Originally published on Trevor Trove on September 13, 2015
TL;DR(eview-In-Progress): Incredible gameplay and mechanics allow for exciting and tense stealth action and/or firefights, without too much of the (in)famously complex and crazy narrative to drive away newcomers to the franchise.
Metal Gear Solid has always been a franchise I’ve looked at as an outsider. I remember hearing great things about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Libertyand trying it out back on the PlayStation 2. But at the time, I wasn’t interested in stealth gaming. I played through the first tanker level but stopped playing there (which no knowledge of who Snake was, the transition to Raiden after that prologue had no significance to me). All I really remember about it was not liking how the controls felt and finding it too slow-paced.
After than introduction to the series, I never really felt the need to come back to it. My sister even got me one of the HD re-release collections on PlayStation 3. And, during a lull in my gaming calendar, I tried Metal Gear Solid 2 again. And again, stopped after the tanker section. The game just wasn’t what I was interested in playing. Eventually, the series’ story seems insurmountably dense to get through so I just figured it would forever be a hole in my gaming catalog.
But then the gameplay and reviews for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain just looked too damn tempting. And while I absolutely understand that reviews calling the story lacking hit Metal Gear fans hard, that was exactly what I needed to hear to give the series another shot.
And 64 hours in and 25 missions down and I’m so very glad I did.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a masterstroke of gameplay. Much like The Witcher III: Wild Hunt before it, I’m spending countless hours enjoying the side ops with little regard to the story (in large part no doubt because I am new to both installments and, therefore, am not as connected to the main thrust of the tale). But wheras I found Geralt of Rivia’s movement and combat slow and heavy, Big Boss feels great.
Much like recent installments in the Far Cry series, the maps are filled with outposts, big and small to infiltrate. And as with that game, incredible stories and experiences can arise from how you choose to approach these objectives. Instead of elephants and tigers, you can use the game’s Buddy system to bring a compatriot with you into the field. And unlike the wild beasts of Far Cry, you can issue commands to your buddy or benefit from their special skills. For example, D-Dog can sniff out enemies, wild animals, plants, etc. and give you a great sense of your surroundings or Quiet can scout an outpost ahead of you and mark some targets while you approach the waypoint. The more time you spend in the field with a buddy, the more abilities will unlock.
As for the story that had so intimidated me, it certainly has only been a tiny fraction of my 60+ hours. Cut scenes are shot with a very cinematic vocabulary. And I can recognize enough of the visual flair thrust on characters who will become somebody important in the games that occur further on in the timeline, even if I don’t know what that importance means. Most of exposition, however, is delivered through cassette tapes collected in the world or before or after missions. By and large, I typically much prefer a “show, don’t tell” approach but here, enough of the story is doled out directly to keep up; the cassettes just add extra touches or background on the world (a la the audio diaries from the BioShock series or the books from games like Skyrim or Witcher). I found them good to listen too as I flew around Mother Base or waited for the online loading screens. Which brings me to my most notable, nit-picky criticism.
The “Online Mode” component, when it works allows player to infiltrate each other’s base and build up their own additional bases to increase their score in Metal Gear Solid V‘s meta-game involving how your Private Forces stack up to everyone else’s. As a mechanic of the game, I don’t really have a problem with this, but Konami’s servers have been crap since launch so I’ve often been unable to connect. There are daily perks that I would have loved to collect but their server failings wouldn’t allow it. When I can connect, certain menus affected by the meta-game suffer from long load screens that you can’t cancel out of but the game continues on with or without you. I once found myself attempting to update some combat deployment opportunities and was stuck in load screen long enough to hear a truck pull up to the outpost I had just captured, hear the alert sound as the guards discovered me, and watch as they summarily killed me. So if you’re not addicted to building up your base, it might just be worth it to stay in the “Offline Mode.” At least until the servers stabilize.
But as I said, if that purely optional experience is the biggest complaint I’m finding in the game, Kojima and his team have created something very special here. At least in the eyes of this Metal Gear outsider. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fly in on Pequod blaring “The Final Countdown” and infiltrate another outpost or twenty.