Metal Gear Solid V’s burden is almost impossible to truly comprehend. The Metal Gear series has been weaving an ever more intricate tale of deception, love, loss, war and legacy since the late 1980s and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain faced the unenviable task of bringing that series, that unrivalled narrative, full circle. I’ll be honest, it’s hard for me not to be biased when reviewing a Metal Gear game. Metal Gear Solid, though by no means my first video game, was the game that cemented my love of the medium and the emotional attachment I have formed with the series is, frankly, a little worrying.
That’s why it breaks my heart to say that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is, above all other things, a failure. This will not be a traditional review, I have not touched the game’s seemingly robust multiplayer features so I cannot comment on every facet of this game and, whereas a game’s true value is usually measured in it’s gameplay, Metal Gear Solid is unique, it’s true greatness comes from its story. This is evidenced by the fact that Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2 and Metal Gear Solid all, quite frankly, play as though Snake is wading through cement and yet still stand as some of the finest examples of video gaming excellence.
Metal Gear has always been about Big Boss, his rise, his fall, his offspring, his legacy. Every game has had him in the centre of it’s narrative in one way or another. Metal Gear Solid V was to put you into his mind, see him fall from grace and become the villain the series was built on. On paper this was a great idea but sadly the reality is that, after the first half of the game creates an astonishingly strong foundation, the second half of the game falls apart with the narrative seeming rushed and empty and the pacing of the gameplay becoming repetitive and anti-climatic.
The game begins with a baffling prologue that brilliantly sets the scene and from there you are introduced to the game’s open world stealth/action system by being let loose in Afghanistan on a mission to save Miller. The gameplay is simply incredible, the freedom to use a mix of weapons, go in covertly, guns blazing, by night, by day or by tank never gets old. Controlling Big Boss feels great, hand to hand combat is immeasurably satisfying, he moves like a trained soldier and everything feels palpable and responsive. The enemy AI is great but the difficulty is balanced by the return of Reflex Mode, allowing you to neutralise someone before the alert is sounded. Enemies call for reinforcements but communications arrays can be disabled to prevent this. Cargo, vehicles, weapon emplacement and soldiers can all be Fultoned back to mother base and you can choose from various companions to assist you on your missions.
When exploring mother base you get a real sense of being Big Boss, soldiers salute you, train with you and you have free reign to explore your ever growing base, which, by the way, becomes vast. You must manage your base’s economy, avoiding overspending and managing the development of new base platforms, weapons, items, equipment and items for your companions - which are unlocked as you improve your bond with them by completing missions with them.
Missions are divided into Story Missions and Side Ops, with certain Side Ops highlighted yellow to indicate that they contribute to the main story. Why these aren’t just Story Missions is beyond me but this is a small nit pick.
The first half of the game is filled with cut scenes, boss fights, amazing areas to explore and brilliant pacing but the second half falls apart with annoying repeated missions, poorly paced cut scenes and a general sense of being unfinished. I won’t spoil the end but, aside from a genuinely impressive twist, it does not bring the series full circle, does not feature the amount of fan service Kojima is known for and does not leave me, as a life long Metal Gear fan, feeling satisfied.
Even the music doesn’t meet the series’ standards, sure some of the cassette tapes you can collect are awesome and blasting Rebel Yell from your chopper while you gun down an outpost never gets old but the industry leading scores that the series is famous for are non-existent, replaced by middle of the road action game themes that lack any sense of punch or memorability. Sonically the rest of the game is stellar, though it is a shame David Hayter isn’t present Sutherland does a good job, delivering a stoic but commanding performance as Big Boss. The rest of the cast is equally great but, let’s face it, you should expect nothing less from Metal Gear. It’s just a shame that the cutscenes lack the sheer drama of MGS1, 2, 3 or 4. They are great in their own right but they are certainly the weakest in the series and it is a shame to not use such an amazing cast to their full potential.
Visually, be it in a cut scene or mid mission, the game is simply stunning. I have not seen it running on a last gen system and the fact that it can blows my mind, the detail on the characters, the environments, the gun shots, everything is just stunning. You can tell no expense was spared in the visual department for this. The motion capture is flawless, the draw distance allows for some jaw dropping vistas and simply watching the game, the characters, animals, environments, never gets tiresome. To look back at the progression of the series visually and see how far things have come is just amazing.
So there you have it, in a spoiler free way, the graphics and controls are faultless but everything else is too much of a mixed bag to be excusable. For every amazing cutscene there is one that seems unnecessary, where the first half of the game is paced to perfection the second half is a disjointed, repetitive mess, where Rebel Yell heralds the arrival of your Gunship of Death a by the numbers video game score follows and where Kiefer Sutherland delivers a commanding line there is a sense that it should be David Hayter.
Though the pressure on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was immense, Kojima should have been able to rise to the challenge, whether he is simply not the visionary genius we thought he was or whether Konami put financial and time constraints on the development of the game one thing is certain: this game is a let down. Every great thing it does is spoiled. This should have been the greatest game ever made. Anything less and it would seem lacklustre, sadly it falls well short of the mark and, ultimately, is hard to recommend.
Perhaps the best way to sum up my thoughts on this game is to say this: as a gamer on a budget I had to choose to buy MGS V or Fallout 4.
I wish I had chosen Fallout.