Last year’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was an impressive offering in its own right, so much so that it’s arguably one of the better action games to come out in recent times. Of course, the game was dubbed as a prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a teaser demo if you will. Back when Ground Zeroes landed, it was hard to predict just how much more Phantom Pain was going to add on top of what was already a pretty impressive showcase of game design and technology, and it was also uncertain whether all the talk of “open world” and “biggest Metal Gear game yet” was literal or simply mere marketing hyperbole. Experiencing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain firsthand, going in with the expectations you would have from a typical Metal Gear title, will truly shock you like no other game will. To put things into perspective, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, as impressive as its design and scope was, is merely a molecule when compared with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The size of the world in Ground Zeroes, and the content featured within, represents just one area of the first mission in The Phantom Pain. In fact spending 10 hours just rushing through the missions of The Phantom Pain will record a progress completion of only 6%. Let that sink in for a moment: Ground Zeroes, as complete as it felt, as many hours of gameplay it offered, doesn’t even touch 1% of The Phantom Pain. It’s a scary thought, but in a totally awe inspiring way.
Now the seeds for the ambitious open world design of The Phantom Pain were planted a long time ago, it in fact started with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater which was released for the PlayStation 2 nearly 10 years ago. Back then, that game truly felt like it was taking place in an overwhelming open world, as you were thrust into a jungle filled with wildlife and a variety of locations. Playing it now, it’s almost amusing to realise that the feeling of an open world was simply an illusion, and it was in fact a typical closed-quarters Metal Gear taking place in areas that had an outdoor aesthetic. Now this isn’t a knock on Metal Gear Solid 3 at all, in fact it’s a huge compliment to be able to work within the limitations of technology at the time, and invoke such a powerful illusion of an open, breathing world. Video game technology has advanced so much since, and with near-unlimited horsepower of current hardware, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain doesn’t need to create an illusion of being an open world action epic, because that’s literally exactly what it is. No two ways about it.
The early portions of The Phantom Pain feel intense and unreal, offering a similar tightly focused interior design we’ve come to expect from Metal Gear, but then it doesn’t take long for you to step into Afghanistan for the very first time and behold the wonder of how huge the virtual landscape is. You can travel as far as the eye can see, and when you first start out, you can’t help but stop to soak it all in. In an era where the industry is in such a social turmoil, where pretentious indie gaming continues to hijack media attention with ideas and concepts that look to be taking the medium backward instead of forward, and not to mention stale gaming concepts that believe HD graphics can substitute for meaningful progress in design… setting foot into the first map of The Phantom Pain is a moment that will make you appreciate what video games could,should have done in the last fifteen years.
Video games did not need to be a 2 hour story adventures about some social grandstand, they did not need to be HD remasters, and they did not need to be an 8-bit inspiration of an era gone by. Instead of taking the easy, lazy, and pretentious route, video game developers needed to use all the technology the resources available to make video games more than what people expected them to be, the medium needed to break the glass ceiling and create a powerful feeling of immersion and wonder that completely suspends disbelief. In the last 15 years, no video game has come forward to really make you feel like it was doing something above and beyond anything you could have imagined, it’s been such a long time since we’ve seen something like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time change the gaming world and forever leave a mark in history. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is quite realistically and objectively, the single greatest achievement in video game design and technology in the last 15 years and it could not have been released at a better time. We live in a world where people throw a fit over the apparent sexual/gender preferences of Nintendo characters, but now because a video game like The Phantom Pain exists, none of that matters. The Phantom Pain is a wake up call for the entire video game industry, every developer should be on notice. This is a game that will forever be shortlisted as one of the greatest video games humanity has ever witnessed since the dawn of the industry in 1972.
It’s enough to say Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a great game and nothing else matters, but for the sake of a review let’s talk about why exactly. The Phantom Pain presents you with a world that is absolutely staggering in size and scope, it’s fully alive and inhabited, the weather fluctuates, and it’s there to be explored at your whim. Everything you see can be touched, and while the game starts in Afghanistan, it allows you to venture into other countries and continents. These virtual landscapes are a sight to behold and are among the most beautiful game worlds you will ever traverse, despite them being based on real world locations. The mission structure is seamlessly integrated into each sprawling map, with bite sized missions that can be tackled in any order you wish.
The amazing thing about the missions in The Phantom Pain is that you are given so much freedom in terms of how you want to approach them. There is no right way of completing a mission to earn that coveted S Rank, and it’s amazing that any play style and approach, as long as you do it well, can allow you to earn a good performance ranking. Whether you can to go in guns blazing, go completely undetected, kill every soldier you see, or even kidnap every soldier you see… no matter what your approach is, as long as you do it well the game will award you accordingly. The mission design and variety never lets up, and the scale and complexity of the missions grows exponentially with each passing hour. There’s so many shocking surprises along the way, so many intense boss battles, and moments that will captivate your imagination. The Phantom Pain becomes an obsession that will consume every waking moment of your life, with each mission having so many different objectives, compulsory and optional, and so many cool secrets and items to discover. You will certainly not be fully done with a mission on your first attempt. The action is refreshing and varied, from the use of helicopter support, use of a variety of vehicles and war machines, and even deploying allies to assist you… there is just so much gameplay variety outside of the huge selection of weapons and combat mechanics. Every little nuance in the gameplay mechanics blends seamlessly with the game design to create an action experience that is so organic that it never once loses your attention or interest.
The core gameplay and mission progression alone is a time sink, but then on top of all this you have the Mother Base which is an instrumental and crucial component of The Phantom Pain. The Mother Base is where all the magic happens behind the scenes, where you can use the resources and funds accumulated by completing missions to develop a number of weapons and upgrades. You can create a wide array of firearms, and you can upgrade the helicopter that’s a constant presence during missions, and even develop new facilities for the base itself. The coolest thing about the Mother Base is the staff management, where you can assign staff to perform as soldiers, researchers, or even doctors. The quality and quantity of staff can help you create better weapons and unlock more useful features and facilities. This ties in seamlessly with the core gameplay, as you can request the Mother Base to deliver equipment during missions, but more importantly you can literally capture enemy forces and convince them to work for you at the base. Can’t understand the language of the enemy force? Then why not just capture an interpreter to make future missions easier to navigate (not to mention, make interrogations more effective). The beauty is that the Mother Base doesn’t hijack the core tactical espionage gameplay, in fact it can be nicely streamlined if you don’t want to get too caught up in menus. That being said, those who enjoy micromanagement of resources will find plenty to indulge in, and may even find themselves making casual trips to the many locations simply to search for the necessary materials and staff. The Mother Base can be a huge time sink for those who have an interest in that sort of thing, and the dividends for doing so are plentiful.
The story progression, dialogue, music score, cinematography, and the epic scale of the lore and setting, all of it help make The Phantom Pain something the feels truly larger than life. Metal Gear games have always been at the forefront of cinematic storytelling and hyper realism moulded with compelling sci-fi, and The Phantom Pain excels remarkably in its unparalleled production values. The story is compelling from start to end, filled with twists and turns we’ve come to expect, and an instantly iconic cast of unforgettable characters (exceptionally voiced by an all star cast) to give the politically driven premise a deeper context. Technologically speaking, this game is an exemplar showcase of what video games can achieve in this day and age. The silky smooth hitch free performance, the immense environments that are seamlessly generated in real time with a massive draw distance, all serve as a testament to how far video games have come. The Phantom Pain has the grandeur of RPGs like The Witcher 3, Inquisition, and even Skyrim, but instead of being a RPG where there is a lot of level grinding padding, The Phantom Pain has you constantly progressing forward without encountering any fluff to artificially lengthen the experience.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain does far more than it needed to, far more than what it probably should have, and that alone makes it the most generous and valuable release in this modern age. There’s the usual online features and microtransactions, but these are not relied upon to extend the game’s lifespan because the single player content that’s available on disc is overwhelmingly generous. Quite honestly, The Phantom Pain could have realistically been spread into three separate games, but Kojima Productions decided to pour everything and anything that was worthwhile into this single offering. Metal Gear Solid V could have been a quarter of what was released and it still would have been one of the best action games of the year, but the fact that they poured several games worth of features and content to deliver an action adventure experience of a lifetime, makes Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain the single greatest action game in the last 15 years, and a true landmark moment in the 40 year history of the video game industry. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is quite simply an achievement, a shining beacon that will guide the industry to a brighter future where developers dare to break the glass ceiling, and make bold developments in game design.
Check out Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain at Mindscape Software Australia.