Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

Metal Gear Solid still sits proudly on my shelf, having reigned supreme as my favourite game on the Playstation. I last completed it in January 2010, in one sitting, no skipped cutscenes or comms and no saves. It was a glorious 12 hours that was witnessed by friends, both gamers and non-gamers, in a tiny university accommodation room after a particularly boozy night before. There was no better (or worse) way to finish the game than to have the final cutscene, which was real video footage rather than game rendered, crash the Playstation 2 I was playing on. To me, it seemed only right that the entire effort leave no mark apart from on those present. It was a phenomenal game and while I have also played Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the others have passed me by without much interest in the wake of what was the original and possibly the best.Xbox 14_09_2015 20_49_12

So how then do you bring Metal Gear Solid to the new round of consoles successfully? The first major shift is in online play. This game is treading the line well between single player campaign and pervasive online world. Whilst Metal Gear Solid had you dropped into the unknown to disrupt a terror plot, MGS V throws back further in the timeline to the establishment of Outer Heaven, a rogue nation of soldiers without allegiance to any country or government.

Establishment is the key word here. Every resource you encounter whilst out in the field, both Human and material, can help towards the vision of Outer Heaven. As you build up your force and Mother Base, you reach a stage whereby you can established Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) which can be attacked by other players and vice versa. This shifts the game significantly from solo survivalist campaign to developmental and pervasive online competition. Other changes are also quite welcome. Again, the game feels helps make your actions and choices feel much more deliberate as you establish your bases, plan your equipment choices and AI companions before taking off into the field for either a main story development episode or a secondary side op objective. Weapons and equipment can be developed and improved over time and with the help of skilful personnel recovered from the field. This greatly improves the sense of priority, connectedness and fun for the entire game. The sense that each soldier has his place in the world and possibly in your team makes for some great choices within the game.Xbox 14_09_2015 20_43_16

Overall, the story is quite slow burning and you can expect little progress in the first hour. That said, there is a mass of it! 5 chapters with a mass of episodes each! Whilst the game does have this very connected feel, it doesn’t hang together in as cohesive and captivating manner as earlier games. Competing gameplay priorities and swift changes in tone make the game challenging in places. For instance, the first mission feels much more at home in a survival horror game, with impossible odds, powerful enemies and a lack of control and ability to retaliate In the face of this claustrophobic environment. Within perhaps an hour, you are faced with a completely opposing experience as you ride and run around wide open expanses where stealth rules supreme against easy to dispatch enemies. It’s not that the experiences aren’t themselves fun, it’s instead that opening in the way the game does, you would expect much more paranoid obsession with the implausible and seemingly impossible experiences first encountered, rather than the comparably mundane, inconsequential actions that immediately follow.


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This is where I think the greatest contrast lies. In Metal Gear Solid the arc of craziness steadily increases. As you encounter more and more bizarre characters. Meeting Psycho Mantis, for example, is a disturbing twist on what is supposedly the grounded but ultra-competent Solid Snake’s journey. If instead you start with seemingly undefeatable opponents from whom your only option is to run then thereafter we are left questioning why suddenly he priority has shifted so much. I reached a similar point in the campaign yesterday, further illustrating this point, with the arrest of a character who is literally impossible to contain. It’s an apt metaphor for the characterisation in the game. In trying to  up the ante, the game’s characters and their superpowered, yet mysterious roles seem to be on a different page to the more detailed and grounded development elements within the game regarding the picking or soldiers to recruit to your team or kill, whether to spend money on a supply drop for a new suppressor and whether you should rescue a sheep.

There is a writing prompt which asks whether the story you are writing is the most interesting part of the characters life. If it isn’t, why not write about that? Metal Gear Solid 5 suffers from a juxtaposition of pacing between its largely cutscene driven phenomenological story and gameplay that lags way behind as you wrestle out the tedium of book balancing warfare. It offers a huge variety of play styles whilst appealing to the purists who will reap the rewards of true Metal Gear Solid espionage. On balance, its a good balance.Xbox 14_09_2015 20_44_44

Before playing the game, I was very intrigued by the possible controller mapping options and how these may have developed. Ground Zeroes seemed off to me, I can’t really describe how, but it certainly didn’t feel as intuitive and the full game does. I remember the R2 and L2 menus from the original which I liked and I also remembered the hideous circle to fire at something or someone you can’t see, for most weapons. The game was rarely seen through a first person perspective. Snake Eater made up for some of these shortcomings with a first person mode but this involved half pressing buttons if I remember correctly. This is never ideal. I’m glad to see a toggle option now, though would prefer automatic first person preference. This can be found in options (not controls) as “Keep Aim Viewpoint” so if you know you will only use your weapons in first or third, you can pick one to stick with when readying your weapon.

The stealth mechanics seem fair, responsive and occasionally brutal when broken. I’ve not experienced any unfair alerts though have found vehicles more challenging to surprise than soldiers (quite rightly!). The only hassle I have is with the horse. Each time you get onto the horse you are greeted by a small zoom in animation, as though you performed a feat worth noting and occasionally this is accompanied by an military snare sound effect. I simply don’t get the fascination. I also find the horse tricky to manoeuvre as the camera is mapped independently to the right stick instead of staying locked in a central position. I understand that you may want to observe left and right when hiding on horseback, but this should be exclusive to that feature, not all of the time.Xbox 14_09_2015 20_46_21

Beyond that game plays well and the IDroid does much of the heavily lifting in terms of menu capability. One feature that is interestingly challenging is the use of the minimap. The game doesn’t feature one natively but have it as a feature on the iDroid, limiting your use of weapons and movement speed when you pull it up. It is much easier and seems more true to life to pull up the full iDroid map, ingest your information then close and execute. All in all, a pleasing experience in control.

Tactics are so widely and vastly available that it doesn’t really merit a section in this review. The art of this game is in executing your objective using tactical skill. Whilst tips might be available, you will find your go to and stick with it for the majority of the game. 2 things are worth considering to this end. I use the tranquilizer as my main weapon. This is a silent pistol which keeps your victim alive, allowing you to extract them, kill them or leave them. If you wish to chase the high ranks for missions, you’ll want to avoid both detection and kills, so it’s a strong hand to play. Also, in the early stages of the game, I advisee fulton extracting as many soldiers as possible, to fill out your team. You can then weed out any troublemakers and improve your force from a position of strength.

Graphically, this game is quite rightly being boasted as one of the finest looking games available right now. It’s fidelity is stunning! The resolution is 900p at 60 fps and both the detail and fluidity show it! The cutscenes are particularly noteworthy and there are a good number of them to enjoy. I have had some issues with dropping framerates, choppy sound and stuck controls lasting around a second which I suspect is to do with the game loading from an external hard drive so possibly consider moving it to your internal drive to avoid this. Beyond that though, the game is great looking, the light, both natural and artificial is sharp. The day and night cycles change the colour palette and contrast significantly, though could become darker in order to make the night vision goggles a necessity rather than a choice.Xbox 14_09_2015 20_44_36

Spatial distribution of sound is fantastic in the game, with chopper and tanks audible from large distances. Even the clink of empty shells as they hit the floor around you is impressive. Moreover, the directional microphone on the binoculars allows pinpoint location of sounds. This helps you to locate generators, cassette tapes in hifis and even eavesdrop some interesting troop conversations.

At £59.99, there is no doubt that this is a high price point on the Xbox One. Having played for 18 hours, managed 15% of the achievements and probably a similar amount of total game completion, I’d say there is definitely a justifiable amount of game for the price. That said, we are yet to even experience much of the online content on offer meaning this value can only increase. It is to be hoped that this online play can hold its value well into the future. If you are finding the price difficult to justify at this stage, possibly wait until the online content is expanded on 6 October and reassess. Even at this point it seems a solid experience worth putting the money on.

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