Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s opening is exhilarating. After the events in Ground Zeroes where Big Boss aka Naked Snake, the legendary hero who accomplished incredible feats in Metal Gear Solid 3, loses everything he has and goes into a coma for 9 years, the story continues in The Phantom Pain as he wakes up in a hospital in Cyprus and all hell breaks loose. It’s an amazing opening which keeps you on the edge of your seat. As Big Boss escapes the hospital, he seeks out revenge and for that to happen he needs to build an army again. His military haven Mother Base has to be rebuilt.
Hideo Kojima, the creative visionary behind these games, wanted to create a concept of ‘free infiltration’, where the game gives players tons of options to tackle a mission. TPP features a massive open world, complete with day and night cycle. It also gives players an option to free roam and do whatever they want.
The thrill of infiltrating a base without any decent gear and getting out completing all the objectives without getting detected is incredible. The previous Metal Gear Solid games were limited in their scope when it comes to gameplay, but it all changes with TPP. There are numerous ways to complete a mission. You can either go in all guns blazing, racking up those tactical headshots or take your time, mark enemies and make sure no one ever knew you were there.
TPP is a huge game and will take you around 50 hours to complete the main missions. There’s also Side Ops which are optional missions but complement the main missions by increasing your tactical options for infiltration. You can extract a Pashto translator and this will enable you to interrogate soldiers in the field who speak that language, and gain vital information on the mission or lead you to resources scattered across the game.
You should be familiar with the game’s mechanics if you’ve played Ground Zeroes. The Binoculars have been paired to the R1 button which makes it really easy to mark enemies and see their stats. It has also been fitted with an Int Scope which allows you to hear soldiers conversing far away and get some important intel. The Fulton mechanic allows you to send soldiers, equipment and resources back to Mother Base, and while it looks completely silly, you’re playing a Metal Gear Solid game after all.
The story in TPP is very weak compared to the previous MGS games. While it fixes a big plot hole, the game doesn’t get a proper closure and it kind of seems that the game was unfinished. There’s an unfinished mission in the bonus disc of the CE and upon watching that it really upset me that it wasn’t included in the main game. However, there’s still a lot of things in TPP and it’s worth clearing all the missions to see the true ending.
Being a cross-gen game has definitely affected the open world aspect, but it’s still a beautiful game. Afghanistan is massive and later on you take up missions in Africa which is filled with lush greenery and looks amazing while it’s raining. There are many options for traversal. You can use your buddies like D-Horse or D-Walker, hijack a vehicle or ask for a vehicle supply drop. In some missions you are dropped pretty far away from the objective. While you can simply run to whereever you need to go, it’s not recommended.
Coming to buddies. Each of them complements your playstyle in various ways. If you want to sneak and be undetected, you can pick D-Dog which will mark all the enemies in the map for you, giving you a massive advantage. You can also command him to kill or stun enemies but that’s not really the way to go. Quiet is a sniper that will clear the base on her own. Just give her a tranquillizer sniper with a suppressor and see ZZZ markings everywhere.
The game also adapts to your playstyle. If you constantly keep tranquillizing people by shooting them in the head, expect them to have helmets which covers their whole face, and it’s very difficult to get a headshot after that. You can, however, disrupt the helmet supplies by sending your combat teams on specific missions. This is where Mother Base management comes in.
The enemies you extract all end up in the Mother Base and eventually join your army. You can assign them to various departments like R&D, Support, Intel or Medical Unit, depending on their skills. The combat unit is the one which allows you to send your staff on exploration missions. They can bring up GMP (currency), or various resources like plants, fuel, biological material etc.
You need these resources to upgrade your Mother Base. There are 4 tiers for each department and it will take you a while to upgrade them all. Resources can be gotten in many ways like extracting containers, finding it in bases, or just plain old mining which gives you a certain amount of resources after a certain period. Increasing your R&D staff’s level lets you develop new weapons and items and extracting specific people with skills, say, a gunsmith will allow you to develop certain weapons earlier.
In a way that makes Side Ops sort of necessary if you want to see everything this game has to offer. This game is set before the events of the original Metal Gear where you infiltrate Outer Heaven as Solid Snake and take out Big Boss. I was kind of expecting something like that to happen in this game but the ending was somewhat disappointing.
The actual gameplay is fantastic. It’s a combination of Splinter Cell and Far Cry 2, with traditional Metal Gear things weaved together. The formula is a hit and you will find yourself addicted to the gameplay as your keep progressing through all the missions. The game also has a decent soundtrack and you can also find cassette tapes in the wild and listen to great 80s songs, as the game is set in 1984.
Speaking of cassette tapes, majority of the story is told within the tapes you get after beating the missions. It’s kind of like Codec from the previous games but not as intrusive, meaning you can listen to them whenever you want. I personally would’ve preferred the story to be told via cutscenes because I’m a great fan of Kojima’s direction, and I really didn’t mind the cutscene overdose in Metal Gear Solid 4.
You can also build a Forward Operating Base and which gives you the ability to add more staff. This is the online component of the game where you can get invaded by another player. Upon successful infiltration you lose some staff and materials. You can also return the favor by infiltrating the person who infiltrated you. You can also decide how much GMP you want to commit to the FOB and decide the amount of staff and also customize their weapons. It’s really fun when it works but Konami’s servers are terrible right now so I kinda prefer to play offline.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an amazing stealth game. There’s a high replayability factor here and the fine tuned gameplay doesn’t make it a chore to play through all the missions. While there are some amazing real-time cutscenes and a story spread between numerous missions, the heavy narrative of the previous games is missing. Personally for me it’s a bit disappointing but there are a lot of people who would absolutely enjoy the amount of gameplay options given to them.
In some ways TPP feels like a game Kojima always wanted to make, but his vision has been diluted due to circumstances beyond his control. Even with all its flaws, I can comfortably say that it’s the best stealth game ever made and if you are new to the series, now is a perfect time to jump in.