Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

They say that you should never meet your heroes. This was the one, overriding thought that was looping in my mind as I finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I love the Metal Gear games and Metal Gear Solid was the title that moulded me into a gamer. I remember watching as Snake dueled with Revolver Ocelot, the epic showdown with Metal Gear Rex and frantically trying to beat the Ninja in Shadow Moses, so it is with a heavy heart that, after pumping over sixty hours into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I found that I didn’t like it.

It may have been a problem with building Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain up to unreachable heights in my mind. As a reviewer, impartiality is a necessity but even we, reviewers and writers the world over, are human, and sometimes, no matter how hard we try, expectations increase and hopes rise. I am prepared to accept that this may well have been the case for me, but even putting aside my longstanding fondness of the franchise, it is a flawed game, a one trick pony that, I think, hopes to slide by on brand loyalty alone.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has the same level of graphical fidelity as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, not surprising as the two games work in tandem, but considering that it has been almost 18 months since the launch of Ground Zeroes, I had hoped for at least some improvement. It is not a bad looking game by any stretch of the imagination however in certain areas, it does lack detail. That is always going to be a problem when you take a game “open world”. With larger maps, sacrifices have to be made, but constantly seeing the same reused tuft of grass or flat, two dimensional doors, became a constant reminder to me that this game has not been made with the same precision that previous titles in the series have. The textures of the main character models do look admittedly great, and returning to Mother Base as a blood drenched Big Boss, added a level of immersion to the title. The same can’t be said for many of the NPC’s or other Diamond Dog staff that you can play as. Some of them look downright awful, with facial expressions that the GameCube could handle without too much trouble. I was deeply disappointed with the lack of variety in enemy characters too. With the exception of two or three characters in the cut scenes, all of the enemies, Russian soldiers and PF’s stationed in Africa, all look alike. There was one section of the game, when I was hiding in a room with a pile of unconscious enemies, that I saw three of the same character model lying on the floor in front of me. With the possibility of thousands of enemies throughout the game it is inevitable that some will look the same, or even be the same model, but having so few available, in what was a fairly small base, left me wondering why Hideo Kojima could put himself in the game twice (if you imported your Ground Zeroes save), but not be bothered to make more than a score of enemy models.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain took the bold step of moving away from a linear set of maps and storyline to an “open world” setting. In theory that sounds like a fantastic idea but the execution left me feeling bored after the first few hours of play. After unlocking a few weapons and items, the experience boiled down to the same formula: go to xx, survey xx from a cliff, kill or rescue xx, and that was it. There are some story missions that shake things up, like holding an old bombed out building against an armoured column or infiltrating a villa on the edge of a cliff, but these are few and far between. In total there are 50 main missions and something in the region of 150 “side ops” for you to tackle. That sounds like a huge amount of content but it is based mainly on repetition. If I rescued one captive from an enemy outpost then I have rescued 100. The enjoyment began to get sapped from the game after a fraction of the overall time I put into it and sadly, the rest of the time felt like a grind. Once you get past mission 30, there are a number of missions that are simply ones that have already been completed, that now have modifiers, like dropping in with no weapons, equipment or your ally, “Extreme” missions that have ramped up difficulty, or the “Total Stealth” missions that you will automatically fail if you are seen. It feels like a cop out in a game that is already repetition heavy. During the missions you can take along a “Buddy”. I found four different buddies that all had their own style of support; D-Dog (or Huggsy McFluffypup as I call him) is fantastic at sniffing out enemies or luring them by barking, while Quiet can provide excellent support with her Sniper Rifle. The Buddies can be upgraded with new equipment and will gain trust for Big Boss as you take them on missions. The buddies can be swapped out during a mission by calling in a chopper, so there is flexibility when a certain situation calls for it.

The open world was another big let-down. Sure, the two maps are pretty huge, but for the most part they are totally empty. There are about a dozen villages or outposts in each map and a couple of heavily fortified bases, but when you go off of one of the roads, you will basically have free reign, running for miles without a flicker of enemy movement. It felt like a lot of wasted space and infiltrating the few locations that are available was no challenge at all. The AI is wildly inconsistent, either missing you as you run across their path, or spotting you from three miles away without so much as a pair of binoculars. They were also very easy to lure into running round a corner or through a doorway and straight into my robotic chokehold.
There are times when an enemy will see you, launch a flare if it is dark, and then start mortaring your last known position. This made the early stages adrenaline filled scrambles to get clear of the danger zone but soon became a minor inconvenience as I would simply turn around, run behind a rock to break the line of sight and then simply crawl away to safety. The enemy will take steps to combat you as you play though the missions, frequent headshots will see them don helmets, while body armour and shields protect centre mass. The enemy will also use things like mines and snipers to try and make approaching outposts more difficult. These extra benefits to the enemy can be removed by sending troops to take out supply warehouses or ambush transports.

I did enjoy developing Mother Base and it turned out to be a pretty fun experience. You can gather resources from the world that are used to upgrade your base, new platforms can be built, granting new development options for deploying AI squads to specific non-playable missions or developing new tech and weapons. By capturing enemies in the field and turning them to your cause, you can unlock additional customisation or upgrade options (the prosthetic arm that teleports enemies into a chokehold was one of my favourites). Much of the customisation is superficial, from the colour of your vehicles and Mother Base itself, to choosing which stock you want on your assault rifle. Some elements will affect things such as grouping or recoil, but many of the options are purely visual.

At times there can be a little too much to manage, there were moments when I felt overwhelmed by the need to check the status and moral of my troops, sending squads on missions, developing tech while carrying out the main missions and side ops and the regular need to take a shower: it grew tiresome.

There are problems with the Xbox One servers and currently (a full week after launch) I have not been able to connect to the online facilities once. I tried to connect multiple times every day and I spent over an hour trying to connect (after checking the Konami page that told me the servers were working fine), only to be greeted with either error code 10003 or 10012. I contacted Konami to enquire about the meaning of these codes and all I was told was that they were experiencing issues with the servers. This means that I was unable to play the multiplayer at all, pull my MGSV: Ground Zeroes save over or build any Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s), and because I couldn’t build any FOB’s, it meant that I could only deploy two teams on missions at any given time. By the time I was nearing the end of the game I had more non-playable ops than I had men to do them. With an average wait time of 30-60 minutes per mission it meant these piled up pretty damn quick.

The plot of Metal Gear games have always been pretty far out there in terms of reality, believability and are usually pretty hard to follow past a certain point. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s plot is probably the biggest let-down of all for me. I won’t go into the details of the plot to avoid spoilers but suffice to say: There are a lot of loose ends and the tale we were promised (watching Big Boss turn from the hero to the villain) simply never arrived. I unlocked the “True ending” which made me feel as if I had just wasted 60 hours of my life. If you manage to meet the conditions for the True Ending…. You will know what I mean.

There was very little in the way of voice acting. I thought that Kiefer Sutherland done a reasonable job at replacing David Hayter as the voice of Snake in Ground Zeroes, but he doesn’t have much dialogue in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain at all. In fact, most of the dialogue comes from either Kaz Miller or Ocelot. It made Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain feel small, with two main voiced characters, neither of which were Big Boss, it went against the idea of epic grandeur that the open world would suggest. After making the controversial decision to drop the traditional voice of Hayter, I’d have hoped that Konami would have utilised Sutherland more than they did. In the end, Big Boss seemed almost like a voiceless protagonist, and that is a damn tragedy.

My final gripe with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was the lack of boss battles. MGS has a long pedigree of unique, strange and sometimes wonderful bosses to fight on your path to save the world but in The Phantom Pain, other than a couple of notable exceptions, there were only a few instances of more difficult enemies, I wouldn’t even go so far as to call the Skulls “bosses”. The game will also tell you at the start of the mission that they are going to be kicking around, so any sense of tension or surprise is thrown out the window, driven over by a tank and then napalmed to hell.

I have to admit to being very disappointed by Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The plot is disjointed and will insist on showing you credits after every mission, almost as if Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was supposed to be episodic. The characters aren’t as engrossing as previous instalments and the lack of voice acting from anyone other than Miller and Ocelot left me feeling like the Phantom Pain was not ready for release. It feels unfinished, it feels like Hideo Kojima wanted to do more with the game but never got round to it. The gameplay is repetitive and largely dull, the open world feels lifeless and empty and regular frame rate issues pulled the experience down to an exercise in frustration. While the MGS magic is absent, The Phantom Pain does have some redeeming qualities. The main character models look great and the development of Mother Base was an excellent addition that made me feel like I was working towards something. Developing your own weapons and items does give the impression of a small band of mercenaries transforming into an independent nation. The name generator for my troops would occasionally come up with a name fit for the series (Raging Mongoose was my top operative in the field). Now that Hideo Kojima has left Konami, I fear this may be leaving the franchise on a whimper rather than a bang.