Hideo Kojima’s award-winning Metal Gear saga comes to a close, with the astounding climax that is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (360)
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, 360, PS3, PC (Steam)
Release Date: 9/1/2015 (USA)
Developed by Kojima Productions/Konami
Published by Konami
The follow-up to 2014’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain aims to bring closure to the Metal Gear saga. For 28 years, the tale of military politics, ethics and economy has played out through the eyes of Solid Snake, Raiden, and Big Boss. As Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots saw an end to the Solid Snake saga, MGSV brings closure to the tale of Big Boss, taking the legacy full-circle to 1987’s Metal Gear.
An intended UN nuclear arms inspection of Mother Base results in a bloodbath, with Cipher’s XOF unit showing up instead, destroying the military platform and nearly all stationed soldiers of Militaires Sans Frontieres. The ensuing chaos severely injures “Kaz” Kazuhira Miller and Big Boss/Snake- the aftermath leaves both characters without limbs. Big Boss drifts into a nine-year coma while Miller establishes a new Mother Base. Now under the name “Diamond Dogs”, Miller starts recruiting forces for a new “army without a nation” bent on combating Cipher.
Now under the moniker “Punished ‘Venom’ Snake”, Big Boss wakes from his coma in 1984, only to find that the hospital is being attacked by XOF and the supernatural onslaught of “The Third Boy” under the command of the enigmatic Skull Face. Snake escapes with help provided by the bandaged patient Ishmael, and Adam “Shalashaska” Ocelot. Unable to undergo traditional rehabilitation, Ocelot assists Snake with training, and outfits him with a new bionic arm. Ocelot brings Snake up to speed on Cipher’s influence reaching Afghanistan within the previous decade, and tasks him with rescuing Miller from a nearby Afghan military outpost. Upon finding Kazuhira, Kaz resumes his role as the Executive Officer of Mother Base and Diamond Dogs, and sets his sights on destroying Cipher for his fallen comrades. Through a series of infiltration missions to steal enemy intel and rescue captive officers, Punished Snake, Miller and Ocelot learn of Skull Face’s true intentions; the scarred commander of XOF held Huey Emmerich captive for the past nine years, forcing him to build the first bipedal Metal Gear- Sahelanthropus. With Metal Gear Sahelanthropus nearing completion, Skull Face shifts his focus towards nuclear arms dealing, and the development of a new series of bio-weapons, of which he intends to release in an act of revenge against those who robbed him of his identity.
The Metal Gear Solid franchise traditionally presented the core elements of the plot to the player through dense Codec conversations between characters, however this often brought gameplay momentum to a screeching halt. Metal Gear Solid 4– while still having Codec segments- diminished the value of the Codec, in exchange for plot-heavy cutscenes; roughly half of Guns of the Patriots is story-driven cinematics. As seen with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, the traditional Codec segments have been completely erased in favor of recorded cassette tapes. At any point in the game- be it Mother Base, the Aerial Command Center “ACC” or on the battlefield- the player can listen to recorded conversations via the iDroid. Unlike the progression-halting conversations of previous titles, players can begin listening to a tape, and resume playing by closing the iDroid interface while the tape continues to play in the background. Story and “event” cutscenes are present, albeit very sparse; the collected cassette tapes serve as the primary way of experiencing The Phantom Pain‘s true plot.
After an intense tutorial sequence, the player is then thrust into the first open-world environment of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Yet another departure for the franchise, The Phantom Pain ditches the Soliton Radar system and its variants, forcing the player to rely on environmental observation. Much like the initial appearance in Ground Zeroes, players can use Snake’s Intel Scope binoculars to scout areas in advance, and target any soldiers, vehicles, weapons or prisoners; the Intel Scope is outfitted with a directional microphone, allowing Snake to listen to conversations or interrogations from a safe distance. Snake can bring partner characters into select missions, of which some of these “Buddies” can automatically mark enemies on the map, or be commanded to scout an area and remain at a vantage point.
With only a few exceptions, the player is free to approach an enemy station however he or she pleases; only a handful of locations are walled-off or enclosed in such a way that limits the player’s infiltration options. Those who wish to approach The Phantom Pain with stealth in mind, Snake has three different stances for movement- standing, crouching and prone; Snake creates the least amount of noise when crawling or crouch-walking. If the player is in danger of being potentially spotted, Snake can dive into a prone position with the press of a button. The “Action” button (Y/Triangle) can be held to enter “Stealth Mode” while prone; Snake will then slow his breathing and lay flat on the ground. This mode decreases the chances of being detected by approaching soldiers, though all other functions will be disabled.
With the constant threat of detection from any angle, The Phantom Pain allows players to quickly neutralize threats courtesy of the Reflex Mode. As there’s no Soliton Radar system enabling the player to view a soldier’s field-of-vision (FOV), a white highlight will appear on-screen dictating the direction from which Snake has been spotted. The longer Snake stays within the FOV, the more intense the highlight becomes; until the familiar “alert” noise is heard, the player can still move to a safer location. If Snake is actually spotted however, Reflex Mode will slow time for roughly 5 seconds, allowing the player to neutralize the threat. If the guard, soldier, vehicle or surveillance camera is not neutralized through hand-to-hand combat or a suppressed weapon, all nearby enemies will enter the “Alert” phase. For gamers who want an extra level of challenge, Reflex Mode can be disabled through the Options menu at any time.
The Close-Quarters-Combat “CQC” system features minor updates not present in Ground Zeroes. Apart from knocking enemies down with hand-to-hand combat, Snake can grab enemies to either perform an interrogation, a silent takedown, or a silent execution with his knife. While the “Interrogation” option in Ground Zeroes allowed for Snake to learn the locations of other soldiers or summon them to his location, The Phantom Pain allows Snake to gain intel on other items in the surrounding area. Selecting “Spit it out” from the Interrogation menu can potentially mark additional soldiers on the map, or reveal the locations of stationary weapons, vehicles or resources. A response isn’t always guaranteed, as some guards will outright refuse to give information. Successful interrogations can also only be performed if an Interpreter is recruited to Diamond Dogs via the Fulton delivery system.
Once a soldier or guard is unconscious, Snake can send them back to Mother Base with the Fulton delivery system. Referenced back in MGS3: Snake Eater, The Phantom Pain is the first title in which the Fulton system is fully realized, allowing players to extract items from the battlefield via balloon. Once an enemy is attached to a Fulton balloon, he will be taken back to Mother Base to be trained as a solider of Diamond Dogs- assuming he survives the trip; heavily injured Fulton participants can die from the force of the balloon. Items extracted via Fulton can also be lost due to unsavory weather conditions, such as sandstorms and rain.
Every soldier, guard and prisoner in The Phantom Pain possesses some kind of concentrated skill, be it R&D, medicine or other fields; once additional units have been constructed at Mother Base, new Diamond Dogs recruits can be assigned to different departments at the base. Some individuals are classified as “Specialists”, and will unlock extra perks and development items upon their arrival at Mother Base.
Diamond Dogs will earn a specified amount of gross military product “GMP” after every successful mission. By obtaining a large quantity of GMP, along with resources gathered on the battlefield, the player can then begin to expand Mother Base. By constructing additional operation platforms, not only will the soldier capacity increase on Mother Base, but the player will then gain access to new weapons, abilities, and Diamond Dogs perks; crucial platforms include the field-intelligence Intel Platform, the R&D Platform for weapons development, and a Medical Platform for Mother Base staff. Combat Platform development will allow Diamond Dogs soldiers to embark on Dispatch Missions that occur in real-time. Soldiers can be dispatched in small teams to recruit more Combat Team members, gather resources, or sabotage enemy cargo shipments and facilities. Players can also use Combat Team soldiers on Side Ops or previously completed main Missions.
Recruited soldiers are automatically assigned to a division of Mother Base, however the player has the option of micromanaging employees on their own. While many specialists have skills that improve the overall production of Mother Base, some possess a variant of the “Troublemaker” skill; depending on the skill variant, Troublemakers can start fights with other Diamond Dogs members, or spread illness throughout an operating platform. If two Troublemakers of the same type are assigned to the same platform, their skills will negate each other.
If MGSV: Ground Zeroes save data is present on the console or PC, it can be uploaded/downloaded into The Phantom Pain, granting access to prisoners rescued from Camp Omega.
At the time of this review, Metal Gear Online is unavailable, however the multiplayer “FOB Mission” component is present, though inaccessible until after completing Mission 21. Players can construct an additional Field Operating Base “FOB” at a number of locations at the cost of MB Coins; currently MB Coins are only obtainable through Daily Rewards and microtransactions. By infiltrating another player’s FOB, he or she will gain a large amount of GMP, and keep any extracted soldiers, weapons or other items. Players can assign previous competitors as “Rivals”or “Allies”. Allies will receive a notification whenever the player’s FOB is invaded, to which they can revenge-infiltrate the attacker. FOB expansion extends to the single-player game, as additional FOB Combat Platforms will allow more Combat Teams to be sent on Dispatch Missions.
Kojima Productions’s FOX Engine is capable of producing some of the most impressive visuals of the current console generation, however much like its predecessor, compromises were made with the 360 version of MGSV: The Phantom Pain. The next-gen versions showcase the true capabilities of the FOX Engine at 1080p, running at 60fps. The 360 and PS3 versions are limited to 720p, with a variable frame-rate of 20-30fps; even though cutscenes are in-engine, frame-rate tends to drop during story-driven cinematics. The sheer scale of both Afghanistan and central Africa is truly a feat for the 360 hardware, but the draw-distance is much shorter than the Xbox One, PS4 and PC versions. This is most obvious in the open plains of Africa and the dunes of Afghanistan; the texture-meshes of distant trees and rocks will appear before the rest of the environment loads in. Environmental lighting and weather effects do their part to convey the sense of realism, but character models and vehicles remain flat, even in the brightest areas.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a bitter sweet send-off to a grandfather of the Stealth genre. The last-gen versions are significantly lacking the same visual impact as their PS4, Xbox One and PC counterparts, but that’s not to say that these aren’t technical feats of their hardware. While hardcore veterans of the franchise may be put-off by the lack of direct story presentation- and the cryptic methods of plot-progression in the latter half- there’s plenty of intrigue and variety to keep players hooked for the total length of the game- all 40+ hours. Regardless of platform, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a title that should not be missed by MGS fans or Stealth veterans alike.