Review written by: Robert Faulhaber
Disclaimer: This review is based off of a PC copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I purchased this copy myself, and the views reflected in this article are entirely my own. All pictures within this article were taken using Steam’s screenshot feature during my time with the game. It should also be noted that there are some VERY light spoilers within the the text below. If you are opposed to learning any minor story details and gameplay elements before jumping into The Phantom Pain, turn back now! You’ve been warned…
Thursday, September 10th, 2015, 12:30 AM; a man sits at his desk staring in disbelief at the computer monitor before him. Staring back at him is a man that goes by the moniker “Big Boss”, and the look on his face portrays just about as much discouragement as the individual sitting at the aforementioned desk surely feels. “16 percent completed…?” He mutters to no one in particular, “You can’t be serious!” But alas, the only response is Big Boss’ unwavering expression, lingering on-screen as if to say, “Oh no, I’m serious. You and I are stuck together. We’re in it for the long haul.” Just to give you some perspective, I was the man at the desk, this was a little over 25 hours into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and it was at that very moment I’d realized that there was no way I’d be able to give this game the time it deserved, AND pump out a full review in a timely fashion… And so, I’ve decided to review the game in smaller doses. To that end, I’ve compiled my impressions of the first 25 hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and will continue to release subsequent articles incrementally, to cover the rest of my time with the game. So, without further adieu, let’s jump in!
“Oh no, I’m serious. You and I are stuck together. We’re in it for the long haul.”
If there’s one thing I can say about The Phantom Pain, it’s that it’s big. The open world is huge, the missions are plentiful; and even Mother Base, your port in the storm, and the hub for all base building activities, is enormous. As I’ve said, I’ve played through roughly 25 hours of The Phantom Pain, and have only experienced 16 percent of the game. I can only imagine the amount of content that’s on the horizon, and while this is certainly impressive, I have to admit, it worries me just a bit. Games with such a staggering amount of content sometimes overstay their welcome, causing them to feel stale over time. Some people can put hundreds of hours into a game and not bat an eye, but for me, if there’s not enough diversity, I start to get a little burnt-out after the 60 hour mark. Luckily, The Phantom Pain’s diverse missions and ever-growing repertoire of weapons and gadgets continues to surprise me. The game certainly doesn’t show any signs of losing momentum anytime soon, but I feel my concern that this may come to pass is a valid one nonetheless.
Now, let’s talk about Afghanistan, shall we? It just so happens that the majority of my 25 hours with The Phantom Pain have been spent there, and let me tell you, it’s more gorgeous than I ever would have expected. The diversity of the landscape is a treat, ranging from grassy hillsides dotted with streams and other small bodies of water; all the way to barren deserts, and dwellings carved into the sides of red stone cliffs. It’s all surprisingly breathtaking, and stands out in my mind as one of the most photo-realistic gaming landscapes to date. Speaking of graphics, the character models and motion captures are nothing to shake a stick at either. As a matter of fact, I can’t say I’ve seen a single character movement, facial or otherwise; that has looked unnatural or immersion breaking. In the same vein, although David Hayter’s performance is sorely missed by many, I can happily report that Kiefer Sutherland does a great job filling the battle warn boots of Big Boss, and supporting characters like Kazuhira Miller, Ocelot, and Quiet do a great job of giving you a cast whose fates you actually care about throughout the course of the campaign proper. To put it simply, The Phantom Pain has no shortage of interesting characters, and as far as I’ve seen, the plot is more than worthy of its stellar cast. What starts as your typical revenge story seems to evolve into something more, as you find yourself building your own private military company (PMC), the Diamond Dogs, from the ground up, uncovering the dark secrets behind the shadow organization known as Cipher; and establishing the Diamond Dogs as what essentially amounts to a world superpower. It’s too early to be certain, but I feel like the story has every opportunity to rise to greatness.
“It’s all surprisingly breathtaking, and stands out in my mind as one of the most photo-realistic gaming landscapes to date.
It’s important to note, that even with so much attention payed to detail in regard to The Phantom Pain’s characters, environments, and plot points; the gameplay does not fall flat. In fact, The Phantom Pain draws from each of these elements to create a superior gameplay experience overall. The open world format of Afghanistan is a piece of the puzzle that no one knew the Metal Gear franchise was missing. There’s no greater sense of accomplishment than what you feel after stumbling across a heavily guarded military base, sneaking past the occupying force; nabbing an important prisoner of war, and then making your way to an extraction chopper, which proceeds to fly both of you out of the area without being detected by a soul. Stealth has often been my play style of choice, and this game definitely scratches that itch for me. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for action in the formula as well. That aforementioned military base could also be assaulted directly. Maybe you want to strategically place some C4 behind enemy lines to give you the upper hand once the bullets start flying. Maybe you decide to sneak into the base, find that prisoner of war, and then fight your way out by hijacking the enemy’s tank and blowing a hole through their defenses big enough for you to drive right through. Or maybe you’re not the planning type. Maybe you just want to throw all caution to the wind and go in on horseback, guns blazing.
You don’t think he’ll notice me, do you?
The beauty of The Phantom Pain’s gameplay is that it gives you so many different options for tacking the same objectives, and this diversity wouldn’t be possible without the various gadgets and guns the game allows you to experiment with. From series staples like the infamous cardboard box and silenced weaponry, to other, more obscure gadgets like the Fulton recovery system, The Phantom Pain will have you rifling through its toolbox for hours on end without you having seen everything it has to offer; which is a good thing, because it ensures that even after 25 hours of gameplay, you’ll still be finding new toys to play with.
A very small portion of Mother Base, Diamond Dog’s Center of Operations. Platforms leading to other sections of the base can be seen in the distance.
On top of tackling the different challenges presented to you in Afghanistan, there are still things you’ll need to worry about back at home. You’re the leader of a private military company after all, and they don’t call you “Big Boss” for nothing. Your Center of Operations is an offshore compound by the name of Mother Base. Here, you’ll be responsible for the recruitment and deployment of your soldiers, the management of your different research teams, and deciding the best way to expand your facilities. You’ll be spending about a quarter of your time with The Phantom Pain managing Mother Base and its Diamond Dog occupants, but the rewards are well worth the time spent. Focusing on base management gives you access to higher level pieces of equipment, and more support in the field, such as air strikes and reports of enemy deployments. Upgrading Mother Base is one of my favorite aspects of The Phantom Pain, and aside from my own personal love of base building in games, there’s one mechanic that keeps me absolutely hooked. The Fulton Surface-To-Air Recovery System is the single most addicting gadget in The Phantom Pain so far. In layman’s terms, it’s a balloon that you hook onto a target, any target really; which causes said target to be flung into the sky at breakneck speed, hooks them onto your support chopper, and then flies them back to Mother Base. This device can be used on crates of resources, which assist in expanding mother base; vehicles, weapon emplacements, and even animals or soldiers. Everything flown back to Mother Base is put to use for the betterment of the Diamond Dogs as a whole.
Big Boss is clearly too cool to acknowledge this floating bear.
Animals are sold to animal preservationists for in game currency. Weapons and vehicles extracted are made available for use in the field; and soldiers or POWs are indoctrinated to believe in your cause, then put to work developing new technologies, or gathering Intel and resources for Mother Base. It’s an odd system to say the least, but one that works. There’s not a moment spent in the field that I’m not keeping my eyes open for potential Diamond Dog candidates, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To make things even better, each of these recruits is given a code name, such as Crimson Kangaroo, or my personal favorite, Death Platypus; making your relationship with the Diamond Dogs that much more personal.
ALL SHALL BOW BEFORE THE MIGHTY DEATH PLATYPUS!!
All in all, my 25 hours spent with The Phantom Pain have been extraordinary. Each of the game’s different parts come together seamlessly to form what is shaping up to be one of the best gaming experiences of this year. The Phantom Pain has a gripping story, fantastic graphics, and even better gameplay; and yet, I still find myself questioning whether or not the game will overstay it’s welcome. The answer to this question still alludes me, but by the time The Phantom Pain’s credits roll, I’m sure I’ll have my answer. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to strap myself in, hope for the best, and enjoy the ride!
For more updates on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Big Boss, and the Fulton Recovery System, be sure to check in with Lvl Up News!