket launcher for the much needed fire power to chew through that tank armor. The operational aspect of gameplay in the field also allows for switching up a support buddy’s gear or choosing to fulton in and out appropriate partners. Sometimes a mission might start out with a need for DD to come in and sniff out nearby enemies, but things might get a bit hairy and you need The Quiet to drop in and provide cover fire as you complete an objective.
 

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Even the simple sheep has a place at Mother Base.

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Plenty of the operational elements come from using the iDroid to manage individual Mother Base staffing, upgrading Mother Base facilities, researching new weaponry and sending combat teams on deployment missions. A huge portion of Mother Base management involves finding worthwhile soldiers on the battlefield. The best way to improve is by finding specialists and highly-trained soldiers, and the only surefire way to gather the strength you need is by fultoning soldiers during missions.

How you go about completing missions affects how you can improve your base. Favoring an action approach likely will deplete worthwhile soldiers. Thus, the operations affect the action in another way by making it more effective to use non-lethal methods and stealth to complete missions simply for the ability to staff your base with high-caliber talent. The base building and staffing portions of the game are highly addictive, and a good portion of your time will be spent making your own personal Mother Base the best it can be.

Overall

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a spellbinding close to a beloved series. While the story raises some new questions, on the whole, it feels like a punctuation mark. The re-definition of the core Metal Gear Solid gameplay with an open-world mission structure add new depth to gameplay. As far as goodbyes, Big Boss received one hell of a farewell.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was reviewed on PS4 using a code for the game provided by the publisher.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN REVIEW: SNAKE’S LADDER

Gaming Illustrated RATING

Overall97%

GAMEPLAY9.5

No previous game in the Metal Gear Solid series has played nearly as well as The Phantom Pain; the open world gameplay has given a new dimension to the series and added additional depth.

GRAPHICS10

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one of the best looking games currently with great attention to lighting and weather effect details.

SOUND9.5

Sonically the score is as mesmerizing. While the voice acting is top notch, there is a noticeable absence from the vocal cast, but Troy Baker gives a commanding performance as Ocelot.

STORY10

There is a startling accessibility to the story despite having the history and continuity of the prior games in the series weighing down on it, but the episodic/mission structure helps make the story satisfying to die-hard fans and those new to the series.