Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain PC Review
When a game goes open-world you’d expect a certain level of compromise. You don’t expect a game structured like that to have the same level of detail that you would expect from Metal Gear Solid’s linear entries. Yet somehow Kojima Productions have expanded their standard meticulousness to a remarkably huge open world. With that they have also created the most easily playable entry in the entire series. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is something special that doesn’t come too often, a game so brilliant you just wish that other games would start learning from it.
Set almost a decade after the events of Ground Zeroes, you play as the legendary soldier known as Big Boss, though this time he goes by the name of Punished “Venom” Snake. At the end of the last game his base of operations was obliterated, and as a result of a helicopter crash was put into a nine-year coma. After waking up Big Boss must build up a new mercenary company known as the Diamond Dogs, and take revenge on those responsible for destroying the last one.
What’s striking is just how open this game can get. Each mission you are given has a clear objective, but how you go about it is completely up to you. You could sneak in without anyone noticing you were even there, or just level the place with rocket launchers and grenades. Even if you decide to be completely stealthy there are many options to choose from. You could hide in the shadows and wait for openings, silently take out the enemy with headshots, or take a misdirection approach using decoys. Then there are options you wouldn’t even realize they even existed, the sort of things where someone would say “Did you know you can do this?” and it shows how detailed this game can get. This level of freedom in your ability to approach the game makes it a true stealth sandbox, it’s a game that something like Deus Ex would dream of being. There are a moments where you will have to do just what the game tells you to, but they are so few and far between and are incredibly well directed.
It’s so easy to control Snake this time around, with no need to wrestle with the controls like previous games in the series. Those familiar with a lot of modern video game controls should not have trouble grasping this one. It’s not an easy game, it can be challenging but depends more on using initiative rather than quick reflexes.
The same approach will not work for every mission, as the game will start adapting to the player’s strategies. If you keep relying on headshots the enemy will start wearing helmets to protect themselves, and if you do all your missions during nighttime the enemy will be equipped with night-vision goggles and flashlights. These are but a few examples of how the game will react to your strategies, and some of the game’s best emergent moments come from having to improvise on the spot because your standard strategy will not work. Later on you will be able to send soldiers on missions to disrupt enemy supplies but you still have to be prepared for anything.
And yes, you do command a base full of soldiers in this game, much like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Here you can research the tools which allow you to have many options in the battlefield, some of which range from useful to downright ridiculous. After playing the game for so long the amount of weapons and tools available become staggering.
This time you can actually visit and walk around Mother Base, though it comes across a little lifeless. Outside of some target practice, specific story beats and taking showers, there isn’t much to do there. Showers are completely necessary however, as it “physically and mentally refreshes” you which keeps your aim steady. It feels like a way for the game to force you to return to Mother Base without wrestling control away from you, though it will also do that when important story scenes come up.
This is a Metal Gear game so lengthy story scenes do crop up (though nothing quite as indulgent as the half hour plus cut-scenes in MGS2 and 4). They have the tight direction and melodrama you’d expect from the series, but at some points show a little more restraint. Big Boss talks so little I kept forgetting that they had replaced his voice actor with Kiefer Sutherland. Some characters in the game are a little underdeveloped, such as Quiet who is given a very thin narrative justification for why she wears so little clothing. Another character has the beginnings of an arc but it is never quite finished in the game, and those looking for resolution to it will have to look for footage of an unfinished mission 51 on YouTube.
When it needs to be it’s incredibly exciting and dramatic, and the trademark heavy-handed exposition has been relegated to optional cassette tapes which can be listened to at any time, even as you’re taking on a mission. The only issue is that if someone were to talk over the tape, as can often happen, it will not pause and you may miss what someone said. Some of these tapes are marked yellow and those contain essential story details, which seems odd but it’s a decent compromise for those who don’t want to engage with the typically absurd story and focus more on playing the game. Underneath that absurdity however is some surprisingly well-thought out commentary over the nature of private military, paranoia, and the effects of globalisation.
Large portions of the game do feel as though not much story happens, even as you are going through essential missions, but the game at its core is so incredibly fun and creative that it really does not matter at all. When it does get to those story moments they are brilliant, but a few of the game’s answers lead to more questions, with an ending that’s probably going to be talked about a lot among the Metal Gear fandom.
It also looks fantastic, coming in at a solid 60 frames-per-second on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. There are no pre-rendered cut-scenes, everything is using in-game graphics. Even considering that there are moments where it looks so great you just need to move the controller just to be sure you are looking at a video game and not a movie.
There’s even a bunch of tapes of early-80s music to find in the environment. There aren’t many games where you can sneak around an enemy base while listening to Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America”, after that your helicopter arrives to take you back to base while blaring out A-ha’s “Take On Me”. It’s a nice period detail and in some ways adds a level of humour to it. You can also have your helicopter play custom soundtracks.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the best playing entry in the series, and while it’s not going to wrap up the entire story in a neat little bow, it’s a technical marvel that works beautifully as a playground for espionage.